In 1822, Brooklyn’s streets were just beginning to be lit by gas. Lincoln was a 13-year-old student, and the 11-year-old Franz Liszt made his debut as a piano prodigy. It was just a year after the deaths of Napoleon and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Pius VII was the pope, and James Monroe was our president. The total population of Brooklyn was fewer than 12,000 people.
During that year, Peter Turner organized a group of about 70 people to petition for a parish church in Brooklyn. By August of 1823, St. James Church was built and blessed; religious services were begun on the very spot where St. James Cathedral stands today. In 1853, when the Diocese of Brooklyn was established, and Bishop John Loughlin was appointed as its first bishop, St. James served as the seat of the Bishop of Brooklyn and remains so today.
As the cathedral parish, St. James is a center of year-round activity, hosting diocesan events and special occasion celebrations. In addition to diocesan celebrations, St. James is also the home to a small but vibrant parish community.
The parish started out with 70 people, and now averages between 150 and 200 people for Sunday Masses at the downtown facility. But even though it’s small in number, it is a very alive place. The cathedral is one of just a few parishes that provide sign-language interpreters at Sunday Mass. The interpreters also stay for a social hour after Mass to facilitate communications with other parishioners. In conjunction with Catholic Charities, St. James parish offers RCIA and other sacramental classes in sign language. St. James is prominent as a parish of “firsts.” It had the first parish school in the church basement and had the first high school — St. James Academy — which later moved to Clermont Ave. and changed its name to Bishop Loughlin High School after the founder of the Diocese. It was the first home of the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Visitation Sisters, the Christian Brothers and the Franciscan Brothers.
In 1962, St. James Cathedral was designated as a Basilica by Rome. A significant recent undertaking was the institution of a televised daily Mass from St. James on the diocese’s Prayer Channel, which is now known as New Evangelization Television. The broadcast of the daily Masses and the bishop’s Masses allows the cathedral to enter into every home in the Diocese, live, each day.