by Ed Wilkinson
St. James Cathedral Parish, the first Catholic parish established on Long Island, marked the 190th anniversary of its founding on Jan. 1 with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.
The faith community was formed in response to a formal petition drawn up on Jan. 1, 1822 by a group of 70 laypeople led by Peter Turner, expressing their desire for an official Catholic community in Downtown Brooklyn.
“In the first place, we want our children instructed in the principles of our Holy Religion, we want more convenience in hearing the Word of God ourselves. In fact we want a church, a Pastor, and a place of interment…” read the statement.
Among these Irish immigrants who made up the first parish included six grocers, four innkeepers, three laborers, two boatmen, and four others including a surgeon and purser who were employed at the nearby U.S. Navy Yard. They were people of modest circumstances, but not poverty-stricken.
The first “parish” gatherings were held at Daniel Dempsey’s Blooming Grove Garden on Fulton St. near Sands St.
In April of the same year, Bishop John Connolly, the second Bishop of New York, crossed the East River to bless land at the intersection of Jay and Chapel Sts. and new first Catholic parish formally had a home.
On July 25, the feast of St. James the Greater, Bishop Connolly returned to dedicate the cornerstone of what would be the first St. James Church.
“It was the laypeople themselves who wanted to have a priest,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in his homily at the anniversary Mass. Today, he continued, it remains the responsibility of the laity to “hand on the faith.”
Msgr. John Strynkowski, rector of St. James Cathedral-Basilica, said that the anniversary year also will include a lecture on the Church in 19th-century Brooklyn (March 25); a concert (April 22); a food fair in conjunction with the feast of St. James (July); and a dinner at Immaculate Conception Center, Douglaston, (Sept. 21).
The current St. James Church is the second structure on the site. It has served as the diocesan cathedral church since the formation of the diocese in 1853 and was designated a minor basilica in 1982.
In addition to serving as the Bishop of Brooklyn’s official church, it still has a parish community of about 150 families, despite being located in what is now largely a commercial and industrial area located between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, including the newly gentrified neighborhood of DUMBO.
In attendance at the anniversary kickoff was Alfredo Jollon and his family who live in Visitation parish, Red Hook. Jollon’s great uncle was Father Julles Jollon, a protégé of St. John Vianney, who in 1869 was named pastor of the French-speaking community at St. Louis parish, Williamsburg.