Betty Smith’s Brooklyn Roots

Betty Smith’s Brooklyn Roots December 19, 2008

I knew that Betty Smith had Brooklyn roots, but until recently I didn’t know that she grew up a German Catholic in Williamsburg. Born Elizabeth Wehner in 1896, she describes her home parish in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (still a great book, by the way):

“Francie thought it was the most beautiful church in Brooklyn. It was made of old gray stone and had twin spires that rose cleanly into the sky, high above the tallest tenements. Inside, the high vaulted ceilings, narrow deepset stained-glass windows and elaborately carved altars made it a miniature cathedral.”

What amazed me at reading this was that she provided an almost exact description of her childhood parish, Most Holy Trinity on Montrose Avenue. (The photo on the left gives an idea of what it looked like when she was there.) Long before the phrase “mega-church” was coined, many Brooklyn parishes fit that description. Most Holy Trinity, known as Brooklyn’s “German Cathedral,” was a good example. It encompassed a rectory, parochial school, high school, convent, and orphanage. For a while it even published a daily newspaper (in German).

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