A Solemn High Mass in honor of the Queenship of Mary was celebrated yesterday as part of the events marking the completion of the restoration of this church. The weather was glorious. The neighborhood with its townhouses, many trees, and strolling families seems lively but peaceful, pleasant and quaint – the epitome of old Brooklyn, “the borough of churches.” Especially if you choose to disregard the subway station right next to the old parochial school or the horrendous traffic getting to and from this vicinity even on a Saturday!
Holy Name of Jesus is just a few short blocks from the chancery of the Brooklyn diocese. The red brick facade is austere and largely undecorated. The dimensions of the church are also modest. But the church building doesn’t tell the parish’s whole story at all – like many others of that era, Holy Name of Jesus obviously invested its resources in its school. A whole series of buildings occupies the block where Holy Name stands: a rectory, (former ) convent and finally an enormous parochial school. The latter today houses a private Catholic academy.
After the Council, the church of Holy Name of Jesus underwent one of the most destructive “updatings” in New York.
(Above) The appearance of the church circa 1950. (Below) The appearance prior to the just completed restoration.
The current restoration attempts to restore a truly Catholic “worship space.” For the renovation here – in contrast to, let us say, that of St. John’s in Stamford, CT – incorporates elements of the past in what remains a Novus Ordo setting (a least as the requirements of the Novus Ordo are commonly interpreted). A communion rail is lacking, a fixed altar stands in front of the newly installed grand high altar, a “baptismal pool”(?) sits on the floor in front of a side altar (whose tabernacle has been adapted as a receptacle for holy oils) and a “gathering space” doubles as a world class cry-room. The church is also “user-friendly” regarding wheelchair access and restrooms. And all is brilliantly finished and in perfect condition!
This parish was able to sponsor a Solemn Requiem Mass conducted with a perfection of ceremony and music encountered almost nowhere – including the immediate “pre-conciliar” time – prior to Summorum Pontificum. The celebrant was Fr. Brandon O’Brien. The deacon, Fr. Joseph Zwosta; the subdecaon, Fr. Stephen Saffron. The master of ceremonies was Eddy Toribio ( you have encountered him many times on the photographs found on this blog). The music includesd the Missa de Beata a 5 by Victoria, motets by Palestrina and by the music director of the mass himself: director of music and organist was Mr. David Adam Smith.
A large congregation of all ages, nationalities and races filled the church. Old-timers of the parish spoke of their joy in seeing the resurrection of the church. Truly the restored interior is magnificent sight – testifying to the sacrifices and commitment of the parishioners of Holy Name of Jesus. Yet the experience of ceremony in a such a splendid setting leaves the visitor pensive. A beautiful church has been recreated – yet across the East River many intact churches with even more magnificent interiors face the wrecking ball. Indeed, the new high altar of the church came from a razed church in Williamsburg:
“The centerpiece of the renovations is the 19th-century altar by renown architect James Renwick Jr., who coincidently is buried only a stone’s throw away in Green-Wood Cemetery. Originally designed as a side altar for St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, the piece proved to be too big and was relocated to St. Vincent de Paul Church in Williamsburg in 1881. It remained there for more than 100 years until the church was sold about five years ago.” 1)
So here in this corner in Brooklyn, a church was built starting in 1878. It was decorated and furnished over the years as well as available financial resources and other parish commitments permitted. After serving for generations, this same church was then repudiated as retrograde and its interior gutted. Now, at least the broad elements of that prior church have been splendidly recreated. Yet what do these these radical reversals of direction tell us about an institution – the universal Church, the diocese, even the very parish – which after all remained, at least as an external organization, the same throughout all this entire time? There is much to reflect on here – in the meantime let us congratulate Holy Name of Jesus parish on its accomplishment.
(Below) One of the two side altars (also from St. Vincent de Paul in Williamsburg?)