During Bishop John Loughlin’s administration, there were but two religious communities of priests in the Diocese of Brooklyn. The first to gain admittance were the priests of the Congregation of the Mission. In the spring of 1868, Rev. Edward M. Smith of that congregation came to Brooklyn to open a new field for the special work of his community. He secured an entire block of ground bounded by Lewis, Stuyvesant and Willoughby Avenues, and Hart Street, 600 feet by 200 feet. The cottage upon the property was transformed into a community house, and a room was made into a chapel, where on July 12, 1868, the first Mass was celebrated for the benefit of the twelve or fifteen persons who formed the first congregation. On the same day, Bishop Loughlin laid the cornerstone of a frame church which was to do service for some twenty years.
In 1869, the Bishop laid the cornerstone of the College of St. John the Baptist, which opened in September of the following year. Rev. John T. Landry was president of the college. Father Smith was succeeded as pastor of the church by Rev. J. Quigley, but in 1870 Father Smith returned and remained until 1874, when he went to Illinois. Father Landry resigned the presidency in 1875, and his unexpired term was filled out by Rev. James A. Maloney. In the meantime, Rev. P.M. O’Regan had been acting as president of the college. September 1877 found Rev. A.J. Meyer both president of the college and pastor of the church. In 1882, Father Meyer was called upon to succeed Right Rev. C.M. Du Bois, D.D. , as Bishop of Galveston, Texas. Father Meyer shrank from the dignity and the responsibilities of episcopate. His sole ambition was to be a Lazarist, and to die a devoted of St. Vincent de Paul. He pleaded his failing sight among excuses; finally succeeded in escaping the mitre; years of services to his congregation as president of St. Vincent’s College at Los Angeles, Cal., and of Kenrick Seminary, St. Louis, Mo., he died as he wished, a Lazarist.
In 1882, Rev. Jeremiah A. Hartnett became president of St. John’s College and pastor of the church. He had been vice president for some time, and was therefore thoroughly conversant with the needs of the parish. The congregation had outgrown the old frame church, and the need of a new one was greatly felt. Father Hartnett set to work at once to provide for the wants of his people, and on June 24, 1888, Bishop Loughlin laid the cornerstone. The church is 208 feet long, nave including, side chapel 85 feet, width of transept 135 feet, depth of chancel 50 feet, and height of ceiling from the floor, 95 feet. The material used is blue granite, and the style of architecture is Roman.
It was dedicated in May, 1894, by Bishop McDonnell of Brooklyn. In 1890, Father Hartnett built a wing on the Hart Street side of the college, which was to be used as the Diocesan Seminary. On the occasion of Bishop Lougllin’s golden jubilee, the clergy of the diocese resolved to present their Bishop with a testimonial worthy of the occasion. The Bishop had long cherished the idea of establishing a diocesan seminary, and his devoted clergy decided to give him the satisfaction of seeing the realization of his hopes. He was delighted with the project, and selected the ground adjoining St John’s College as the site of his future seminary. The cornerstone was laid on September 29, 1889, and the seminary was opened for the reception of students in the fall of 1891.
After a pastorate of fifteen years, Father Hartnett was transferred to the motherhouse of the Lazarists at Germantown, Pa. Rev. James J. Sullivan, the next pastor of St. John’s and president of the college, remained scarcely two years. He was succeeded by Rev. Patrick S. McHale, who had been pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Baltimore. Finding the old frame parochial school building on Lewis Avenue inadequate to meet the wants of the parish, Father McHale undertook the erection of a substantial building immediately opposite to the college. The cornerstone was laid in May, 1903, by Monsignor Patrick J. McNamara, vicar general of the diocese. The cost of this building is estimated at about $100,000. In 1906, Father McHale was called to Germantown to become assistant to Rev. James McGill, Visitor, and also to act as Rector of St. Vincent’s Seminary. Father McHale was succeeded by the Very Rev. John W. Moore, C.M. Father Moore has doubled the capacity of college by building a new wing on the Avenue side and fitted it up with furnished classrooms. He also provided a large swimming pool, gymnasium, basketball court and athletic field enclosed by a concrete wall ten high. The new building was dedicated by Cardinal Logue, Archbishop of Armagh, on the occasion of his visit to the college in May 1908. The interior of the church was beautified, a marble baldachino added to the main altar, many paintings obtained. The school is in the charge of the Sisters of Charity, has an attendance of 1,200. In the college, 700 students are enrolled.
The Catholic Church in the United States, Volume III (New York: Office of Catholic Publications, 1914), 562-564.