Courtesy of Primo Magazine.                                                                                                            June -July 2009 Issue

Save Our Lady Of Loreto


Can A Group of Italian Americans Stop

The Demolition of Their Beloved Church?





All is not lost with Ocean Hill, although it may seem that way at first glance. Long blighted and crime-ridden, this enclave between Brooklyn’s Brownsville and East New York neighborhoods, might finally get a chance at redemption. The springboard for renewal may be Our Lady of Loreto.
The 100-year-old Italian Baroque style church is a massive work of art in the midst of decay.
The tallest structure in the neighborhood was built by Italian immigrants, under the leadership of parish priest Father Vincent Sorrentino. The cross atop a pediment, in-between two towers, rises with a facade hosting carved statues of Saints Peter and Paul. The flawless stone masonry beseeches from onlookers a sense of awe and serenity.

At the edge of the church’s property at the corner of Sackman and Pacific Streets near a World War II memorial under a statue of the Blessed Mother, a small group of neighborhood sons and daughters meet on a cloudy spring day.

Most of them moved away from here decades ago. They have come to review plans, exchange ideas and offer moral support to transform the neighborhood. But they have to save Our Lady of Loreto first




"After it was designated a National Italian Catholic Church,
towns in Italy sent statues
of their patron saints here to be venerated.
The cost was paid for by the immigrants."

Barbara Florio


The church is slated for demolition. The reason given by the Brooklyn Diocese is a lack of parishioners. Sunday Mass generates barely 20 in attendance. The diocese hopes to erect affordable housing in the church’s place under the direction of Catholic Charities with financial assistance from the state.

Our Lady of Loreto is now closed. The front doors locked. The parochial school behind the church is already gone, just an empty lot remains.

Our Lady of Loreto is the last vestige of what once was a thriving Italian neighborhood.
About a square mile in space Ocean Hill was a first stop for Italian immigrants after Ellis Island. Perhaps intended as a temporary hamlet on their way to bigger homes and opportunities in other parts of the city, the neighborhood proved an ideal location to settle in for the long term. Homes were modest but big enough for families. The streets were safe and clean.


