2866 West 17th Street
Brooklyn, New York 11224
Phone: (718) 266-
FAX: (718) 946-
REV. SHIJU CHITTATTUKARA, S. D. V., Pastor
REV. JAVIER FLORES, S. D. V., Parochial Vicar
REV. LORENZO M. GOMEZ, S. D. V., in residence
Over 115 Years of Service to the People of God in Coney Island
A Parish served by the VOCATIONIST FATHERS (Blessed Justin Russolillo, founder)
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”
IT ALL STARTED WITH A DANCE AND BEER HALL…
One Sunday in 1900, thousands of miles away from San Valentino, Torio, Italy, some people from Coney Island had heard a sermon about faith being “…as the grain of a mustard seed.” On the way home from St. Finbar’s Roman Catholic Church one of the party called out, “If our faith is loyal, behold our church already built!” As he spoke, he rubbed off a dirty pane of glass to show the interior of a disused dance and beer hall, once known as the “Palm Garden,” the home of a thousand spiders and sparrows.
Early in the summer, a priest on the Italian missions in Brooklyn sent a little brass medal of Our Lady of Solace from San Valentino, Torio, Italy, to the household of the man who had spotted the possible site and had made a petition for a chapel.
Months passed and the committee continued its work. Once, a group of Italian children was sent to Bishop Charles Edward McDonnell’s residence with a bouquet of flowers and this message. “To our dear Father, the Bishop, begging him not to forget his Coney Island children.” Then, in October 1900, the long-
When Father Brophy (he preferred to sign documents with his educational title of “Doctor” as opposed to the ecclesiastical title of “Father”) was shown the dance hall he hastened to get permission to adapt it to its new uses. An army of small boys dislodged the tenant spiders and sparrows. Everything was then washed down. Benches from a nearby park were set in order to be used as pews. Two saloon screens marked off the sacristy. The confessional was a nightmare. It was made of reversed billboards and on the “wrong side” depicted astonishing feats of jugglers and told of the desirable qualities of a certain brand of beer. An discarded refrigerator was turned on its side to serve as a temporary altar. The Altar Society brought linens, candles and vestments for the celebration of Mass. On November 4, 1900 on the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo the first Mass of Our Lady of Solace Parish was celebrated in the newly decorated former dance hall.
The old, abandoned Palm Garden had become the first church of Our Lady of Solace in Coney Island. However, in the spring of 1901, it became obvious that a more suitable and a centralized location for the church was necessary. Dr. Brophy realized that God’s work had to take in the crowds that surged to Coney Island from every tribe and nation or the church and parish would fail. He envisioned the growth of a work that would make Coney Island the place of national pilgrimage for the souls in purgatory, for whose comfort Our Lady bears the “solace.” He selected some lots on 17th Street on the corner of Mermaid Avenue which provided a direct route to the city. Unfortunately, the lots were not for sale. Not one to be intimidated by obstacles, Dr. Brophy prayed. Shortly thereafter, a lady donated to him one of the lots, and by May of 1901, twenty-
On the day of the re-
We live for those who love us
For those whose hearts are true
For the God that reigns above us
And the good that we may do.
Our Lady of Solace Church had indeed grown strong since its humble beginnings. Bishop McDonnell, seeing that the people of Coney Island were in earnest, presented the little church with a piece of baked stonework, which was a copy of the statue of Our Lady of Consolation in San Valentino. It is a group of six figures which form an allegorical picture; angels are represented beside our Lady and her Son, breaking the chains of the captive souls in Purgatory.
In September 1905, Dr. Brophy, in poor health, was sent to Rome by the Bishop. He visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation at San Valentino, Torio, Italy. At this time, Father Brophy also received the privilege of a private interview with Pius X. George William Cardinal Mundelein (future Auxiliary Bishop and future Cardinal/Priest of Santa Maria del Popolo in Chicago), who was then a young priest, was present at the interview which he discussed in these words…
“Kneeling at the feet of His Holiness, Father Brophy asked him to grant an extraordinary privilege to his church, begging that Our Lady of Solace be made a shrine in perpetuity with special indulgences for all who visit it. His Holiness listened while Father Brophy spoke of the manifold amusements of Coney Island and of his little church set so near the heart of all the rush and glare. Then the Holy Father smiled: ‘If the people will turn only a moment from pleasure to prayer let them be rewarded.”
