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Diocese of Brooklyn

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Comprises the counties of Kings, Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk, or all of Long Island, in the State of New York , U.S.A. an area of 1,007 square miles. The population of Long Island is about 2,000,000, according to the State census of 1905, and of this, 600,000 are Catholics. The Catholics are mostly of Irish, German, and Italian birth or race, but as a matter of fact, in this island see there is now every week a perpetual Pentecost, for the Gospel is preached to the faithful in twelve languages. Polish, French, Italian, German, Slav, Syrian, Greek, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Scandinavian, Bohemian, as well as English speaking Catholics, have special ministrations for their respective nationalities.

Long Island was known to the early Spanish explorer Gomez and to Gordillo, a lieutenant of Vasquez de Ayllón , who in 1524-25 reached this latitude and on the 29th of June noted this island which they named "Isle de los Apostoles" (Island of the Apostles ) in honor of the feast day of the Apostles Peter and Paul. It is so styled in the Spanish maps of Ribero, made in 1529. Settled later under the auspices of the Dutch West India Company (1636), there is scarcely a trace of Catholicism to be found during the period of the sway of that corporation. It would be strange indeed were Catholics attracted to a community that refused to enclose their cemeteries because such were "relics of superstitious observances", or to erect tombstones because in doing so they might give the "appearance of according to the ceremonies and requirements of Prelacy and Papacy ". In April, 1657 there is record made of the fining of one "Nicholas the Frenchman " in the sum of twelve guilders, or $4.80 because, as the sheriff's report has it, on the "frivolous excuse" that he was a Catholic, Nicholas refused to pay his share of the tax levied for the salary of the Dutch Reformed minister who preached for the colony then located within the present limits of the Borough of Brooklyn. In addition to the Dutch there were a number of Walloons and Huguenots settled in this locality. Some of the unfortunate Acadian exiles were scattered through Long Island during 1756; and on the muster-rolls of the militia from the same section serving in the army of Sir William Johnson, in 1775, we find such names as Reilly, Shea, Burke, Power, Welsh, Doolly, Barry, Sullivan, Cassidy, Lynch, Ryan, Larkin, Moloney, Fagan, Blake, Donnelly, Shields, Kinsella, and Downey. There are no records to show what became of them or their children. But an occasional curiously twisted patronymic among the old non-Catholic families of the interior districts of the island gives a clue to the reason of this. We have no positive evidence that any considerable body of Catholics became a component part of Brooklyn's local life till after the dawn of the nineteenth century and especially after the location there of the Navy Yard in 1801.

This government station at once gave employment to many mechanics in the various trades connected with the ship-building industry, and soon a number of Irish immigrants, mostly from the Catholic sections of the North, especially from Derry and Donegal, sturdy confessors of the faith in their native land, settled in Brooklyn. Among these were the parents of the first American cardinal, John McCloskey, Archbishop of New York, and of his namesake, the first Rector of the American College at Rome, William George McCloskey, afterwards Bishop of Louisville, Kentucky. Until 1822 these Catholics had to cross the East River to New York to hear Mass and attend to their spiritual necessities, as the scarcity of priests and their own poverty brought about this inconvenient situation. Occasionally a priest would go over from New York to say Mass and preach in private houses, or wherever suitable accommodation could be obtained. The pioneer in this was the Augustinian missionary Father Philip Larissy, who said the first Mass in the house of William Purcell, at the north-east corner of York and Gold Streets, on a date now unknown. The little colony, constantly growing in numbers and influence, desired a church of its own, and hence a meeting was held on the 7th of January, 1822, at the house of William Purcell, at which a committee of five was named to wait on Bishop Connolly of New York and ask his advice and consent for the organization of a congregation. It is notable that in the circular calling this meeting the reasons stated are: "In the first place we want our children instructed in the principles of our holy religion; we want more convenience of hearing the word of God ourselves. In fact, we want a church, a pastor, and a place for interment." Those prominent in the pioneer work of the congregation were Peter Turner, George S. Wise, then a purser in the United States navy, William Purcell, John Kenney, Nicholas Stafford, Denis Cosgrove, Jeremiah Mahoney, James Rose, George McCloskey, James and Patrick Freel, Dr. Andrew B. Cook, also of the United States navy, James Furey, Thomas Young, Hugh and James McLaughlin, Andrew Parmentier, James Harper, Quintin M. Sullivan, and Daniel Dempsey.

