BATH BEACH — St. Finbar Catholic Church, Bath Beach — long a parish known for welcoming immigrants — honored the many Guatemalans in its community with a vigil Mass, procession and fiesta on Sept. 28 to celebrate the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel.
The feast day is actually Sept. 29, but the parish culminated its week of prayer and heritage with the vigil Mass the evening before. Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros was the main celebrant.
Parishioners prayed a novena to St. Michael throughout the week. On Friday, Sept. 27, children performed traditional dances, and the Society of St. Michael named its queen for the next year to represent it at events.
In the early 20th century, it is believed that the archangel appeared in Totonicapán — a city in Guatemala that is the native home of many at St. Finbar. The appearance was interpreted as a message from God, and a Society of St. Michael was established in the country. Guatemalans have celebrated his feast day ever since.
At St. Finbar’s, Miguel Garcia, 18, and the Spanish choir performed “canticos” — Spanish hymns — before the vigil Mass.
“It’s an amazing celebration we do every year,” said Garcia, part of the group for 10 years. “We love playing the music, especially about God. It’s the best thing to do.”
The Mass was live-streamed back to Totonicapán with thousands tuning in.
Miguel Fernando Chaclan, 39, was among the first Guatemalans to make St. Finbar’s his home in 2000. He said the number of Guatemalan parishioners has risen as more Guatemalans have moved into the neighborhood.
In 2010, Father Michael Gelfant became pastor, and he oversaw the creation of a Society of St. Michael and the revival of the celebration in his first year.
“In the Diocese of Brooklyn, there was a neglect of the Guatemalans,” Father Gelfant said. “Everyone just presumes they’re all Mexican and Our Lady of Guadalupe takes care of everyone, and it doesn’t.”
He said he initially came to the parish to shut it down. The Hispanic community, the majority of which is Guatemalan and Mexican, played a huge part in saving it. In 2016, they restored the interior of the church themselves, saving the parish $300,000.
Parish council president Patricia Carlucci, 62, was born and raised at St. Finbar’s when it was predominantly Italian. She remembered her family’s devotion to St. Anthony. They wanted to keep their heritage alive, as well.
“It’s important to be here because the parish is a community of all different cultures,” she said. “Being here is connecting with people that I love and I know are saving our parish and our Catholic faith.”
St. Finbar’s has always been a place for immigrants, dating back to its founding as an Irish parish in 1880. In the mid-to-late 20th century, it became mostly Italian before an influx of people from Spanish-speaking countries came in the 1990s. Even now, it is evolving as more Polish and Chinese people join.
Father Gelfant said the parish will continue to be a place for people coming to the United States to find a safe haven and community. He is thankful to the Guatemalan community for its works of charity and tremendous faith.
“I believe that their work to restore and secure the temple, the church, is going to be their legacy,” he said.