A church grows in Ridgewood and Brooklyn: Our Neighborhood, The Way it Was

The exterior of St. Brigid Church
Photo via PropertyShark/Christopher Bride

More than 130 years ago, in March 1882, the Ridgewood area was seeing an increased demand for building lots for residential housing and also for land for offices, car houses and stables for the horse car railroads and the steam dummy railroads that were using Ridgewood Depot at Myrtle and Wyckoff Avenues as the hub for their activities.

Several hundred men, primarily Irish immigrants, were employed in the area by the railroads as conductors, horse car drivers, engineers on the steam trains, office workers, stablemen and maintenance men on the equipment. They wanted to live with their families near where they were employed.

The nearest Roman Catholic churches to Ridgewood were St. Leonard’s of Port Maurice at Hamburg Avenue (now Wilson Avenue) and Jefferson Street, which was founded in 1872, and Our Lady of Lourdes at Broadway and DeSales Place, founded the same year.

John Loughlin, Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn which covered all of Long Island (Kings, Queens and Suffolk counties — there was no Nassau County in 1882) perceived the need for another parish to be established in Ridgewood.

In May 1883, he announced that St. Brigid Parish had been organized for Ridgewood, with Father John McCloskey as the pastor. He was a young man who had been ordained in 1876. St. Brigid was an Irish saint who lived in the 7th century with the name selected reflecting the origins ofma ny of the residents in the area, which was still primarily farms.

The original St. Brigid Church exterior (we apologize for the grainy quality, as the original photo was not available).
The original St. Brigid Church exterior (we apologize for the grainy quality, as the original photo was not available).

In June 1883, the cornerstone of the church was laid with appropriate ceremonies with newspapers, coins, church documents and a list of public officials placed in the box in the cornerstone. Bishop Loughlin, in his speech to the audience, said that St. Brigid Parish would have a grand opportunity for doing good, as it was in a sparsely settled community where children were growing up in ignorance and vice, and it was to educate and make better the coming generation and to furnish a religious home for the present, that inspired the building of the church in the area.

As the population grew in the area, so would the parish church, and it would indeed become strong.

The new church was to cost $10,000, with the foundation of brick and stone, and the balance of the building would be of wood frame construction. It would be 50 feet wide, 76 feet long and 35 feet high, and would accommodate about 600 persons, with the basement being used for a parochial school.

Apparently, the new parish had difficulty in raising funds as the construction of the church proceeded slowly on Linden Street near St. Nicholas Avenue. Finally, on Sunday, June 21, 1885, the new church was dedicated by Bishop Loughlin.

In 1902, Father Patrick Farrelly of St. Agnes Church in Greenport, Long Island replaced Father Carroll as pastor of St. Brigid. By 1906, he had two assistants and there were 5,500 parishioners and 1,000 children attending Sunday school.

In 1909, Father Farrelly started construction of a large school building on Grove Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. The school opened the following year with almost 400 students. The Sisters of Mercy accepted Father Farrelly’s invitation to staff the school.

The parochial school was built at a cost of $150,000 and was one of the largest parochial schools, with a capacity of 1,600 pupils. The sisters who were living in the school had a chapel, a community room, a dormitory and a kitchen.

St. Brigid School continues to help grow young minds as St. Brigid Catholic Academy. This November 2008 photo, published in the Ridgewood Times, shows that month's "Students of the Month."
St. Brigid School continues to help grow young minds as St. Brigid Catholic Academy. This November 2008 photo, published in the Ridgewood Times, shows that month’s “Students of the Month.”

In early February 1914, Father Farrelly died; services were held on Feb. 5, 1914 at St. Brigid Church. The crowds were so large that people were required to maintain decorum. Distinguished prelates and priests from all over Long Island kept arriving until over 100 were in the church.

Because St. Brigid was an important parish, Bishop McDonnell gave careful consideration as to who should succeed Father Farrelly as pastor. In late 1914, he named Father John C. York, who at one time had been assigned to a parish in Huntington, as the new pastor of St. Brigid.

Father York immediately became involved in the activities of the parish. On Saturday, May 23, 1914, he participated in the First Communion of over 200 children. The following July, he presented diplomas to St. Brigid School graduates. Then in August, the church held an outing at Glendale Schuetzen Park, with the proceeds used for decorating the parish school.