As a result of this meeting eight lots were purchased on Jay Street, and St. James's, the first Catholic church on Long Island was built and dedicated to Divine worship by Bishop Connolly, 28 August, 1823. The lots about the church were used as a graveyard until 1849, when Holy Cross Cemetery, Flatbush, was opened. The original church building stood until 1903, when its walls were enclosed in a new structure built on the same site for a pro- cathedral. The Reverend Dr. John Power of St. Peter's New York, was the early and stanch friend of the new congregation. He used to cross the river frequently to minister to them. Other priests of the pioneer days were the Reverends Patrick Bulger, James McKenna, and James Doherty; the last two died in the service of the parish, and were buried in front of the church. The first regular pastor was the Reverend John Farnan, who was appointed in April 1825. The second church in Brooklyn, St. Paul's dedicated 21 January, 1838, was built on land given by Cornelius Heeney. He first offered the site for a seminary, but could not agree with Bishop Dubois as to the manner in which the title should be held, the old and troublesome idea of lay trusteeship proving an obstacle. It is notable that although the organization of the first congregation in Brooklyn was due mainly to lay effort there was never any of the subsequent difficulty over trustee authority and rights that made so much scandal elsewhere during this era. The Reverend Nicholas O'Donnell, O.S.A. (1840-7); was the second pastor of St. Paul's, and after him the Reverend Joseph Schneller, until his death in 1860, had charge there. Father Schneller was one of the most active priests in the New York controversies of the early years of the nineteenth century. His name, with those of the Reverend Dr. Power, Fathers Felix Varela and Thomas C. Levins, is to be found in most of the bitter public contests waged with non-Catholic assailants of the Church. He helped to found and edited for some time the " New York Weekly Register and Catholic Diary", established in 1833. Cornelius Heeney did not limit his generosity to the site for St. Paul's Church and the Girls' Industrial School that adjoins it. During his life his income was mainly devoted to charity and 10 May, 1845, three years before his death, he had his estate legally incorporated as the Brooklyn Benevolent Society, and its officials directed to expend its yearly income for the benefit of the poor and orphans. This amounts now to about $25,000 annually, and the total expended by this charity since Mr. Heeney's death is more than a million dollars.

In 1841 another famous priest, the Very Reverend John Raffeiner, a native of the Austrian Tyrol, bought with his own money property on which was erected the church of the Most Holy Trinity and began there to minister to a colony of German Catholics. His efforts in this direction were extended to similar congregations in New York, Boston, and New Jersey. He labored thus for more than twenty years and held the office of vicar-general when he died, in 1861. St. Charles Borromeo's parish was founded in 1849 by the Reverend Dr. Charles Constantine Pise , also one of the strong writers and publicists of that time. Before going to Brooklyn he had been stationed at St. Peter's, New York, and previous to that, in 1832, while officiating in Washington, he was, on motion of Senator Henry Clay, appointed Chaplain to the Congress of the United States and served during a session, the only instance on record of such an honor being given to a Catholic. Other priests whose earnest work in its formative period contributed to the building up of the Church in Long Island were the Reverends John Walsh, James McDonough, Richard Waters, James O'Donnell, David W. Bacon, afterwards the first Bishop of Portland, Maine, the Reverends Michael Curran, William Keegan, for many years Vicar-General of the diocese, and his associate in that office, the Right Reverend Mgr. Michael May, the Reverends Nicholas Balleis, O.S.B., Eugene Cassidy, Sylvester Malone, Peter McLoughlin, John Shanahan, Edward Corcoran, Hugh McGuire, Jeremiah Crowley, James McEnroe, Joseph Fransioli, Martin Carroll, T. O'Farrell, Anthony Arnold, John McCarthy, James O'Beirne, Joseph Brunneman, Anthony Farley, John McKenna, Patrick O'Neil, and James H. Mitchell. Father Mitchell was much interested in the work of societies for young men, and his administration as head of the national organization was specially successful.

When, in July, 1841, Father Raffeiner began the great German parish of the Most Holy Trinity on a part of the farm of the old Dutch Meserole family, this was known as the Bushwick section of the then town of Williamsburg, which was subsequently annexed to Brooklyn. The first German Catholic Church in the city of Brooklyn was the quaint little St. Francis'-in-the-Fields, which Father Raffeiner opened in 1850, at Putnam and Bedford avenues. Its title indicates its rural environment, and Father Maurus Ramsauer, a Benedictine just arrived from Germany, was made its first pastor. In 1855, under Father Bonaventure Keller, the original design of Father Raffeiner was carried out, and a sort of preparatory seminary for German ecclesiastical students was begun and lasted there for two years. When Father Raffeiner died, in 1861, he left St. Francis', which was still surrounded by a garden, for the benefit of the orphans of the Holy Trinity parish. The little church was then closed, owing to changes in the neighborhood, and was not reopened until 1866, when the Rev. Nicholas Balleis, a Benedictine took charge and remained there until his death 13 December, 1891. The old building was again closed and remained so until the property was purchased by the Sisters of the Precious Blood in 1892, when the structure was torn down, and the convent of that order built on the site.

