Brownsville

Catholic Charities moves forward with plans to demolish Our Lady of Loreto Church

CEO Cites Critical Need for Affordable Housing

August 9, 2016 By Francesca Norsen Tate Brooklyn Daily Eagle
This is Our Lady of Loreto in Ocean Hill, which Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens plans to demolish. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

The statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary that welcomes people to Our Lady of Loreto Roman Catholic Church in Ocean Hill bears a plaque reading “Semper Vivus.” The Latin phrase is translated as “Ever Alive.” However, the impending fate of this long-shuttered church building may now contradict that motto.

In an action that seems to pit Christianity’s mission to rescue the needy against a community’s need to preserve its heritage, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens announced on Monday that they “must move ahead with plans to demolish the structure of Our Lady of Loreto Church.” Msgr. Alfred LoPinto, CEO of Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, which leased the property from the Diocese of Brooklyn, issued this statement. The Catholic Charities office is in Downtown Brooklyn.

Our Lady of Loreto Church, located at 124 Sackman St. in the Ocean Hill section of Brownsville, was built around 1908 as a place of spiritual refuge for the area’s Italian immigrants, who at the time were shunned and faced discrimination from other immigrant groups who had already settled in Brooklyn. Over time, the neighborhood’s ethnic demographic changed, but the church was still utilized as a center for faith and heritage.

Following the church’s closure in 2009, a coalition of Brownsville community leaders and preservation-minded Italian Americans fought to prevent the church from being demolished. The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation determined that the church is eligible for listing on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. But it is not a city landmark, which is what would protect it from demolition, unless the city Landmarks Preservation Commission gave the go-ahead for it to be torn down.

The Brooklyn Diocese had leased church land to another Catholic organization, Catholic Charities, which signed an agreement with the state Historic Preservation Office not to demolish Our Lady of Loreto Church, and built an $18 million development consisting of 64 affordable units on part of the land. The plan at the time, to convert the church into a community structure, was never realized, according to articles in several publications and real estate websites, including the Brooklyn Eagle.

This past April, Catholic Charities informed the state Historic Preservation Office of its intent to demolish the church after all. John Bonafide, director of the office’s Technical Preservation Services Bureau, protested this in his response:

“Please be aware that this office considers the former church to be an exceptional historic property significant in the areas of architecture and social history.”

LoPinto, notwithstanding his personal ties to the parish, explained the decision to demolish the church.

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“When Catholic Charities acquired Our Lady of Loreto Church, we had high hopes to preserve the property … however, after extensive review, we have found that there is no viable use for the structure due to its present condition,” LoPinto said. “It would be irresponsible, neglectful and dangerous to leave the site abandoned and in disrepair. We are concerned for the safety of the residents in the neighborhood. The building has dangerous levels of asbestos and lead and there is no active heating.

“For all of its life, the beautiful Our Lady of Loreto has been so much more than just a building — it is a spirit of community, a spirit of reaching out, a spirit of offering assistance to those in need,” LoPinto added. “Therefore, the aim of the Diocese, in cooperation with Catholic Charities Progress of Peoples Development Corporation, is to keep that spirit alive by using the site that was once home to immigrants and their families as a site to provide housing for families in need.  Affordable housing is very scarce in this city, and this plan will enable us to allow the spirit of Our Lady of Loreto to live on.”

Our Lady of Loreto was built on land that belonged in the 1600s to Pietro Cesare Alberti. The immigrant from Venice is considered the first Italian to settle in New Netherland.  

Our Lady of Loreto is the oldest “national Italian Catholic church” in Brooklyn that’s still located in its original structure and on its original footprint, according to Louis J. Gallo Jr., New York state chairman of the Commission for Social Justice, the anti-defamation arm of the Order Sons of Italy in America, who spoke with the Eagle’s Lore Croghan earlier this year.

 

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