On December 19, 1875, Transfiguration Church in Williamsburg was dedicated. Founded in an area originally known as Wheat Hill, Father John Fagan celebrated the first Mass in a carpenter’s shop on Hooper Street in 1874. (He wanted to name the parish St. Sylvester after his friend and old boss Father Sylvester Malone, but the Bishop put the kibosh on that!) Founded to meet the needs of Williamsburg’s growing Catholic population, for many years it was a predominantly Irish parish. In 1912 the Sisters of St. Joseph started a parochial school that closed in 2006. As the years passed, the area became predominantly Jewish and Puerto Rican. As Transfiguration responded to this change, it became a pioneer in urban Hispanic ministry. This was in large part due to a young priest who came to the parish after his ordination in 1956 and stayed there until his death in 2005, Monsignor Bryan J. Karvelis (seen above). Father Richard John Neuhaus of First Things describes Karvelis as “the dean of inner city ministries.” In June 2006, Marcy Avenue between Hooper and Hewes Streets was named “Msgr. Bryan J. Karvelis Way.” When this item was introduced at a City Council meeting, Councilwoman Diana Reyna said:
Rev. Bryan J. Karvelis led the Parish of the Transfiguration and was a consummate pillar of the community who dedicated his life improving the neighborhood in a variety of ways. From his work in founding the Southside Mission to his help in opening Casa Betsaida, a residence for people in the community who are infected with the AIDS virus, Rev. Karvelis uplifted his parish by making sure residents had access to the services they needed. His effort and leadership strengthened the community.
Brooklyn parishes, like their neighborhoods, have gone through a lot of changes over the years. But one thing remains constant: in a Diocese of Immigrants, they continue to reach out to the latest newcomers, and make a home for them. Transfiguration parish is a superb example of this, and today is a good day to celebrate its history.