Prospect Heights

ELEVATION: Prospect Heights church made a Cathedral, one of Pope Benedict XVI’s final acts

March 4, 2013 By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Front facade of St Joseph Catholic Church.JPG

Before he abdicated the Papacy, Benedict XVI elevated a church in Prospect Heights to cathedral status.

Last month, just three days after Benedict’s historic announcement that he was abdicating the Papacy, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio was informed of the pope’s decision to designate the Church of St. Joseph, 856 Pacific Street, Brooklyn, a co-cathedral of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Bishop DiMarzio is head of the Diocese.

Last year, Bishop DiMarzio had submitted a petition to the Congregation for Bishops, that the Church of St. Joseph be elevated to a cathedral. The Bishop received the Ecclesiastical Approbation from the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Marc Cardinal Ouellet, indicating that the Holy Father had consented to this request.

Bishop DiMarzio said, “Since my arrival here as Bishop of Brooklyn almost 10 years ago, it was evident that St. Joseph’s, located in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn, is at the heart of a new Brooklyn. The Church has a large seating capacity fitting our many Diocesan celebrations. In addition, St. Joseph’s is in a location anticipated to be the most densely populated area in New York City, and it should be a prominent fixture in the re-development at this exciting time in our borough.  St. Joseph’s Church should have the designation as a co-cathedral of the Diocese of Brooklyn.”

“This is the Holy Father’s Valentine’s Day gift to the Diocese of Brooklyn,” said Monsignor Kieran Harrington, administrator of St. Joseph’s. “We received the decree a few days ago. But that is understandable, the Holy Father had a lot of other more pressing tasks to consider these last few days.”

The late Archbishop of New York, John Hughes, established St. Joseph’s Church in 1850, three years before the Diocese of Brooklyn was founded. Established to serve the immense immigration population, the parish was named after St. Joseph, the patron of the universal Church.  St. Joseph protects and guides those as he did with his adoptive son, Jesus, and is also the patron saint of families, fathers, expectant mothers, travelers, immigrants, craftsmen and engineers. His feast day is March 19.

According to a parish history on its website three years after St. Joseph’s founding, “A small brick church was erected on Pacific Street … in April, 1853.  In October Father [Patrick] O’Neil took charge of the parish, and soon built a larger church, and in its tower was placed the first clock in a Catholic church in Brooklyn.”

A New York Times archival article, dated March 18, 1861, and reprinted on the parish’s website, describes the dedication of the larger—and present—church building.

“Accordingly, about one year ago, the project of erecting a new church was started, and met with such favor that in April last the work was formally commenced, and yesterday the new building, complete in every requisite quality, was dedicated. The exercises were commenced at 10 1/2 o’clock A.M., when Rev. D.W. CAHILL, D.D., delivered a dedication sermon, and Bishop LOUGHLIN performed the act of dedication, assisted by Rev. Fathers O’Neil, Celebrant; Cassidy, Deacon; Keegan, Sub-Deacon; O’Birne, Kelly, Fagan, McKenna, and McGuire. A solemn High Mass (LAMBELOTTE’s) was performed, with Mr. SELLE, of the Church of Assumption, as organist, and in the Choir, Mrs. CLARK, soprano; Miss EAGAN, also; Messrs. E.B. CADLEY and JOHNSON, tenors, and Mr. FREIDENBAUGH, bass. The music was exceedingly well rendered, notwithstanding the Choir had no opportunity for rehearsal.”

St. Joseph’s is now the co-cathedral of the Diocese of Brooklyn, which also includes Queens. The longstanding St. James Cathedral Basilica, on Jay St. in Downtown Brooklyn, will also remain a Cathedral. However, it is a much smaller building.

St. James Cathedral Basilica, was the only cathedral in the 160-year history of the Diocese, which was founded in 1853. St. James Cathedral was previously a pro-cathedral from the moment the Diocese was founded; it was conceived that a new cathedral would be built. St. Joseph’s, which can accommodate 1,500 people, is one of the largest churches in the Diocese. It is for this reason the Bishop sought permissions for it to be named a co-cathedral. Certain liturgies, such as ordinations and the Chrism Mass, held on Holy Thursday, are normally required to be held at a cathedral. This is because it is the location of the Seat of the Bishop, who is pastor of a cathedral.

It is not unusual for a diocese to have two cathedral seats. Several Roman Catholic dioceses and a few Episcopal dioceses have two co-cathedrals. Among the Catholic jurisdictions: the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Pennsylvania; Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana;  Archdiocese of Baltimore; the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis; the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont; and Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana; the Diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph, and the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, both in Missouri; the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florid;  the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston (West Virginia) and two within walking distance of each other in the Diocese of Honolulu, Hawaii. By contrast, the Diocese’s two co-Cathedrals are a few subway stops away from each other.