BERGEN BEACH — When Kevin Costner’s character heard the whispered statement “If you build it, he will come” in the 1989 classic “Field of Dreams,” he took it as a direction to build a baseball diamond in his Iowa cornfields.
The famous quote certainly applied to St. Bernard Church in Mill Basin/Bergen Beach after about 60 people attended the June 28 ribbon-cutting ceremony of the parish’s new bocce court.
Msgr. Joseph Grimaldi, pastor of St. Bernard, also blessed the new regulation-size court before parishioners began playing bocce in the church’s backyard.
“You would think you were in a little town in Italy with the way Mario [Macaluso, general contractor] built it,” said Rita Damato, the parish’s director of development. “The parishioners had so much fun that night and didn’t want to leave.”
The idea to build a court came from brainstorming ways to rebuild connections within the church community after an isolating year.
“We were thinking during the pandemic, ‘What can we do to re-engage people in some social activities here at the parish after being cooped up?’ ” said Msgr. Grimaldi, explaining that bocce is a great sport that both the young and old can enjoy.
“Like most parishes, we’ve obviously seen a decline in Mass attendance, and all of our church organizations had to basically stop functioning,” he added.
Following the blessing, Msgr. Grimaldi also encouraged the parishioners to be stewards of the parish’s new addition.
“We’re looking forward to having this,” he said. “I think it’s another great first step in bringing people back to the sacramental life of the church,” he said.
Twelve teams, each composed of four adults, registered on June 28 and created a mixed-gender league at the parish. By the end of the week, the number of teams grew to 19, according to Damato.
“We’re thinking about creating a junior youth league for boys and girls ages 14 and up,” Damato said, “and maybe setting up an open court night for people who can’t commit to a league so that they can also come and play.”
“We’re in the beginning stages right now,” she added. “We’re pioneers at this.”
Sal Calise, who has been attending St. Bernard’s for the last 22 years, was one of the first parishioners to sign up and register his team, aptly named the “Bocce Bandits.”
“I can’t tell you any other parish in Brooklyn that’s got a bocce ball court on their property, but we do,” Calise said with a hearty laugh. “It’s a piece of amusement in a place you’d never expect.”
“I grew up playing bocce ball,” he continued, “so, for me, it was a welcome surprise.”
The “Bocce Bandits” and other pun-tastically named teams — like the “Pallina Pals” — will begin competing and playing in the league on July 12 and continue into October.