Can an Italian Church in Brownsville Be Saved?

Our Lady of Loreto in Brownsville (Photo by Lore Croghan via Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

Brownsville residents and preservationists rallied around the historic Our Lady of Loreto Church on March 16, with the aim of saving the neighborhood icon, reports Patrick Kearns for Brooklyn Downtown Star. When constructed a century ago, the church provided a refuge for its parishioners, says Mario Toglia, a researcher of the church for the Italian American Studies Association.

“This church was built as a response to the nativist prejudice against Italian immigrants,” Toglia said. “He [Rev. V. Sorrentino, pastor of the congregation] was making a statement: this is our culture and this is what we built.

“Basically, when that church goes down, nobody will know that Italians lived here,” he added.

According to Toglia, the Diocese of Brooklyn and Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens are planning to demolish the building for affordable housing after claiming it would cost $9 million to secure the property to keep it as is.

As of press time, permits have not been secured for the demolition.

Toglia claims that the diocese is being purposefully misleading however, noting in 2010 diocese officials signed a resolution to save the church. In 2013, an Evangelical congregation was interested in moving in, but the diocese said it didn’t want it used as a church.

“The diocese did not tell Albany,” Toglia said. “But according to their resolution, they were supposed to let Albany know.”

Catholic Charities wants the building, now in disrepair, demolished with affordable housing constructed in its place.

In also reporting on the rally, Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s Lore Croghan focused on a new supporter of the cause – Queens state senator Tony Avella. He has joined a campaign – spearheaded by the Brownsville Cultural Coalition and Brownsville Assemblymember Latrice Walker – that seeks landmark status for Our Lady of Loreto and to turn it into a cultural center.

When asked why he is interested in a church that’s not in his home borough, Avella said, “I have a long-standing reputation of being a preservationist dating back to my days in the City Council. A number of groups reached out to me [about Our Lady of Loreto]. When anybody asks me for help, I go.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle added:

Avella has a track record as a champion of Italian-Americans’ cultural heritage. During his tenure in the City Council before being elected state senator, he was the founder and chairman of the first Italian-American Caucus of the City Council.

The caucus fought against stereotyping of the ethnic group.

For more on the effort to preserve Our Lady of Loreto, go to Brooklyn Downtown Star and Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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