Thus, Dr. Brophy’s request was granted. Our Lady of Solace Church became the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace, a recognized Roman Shrine with the privilege of the Portiuncula Indulgence. It is truly ironic and unique that the island of pleasure, the playground of the world, was the very place chosen for the special remembrance of the souls in purgatory.
For years Dr. Brophy had planned to build a permanent brick church, school, convent, and rectory, However, he never lived to see the fulfillment of his work. The energetic and devoted young founder and pastor died of pneumonia in September of 1908 at the age of 39. A plaque honoring Dr. Brophy was moved from the original church to the lobby of the current church during its dedication Mass where it remains today. Forty-
Finally, in 1925, Dr. Brophy’s dream of a magnificent permanent church building and parish complex was finally realized under the administration of the parish’s third pastor: Rev. Walter Kerwin, late of St. Sebastian’s R.C. Church in Woodside, Queens. The Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace, as it stands today, was erected at the site located on the northwest corner of West 17th Street and Mermaid Avenue. A tasteful combination of the best of overall Romanesque, Tuscan roof and Neapolitan brick styles with grand apse mosaics honoring the Holy Trinity, and an ornate gold-
Attached to the church building with its baptismal chapel in its base was an imposing 185-
THE DARK YEARS
Over the decades, the destinies of the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace and America’s Playground would be inevitably intertwined. Coney Island lost Dreamland to a massive fire in 1911. In 1944, Luna Park from Surf Avenue to Neptune Avenue suffered the same fate. The surviving section of the park from Neptune Avenue to the subway yard continued to operate for the remainder of the season; then it, too, closed. During the decades of the fifties, sixties and seventies (the era of Robert Moses’ much-
Trump (who was pushing for luxury hotels, high-
During the late 1960's, the aging rectory of Our Lady of Solace on the northeast corner of Mermaid Avenue and West 19th Street had become more and more difficult and increasingly expensive to maintain. The rectory building and its manmade hilltop were eventually razed and replaced with a new building on West 17th Street adjacent to the convent. The main church parking lot now occupies the original site. The 185-
A CONEY ISLAND COMEBACK: THE PHOENIX RISES
From the dawn of the 1990’s (and especially over the first decade of the new millennium), Coney Island has experienced a reversal of its fortunes as new generations have discovered the remaining landmark amusements and a rich history. The annual Mermaid Parade draws more than a million people annually, evoking memories of George Tilyou and Steeplechase. The New York Mets’ minor league Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team plays at MCU Park (formerly Keyspan Park; the name disappeared when it was absorbed by National Grid). The sparkling new modern subway terminal greets visitors as they arrive, its facade, spires and running exterior lights patterned after the Surf Avenue entrance to old Luna Park. The National Historic Landmark Cyclone rollercoaster and Deno’s ever-
Astroland, whose properties also were sold to Joseph Sitt and Thor Equities in 2006, was finally closed permanently on September 7, 2008 and demolished in early 2009. Only the AstroTower remained. With the sale of seven acres of Thor property along the boardwalk to the City of New York, a new incarnation of the long-
In 2011, another new theme park, Scream Zone, opened and stretches along the Boardwalk from Deno’s Wonder Wheel to the former Tornado site. The beach itself is still greets millions of sunbathing visitors every summer. Scream Zone is an offshoot of Luna Park. It employs an updated version of “Tilly,” George Tilyou’s toothy widely grinning mascot of Steeplechase Park, as the symbol of Scream Zone. Tilly’s hair black in a continental Italian style (as opposed to short brown and slicked) and has a wider grin than his original incarnation (which can be seen gracing Luna Park’s Tickler coaster); he’s probably showing his added joy in seeing the crowds and classic amusements, thrills and spills return to his beloved Coney Island. In 2013, the new Steeplechase Pavilion will open adjacent to the Parachute Jump and MCU Park along the boardwalk in the new Steeplechase Plaza park. Its main attraction is the return of the famous 1919 merry-
All throughout the continuing evolution of Coney Island, the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace continues to stand proudly as it serves its parishioners and community. An impressive digital carillon emulates the great chimes of the past and emits from the church tower. A newly-
THE ARRIVAL OF THE SOCIETY OF DIVINE VOCATIONS (THE VOCATIONIST FATHERS)