The subway was just a few blocks away to take fathers and mothers to jobs anywhere in the city. Nearby were a public swimming pool, the Boys and Girls Club and the YWCA. Family-run businesses sprung up and remained opened for decades such as Pietro LaBarbara Bakery, Ariola Bakery, Zollo’s Luncheonette, Latuga Lumber, Molinari’s Funeral Home and Rossi Pharmacy.
Italians first attended Mass at the church closest to them, Our Lady of Presentation on St. Mark’s Avenue. But they were not welcomed there by the majority German and Irish parishioners.
They needed a place to worship of their own in their own language and with their own traditions. Donations were collected from working families to build Our Lady of Loreto while the parish functioned from a building that was once owned by the Salvation Army.
Armezzani, Federici and Sons of Paterson, New Jersey designed the church modeled after those found in small villages throughout Southern Italy. Labor was provided by Italian men from the neighborhood at no charge. Relatives from Italy donated statues and other decorative elements.
The diocese designated Our Lady of Loreto a National Italian Catholic church. Any Italian Catholic sodality in New York could claim Our Lady of Loreto as its parish. Residents did not want Italians from other communities, near and far, to experience the same levels of prejudice and ostracism they did earlier.
History has a way of repeating itself. In closing Our Lady of Loreto the Brooklyn Diocese has merged the parish with Our Lady of Presentation. Parishioners have been directed by the diocese to attend Mass at the church that once shunned them.
The subway’s L line takes me from Union Square to East New York Atlantic Avenue is the stop; but I am the only one who leaves the train. I descend an iron staircase to be greeted only by a somber gray wall under what is the Atlantic Avenue Viaduct. Nearby are the entrance and exit ramps to and from the Eastern Parkway.
The hum of unseen automobiles surrounds me under the trestle. Fences topped with concertina wire line the walkway. Several unused truck cabs are caged inside. Behind them is an abandoned industrial building shadowing a gravel floor of empty candy wrappers, aluminum soda cans, cigarette packs, and a parade of plastic containers that held everything from water to bleach.
On the corner ahead I approach city workers wearing baseball hats with the MTA logo. They are taking a cigarette break in front of a garage for city buses. They shrug in ambivalence when I ask them for directions to Our Lady of Loreto. One says he never heard of the place.
I walk a few feet away and look up to see the church standing proudly some blocks away. I rush pass row houses made of wood, stucco, brick and aluminum siding.
Once the homes of Italian families from theregions Campania, Calabria, Basilicata and Sicily they are now devoid of any embellishments; their windows are either covered with iron bars or plywood. I see the group who wants to save Our Lady of Loreto in front of the church. They welcome me enthusiastically in typical Italian spirit. Casual yet well-dressed, we are out of place here.
We come with established careers, functional families, and lives. We are in stark contrast to the neighborhood’s current residents, gathered across the street at the mission center. These are younger men and women struggling with the ill effects of society. Some of them stare at us aimlessly, some malevolently. Although the purpose of the gathering is to erect a foundation for the neighborhood’s future, the past is the immediate topic of conversation.
This is where I was baptized, where I had my First Communion, where I was confirmed, says Barbara Anne Pascucci, now Lepak. With her husband Andrew at her side, she explains that her family moved out of the parish after the crime rate climbed beginning in the late 1960s but before then this was a wonderful neighborhood to grow up in. I never felt threatened. I could walk anywhere here day and night.
Barbara Florio, a former resident and executive member of the Italian Genealogical Group is accompanied by her husband Mike. He nods as she recounts how Our Lady of Loreto was an intrinsic part of her family’s Italian American experience.
This is the church where my father Vincenzo Tardugno-Cardino was baptized. He was the first of his family to be born here in the United States. His brother Michele and two sisters, Angela Maria and Maria Antonia were baptized here.
The parish priest and sexton arrive to open the padlocked doors of the church’s central entrance under the papal coat of arms. Another set of doors to the left are under a bas relief of Saint Charles Borromeo in honor of Bishop Charles E. McDonnell who provided assistance to the Italians in starting the church. Over the right entrance is a bas-relief of Saint Vincent Ferrer in honor of Vincenzo Sarnelli of Castellamare di Stabia, Father Sorrentino bishop in Italy.
Emotional attachments are reignited in those who enter the church for the first time in decades. The interior is the embodiment of the Italian Baroque style. Roman archways line opposite sides with two rows of pews between them. Sunlight enters through brightly detailed stained glass windows. The massive marbled altar and frescoed ceiling murals showcase the artistic spirit of Italian immigrants who built the church.
