Brooklyn Oratory marks 30 years as ‘A House of Prayer in an Urban Center’
Co-Founder, The Rev. Dennis Corrado, CO Praises Congregation’s Steadfastness
Joy and prayer are central to the urban ministry at the Brooklyn Oratory of St. Philip Neri. The Oratorian community celebrated its 30th anniversary on Sunday, Feb. 11, marking — to the day — when Pope St. John Paul II established it as a Pontifical Congregation.
The Oratory here in Brooklyn was founded by the Revs. Dennis Corrado and James Hinchey, C.O., two longtime priests at St. James Cathedral-Basilica, the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Oratory is “a foundation in the tradition of St. Philip Neri who began the first Oratory (the Chiesa Nuova) in Rome in 1575. The priests and brothers of the Oratory live a common life but without vows.”
“St. Philip Neri devoted spent his entire life to helping all who came to the Oratory to find joy in their particular vocation as a Christian (ordained or lay) and in the conduct of their daily life as they sought to live a holy life … St. Boniface is primarily a place of prayer in an urban center,” according to the Oratory’s website. Their charism is to work with the people in the “bond of charity,” to bring God’s joy and healing to all who seek it. This hospitality was the emphasis of Sunday’s homily and tributes.
The Rev. Michael Callaghan, C.O., who was the celebrant and homilist last Sunday, contrasted the readings from Leviticus in which a man was ejected from society because he was found to have leprous sores — and the Gospel of Mark, in which Jesus heals another leper — one so happy to be reunited with his community that he disregards Jesus’ stern warning not to broadcast the miracle.
Callaghan said, “For 30 years, the Congregation of the Oratory has been here — not just a building or a series of buildings — but a place where Christ is proclaimed, a word of possibility, a word that heals, a word that makes whole. A heart that calls us to joy. Sometimes joy is hard. These 30 years have taught many people that joy takes work. But the Oratory is a place that nurtures people and brings them to joy. It brings us closer to the fulfillment and freedom to be daughters and sons of God.”
Callaghan spoke of his Oratorian brother, Rev. Dennis Corrado, C.O., co-founder of the Oratory.
“Father Dennis has given his life to this congregation — not just this congregation but to the idea of the Oratory and the reality of the Oratory. He has called us in — many of us — over the years to be touched by this same spirit of joy. I want to thank him for that because it cost him, just as it cost every one of us something when we commit ourselves to God.”
Callaghan continued, “The world comes to us broken, excluded, marginalized, hurting and we come to one another imperfect and blemished, unclean — judged sometimes, too. We also come to each other and the world and we say to one another with authenticity: I do will it, I want you to be whole, I want you to be fulfilled. I want you to be part of the community. And in 30 years, and for 30 more years, we will stand in the time and calls us to bring joy.”
Corrado recalled that, after all the hard work of establishing the Oratory, he received in early February 1988 “an oversized envelope with a Xeroxed letter from Rome saying we were an Oratory.
“When we started the Oratory I was the second-youngest. Now I’m the oldest. It’s sobering,” he said with a with a humor-filled expression that drew much laughter.
“Discernment begins the moment we open the door of the church,” said Corrado. Addressing the congregation, he added, “I believe it is you who have made this Oratory work, by your hospitality, by your work, most of all your welcome. People felt that they belonged.”
Another distinction between Oratories and diocesan parishes is that stability is a key way of life for Oratorians, and their priests are not transferred away from the Oratory. Two years ago, the Brooklyn Oratory did expand its ministry to the Heights in January 2016 when they began providing pastoral care for Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in the northern part of Brooklyn Heights. At the time, one of the priests serving neighboring St. Charles Borromeo Church retired and the remaining priests were stretched thin. The Brooklyn Oratory has enough priests to minister to both the Oratory and Assumption so that both remain active, viable parishes.
During its 30th anniversary Mass, the Brooklyn Oratory revived a liturgical setting titled “Mass for the Saint of Joy” that had been commissioned for Fr. Corrado’s 25th ordination anniversary. The Oratory had commissioned John Karl Hirten (former organist at St. James Cathedral) to compose this Mass setting, which was later used for fellow Oratorian Joel Warden’s ordination to the priesthood in 1999. Because of translation revisions to the English Mass texts seven years ago, the Mass for the Saint of Joy” couldn’t be used until recently, when an anonymous donor, the text of Mass for the Saint of Joy was revised. It will be sung again on Easter, when the rubrics of the Latin Rite churches resume the “Alleluia” proclamation, which is omitted during Lent. This penitential season began on Wednesday, Feb. 14.
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