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Over 122 years of serving the people of God in Coney Island Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace History: Part 7 The Vocationist Fathers Arrive! A New Challenge: The Disaster and Recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Problems and decline at Corpus Christi Parish in Woodside, Queens were threatening to undermine the parish. With need for swift action, Bishop DiMarzio asked Fr. West to leave Our Lady of Solace in 2011, a full year before the end of his second pastoral term, and to take over as pastor of Corpus Christi, and turn it around as he had done with Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace.  With a drastic reduction of Catholic religious vocations in the United States, many Dioceses were turning to religious orders to take over the operation of various parishes. Established in Naples, Italy, by Rev. Justin Russoliilo, S.D.V. (Society of Divine Vocations) to fill a need for affordable religious studies for all those wishing to pursue the call of religious life, and not just the wealthy families who could afford the seminaries, the Society of Divine Vocations, or Vocationist Fathers, had arrived in the United States nearly five decades earlier to take over parishes in several states. With its Vocationary located in Florham Park, New Jersey, and successful parishes communities throughout the state, the order was looking to establish its first community in New York. The Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace presented such an opportunity. A contract between the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Vocationist Fathers was signed, and the Order took over the administration of Our Lady of Solace at the start of 2012. with Rev. Armando Palmieri, S.D.V., former pastor of St. Nicholas Parish in Palisades Park, New Jersey, succeeding Fr. West as the new pastor of Our Lady of Solace.

Still reeling from the shock of losing Fr. West so soon, the parish was slow to accept the new religious community. Attendance was gradually declining and collections were down, and for the first time in more than a decade, the parish missed its goal in the Annual Catholic Appeal. However, Fr. Palmieri sought ways to reach out to the parish community, and he saw excellent possibilities in the former convent chapel that decades later had been closed and converted into a meeting room. With the work of volunteers and donation of materials, it  was converted into the attractive new Our Lady of Divine Vocations Chapel which was opened for weekday Masses and daily Exposition and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  In June 2012, Fr. Palmieri was elected Councilor for the Vocationist Parishes and Vocationaries by the Order and was to be recalled to Italy in a few months time.  A disaster of epic proportions changed those plans.

On October 27th, 2012, the worst hurricane to ever strike the New York City region arrived in Hurricane Sandy. The record-breaking winds and resulting storm surges and floods resulted in a path of destruction of over 1,000 miles along the eastern United States. Coney Island itself wound up with over eight feet of salt water rushing in from both Coney Island Creek to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. Businesses were destroyed, homes washed away, electrical lines ruined by the salt water and the church’s floor further damaged by the four feet of water that came up through the heating pipe ducts. The church building, however, was saved thanks to its new doors donated by longtime parishioner Mrs. Lena Pane and her family. They held back the furious waters and currents outside.

Through his excellent leadership skills and sheer force of will, Fr. Palmieri immediately began to organize aid and recovery efforts through the parish.  To try to at least bring some sense of normalcy and hope to the parish, it was necessary to get the church back into use as soon as possible. Working around the clock with volunteers, Fr. Palmieri and Parochial Vicar Rev. Shiju Chittattukara, S.D.V. worked to set things right as fast as possible so that the church could be used for Sunday Mass. With the use of electrical generators outside and radiant heaters in the sanctuary, and the use of a portable electric keyboard and amplifier in front of the church, the Mass was celebrated on a Sunday of beautiful blue skies and plenty of sunshine. A definite optimism was visible on even those most affected by the storm as they left the church.  It wasn’t until after December 2nd that the church, convent, and rectory once again had heat and electricity, but Fr. Palmieri and the parish weathered the disaster. Furthermore, he used to opportunity to create a beautiful new and much-needed parish center (the Fr. Justin Russolillo, S.D.V. Parish Center) in the refurbished basement of the rectory. Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace was back on track again.


Rev. Armando Palmieri, S.D.V.,  pastor of Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace from 2012 to 2014, and Councilor for the Vocationist Parishes  and Vocationaries Chapel of Our Lady of Divine Vocations 2013-2019 Entrance to the  Fr. Justin Russolillo, S.D.V. Parish Center