If we were to build a bridge that allows us to connect to an era 90 years ago, it will be difficult to recognize the area that to-day forms the Saint Vincent Ferrer Parish. East Flatbush was a largely roads that were lined with gas street lights. The area bounded by Brooklyn Avenue, Albany Avenue Foster Avenue and Glenwood Road was a fruit and vegetable farm. Located at Glenwood Road and East 38th Street were two small, frame public school houses (the original home of P.S. 198) where the neighborhood children were taught. The area residents attended St. Jerome’s at the corner of Newkirk and Nostrand Avenues for over 90 years.
The population increased as more immigrant families – predominantly Irish Catholics, moved into the area from Brooklyn’s waterfront area to the tranquility and open space of the suburban environs of ‘interior Brooklyn.’ It became necessary to create a new parish.
In October 1931, ground was broken for the present church-school building. Sadly, Father Murphy did not live to see the completion of his vision. He died at age 52 on March 28th, 1932, after a brief illness.
In 1923, Bishop Thomas E. Malloy appointed Father Joseph F. Murphy to establish the parish of Saint Vincent Ferrer. A private home on the corner of East 37th Street and Glenwood Road served as the Rectory. Father Joseph F. Murphy organized several families in the area to form the nucleus of the new parish. This group celebrated its first Mass at the home of Mr. Ford who resided at 1603 Brooklyn Avenue. The house was located adjacent to the current Rectory. In September 1923, a tent was erected on the northwest corner of Glenwood Road and Brooklyn Avenue, where Masses were celebrated. In December, the tent was replaced with a little frame church. The first Mass was celebrated on the Sunday before Christmas 1923. The structure served as the parish church for nine years. As the number of parishioners continued to increase, the land located on Glenwood Road and East 38th Street was acquired.
In June 1932, Father John Geary was appointed the second pastor of St. Vincent Ferrer. He oversaw the completion of the combination church school building. The first Mass was celebrated in the new Msgr. John Geary church in October 1932.
The little wooden church then became the “Lyceum” and was used for baseball, dancing and Boy Scouts’ meetings. That same year, the parish school was opened. Sister Pascal, the first principal, and a staff of five sisters of St. Dominic from Kentucky, operated the eight classroom school. There were five grades with an enrollment of 150 students. In May 1934, another floor consisting eight classrooms was added to the existing building. A private home next to the ‘Lyceum’ was purchased to house the Sisters and the structure served as a convent for the next ten years. The convent adjoining the church-school building was completed in 1942.
By the late 1940’s East Flatbush has been up considerably. In addition to new houses quickly replacing the empty lots, apartment houses were also sprouting up to accommodate the post-War population boom. The housing activity attracted an influx of young Catholic families to this area. As a result, St. Vincent Ferrer upswing continued to experience an upswing in the number of parishioners. In 1949, the old wooden church that had stood for twenty-four years and the frame house that had been used as the first convent were razed in preparation for the construction of the new Rectory. The property occupied by the church-school and convent, together with the property on Glenwood Road between East 37th Street and Brooklyn Avenue were then owned by the parish. The old rectory became a library, staffed by members of the Rosary Society.
On April 23, 1950, Father Geary was elevated to the rank of a Domestic Prelate, with the title of Right, Reverend Monsignor. His ambition was to complete the building of the rectory and then to build a new church on the site where the new school stands today. Unfortunately, monsignor Geary did not see his dreams materialized. He died November 23rd 1951 after a lengthy illness. After monsignor Geary death, Farther Charles Carmody, then- moderator of the Rosary Confraternity, served as administrator until 1952, when Monsignor William J. Gately was appointed as St. Vincent Ferrer’s third pastor.
By 1954, the school’s enrollment had increased beyond the capacity of the eight-classroom school of the school. Monsignor Gately made arrangements with the Sisters of St Joseph who taught in Nativity School to accommodate the overflow of children. As a result, the original a new church was shelved, and instead, eight new classrooms and an auditorium were erected adjacent to the current Rectory. The ‘New School,’ as it was then known, opened its doors in 1967. It was later renamed Monsignor Gately Auditorium.
In 1962, a new activity for the youths of the Parish was started by Father John F. Keppler – The St. Vincent Ferrer Marching Band. The band, which originally started out as an offshoot of the parish’s Boys and Girls Scout Troops, later expanded to all the young people of the parish. Under the direction of Mathew F. Walsh, The band grew rapidly in size and musical talent. By the late 1960’s and early 1970’s there was both a fife-and-drum corps for younger members, and a full brass bad for senior members. The band was one of the most popular youth activities in the parish.
In accordance with changes instituted by the Second Vatican Council, the church underwent several modifications. The most significant was the erection of a new altar platform in the sanctuary, which held a simple wooden altar donated by Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Gibbons in the memory of their son who was killed in Viet Nam.
