brooklyn priesthood

 

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Brooklyn Priests: A Vocation Within a Vocation
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Brooklyn Priests: A Vocation Within a Vocation

Brooklyn has been called the “cradle of tough guys and Nobel laureates, fourth largest city in the United States, proof of the power of marginality, and homeland of America’s most creative diasporic culture”.  It is a mixing bowl of languages and cultures where people who would not normally have chosen to live together learned to get along.  Here a thing called Brooklynesewas born when, as some believe, remnants of the old Breukelen Dutch collided with the languages of new waves of immigrants who taught each other to speak English.  The Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes the borough of Brooklyn and Queens, is much of this and more.  It is surely the place where generation after generation of immigrants have stepped off ships and planes from everywhere, uncertain and afraid, hopeful and confident, to find a Church both waiting to welcome and needing to be built.    If the walls  of  our parish churches could sing, what a beautiful hymn  we would hear  telling of   hundreds of thousands of  baptisms, of first penance  and First Holy Communion  intensely  prepared for and reverently received,  of marriages  and  requiems  gathering families and friends in joy and in sorrow giving way to the Christian hope of resurrection.  Those walls would sing too of the forgiveness of sins, of thousands upon thousands of “visits” for a few moments of prayer  on any given day, of classes taught proudly  and  boldly and competently   with the sole intention of  building up God’s Church and making the world a better place in which to live, of vocations discerned and embraced.    In Brooklyn, life has traditionally been lived in the streets and for those so disposed, the presence of the Christ of the Streets and of His Holy Mother, La Madonna Della Strada has been most powerfully felt.

 

Nonetheless, “the streets” remain as the symbol, at least, of the life and witness of an all-urban local church.   This life and witness, carrying with it the possibility of religious experience and no little inspiration, was seen prodigiously in the ministry of the characterful the Most Reverend John Loughlin, our founding bishop.  Archbishop John Hughes of New York was his friend and mentor.  The first Bishop of Brooklyn was known for unnerving newspaper reporters anxious for an interview by insisting that he be allowed to interview them, which he did before abruptly ending the meeting. Yet he enjoyed walking to the post office each morning to pick up the new diocese’s daily mail and would stop to chat with everyone along the way.    He made no distinction between rich and poor in granting audiences; everyone had to wait their turn to speak with him at his residence but he was most solicitous toward the immediate and urgent poor, particularly the young, the homeless, the sick, and the newly arrived. “Well, which one of you is next?” was his way of inviting the next visitor from the small crowd waiting in the anteroom into his study.  He wore “shockingly bad hats”, long out of style stove pipe hats such as Abe Lincoln wore, and when he personally brought the regular diocesan deposits to the bank, he walked through the streets with the money tucked away in that stove pipe.  He cared not at all for fashion in the way he dressed and his hobbies were reading newspapers and smoking cigars, which he mostly gave up in his later years.  Stryker’s Alley, now gone, was a poor African American community in Brooklyn in Loughlin’s day and he had a special devotion and affection for the residents there.  When he died, the Brooklyn Eagle reported that the folks from Stryker’s Alley could be seen weeping in public.  It was a different time and today’s style and priorities must be different.   But Bishop Loughlin’s spirit remains, a spirit of personal conversion and caritas contained in the Letter of St. James:  Looking after widows and orphans in their distress and keeping oneself unspotted by the world make for pure worship without stain before our God and Father.  Later, in the twentieth century, Archbishop Thomas E. Molloy would say that when he died, he hoped heaven would be a lot like Brooklyn.  And Bishop Francis Mugavero would often suggest to his Brooklyn priests that walking the streets of their parishes was the best and most effective method of evangelization.  There we would learn that Brooklyn truly is a stop on the way to Paradise.

 

If priesthood is a vocation, then priesthood in the Diocese of Brooklyn is a vocation within a vocation.  The smallest diocese in the nation territorially, the largest in population, and all urban all the time, our local church is one of the most diverse and challenging in the world.   Demands made on Brooklyn priests include fluency in the language of the Church and the language of the people; and an easy comfort in a multicultural milieu.  An intellectual sophistication  wrapped up  in a  street-wise,  plain spoken directness, combined with gentleness and tact,   and the focus, discipline, and toughness of firefighters at a ten alarm  fire are also prerequisites  with which we are gifted or soon learn to acquire.  Priestly ministry in the Diocese of Brooklyn is carried out in the midst of the tumult and noise of   a thousand daily distractions.  Yet as any veteran Brooklyn priest will tell you, the distractions are the work and the Lord is in the distractions.  There most definitely exists a Brooklyn charisma and it is recognized by brother priests and others around the country.    If you travel to local churches in any region in the nation and let it be known that you are a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, you will be greeted with curiosity, good humor, and even a bit of trepidation.  You will notice a certain respect and you will be peppered with lots of questions.  And you will have answers.  Not too long ago, the Diocese of Brooklyn was renowned for its national cutting edge leadership in catechesis, social justice, education, and journalism.    Counted in the ranks of the Brooklyn clergy have been outstanding scholars in scripture and canon law, writers and orators, leaders who caused the rest of the country to sit up and pay attention in the name of the Lord.

 

"I would do it all over again."

Fr. Jamie J. Gigantiello

When people ask me why I became a Priest, the first thing that comes to mind is when I was an altar server back in St. Patrick's parish in LIC and how I enjoyed serving Mass.  As time went on I became very active in the parish activities. I remember always volunteering to do something around the Church and school.  I remember being asked every spring to go into the convent to pull up the rugs for the Sisters of St. Joseph and putting them back after the summer.  I remember how Holy I felt being in that convent.

 

When I entered high school and started attending St. Rita’s parish, where I was Baptized, I became very involved with High School Confraternity.  While working on high school retreats and communal penance services I was asked to become a Lector and Eucharistic Minister.  In many ways I felt that I was being called to the Priesthood.  But at that time I did not feel worthy or capable of ever becoming a Priest, let alone getting up in front of people to speak.

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