Father York, as it turned out, had many political friends, including former President Theodore Roosevelt, whom he invited to attend a charity function in 1915; unfortunately, Roosevelt couldn’t attend.

Other close friends of Father York included Al Smith and Herbert Lehman, both of whom would become New York governors; and James Walker and Fiorello LaGuardia, both of whom would become mayors.

In 1921, Father York got permission from the bishop to build a new church. In April, the old frame church with the high stoop that stood on Linden Street was moved to a new location facing Grove Street between the school building and the new convent. Father York arranged with Herman Weingarten, the owner of the newly built Parthenon Theatre on the corner of Wyckoff Avenue and Palmetto Street, to use the theatre for Sunday Masses. One Sunday, April 17, 1921, three Masses were held at the Parthenon, and over 5,000 attended them.

In May 1921, Father York announced that a new church would be built at a cost of $300,000 at the corner of St. Nicholas Avenue and Linden Street, with a frontage of 100 feet on St. Nicholas Avenue. It would be 150 feet deep, 65 feet high and have a 90 foot high belfry, and 85 feet wide.

The cornerstone for the new church was laid on Oct. 2, 1921, with Bishop Thomas Molloy presiding. Father York planned on holding Mass in the basement, which would have a seating capacity of 1,274 persons and also in the upper church with a capacity of 1,400 persons. St. Brigid Parish’s fund drive to pay for the new church raised $200,000 by the time the cornerstone ceremonies took place.

By April 1922, the new church was nearing completion and Masses were being held in the lower church. The dedication of the new church was scheduled for the fall.

On May 17, 1922, St. Brigid held their annual minstrel show at Arcadia Hall, with almost 2,000 attending to see Father Quinn’s Claver Players. A substantial sum was raised to help pay for the new church.

Father York announced that graduation for the parochial school would take place on June 27, 1922; Mayor John Hylan was invited to address the graduates.

On Oct. 22, 1922, the new church was dedicated with thousands attending the ceremony. Bishop Thomas Molloy presided, and Archbishop Patrick J. Hayes preached the sermon.

In 1940, Monsignor York invited the Franciscan Brothers to take over the education of the boys in the parochial school and they accepted.

Monsignor York died in 1943; he had been pastor for 29 years and helped build St. Brigid materially. Bishop Molloy selected Father Lawrence C. Bracken as the new pastor. Under his guidance, a new school annex was built in 1955, followed by a second annex the following year. These two additions doubled the size of the original school to 2,500 students. Monsignor Bracken retired in 1966 and was succeeded by Father Joseph Graham, then later by Father Joseph McGroaty.

By 1976, there were 4,500 parishioners and 900 children attending the parish school. In the fall of 1977, Father James J. Kelly succeeded Father McGroaty as the pastor.

Monsignor James Kelly (left) pastor of St. Brigid Church, is pictured with Maureen Walthers and Carl Clemens of the Ridgewood Times in 1978 being honored for their seven-part series, "The Agony of Bushwick."
Monsignor James Kelly (left) pastor of St. Brigid Church, is pictured with Maureen Walthers and Carl Clemens of the Ridgewood Times in 1978 being honored for their seven-part series, “The Agony of Bushwick.”

In his nearly 40 years as pastor, Father Kelly was a passionate church and community leader; in particular, he worked to highlight the needs of the area’s growing immigrant population — a vocation he continues to this day as pastor emeritus.

He was also a staunch advocate for neighborhood improvement. In 1977, he worked with Ridgewood Times publisher Carl Clemens and editor Maureen Walthers on “The Agony of Bushwick,” an award-winning, seven-part article series focused on the neighborhood’s downturn and ideas to help it rebound, as it would in the decades that followed.

For over 100 years, the priests of St. Brigid Church have been dedicated to the needs of their parishioners and as Bishop Loughlin predicted, as the population of the area grew, so would the parish church and it would become strong.

Editor’s note: Originally printed in the March 3, 1988 issue of the Ridgewood Times and reprinted in two parts in the Sept. 28 and Oct. 5, 2017 issues of this paper.

If you have memories of Our Neighborhood that you’d like to share with us, email The Old Timer at editorial@ridgewoodtimes.com (subject: Our Neighborhood, The Way it Was), or write to The Old Timer, ℅ Ridgewood Times, 38-15 Bell Blvd., Bayside, NY 11361. If you include photos, please mark the envelope PHOTOS: DO NOT BEND; all mailed pictures will be carefully returned to you.

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