Judge calls a temporary halt to the demolition of Our Lady of Loreto

April 27, 2017 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
This photo taken in March shows Our Lady of Loreto, which Catholic officials have been temporarily barred from demolishing. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

Hands off that historic church building!

A judge has called a temporary halt to the planned demolition of a century-old Ocean Hill-Brownsville church, Our Lady of Loreto.

Catholic Church officials recently got demolition permits from the city Buildings Department for the vacant church at 126 Sackman St. They’ve been threatening to tear it down and replace it with low-income housing — despite a long-running campaign by the Brownsville Cultural Coalition to have the neoclassical Roman Renaissance-style church landmarked and turned into a neighborhood cultural center.   

On Wednesday, Justice Bernard G. Graham of the state Supreme Court in Brooklyn issued a stay that temporarily stops the wrecking ball until a court hearing scheduled for May 9.

Justice Graham’s action was a response to a lawsuit filed by Jillian Mulvihill, a member of the Brownsville Cultural Coalition and former parishioner of Our Lady of Loreto.

The defendants in the case include the Catholic Charities Progress of Peoples Development Corp., the Diocese of Brooklyn and the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is also a defendant. In 2010, this entity crafted an agreement that gave the Catholic charitable group permission to tear down Our Lady of Loreto’s rectory and replace it with low-income housing on the condition that the church building was to be preserved.

Both buildings had been deemed eligible for listing on the State and National Register of Historic Places.  

“For months, Catholic officials had been flat-out ignoring our coalition,” Monica Kumar, a spokeswoman for the Brownsville Cultural Coalition, told the Brooklyn Eagle. “We’ve been trying to come to an accord with them.

“This [lawsuit] was our last resort,” Kumar added. “We’re thankful to Justice Graham for this lifeline.”

Our Lady of Loreto has special cultural significance for Italian-Americans.

It was constructed as a place of sanctuary for them at the beginning of the 20th century when Italian immigrants were despised by Catholics of other ethnicities who had arrived in the United States before they did.

The architect and artisans who designed and built the church were all Italian immigrants.

“Italian-Americans need to preserve their history, but this struggle is about more than the past; it’s about Brownsville’s future,” Mulvihill said in a prepared statement.

“The Diocese needs to listen to the community and the desires they have expressed.”