Parish History

Resurrection Church: A Journey of Faith

The old firehouse on Seba Avenue where the earliest Masses were held

The History of any parish is comprised of countless events. Looking back, one sees a colorful mosaic …a meaningful background to present-day growth and development…a story of a seed which has been sown, rooted, and now flourishes. It is a precious recording of a thing of beauty and love.

In the early 1920’s Gerritsen Beach was still in its infancy. No Catholic Church had yet been established and residents from “the beach” attended Mass at St. Mark’s Church in nearby Sheepshead Bay. While some beach residents owned cars, others were forced to travel by bus. Eventually, the local transit company provided a church bus.

The altar inside the old firehouse

As the community grew, there was an increasing need for a church to be dedicated to Gerritsen Beach. A group of residents got together and appealed to Bishop Thomas Molloy to aid in the establishment of a Mission church in the area. In response to their appeal, Bishop Molloy sent a priest to conduct Mass at the old Fire House on Seba Avenue every Sunday during the summer months.

As the local population continued to increase, and “the beach” became a year-round community, Bishop Molloy sent Father Edward J. Matthews to establish a parish. On July 13, 1924, Father Matthews took up a special collection to help achieve this goal. The pledges and cash amounted to $700, and this marked the “birth” of Resurrection.

Father Matthews established his residence on Bevy Court at Everett Avenue, in a double-attached house. Although Sunday Masses were still held at the Fire House, Father Matthews conducted daily Mass on the lower floor of his home, which he used as a chapel. He also offered the upper floor for community meetings and occasional social gatherings. The adjoining house contained his office and living quarters. While the Fire House and the Bevy Court residence served the parish’s needs, plans were being discussed at the Brooklyn Diocese for the construction of a new church.

The parish was growing rapidly and as a result Father Thomas Judge was sent to assist Father Matthews in serving the community. Meanwhile, plans continued for construction of the new church, which was to be built on Gerritsen Avenue at Cyrus Avenue. The Diocesan Engineers, however, abandoned this location due to a lack of solid ground for the foundation. They changed the location to the corner of Gerritsen Avenue and Whitney Avenue. The cornerstone for the new building was laid on June 15th, 1925. The building would serve as a church, school, and convent for the Dominican Sisters of Kentucky who had taken on the mission of educating the children of the parish. Although the building was not yet completed, the school opened in September of 1925, consisting of four grades. During each of the following terms another grade was added until the school had all eight grades.

Interior of the original church (1925)

Once the building was completed, the parish began to prosper greatly, and many more people became involved. The Holy Name Society and the Rosary Society were established and popular activities like the Resurrection Church Bazaar became an annual tradition.

For years Resurrection Church shared space with the school and convent, and eventually a movement developed among the parishioners for the construction of a new building to be used exclusively as a church. Unfortunately, due to the Great Depression, this goal could not be realized and the movement was abandoned. This began a dark period for Resurrection Parish, worsened by the passing of Father Matthews in 1931 after a long illness. The popular pastor was replaced by Father James Cox.

Father Cox quickly gained popularity by enlisting legal aid for residents whose homes were threatened by foreclosure. He also succeeded in obtaining free school lunches and free bus transportation for the children of poorer families. Father Cox was assisted in his endeavors by a number of priests including Father Sylvester Linebach and Father Francis Herlehy. The parish community was stunned when, after a decade of dedicated service, Father Cox died suddenly on February 15th, 1941. Father Sylvester Ronaghan was appointed to succeed him as pastor. Three years later Father Ronaghan would be joined by Father Raymond Shevlin, and later by Father Thomas Clancy and Father James P. Sweeney.

New church shortly after completion (1953)

Eventually, numerous debts, which lingered from the depression years, were paid off and the parish began to thrive again. Hopes for the construction of a new church building were renewed and Father Ronaghan became instrumental in making his dream a reality. On November 13th, 1951, the ground-breaking ritual took place and on May 30th, 1952, the cornerstone was laid. Unfortunately, Father Ronaghan was reassigned before construction began and Father Arthur 0 ‘Connor was entrusted to see the project through as the new pastor. Under his guidance, the building was completed and he celebrated its first Mass on Easter Sunday, 1953.

The parish continued its growth through the 1950’s and it became clear that there was a need for more school space as well as expanded and modernized living space for the Dominican Sisters. Once again, the people of Resurrection rallied toward the achievement of another monumental goal. Construction of a new convent began in May of 1957. With the sudden passing of Father O’Connor, Monsignor Merritt E. Yeager was assigned as the pastor who would oversee the completion of the convent and expansion of the school. Monsignor Yeager continued to serve as pastor for 16 years with the help of a number of dedicated priests including Father Terrance Smith, Father Patrick Breslin, Father William Bradley, Father Francis O’Donnell, Father William Krlis, and Father Thomas Lyons. In 1973, Monsignor Yeager was forced to relinquish his pastoral responsibilities due to health problems and Father Shevlin returned to Resurrection to serve as pastor.

Resurrection Church during the 50th Anniversary celebration

Under Father Shevlin’s leadership, Resurrection thrived and prospered, thanks to the generosity of its people and the support of jamborees, card parties and the annual bazaar. In 1974 he led a joyous celebration in honor of Resurrection’s 50th Anniversary. Throughout his tenure, Father Shevlin was aided by a number of devoted priests, including Father William With who joined him in 1976 to help continue the mission of Resurrection. In 1980, Father Shevlin, was joined by Father Jerome Schmidt, who brought experience, compassion and a special humor to the parish. Three years later, Father James T. O’Brien arrived with an energy and spiritual leadership which further enriched the parish. He generously donated his time and talents to bring parishioners together in numerous musical and theatrical presentations, as well as various other activities.

Father Shevlin’s dedication and commitment to his parish was recognized in 1988 when the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II elevated him to Member of the Papal Household, and appointed him Very Reverend Monsignor Raymond R. Shevlin.

In 1992, Monsignor Shevlin retired from active ministry and Monsignor Francis J. Fahy, a former altar boy under Monsignor Shevlin, Monsignor Ronaghan, Father Clancy and Father Sweeney, as well as a Resurrection School Alumnus, was appointed as pastor. Under his guidance, the creation of Our Blessed Mother’s Shrine, a great source of pride for the parish, was undertaken as an expression of the people’s gratitude for the many years of Monsignor Shevlin’s ministry. Through the generosity of The Anniversary Club and the “Alive In Hope” campaign, many more improvements took place, including total renovation of the heating system and installation of new roofs throughout the church buildings. The church was also adorned with beautiful new doors and the church grounds were updated to reflect the· message of the parish … that Jesus is the Resurrection, the Gift of Eternal Life, for all who believe in Him.

Monsignor Fahy continued to serve the parish with the help of Father Schmidt and Father O’Brien. After their retirements, Fr Marc Caliwan came in 2003 to assist him until Monsignor Fahy’s sudden passing on October 9,2006.

Monsignor Rocco D. Villani served as administrator from October 2006 to February 2007.

Father Dennis J. Farrell was appointed pastor February 2007 and Father Marc continued to serve Resurrection until 2009 when he returned home due to illness and passed August 12, 2009.

Father Edwin Okey Nwabugwu was assigned to Resurrection July 2009 and served Resurrection for seven years.

Father With returned as an administrator upon Father Farrell’s early retirement due to illness. After Father Farrell’s passing on March 25, 2015, Father William A. With was installed as our pastor on May 3, 2015.

We pray God will continue to bless our parish so that future generations may imitate the love and sacrifice of those past and present. May the Spirit of God fill their hearts and minds so that they always reflect the saving love of Jesus Christ, Our Risen Lord.