Brooklyn’s Jesuit College

In July 1906, the Jesuits bought the old Kings County jailhouse on Crow Hill from one of their former students, Bishop Charles E. McDonnell. For a long time they had wanted to come to Brooklyn, but McDonnell’s predecessor, Bishop John Loughlin, wouldn’t let them. (A local paper claimed that Loughlin had a strong “aversion for two classes of people—Jesuits and reporters.”) They had plans for a large domed church and college that would cover an entire city block. On September 15, 1908, Brooklyn College opened with 226 students. Its high school department was named Brooklyn Preparatory School, and the parish St. Ignatius. Within a few years the neighborhood’s name was changed to the more elegant-sounding Crown Heights, and in 1913 Charles Francis Ebbets erected a baseball stadium in the parish boundaries. But money was a perennial problem for the college, and in 1921 it closed its doors. (The current school opened in 1930). Brooklyn Prep, however, was a success. By the early 1950’s, it had a thousand students. Alumni included Joseph Califano, John Dockery, Joe Paterno, and Exorcist author William Peter Blatty. A list of the school’s teaching scholastics reads like a Who’s Who of the New York Province: Bill Wood, Tom Bermingham, Dan Berrigan, George Hunt, Rick Curry, and Bill O’Malley, to name a few. By the early 1970′s demographic shifts and declining enrollment forced its closing in 1972 (the building now houses Medgar Evers College.) Over the years St. Ignatius parish has been a model for Haitian outreach. In 1992 Father Jim Loughran, a prep alumnus who grew up in the parish, was named president of Brooklyn College. Jesuit education came back to Brooklyn in 2003 with Brooklyn Jesuit Prep, a Nativity-model school for inner city students. A prep alumnus observed that the “kids who attended the original Brooklyn Prep were the children and grandchildren of immigrants. The kids who are attending Brooklyn Jesuit Prep are also, mostly, the children of immigrants.”

About Pat McNamara

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