Bless me father for I have sinned, it’s been ten days since my last blog entry.
Amanda Decker on Holy Name Church via the Brooklyn Eagle:
On St. Patrick’s Day 1878, a new Catholic parish was created to fill the growing spiritual needs of a young and rapidly expanding Brooklyn community. Then Brooklyn Bishop John Loughlin recognized that soon more and more souls would be calling this enclave between the Green-Wood Cemetery and Prospect Park their home and would be in need of a place of worship. The neighborhood was Windsor Terrace and the newly formed fledgling parish was Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church.
In humble beginnings reminiscent of the manger of Bethlehem Holy Name’s first official mass was held in a stable not far from where the current church now stands. Holy Name’s transition to a brick and mortar home soon followed under the eye of its first appointed priest, a young Irishman by the name of Thomas S. O’Reilly.
When ground was broken for Holy Name Church on the corner of Prospect Avenue and 9th Avenue, the congregation itself already had a considerable following. Brooklyn was quickly expanding and the new parishioners were largely working class Irish, German, Polish, and Italian- Americans looking for an inviting city neighborhood in which to settle down. From the beginning, Holy Name Church played an integral part in the forming of the community of Windsor Terrace- anchoring the neighborhood and providing a place of meeting and shared inspiration to its newly settling members. The parish helped families to create a strong, connected and comforting community in the heart of the major metropolis of New York City. This legacy would prove to endure through the ages.
Since its inception, Holy Name Church has undergone several physical makeovers. The original outlying structure built of Philadelphia brick has remained mostly untouched and intact. Several interior renovations were completed over the years, the most infamous of which was the 1980 renovation that left many parishioners less than pleased.
At around the same time that Holy Name parish was established, a gifted young architect by the name of James Renwick Jr. was making his mark on America’s burgeoning architectural scene. Designing such notable structures as; Manhattan’s beautifully ornate Grace Church, Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian Institute, and his most famous work, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Renwick Jr. made a name for himself in the architectural world that would reverberate through the ages. Renwick’s works implied a strength of vision and undeniable presence that would echo in the halls of his masterpieces, inspiring and elating all who entered their doors.
Though carefully planned and sharply executed it turned out that one of Renwick’s grand designs did not fit into the unfolding layout of St. Patrick’s. Due to its large size one of the side altars Renwick designed had to be left out. Too beautiful by far to be abandoned the altar was instead given to Brooklyn’s St. Vincent de Paul church located in Williamsburg. When St. Vincent de Paul Church closed its doors, the altar was move to storage where it remained until—the new renovations of Holy Name Church began in 2012. It was at this point that Renwick’s altar was given to Holy Name Church to serve as a grand focal point for its new renovations. Renwick’s ornate marble altar is a considerable change from Holy Name’s previous markedly plain liturgical space.
As more and more churches in the northeast are closing, it has become common practice for new or renovating churches to purchase remnants of these old buildings—sometimes even the entire building itself. Holy Name was fortunate to obtain the Renwick altar for only the price of its storage and transport.
Coincidentally, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the originally intended home of Renwick’s altar, opened its doors for the first time (in 1879) just a few months after Holy Name Church held its first Mass on Christmas Day. Again, like Holy Name Church St. Patrick’s also began an extensive restoration in 2012. Furthermore, as happenstance would have it, James Renwick Jr. was buried at the Green-Wood Cemetery just a few blocks from Holy Name Church.
Holy Name Church’s renovations also include two side altars from St. Vincent de Paul, as well as the installation of marble flooring and adorning woodwork. The renovations are slated to be completed by this Easter, which falls on April 20.
The Holy Name renovation process was a product of an ambitious fundraising campaign begun by Father James Cunningham. Father Jim, as he is known, began the project in response to the complaints and urgings of his parishioners to “fix” the church after its last infamous 1980 face-lift when it was painted pink and left unadorned. Father Jim, who has been named this year’s Grand Marshal of Brooklyn’s Irish-American Day Parade, felt a monumental renovation of the church would offer a more inspirational church going experience for parishioners. As Father Jim puts it, “the center of our life as a Catholic parish is the Church and we need a worship space conducive to prayer that people like coming to.”
When the fundraising project began it was estimated that Holy Name Church would be able to raise approximately $1.2 million. To date the church surpassed—indeed, doubled that goal—raising $2.4 million. What accounts for this overflow of donations? Sitting with Father Jim in the church rectory he explains, “In all my years of pastoring, all the places I have been, I have never encountered a place like Holy Name Parish.” He pauses for a moment and looks reflectively out the rectory window at the peaceful tree lined street that adorns Holy Name. “There is a loyalty and connection here that is unique. I know what I have here. And I hope to stay here forever.”