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Brooklyn Oratory, Assumption Church enter agreement to expand ministry

Oratory Takes Charge of Assumption’s Pastoral Responsibilities on Jan. 31

January 5, 2016 By Francesca Norsen-Tate, Religion Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church. Eagle photos by Francesca N. Tate
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Around the U.S., Roman Catholic dioceses often have to close or merge parishes because of a shortage in priests or available finances. However, in the wake of that trend, two parishes in Brooklyn have found a creative — even joyful — solution of working together.

Effective Jan. 31, the pastor-administrator of St. Charles Borromeo and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary parishes in Brooklyn Heights will retire. The priests and brother at the Brooklyn Oratory at St. Boniface Church in MetroTech will take charge of the pastoral ministry at Assumption Church.

St. Charles Borromeo parish has traditionally served central and southern Brooklyn Heights. Assumption parish has served the North Heights and DUMBO. The Brooklyn Oratory at St. Boniface Church, on Duffield Street in the MetroTech business district, is a religious order whose members come from many parts of Brooklyn and the other boroughs.

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Msgr. Alfred LoPinto, who is already in residence at St. Charles, will take on this parish’s administrative responsibilities in addition to his work as Vicar for Human Services, chief executive officer and executive vice president of Catholic Charities. LoPinto is familiar to St. Charles parish, having served as administrator in 2007-08, just prior to Doran’s pastorate.

The Rev. Joseph Hugo will continue as full-time assistant (parochial vicar) at St. Charles.

The announcement was made at all of the Masses at both Assumption Church and the Brooklyn Oratory, on the weekend prior to Christmas.

Doran, administrator of St. Charles and Assumption parishes, emailed this statement to the Brooklyn Eagle: “An agreement between the Fathers and Brother of the Oratory to take charge of the Pastoral Ministry to the parishioners of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Brooklyn Heights and the Diocese of Brooklyn has been signed.  With the retirement of Fr. Edward Doran, the Administrator of Assumption, on January 31, 2016 and the desire of the Priests of the Oratory to increase their ministry in the Diocese of Brooklyn two groups will be blessed. The Oratory Church of Saint Boniface and the Church of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary remain separate entities served by the five Fathers and one Brother of the Oratory.”

The Brooklyn Heights Blog reported on Dec. 21 that while the Oratory priests and brother will provide the liturgies, Assumption parish will not be dissolved, with Doran explaining why. “It can’t be. It’s a corporation, and it would require the board of directors, the pastor and the Brooklyn Diocese to make that decision, and there’s no interest in that.”

Doran told the Heights Press he has been the administrator of both St. Charles and Assumption since June 2014, when the pastor of Assumption Church, the Rev. James King, received new assignments at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Douglaston, Queens, which is also in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

“On January 31, 2016, I will retire while continuing to maintain residence and serve Mass at St. Charles Borromeo. (I turned 75 on December 17, 2015). My prayer is that this ‘new phase’ of my life will be as stimulating as the past!” One of the first events in this “new phase” will be receiving an honorary doctorate from St. Francis College next week for his service to the community. Doran already holds an earned Ph.D. in counseling from St. John’s University, as well as other degrees, including a master’s degree in electrical engineering. He was a Marist Brother for 21 years.

The Rev. Joel Warden, C.O., pastor of the Brooklyn Oratory at St. Boniface Church, confirmed the contents of the letter read at the Sunday liturgies, and said that the announcement published on the neighborhood blogsite, which reprinted the parish letter, was essentially correct. He added that explanatory meetings must first be convened: these are opportunities to receive information, ask questions and express concerns. He emphasized, “We have only just begun the process to formally and publically explore this.”

Notices of such meetings, scheduled for Jan. 6, were published in Assumption’s parish bulletins for the past two weekends. According to the bulletins, Assumption’s finance committee, pastoral council and trustees will convene for the first hour. The second hour will be parish-wide and include open discussion, an explanation of the transition process and opportunity for all questions to be addressed.

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The Brooklyn Oratory’s Commitment to Permanence

Warden also offered clarification on the Brooklyn Oratory, which is part of an international religious order whose charisms include stability and permanence. According to its website, the Oratory had its origins in the 16th century when a group of priests and lay brothers gathered together to pray, live and eat together in community. Pope Gregory XIII designated this group as a formal congregation in 1575. “Their ‘work’ was to assist the first, primary group of Oratorians, the laity. The Oratory priests and brothers were and are different from all other religious communities [e.g. Jesuits and Franciscans] in that they take no vows and remain together fully bound only by charity. Oratorian priests and brothers are therefore members of a Pontifical Congregation who live and work within a diocese free to serve where there is a need and a job. Oratories can be found the world over: in England, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Spain, Poland, Mexico, South America and the United States.

“Here in Brooklyn, the Oratory’s principal ministry is to the parish of St. Boniface and to the people who work in the downtown area of Brooklyn. Oratory priests are its pastor and administrators by contract with the bishop of Brooklyn. However, the bishop’s authority does not extend to assigning or transferring Oratorian priests or brothers. Nor do they move from Oratory to Oratory. Permanence is their hallmark.”

However, the bishop can and does work with parishes to implement new ways of ministering. The letter excerpted above, that was read to both Assumption and the Oratory, pointed out that the groundwork was laid in July, 2015, when the Oratory began discussions on how to expand its own ministry. They “engaged in discussions with the Diocese of Brooklyn about the possibility of coming to a firm and long-term canonical agreement by which we would simultaneously strengthen our sense of stability of place and also assume communal pastoral responsibilities in our section of Brooklyn beyond the boundaries of St. Boniface Parish.

“After much prayer, discussion and discernment the hopes for such a firm canonical agreement have been fulfilled. Recently, Fr. Dennis, on behalf of the Oratory, signed an agreement with Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio [on behalf of the Diocese]. The agreement will take effect as of Jan. 31, 2016, and will put into action the specific communal pastoral works mentioned above. It will surely initiate a period of exciting renewal and development for our community. This invitation made to The Oratory which has borne fruit in the agreement comes as a result of our community’s proven ability to adapt and respond to the changing pastoral needs directly in front of us. At the same time, it is a sign of confidence that the gifts of our community and its unique character of stability are the appropriate ground within which to plant seeds of growth for the life of the church in our part of Brooklyn. The hope and trust at the foundation of these opportunities being offered to us are both humbling and ennobling.”

Warden told the Heights Press that the plan is to replace the “111 Willoughby” building that is used for parish ministries, and the current living quarters of the Oratorian with student housing that would serve the students of St. Francis and St. Joseph Colleges. The Fathers and Brother of the Brooklyn Oratory will establish and staff a new Catholic Center equipped to serve new building space for a Catholic Center which would serve the many students in Downtown Brooklyn.

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Assumption Church

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, which was established in 1842 and which pre-dates the founding of the Diocese of Brooklyn, has its own illustrious history. The parish operated an elementary school for many years and has served families of all ages. For many years, the arts — particularly drama and dance — have been part of Assumption’s ministries, both during the pastorate of (the late) Msgr. Joseph Funaro and, more recently, with the Christmas pageants and other events that Assumption parents have organized. Assumption Church’s beloved St. Patrick’s-St. Joseph’s Day Dinner each March brings in members of the wider community as well.

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