A new chapter in the history of the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace opened January 31, 2012, as Father West departed for a new assignment as administrator of Corpus Christi R. C. Church in Woodside, Queens. For the first time since its founding, the parish is served and administered by a religious order, the Society of Divine Vocations (Vocationist Fathers), founded in Naples, Italy by Blessed Justin Russolillo, S.D.V. (beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on May 7, 2011). Since the Society was founded on October 18, 1920, the ministry of the Vocationist Fathers has quickly spread throughout Italy, France, Brazil, Argentina, and the United States. Most recently, their ministry has expanded to Nigeria, India, Philippines, Madagascar, Columbia and Ecuador. Rev. Armando M. Palmieri, S.D.V, former pastor of St. Nicholas Church in Palisades Park, New Jersey, arrived January 9, 2012 and officially took over as Pastoral Administrator of the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace on January 31, 2012. Joining Fr. Armando was Rev. Shiju M. Chittattukara, S.D.V. as Parochial Vicar. In June of 2012, Fr. Armando was appointed Councilor General of Vocationist Parishes Worldwide in addition to his pastoral duties at Our Lady of Solace, and in 2013, he was appointed by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio as Pastor of the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace. Also in 2013, the parish welcomed Fr. Lorenzo Gomez, S.D.V. in residence at Our Lady of Solace, who has reached out to the Spanish-
SUPERSTORM SANDY AND THE RECOVERY
From October 30 to October 31, 2012, a storm of unimaginable proportions bore down on the Northeastern United States. Named “Sandy”, and covering a track nearly eight hundred miles wide, it never grew into any more than a Category 1 hurricane bringing very little rain with it. The storm’s tidal surge did most of the damage. In anticipation of the coming of the storm surge, coastal communities up and down the Northeast, including Coney Island, called for mandatory evacuation. Occurring at high tide, the surge from the Atlantic Ocean hit like a massive tidal wave never before seen in the region. All of the communities along the coast of New Jersey and Lon g Island were either heavily damaged or completely destroyed. Atlantic City, Point Pleasant, Long Beach Island, Asbury Park and Seaside Heights were but a few of the heavily damaged or destroyed community, their renowned boardwalks smashed into kindling and amusement rides ruined beyond repair. In New York, downtown Manhattan was completely flooded; basements, parking garages and the brand new South Ferry subway station was completely destroyed as it saw water from the bottom to their street entrances. All of the traffic tunnels were filled with polluted salt water up to their ceilings. Staten Island’s beautiful shore communities, from South Beach to Midland Beach to New Dorp and Tottenville became New York’s “ground zero” of Sandy’s fury. Breezy Point saw not only destruction from the flooding, but the burning of one-
The Coney Island boardwalk did survive with relatively little damage. A classic haunted spook ride in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park that kept riders screaming in terror since 1920’s was forever ruined. While the repairs have been ongoing on the new Zamperla rides in Luna Park and Scream Zone, the fates of the Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone roller coaster remained in doubt for some time. Their works, which were underground and dating back almost ninety years, were seemingly damaged beyond repair. However, on opening day, March 24, 2013, all of the parks and their rides were back in operation. New track was installed on the Cyclone by CAI to ensure a still thrilling but smoother and safe ride. The Wonder Wheel was completely refurbished and its gondolas cleaned and repainted. No major hurricane and its sea surge would stop the Vourderis family from having its wonderful park ready and the great Wheel ready to provide riders with some thrills and grand vistas. The original Nathan’s still stood strangely silent; it took months to restore it and put it back in operation. However, its boardwalk location survived with very little damage and will keep the tradition alive while its far older big brother recovered. The original Nathan’s Famous reopened on June 1, 2012 in time to reactivate its Hot Dog Eating Contest Countdown Clock and well as hold the Contest on July 4th. Gargiulo’s is an amazing story. Although sections of the classic Italian restaurant were badly damaged and neatly blocked off, it reopened on December 1, 2012, offering not only its incomparable food, service and catering facilities but a also shot of encouragement to the many small business owners in Coney Island whose businesses were washed away.
The Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace also saw extensive damage with over four feet of water in the church, most of it coming up from its furnace room basement and crawlways (the new doors, installed in 2010, kept back most of the water). The rectory and convent basement were also flooded to the ceiling and, liked the church, their electrical boxes, wiring and heating systems were destroyed. Damage to the school building was, however, minimal in comparison. It had been originally planned that Sunday Masses would be held in the auditorium with weekday Masses in the old convent chapel. Working tirelessly, pastor Fr. Armando Palmieri, parochial vicar Fr. Shiju M. Chittattukara, and a small army of volunteers worked tirelessly to set the church to rights, cleaning pews and refinishing some where necessary, removing mud, sand and small pools of standing water. On Sunday November 4th with sanctuary lights, a portable sound system and electronic keyboard powered by a generator, all of the Sunday Masses returned to the church. The Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace was not long in taking its accustomed place as a beacon of faith and hope in Coney Island.
Many Catholic, Protestant and Jewish congregations, and organizations from New York City and beyond delivered aid to the stricken parishioners of Our Lady of Solace. With its food pantry in the rectory basement destroyed, Catholic Charities was quick to deliver provisions and supplies and run their distribution from the rectory dining room. Chase’s bank branch on the corner of Mermaid Avenue and West 17th Street, was almost totaled. Three 24-
On Monday, November 26, 2012, power and heat were restored to the church, and the following week, the Monte Bros. sound system was replaced and improved. The church organ, undamaged but out of service for more than a month, was back in all of its glory and all of the choirs had returned. The rectory, however, had more structural damage than originally thought after flood waters seeped through from the overfilled basement; both the basement and the first floor level of the rectory had to be completely restored.
By May 2013, the restorations of the rectory and convent were completed. The new Our Lady of Solace Parish Center with its modern, spacious, comfortable meeting rooms and the Catholic Charities Food Pantry now occupies the rectory basement. Providence House and the Sisters of St. Joseph returned to the convent building. In early 2014, the former convent chapel, converted decades before to a meeting room when the original religious order had moved out, was beautifully restored as a chapel, thanks to the planning of Fr. Armando and the excellent craftsmanship of Mr. Luis Vega, who donated his time and efforts. The Chapel of Our Lady of Divine Vocations is home to almost all weekday and Saturday Masses in the parish, with the exception of special celebrations, memorials and feastdays that are celebrated in the church. In addition, daily Eucharistic Adoration was established in the chapel and takes place Monday through Friday from 10:00am to 10:00pm. With the removal of the disused and decaying Roosevelt organ, the church’s choir loft was finally opened to its full width. It received a major overhaul complete with a new ceramic tile floor, new L.E.D. lighting and electrical wiring and outlets. The Rodgers organ’s speakers, for ten years in a jumble in the center of the loft, were moved out into their permanent positions and its sound is glorious. The church is slated to be closed during the summer of 2015 for the demolition and replacement of its cracked and sinking concrete floor. Weekday Masses will continued to be held in the Divine Vocations chapel while the Sunday Masses move to the school auditorium for three months. The prayer in the second stanza of the parish hymn, Our Lady of Solace, says: “O Mother of Mercy, grant this parish your blessings. May it prosper and flourish; may it grow in God’s grace…” In spite of all kinds of obstacles, culminating with a disastrous hurricane, the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace is evidence that our Blessed Mother is continuing to answer that prayer through her beloved Son.
On August 31, 2014, Fr. Armando Palmieri was transferred to St. Gabriel’s Parish in Rome, Italy as Pastor. Succeeding him as the new Administrator on September 1st is the parish’s parochial vicar, Fr. Shiju M. Chittattukara, S.D.V. with Fr. Javier Flores, S.D.V., assuming the position of parochial vicar. On Fr. Shiju’s birthday, Sunday, March 8, 2015, he was installed as Pastor of the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace by Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Chappetto.
One hundred and fourteen years since its founding by Dr. Brophy in abandoned dance hall, the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace continues to grow and thrive, and it serves as an important focal point in a reviving community. Also, in keeping with Dr. Brophy’s dream and the words of Pope Pius X, the souls in Purgatory are not forgotten. On the third Sunday of every month, a special Purgatorial Mass is offered for all enrolled in the Purgatorial Society of Our Lady of Solace.
About Our Parish -