Peter Turner (d. 31 December, 1863), who was the leader in organizing Brooklyn's pioneer parish, lived to see his son John ordained a priest, pastor of St. James's Church and first Vicar-General of the Diocese of Brooklyn. In 1895 the Brooklyn Catholic Historical Society, regarding Peter Turner as the typical layman of the pioneer period, erected a handsome bronze portrait bust as a memorial to him in St. James's churchyard. The inscription on the pedestal says: "To the memory of Peter Turner, who on January 1, 1822, organized his seventy fellow Catholics for the purchase of this ground on which the first Catholic Church of Long Island was erected. Thousands of Catholic children have helped to erect this monument as a grateful tribute to the man who made Catholic education the first reason for the establishment of a church in Brooklyn." Cardinal McCloskey's early years were spent in Brooklyn, where he attended his first school, which was taught by a retired English actress, Mrs. Charlotte Melmoth, a convert, who was a popular stage favorite in London and New York during the last years of the eighteenth century. Cornelius Heeney was also his patron and guardian after the family moved across the river to New York in 1820. Mr. Heeney's fortune was amassed as a fur-dealer, and for some time he was a partner in this business with John Jacob Astor.


(1) The Right Reverend John Loughlin, consecrated 30 October, 1853. He was born in the County Down, Ireland, 20 December 1817. As a boy of six he emigrated with his parents to the United States and settled in Albany, New York. His early school days were spent with the distinguished classical scholar, Dr. Peter Bullions, at the Albany Academy, and when fourteen he was sent to the college at Chambly, near Montreal, Canada, where he remained three years. He then entered Mount St. Mary's Seminary at Emmitsburg, Maryland, and after the usual theological course was ordained for the Diocese of New York, 18 October, 1840. His first assignment was on the mission at Utica and from there he was called to be an assistant to Bishop Hughes at St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York City. In 1850 the bishop made him his vicar-general and when the new Diocese of Brooklyn was formed he was consecrated its first bishop, 30 October, 1853, the officiating prelate being Archbishop Cajetan Bedini, a pro-nuncio on his way back to Rome from a diplomatic mission to Brazil. There were then but twelve churches on all Long Island and about 15,000 Catholics. During the thirty-eight years Bishop Loughlin ruled the see he built 125 churches and chapels, 93 schools, 2 colleges, 19 select schools and academies, 10 orphan asylums, 5 hospitals, 2 homes for the aged, a home for destitute boys, and the diocesan seminary. In the same time the Catholic population increased to nearly 400,000. Bishop Loughlin led a life of unostentatious routine, entirely devoted to his ecclesiastical duties. The only time he is recorded as having identified himself with any civic movement was in April, 1861, when he wrote a letter of sympathy and approval to the great mass-meeting of citizens that committed Brooklyn to the cause of the Union. In October 1, 1890, the golden jubilee of his ordination was celebrated by a three days' festival in which the whole city joined. He assisted at each of the Plenary Council of Baltimore and visited Rome four times, once to be present at the Ecumenical Council of the Vatican. He was then made an assistant at the Papal throne. He died at his residence in Brooklyn 29 December, 1891. That one man should have founded a diocese and in the course of his administration brought it to a position of such pronounced influence and efficiency, is one of the most remarkable facts in the history of the Church's progress in the United States.

The Sisters of Charity were the first religious to establish themselves in Brooklyn (1834), and they were followed by the Christian Brothers in 1851 and the Sisters of St. Dominic in 1852. To these Bishop Loughlin added the Sisters of the Visitation and the Sisters of Mercy in 1855; the Sisters of St. Joseph 1856; the Franciscan Brothers, 1858; the Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis, 1866; the Congregation of the Mission, and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, 1868; the Little Sisters of the Poor their first foundation in the United States 1869; the Fathers of Mercy 1871; the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary, 1877; the Fathers of the Pious Society of Missions, 1884; and the Sisters of the Precious Blood , 1889.

Bishop Loughlin began the construction of a new cathedral of large dimensions in 1868, the work on which he carried on up to the first story and then stopped to give his attention to the promotion of the charitable institutions of the diocese. The chapel of St. John, at one end of the proposed Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception , was all that was ever finished and used; the extensive foundation walls of the main building remain in their incomplete state. The Catholic Benevolent Legion, a fraternal insurance association, was organized during Bishop Loughlin's life, September, 1881, and he was its first spiritual director. The St. Vincent de Paul Society received from him special encouragement (1855) and the formation of the third Particular Council in the United States was a result.