Among the many changes in the liturgy was the use of more music during the Mass. The parish, which already had a well-established adult choir, introduced a new musical entity – The Vincent Ferrer Folk Group. The Group, which was mainly comprised of the parish’s youth, soon popularized the 12:15 Mass.
Upon Msgr. Gately’s death on August 12, 1970, Father William F. Carr was appointed the fourth pastor of St. Vincent Ferrer. The 1970’s saw the change in the school from a free school staffed by nuns to a school taught by lay teachers and fee-based tuition. The change necessitated the strengthening of the parish’s Religious Program to provide a clear path to faith development to the increasing number of Catholic school students attending public school.
The parish marked its Marked its 50th Anniversary a Mass celebrated by Bishop Francis J. Mugavero on October 29, 1973. To commemorate the anniversary, Mrs. John Corley donated the Resurrected Christ that adorned our sanctuary in memory of her brother, Father Charles T. Carow, the famous priest who broke the color barrier in the diocese’s C.Y.O. bowling leagues. By the time it reached the fifty year mark, St. Vincent Ferrer had earned the reputation as one of the most vibrant parishes in the diocese. From the Rosary Confraternity and Holy Name societies, to an active youth ministry and a hugely successful sports program for the children of the parish. St Vincent Ferrer continued to thrive.
The church interior underwent an extensive renovation in 1975, which included the removal of the side confessionals, the creation of the reconciliation room in the former baptistery at the right of the sanctuary, and the installation of the church’s stained glass windows.
When Father Carr retired in November 1979, Father John O’Sullivan was appointed was appointed the fifth pastor of St. Vincent Ferrer. During Fr. O’Sullivan’s tenure the parish began to change from a predominately Irish parish to one which is mainly Caribbean. It was during Father O’Sullivan’s tenure the parish school had Mr. Robert Katulak as its first lay principal. In the early 1980’s, he also saw the need to appoint Sister Helen Byrne C.S.J. as Director of Religious Education to oversee the parish’ religious education programs, including CCD and RCIA.
Father O’Sullivan suffered a stroke in 1985, and although he made a near-full recovery, the demands of leading the parish proved to be too demanding. Upon his retirement in 1986, Father Coman V. Brady became the sixth pastor of St. Vincent Ferrer.
During Father Brady’s pastorate, our East Flatbush neighborhood stabilized after a decade of transition. He was instrumental in helping the “new” [parishioners to feel a real sense of ownership in the parish, encouraging participation and leadership across the community.
During his early years at St. Vincent’s, gospel music and revivals were introduced, while traditional music and parish missions were retained. The tradition of great music at St. Vincent’s continues today.
The parish has undergone a spiritual renewal, with a growing Charismatic movement, a thriving RCIA program, and the establishment of a Legion of Mary and a Pax Christi chapter. The Sunday School continues to serve the young people of the parish through a team of dedicated volunteers.
In the area of social action, the St. Vincent de Paul Society was revived, and is a very active component of the parish. Every Saturday morning, supervised, young members engage in sandwich-making to provide meals for homeless shelters in Brooklyn.
As a result of declining school enrollment and increasing overhead expenses, St. Vincent Ferrer School was forced to close in June 2009.
In July 2009, Father Brady died after a brief illness.
Monsignor Joseph Nugent was appointed Administrator of St. Vincent Ferrer in November 2009.
In 2010, St. Vincent Ferrer was faced with a new challenge. As a result of the school closing, the parish was saddled with a $404,000 debt. To satisfy the unplanned expenditure, it was necessary to introduce several ‘belt-tightening’ measures, which unfortunately included staff reductions.
St. Vincent Ferrer was again put to the test in October 2011. The Diocese conducted a review to determine if St. Vincent Ferrer was capable of sustaining itself, financially, in view of the enormous debt. Failure to satisfy this review could have resulted in possible reorganization. A plan was submitted to the Diocese that outlined clearly, how the parish would eliminate the massive debt. In December of the same year, the proposal was accepted by the Diocese. In March 2012, the parish submitted a 5-year Strategic Action Plan which was approved by the Diocese.
St. Vincent Ferrer saw a marked increase in the number of parishioners from 2009 to 2012. During the same period, the weekly contribution increased by approximately 48%. As a result of the tremendous support of the parishioners, the parish debt to the Diocese was ‘paid full’ by December 2012.
St. Vincent Ferrer Parish is grateful for all of God’s blessings that have allowed it to serve the community for the past 90 years. During our journey through the years, we have conquered many mighty mountains and innumerable smaller hills by the faith and determination of the St. Vincent Ferrer family. “We’ve come this far by faith”.
We can approach our 100th anniversary confidently, thankful for the leadership and guidance of Msgr. Nugent who has laid the foundation to ensure the parish’s viability and sustainability for many years.
On Sunday, September 27th 2015, Father Antonius Peter Gopaul was installed as the seventh pastor of Saint Vincent Parish. May God continue to guide him, as the parish continues to journey towards its 100th anniversary!