Florio explains the source of statues inside the church. After it was designated a National Italian Catholic Church, towns in Italy sent statues of their patron saints here to be venerated. The cost was paid for by the immigrants. The statue of Mary Queen of Angels is from my grandparent’s hometown of Pignola.
Some in the group mill about with digital cameras photographing the interior for posterity. Some sit in the pews and share with each other recollections of the church and neighborhood. Some walk alone, stop and stare at the various elements of a place that was so important to them.
The visit lasts only an hour. Outside, an air of optimism pervades the group. This is very positive exclaims Anthony Corozzo, a former parishioner. We gather for lunch at a diner in Howard Beach for further discussion.
Mario Toglia sits next to me. He was never a parishioner of Our Lady of Loreto but is committed to saving the church. His involvement stems from a deep interest in preserving the physical remnants of Italian Americans who descended from where his parents came from in Calitri, a village in the province of Avellino in the Campania region. His organization the Calitri American Cultural Group has special links to Our Lady of Loreto.
He explains, .At one time the Società Immacolata Concezione di Calitri had many of its religious functions there. They erected a statue of their patroness inside the church from 1930 until the late 1970s, at which time La Società Immacolata Concezione, with others was asked to leave because of a change in demographics and because .an Italian presence was no longer needed.
Toglia provides the cultural context for saving Our Lady of Loreto. We are not here for a trip down memory lane. We have valid reasons for saving the church. This is part of the national identity of Italian Americans. The church is a powerhouse of Italian culture.
This was a pitch to the state’s historic preservation program analyst to have the building determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Our Lady of Loreto is one of the oldest last remaining National Italian Catholic churches in the state. The church’s exterior design and interior aesthetics make it a wonder of New York architecture. But most of all, we have a physical reminder of our heritage added Toglia.
Aspects of our history disappear in the way of people and businesses. That is to be expected. But this church, representing Italian culture, is a structure that can remain forever if you maintain it. This is what we want to do.
Reasons of aesthetics and culture alone may not be enough to preserve Our Lady of Loreto. The group understands that a plan is needed to persuade the diocese not to demolish the church. Conceived by Charles Piazza, theirs is a strategy to connect the Church’s restoration with revitalization of the entire neighborhood.
The grandson of Southern Italian immigrants who settled in Ocean Hill, Piazza lived with his family a few blocks from the church until they moved to the Coney Island area of Brooklyn when he was 10. He now resides in Manhattan where he works with his son Eric in commercial real estate.
Piazza knows that sometimes the best approach is to use a carrot instead of a stick.You can't take a confrontational approach with the Roman Catholic Church he says.
The Church has been around for over 2,000 years while Our Lady of Loreto has been around for only 100. You have to reason with them, present a win-win plan that restores the church and satisfies the need of the diocese to improve the conditions of the entire area.
Piazza brought in Jeff Dunston who heads the Northeast Brooklyn Housing Development Corporation, an organization specializing in low cost housing, neighborhood and landmark restoration. Dunston and others in his firm had joined the group earlier taking photographs of the church. At the diner he shows blueprints and summarizes a redevelopment strategy.
Complete restoration of Our Lady of Loreto and the abutting rectory construction of several apartments about four stories tall with 80 or more units in the open lot behind the church where the school once stood, the creation of a park with trees and flower beds adjoining the properties open to the public and apartments to be constructed across the street from the church. This would be a pocket community says Piazza. Building designs would be consistent with the overall structure of the church. From here you could then restore the entire neighborhood.
Everyone in the group has seen New York come back from the brink of bankruptcy and urban desolation. They have seen neighborhoods such as Tribeca, SoHo, Williamsburg, and Harlem make inspiring comebacks. They feel the same can happen with Ocean Hill.
As lunch ends, Dunston reminds the group that nothing is for certain when it comes to redevelopment efforts in New York.
They may fail. They acknowledge the warning in silence. Their optimism remains unmoved. They have an omen: The name of the church refers to a miracle.




