In 1842, Brooklyn and Long Island were part of the New York diocese. There were five Protestant churches in operation in Brooklyn Heights. On June 10, 1842, Bishop Hughes dedicated the area’s first Roman Catholic Church – the third in all of Brooklyn – to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of “Assumption”.
Father Beacon was the first pastor and within one year had organized a free school in rooms over the vestries of the church. By 1853, a new school building was erected and Father Beacon began the Eccleston Literary Society. However, in a short time, he was made the new bishop of the diocese of Portland, Maine.
Reverend William Keegan became pastor in 1855. Under his leadership, a schoolhouse was built at the corner of Pearl and York streets. The school opened in 1858 and was the second school in all of Brooklyn. Lay principals and teachers administered it until 1868 when Father Keegan obtained the services of the Sisters of Charity. Then in 1882, the Franciscan Brothers came to take responsibility of the boys’ department of the school.
Soon plans were made to enlarge the church. However, a fire broke out in a nearby lead factory and its flames spread to the roof of Assumption church destroying the roof, but the main portion of the building was saved. As the repairs were being made, the church building was extended.
In 1878, Father Keegan established a “first” when the Assumption Literary Institute was built at 96 and 98 Jay Street. As the first parochial hall in the diocese, it contained a billiard room, bowling alley, lecture room and stage. Father Keegan died in 1890. Yet, when Bishop Loughlin died in December 1891, he had not yet appointed a successor to Father Keegan. The administrators during this time were Reverend Michael Malone, Reverend John Mallen, Reverend Joseph Kilpatrick and Reverend Thomas O’Brien.
Father McCusker became the pastor in 1892, and he proved to be a kind, paternal, and just leader. He died in 1903 and was succeeded by Reverend William Donaldson on March 17, 1903.
Soon thereafter the parish buildings were taken over by “eminent domain” so that the Manhattan Bridge could be built. The parish received $125,000 for the church property. Part of this was used to purchase four lots on Cranberry Street and four lots on Middagh Street.
Ground was broken in August 1908, and on December 20, 1908, Bishop McDonnell laid the cornerstone of the new church. The church exterior is in Italian-Renaissance style, and its interior with its round columns and curved dome ceiling is Romanesque. It was dedicated on August 15, 1909.
While the church was being built, other problems caused by the bridge construction developed. With the church removed and the Manhattan Bridge passage so near to the school, it became impractical to continue the school at the old location. At the same time, the Board of Education had completed a new Public School No. 8 on Hicks Street between Middagh and Poplar streets. The city was considering tearing down the old school to build a police precinct. The church proposed exchanging the city property for its six and one-half lots in the rear of the old Public School. The result was that the old Public School was given to the parish for its school and renovations were needed only on the building. It opened as Assumption School in the Fall of 1909.
Reverend Monsignor William Farrell was appointed pastor in 1917 as the United States was entering World War I. Reverend James Carroll succeeded him in May 1931. Unfortunately, there are no records which tell the details of the latter two priests’ tenures.
In June 1935, Reverend Joseph Schreiner became pastor. One of his first achievements was the organization of the church’s first Newman Club – a philosophical discussion group. He built the church’s shrine to St. Joseph and erected a Carrara marble altar in the sanctuary with a Baldachin and a new altar rail.
Reverend Theodore McLaughlin replaced Father Schreiner in February 1941. Little is recorded of his years as pastor. However, during the Marian Year of 1954, the parish celebrated an elaborate St. Patrick’s Dance and Festival. The entire school was part of the celebration with the children participating in every aspect of the event.
In December, 1954, Reverend William O’Brien became pastor. During his pastorate, the church was redecorated and the interior of the school was refurbished. The neighborhood saw a greater mixture of people with different national backgrounds and the percentage of Catholics continually decreased.
At the close of the school year in June 1962, Assumption School closed its doors permanently and the Sisters of Charity left the parish. Then in November 1965, Father O’Brien died.
In was January 1966 when Reverend Charles Ahearn assumed the pastoral duties of Assumption. He was always concerned with beautifying the House of the Lord and creating the proper atmosphere for worship. He had the church floors scraped and finished, put in new radiators and kneelers, had the original wood finished and restored in the pews and had the Stations of the Cross redecorated. At the same time, he followed the new requirements of the Vatican Council II and had the altar changed to the priest could celebrate Mass facing the congregation. He also had the church hall completely renovated. In accordance with the recommendation of the Vatican Council II, a parish counsel consisting of seven elected members, four appointed members and two ex officio members was organized with its first meeting on November 12, 1969.
The Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis came to the parish in April 1969. They came to live in the convent at 23 Middagh Street. This convent became the home of the sisters who are on the General Council of the Order.
Reverend Sylvester Benack became pastor in January 1976. During his years as pastor, Father Benack continued with the liturgical norms and invited lay people to become lectors at Mass. He initiated a bible study group and the pot luck suppers. He also continued the growth of the Parish Council. In keeping with diocesan personnel policies, Father Benack retired in 1989.
Father Benack’s replacement was Monsignor Joseph Funaro who became pastor in January 1989. In preparation for the 150th Anniversary, Monsignor had to raise funds to address problems with the stained glass windows in the church, install a rest room for the handicapped, and replace the sound system in the church.
In 1996, two confessionals were converted to two shrines which were donated by John La Corte and the Italian Historical Society. Extensive work was also done in the rectory during his pastorate along with installing a new kitchen and rest rooms in the lower church hall.
Since Monsignor Funaro also was active in Catholic Charities, he used the church hall for the Diocesan Theater Guild rehearsals for the annual shows which he also directed.
One of the hallmarks of his pastorate was his ability to draw more people back to the parish and the church. This was exemplified when the parish celebrated its 150thanniversary in October 1992.
Monsignor also became an active member in the Heights Interfaith Clergy gatherings, which led to Assumption housing the homeless in the lower church hall. Monsignor also initiated First Friday and weekly Saturday devotions, novenas, annual Good Friday concerts and the “Person of the Year” award honoring outstanding parishioners who gave tirelessly to the parish. In 1996, he led the parish in a successful diocesan-wide campaign, which Bishop Daly called “Alive in Hope.”
In January 2000, Monsignor Funaro was transferred to Our Lady Queen of Martyrs parish in Forest Hills. Reverend Michael Carrano became pastor on January 21, 2000. Father Carrano was no stranger to Assumption Parish. In June, 1992, he was appointed Diocesan Director of Youth Ministry working in the Office of Religious Education, and at the invitation of Monsignor Funaro, came to reside at Assumption rectory where he helped out with the weekly Mass.
With the new millennium, Assumption Parish has seen the increase of ministries in the parish with many people accepting the invitation to be Eucharistic ministers, lectors, ushers, altar servers, ministers of pastoral care and catechists. The Parish Council was also redefined to be more advisory and is now called the Pastoral Council with twelve elected members. Father Carrano initiated periodic Sunday morning breakfasts with the Pastor as a means of listening to the needs and voices of the parishioners.
In October 2000, Sister Maria Klosterman became the Pastoral Associate and assumed the responsibility of initiating a parish Religious Education Program for the growing number of children in the parish. Sister Maria is a member of the Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis, and she has initiated new ventures in ministries for the parish.
One of the first challenges presented to Father Carrano was the necessity of fixing the West Tower of the church, a new roof, and the need to renovate the parish hall. With the advice of the parish Finance Committee and the Pastoral Council, the Millennium Preservation and Maintenance Campaign was instituted and the parishioners responded generously. The project began in November 2000 and was completed in September 2001. The parishioners were able to se and appreciate the results of their efforts when the annual Christmas Fair was held in December 2001.
The St. Patrick’s Dinner and Dance in March 2000 was an historic event as the event initiated the year-long 160thAnniversary celebration of Assumption Parish. As the parish began the historic year, five committees were formed to prepare for the year of celebration. They are the St. Patrick’s Dinner and Dance Committee, the Religious Event committee, the Cultural Committee, the Development Committee and the Homecoming Committee. The Homecoming Committee is preparing a special event on June 9th, which is ironically the 160th day of the year.
As Assumption looks to the future, we conclude this historical record with the words of Father Ahearn, a former pastor, “I hopefully and prayerfully look forward to an increase of our parish in the future, and I feel that the loyalty, generosity, cooperation and goodwill manifested by our parishioners will be continued so that future generations will be the ones to keep the church alive as a vital force in Assumption Parish and the Brooklyn Heights community.”