A Church Grows in Brooklyn

A Church Grows in Brooklyn January 1, 2009

Founded in 1822, St. James Cathedral-Basilica in Brooklyn was the first Catholic Church on Long Island. In the church cemetery stands a monument to Peter Turner (1787-1862), an Irish immigrant Turner who is regarded as its founder. Born in Wexford, he came to America as a teenager and settled in the village of Brooklyn, where he found work at the Navy Yard. For Brooklyn Catholics, the closest church was St. Peter’s in Manhattan, which meant taking a ferry. On January 1, 1822, Turner led the move to esatblish an institutional Catholic life in Brooklyn when he called for a meeting of local Catholics. “In the first place,” he wrote, “we want our children instructed in the principles of our holy religion; we want more convenience of hearing the word of God ourselves. In fact, we want a church, a pastor, and a place for interment.” A few days later, the Roman Catholic Society of Brooklyn was created, and Turner was elected president. Under his leadership, the society bought land for St. James, which was dedicated that summer. The following year a school and cemetery were founded. When the Brooklyn Diocese was founded in 1853, St. James became the cathedral. Until his death, Turner played a leading role in Brooklyn Catholic life. His son John was among the first priests ordained for the new diocese. In 1857, he became rector of the church his father helped build. In 1895, a monument was erected to Peter Turner at St. James. At the ceremony, he was described as “our pioneer Catholic layman,” while the Brooklyn Eagle credited him with having “virtually founded the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn.”

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