Part of the group that seeks to save Our Lady of Loreto:

Clockwise: Charles Piazza, Mario Toglia, Barbara Florio
Part of the group that seeks to save Our Lady of Loreto:
Clockwise: Charles Piazza, Mario Toglia, Barbara Florio
and Barbara Ann Pascucci Lepak.


Copyright © Primo Magazine, All rights reserved.


Editor's note: If you want to help save Our Lady of Loreto, please contact
Barbara Florio at



Meet The Team


After the appearance of The New York Times article, a group of Italian Americans, both former parishioners and non-parishioners, met on Long Island to discuss the significance of Our Lady of Loreto Church to Italian American history and why and how it should be saved. Pictured here: Mario Toglia of the Calitri American Cultural Group; Barbara Florio of the Italian Genealogical Group, Charles Piazza, member of the Sons of Italy Lodge, NYC chapter, Barbara Ann Lepak,  and Dolores Genovese of the Italian Cultural Society at Farmingdale.

After many letters to politicians and organizations, Mr. Truby Chiaviello, the editor  of Primo magazine, is invited to visit the church and write an article on their campaign. (May 1, 2009)
Fr. James Sweeney, Lucille Whitty, Barbara Florio, Mario Toglia, Mike Florio and Barbara Ann Lepak.
In order to know how much it would cost to restore the church, Marko Golubovic is brought in to examine the building. Marko is a principal of Milan Church Restoration.
On August 11, 2009 Robert Dadona, Director of Buildings and Property for the Diocese, graciously give a tour of the church building.
After the visit, Marko shows Jeff Dunston photos of churches that have been successfully restored by his company.
Part of the group working together with the Brooklyn Diocese on a plan seeking to save Our Lady of Loreto Church met at New York Landmarks Conservancy headquarters in Manhattan on August 5, 2009. Pictured are Marilyn Verna of the Italian Genealogical Group, Megan Rispoli, an architectural preservation consultant, , Mario Toglia, Jeff Dunston of Northeast Brooklyn Housing Development Corporation and Charles Piazza
Pictured here is Donny Mondelli who started the ball rolling to save Our Lady of Loreto from being demolished with
his letter-writing campaign to stop the project. His web site caught the attention of freelance reporter Peter Duffy
who wrote the article in The New York Times. Over 250 former parishioners attended the Friends of East New York
reunion in March of 2009. Donny Mondelli, who helped organized the reunion with others, stands in front of a display
on the history of this cherished church.
The campaign to save OLL has been in contact with Friends of St. Alphonsus in New Orleans, LA.
St. Alphonsus Church, which closed in 1979,  was saved from neglect and deterioration  by F.O.S.A. 
and turned into an arts and cultural center. It is our hope to do the same with OLL so that it will successfully 
serve the Brooklyn community in the future as well as preserve its historic Italian and Catholic cultures.
The campaign’s vision for the re-use of Our Lady of Loreto Church will be similar to the that of  St. Alphonsus in
New Orleans, where concerts, lectures and exhibits are offered.
The Loreto Cultural Arts Center will serve not only the local community but also the entire area.
Anthony Corozzo of our campaign recently visited Patricia Deans, curator of the Brownsville Heritage Center,
at the Stone Avenue Library to view artwork created by her students.
Charles PIazza and Mario Toglia had the pleasure of meeting Blanche Comiskey of New Orleans during
her visit in Novewmber 2009 to her daughter's home in Cranford, NJ.
Blanche is one of the founders of Friends of St. Alphonsus and is very supportive of our campaign here to save OLL.
You can read about their group at
Architect Michael McCaw (center) stands with fellow architect Augustin Chae and developer Jeff Dunston outside Brooklyn Diocesan Headquarters after a meeting on August 27, 2009. Mr. McCaw was brought into the campaign by Mr. Dunston to design the low income housing around the church. The new buildings will reflect and blend in with the Italianate architecture of OLL and are being discussed to be named after OLL pastors Gesualdi, Sorrentino and Barretta. Mr. Dunston has been involved with neighborhood preservation and is committed to saving Ocean Hill's history in its architecture.
Research is being done on the history of Our Lady of Loreto Church as part of the campaign to have it declared a
Brooklyn landmark. Marilyn Verna of the Italian Genealogical Group has been seeking information to this effect at
the Brooklyn Municipal Building at 210 Joralemon Avenue. Joined  by Mario Toglia and Jillian Mulvihill in her research
on October 5th, Marilyn shares an interesting fact from a conveyance book listing former owners.
One such owner was Pietro Cesare Alberti of Venice known during the Dutch colonial days as Pieter Cesar Alburtus.
Alberti has been documented by the American Italian Historical Society as being the first Italian to settle in New Netherlands.
Our Lady of Loreto parish, as it turned out, sits on land owned 200 years earlier by this Venetian merchant. In the second photo, Jillian and Marilyn are looking at microfilms of various deeds pertaining to the parish.
Our campaign has drawn the attention and support of many Italian American organizations. John Pinto of the Societa Pescopaganese di East Orange, NJ views a portrait of Antonio Federici at the Passaic County Historical Society museum in Paterson, NJ.
Antonio Federici of Paterson is responsible for the remarkable reinforced concrete construction of Our Lady of Loreto Church due to his patented “recipe” for concrete block, called “cast stone.”
While cast stone trim was commonly used at the turn of the 20th century, the application of cast stone construction for a high style religious building was considered rare and innovative in that decade, a usage considered noteworthy by various building journals at the time. 
Research in libraries, archives and museums have revealed much information not only on the artistic beauty and historical importance of Our Lady of Loreto Church, but also on the professional accomplishments of those men involved in creating it.
Since November 2009, our campaign is sharing this information in Power Point presentations with the general public.
Louis Gallo, President of the P. Vincent Landi Lodge in Rocky Point, Long Island introduces Mario Toglia to the audience. Mr. Toglia made a case for landmark status for OLL in an hour long lecture from it's pre-construction years to its current status.
Looking at the Catholic Church from a historical point of view, Our Lady of Loreto represents that part of the Diocese’s past which earned it the title of “Diocese of Immigrants”. The Catholic Church in America was shaped by the early waves of Irish immigrants. The East Europeans and Italians who came in the late 19th century felt alienated in these “Irish churches” and requested neighborhood parishes of their own.

Also created alongside these ethnic territorial parishes was the establishment of  the so-called  National Catholic churches, which did not have borders . Only four such National Italian Catholic Churches were created in the Diocese of Brooklyn. Three have been demolished. Today, Our Lady of Loreto is the last remaining one in its original foundation. This is one of the key points mentioned by our campaign in its presentation at St. Adalbert’s Church on Staten Island.
January 17, 2010: Marilyn Verna and Mario Toglia with Fr. Eugene Carrella, pastor of St. Adalbert’s. Incidentally, Father Carrella’s mother and family came from OLL Parish.
Another key point brought up about the historical significance of Our Lady of Loreto is that it is the only reminder of a once vibrant, thickly populated Italian neighborhood. Immigrants from Italy began to move into Ocean Hill in large masses in the 1880s. After many generations, their descendents moved out into the surrounding suburban areas, while recent newcomers arrived from the Caribbean and the South.
Our Lady of Loreto Church stands as a monument to Ocean Hill’s former Italian presence.
January 18, 2010: Visitors who came to listen to our presentation at the Brownsville Heritage Center in the Brownsville Public Library on Stone Avenue got to see posters about the Italian religious societies at Our Lady of Loreto.
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