Brooklyn’s first Catholic church turns 200

St. James Cathedral Basilica on Jay Street between Cathedral Place and Chapel Street in downtown Brooklyn. Eagle file photo by Josh Ross Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

St. James Parish, which has played a significant role in Brooklyn’s religious history, marks its 200e anniversary with a special Mass that Bishop Robert Brennan, Bishop of Brooklyn, will lead this Sunday.

The parish, which predates the Diocese of Brooklyn by 31 years, was founded in 1822.

Prior to the construction of St. James, there was no established church on Long Island, which in the early 19e century, included Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties. Residents of the Village of Brooklyn, weary of traveling by boat to Manhattan to attend mass, decided to build a church on what now stands on Jay Street, near Tillary Street.

New York Bishop John Connolly traveled from Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan on the feast day of St. James, July 25, 1822, to bless the cornerstone of the church designated as St. James .

Long Island’s oldest Catholic church, the Cathedral Basilica of St. James on Jay Street, which recently celebrated its 200th anniversary.
Eagle archive photo by Lore Croghan
Eagle file photo by Josh Ross

St. James’s building is a Georgian Revival church which includes a spire, a large gallery and a nave. From above, the church building reflects the cross-shaped, so-called cruciform construction, an architectural style usual for many cathedrals. The stained glass windows of this brick church were made in Germany.

The Brooklyn Diocese, established in 1853, continued to build churches and schools across Long Island, from Brooklyn to Montauk. Bishop John Loughlin, the prelate of the new diocese, suspended plans for a larger cathedral, due to financial problems.

When in 1957 the Diocese of Rockville Center was created in 1957, the boundaries of the Diocese of Brooklyn were changed to encompass only Brooklyn and Queens.

In 1972, Bishop Francis Mugavero officially designated St. James as the Cathedral of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Until that time, Saint-Jacques was a pro-cathedral, as it was the first church in the diocese.

St. James Cathedral was raised in 1982. Three years after his visit in 1979, Pope John Paul II officially designated the cathedral as a basilica.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York and Bishop John Barres of the Diocese of Rockville Center will join Bishop Brennan at the Bicentennial Memorial Mass.

DeSales Studios produced a documentary about the 200e Anniversary of St. James which airs on NET-TV August 14 at 5 p.m. To see the trailer, click here:

Martha J. Finley