By Marilyn Ann Verna, Ed.D.
What was once an iconic testimonial to the artistic talent and genius of the Italian immigrants is now nothing but a mass of rubble. Even the pediment, the representation of a great Italian Marian devotion by Gaetano Federici, was not spared in spite of a new proposal promise to the local Community Board by Monsignor LoPinto of Catholic Charities that the façade would be saved.
Their wishes for a “church-turned-cultural center” were deliberately ignored. The residents of the community showed their respect to its neighborhood’s Italian past by holding a memorial service for a building that should have been landmarked. Silver inflated balloons spelling out L-O-R-E-T-O were attached to the wooden barriers hiding the shameful act by the Brooklyn Diocese. Black ribbons were handed out as memorial keepsakes to the many people who attended.
Zulmilena Then, president of Preserving East New York and members of the Brownsville Cultural Coalition organized the heartfelt event in response to the Church’s demolition. Ms. Then expressed her disappointment with the local Councilman, Rafael Espinal, who surreptitiously sided with the Diocese to destroy the church building. Lester Ford, a resident of Brownsville, strongly condemned the Diocese for its autocratic approach, which dictated to the residents that they should have more housing, regardless of what they wanted. Jillian Mulvihill, who was the plaintiff in a court case against Catholic Charities, likened the Diocese to criminals.
Mario Toglia from the Italian American Studies Association listed the losses to various entities: the neighborhood lost a landmark and the opportunity for economic and cultural growth; the borough lost an architectural treasure and a venue for artistic groups; the Italian Americans lost an important part of their immigrant history; the Brooklyn Diocese lost its credibility, its integrity and reputation as a promoter of good-will and honesty.
William Russo, an Italian American advocate, emphasized that the group must seek out Church officials to ensure full accountability of the artistic and architectural treasures that were removed.
Letters from those who were unable to be present were read. Christopher Browne read his mother, Flavia Alaya’s letter. As an authority of the Federici legacy, she exemplified the unique artwork of the Loreto façade. She addressed the historic and artistic value of the architecture as irreplaceable – a masterpiece destroyed by ignorant and callous church officials. A letter from Charles Piazza also denounced the Bishop and the Monsignor for their role in being deceitful and dishonest. Mr. Piazza was part of the save-the-church campaign in 2009, which led to an agreed resolution “to preserve and maintain the church for the community” – something Catholic Charities ignored.
After a group photo, residents and visitors intermingled and reminisced. Former parishioners thanked the young organizers for their kind gesture in remembering the great Our Lady of Loreto Church.