The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes offers a good opportunity to pay tribute to a local parish named (or rather renamed) in her honor. In 1872 the Fathers of Mercy, a French-based religious community, started a parish in Brooklyn’s Bushwick section for a growing Catholic population. Named for St. Francis De Sales, the parish started with a two-room schoolhouse and an old frame building for a church. During the 1890’s, the French-born pastor, Father Eugene Porcile, organized the first diocesan pilgrimages to Lourdes. (The parish, known as the “French Church” for its name and its priests, actually had a large Irish congregation, who called their pastor “Father Purcell.”) It was Father Porcile who built an impressive Gothic church, replete with a grotto inside the Church. In 1897, Father Porcile petitioned Brooklyn’s Bishop Charles McDonnell to change the parish’s name to Our Lady of Lourdes. McDonnell, who visited the grotto whenever he was in Europe, readily agreed. The parish was renamed, and so was the street name: DeSales Place. It was the first Shrine Church in America dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. For decades the parish and its grotto were a center for local devotions. (In 1974 the church building burned to the ground, and the parish been merged with others nearby.)
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