(2) The Right Reverend Charles Edward McDonnell, consecrated 25 April, 1892. Born in New York City, 1 February, 1854, his early education was received in the parochial schools and the De La Salle Academy. In 1868 he entered St. Francis Xavier'sCollege, where he remained until he left, in 1872, to study for the priesthood at the American College, Rome. He was ordained in Rome, 19 May, 1878, and subsequently received the degree of Doctor of Divinity. Returning to New York, he was, after five years spent in parish work, made Secretary to Cardinal McCloskey. After the cardinal's death, Archbishop Corrigan left him in this position and appointed him chancellor as well. He was also made a private chamberlain by the pope, and was serving in these offices when Bishop Loughlin died. Named by the pope to succeed him, Mgr. McDonnell was consecrated the second Bishop of Brooklyn in St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York, 25 April, 1892, and took possession of his see on the 2d of May. The new bishop, finding the material interests of the diocese so well administered by his predecessor, continued the good work thus begun and developed it also along its spiritual lines. The increase in population and the changes in the country districts necessitated the starting of many new parishes and the inception of new means and methods of meeting the polyglot needs of the representatives of the various nationalities that had settled in the diocese. For this Bishop McDonnell adopted the policy of securing members of some order for each of the races and languages in his jurisdiction. At his invitation foundations were made by the Redemptorists in 1892; the Benedictines, 1896; the Franciscans (Minor Conventuals ), 1896; the Capuchins, 1897; the Fathers of the Congregation of Mary 1903; the Franciscans (Italian), 1906; the Jesuits, 1907; the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, 1892; the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart 1892; the Daughters of Wisdom, 1904; the Sisters of the Infant Jesus (nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor) 1906. Up to 1907 Bishop McDonnell had started and dedicated fifty new parishes and churches. He presided over the Third Diocesan Synod in December, 1894, at which the full number of canonical diocesan officials were for the first time selected; and over the Fourth Synod, held in 1898. A unique spiritual event was a simultaneous mission under his inspiration held throughout the diocese to mark the close of the nineteenth century. He led three diocesan pilgrimages to Rome, the first for the General Jubilee of 1900; the second for the Silver Jubilee of Pope Leo XIII in 1902; and the third for the Jubilee of the Immaculate Conception in 1904. To the institutions of the diocese Bishop McDonnell added two hospitals and largely increased the capacity of one of those already established; the Ozanam Home for Friendless Women ; the new St. Vincent's Home for Friendless Boys; two seaside recreation places for children and a trade school farm for orphans.


Some of those distinguished for their zeal for religion and generosity to the Church in addition to those already mentioned have been: Judge Alexander McCue, Charles A. Hoyt, E. Louis Lowe (formerly Governor of Maryland ), Hugh McLaughlin, Patrick C. Keeley (architect of many Catholic churches in various parts of the country, who began his career here), James A. McMaster, for many years editor of "The Freeman's Journal", Patrick Vincent Hickey, editor of the "Catholic Review", Laurence Kehoe, Manager of the Catholic Publication Society, John George Gottsberger, John Campbell, Andrew Dougherty, Kieran Egan, John O'Mahony, John D Kieley, Jr., Jacob Zimmer, William W. Swayne, James Rorke, Edward Rorke, William H. Murtha, Anton Shirnmel. Thomas Carroll, Joseph W. Carroll, John Loughran, Dr. Dominick G. Bodkin, John Good, Peter McGoldrick, M. F. McGoldrick, Thomas W. Hynes, William R. Grace, William Bourke Cockran, Morgan J. O'Brien, Mrs. Grace Masury, Mrs. A. E. Walsh, Charles O'Conor Sloane, James McMahon, Bernard Earl, Michael Hennessy, Joseph Eppig, Edward Feeney, and Dr. John Byrne.


Diocesan priests 308; priests of religious orders 54; total 362. Churches with resident priests 162, missions 10, stations 11, chapels 13; seminary 1, with 60 students; colleges 3, with 570 students; academies and select schools for young women 15, with 1017 pupils; parishes with schools 68, pupils enrolled 41,750; orphan asylums 11, inmates 3691; infant asylums 4, inmates 455, industrial school l, pupils 143; young people under Catholic care 40,040; hospitals 6, treating more than 18,000 patients yearly; homes for aged 3, inmates 540, Catholic population estimated 600,000.

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