The Parish of St. Brendan


On July 23, 1907, Rev. Timothy A. Hickey, a curate of St. Saviour's Church, accepted the request of the Most Reverend Charles E. McDonnell, second Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, to establish a new parish in the neighborhood of Midwood, an area noted at the time as the home of several small potato farms and the Vitagraph Film Studio. Comprised not only of the majority of Midwood, but also a section of Bensonhurst and of the modern Homecrest area, the parish is placed under the patronage of St. Brendan. Energized by his new assignment, Fr. Hickey rented a house located at 1456 East 10th Street, which was to be used as the temporary Chapel and Rectory. On the morning of September 29, 1907, Fr. Hickey offered the first Mass at 8:30, followed by the second Mass at 10:30.

Early in 1908, Father Hickey purchased land at the corner of Avenue O and East 12th Street, and signed a contract to build a basement church. Shortly after the legalities were complete, John Morrissey laid the first brick. On Christmas Day, 1908, Fr. Hickey celebrated the first Solemn High Mass. With the new church open, two Sisters of St. Joseph arrive in 1909 to organize a Sunday school program for the children of St. Brendan, joining the previously-assigned first curate, Rev. Joseph A. Devane, in aiding Father Hickey's ministry.

Rt. Rev. Msgr. Timothy A. Hickey
Original School Building and Original Basement Church, circa 1913


In 1910, the parish acquired the rectory at its current location of 1525 East 12th Street, and a temporary convent is established on East 13th Street. During 1912, the parish broke ground for a 16-classroom elementary school building, the cornerstone laid by the Most Reverend George Mundelein, then the Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, soon to become Archbishop of Chicago and later named a Cardinal. The size of the parish is such that in 1913, the Bensonhurst portion of the parish is separated, to be developed into the parish of St. Athanasius. Construction begins in 1918 on a larger convent, located on Avenue O and East 13th Street, opposite the school building. Ground will be broken for the upper church, built above and around the original basement church, in 1919 when the Vicar-General of the Brooklyn Diocese, the Rt. Reverend Joseph McNamee, sets the cornerstone.


On June 13, 1920, the upper church is dedicated by Bishop Salvator P. Walleser, OFM Cap, the former Vicar Apostolic of the Marianne and Caroline Islands. The church's two altars (one containing the relics of St. Alexius and St. Aurea, the other containing the relics of St. Laetus and St. Blandina) are consecrated by Bishop Thomas E. Molloy, at the time the Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn, destined to become the third Diocesan Ordinary and Archbishop ad personem.

In 1922, St. Brendan Academy, a high school for girls, opened with 58 girls using classrooms set up in the auditorium of the elementary school. That same year, the southeastern segment of the parish (now known as Homecrest) is developed into its own parish, St. Edmund's. In 1923, an annex and additional fourth floor were added to the existing school building. By the end of the decade, St. Brendan Academy will become St. Brendan Diocesan High School, a fully accredited four-year secondary school, which would come to enjoy a nationally acclaimed reputation.

As the 1920's come to an end, parish enrollment exceeds 7,200 parishioners, with over 900 students enrolled in the elementary school. In one year alone (1928), over 350 received the sacrament of Confirmation. In recognition of the prodigious work of the preceding years, Father Hickey was elevated to Monsignor. The profound growth of Catholicism in the Midwood area also leads to the establishment of yet another parish, Our Lady Help of Christians, in 1927, comprised of what had previously been the eastern portion of St. Brendan's.

Church Exterior, circa 1920
Original Church Interior

Rt. Rev. Msgr. Francis X. Downing


In 1933, a new 12-classroom school building is erected, located on Avenue O and East 12th Street, opposite the church and adjacent to the larger convent. The elementary school is relocated to this newer building, enabling the high school to take full possession of the older East 13th Street building, a necessary development, as the graduating class of 1935 has over 100 students, 80% of whom proceed on to college.


Msgr. Hickey's 45th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood is followed soon after by the United States' entry into World War II. Like all Americans, the people of St. Brendan responded, and over 800 men and women went off to serve. Those who stayed home prayed for the well-being of all who served at Our Lady of Victory Novenas.

On February 3, 1943, after serving the people of St. Brendan for 36 years, Msgr. Timothy Hickey passed away. Remembered as an esteemed educator, tributes are erected in both the elementary and high schools: a 2 1/2 ton bronze bell, dedicated "Timothy", is placed atop the high school, while the elementary school auditorium is renamed "Hickey Hall".

Rev. Francis X. Downing, formerly of Saints Simon and Jude, was appointed to serve as the second pastor of St. Brendan's.

After V-E and V-J days were celebrated, a new vibrancy shone upon St. Brendan. A series of parish bazaars and card parties are inaugurated, along with various religious and secular groups and associations for member of the parish. Like his predecessor, this period of prodigious growth and activity under Father Downing's watch will lead to his being named a Monsignor, in 1948.


Msgr. Downing's enthusiasm not flagging, activities for the people of St. Brendan's continue to increase, ranging from the establishment of a mini-retreat series to the development of B/R/E/N/O, the parish version of Bingo. In September 1957, the parish marked its 50th anniversary, with a gala dinner-dance at the St. George Hotel.

In 1959, Rev. Joseph W. Sheridan, who had ministered at St. Brendan's for 25 years as an assistant to both Msgr. Hickey and Msgr. Downing, passed away. Soon after, Msgr. Downing is transferred to Holy Name Parish, and Msgr. Joseph E. Egan was appointed the third pastor of St. Brendan's.


Msgr. Egan led the parish through the general turbulence of the Sixties, and through the early implementation of the liturgical changes deriving from the work of the Second Vatican Council. One example of this is the development of the lay lector program, guided by Rev. Celsus Collini; Fr. Collini would later volunteer for missionary work in Paraguay. Msgr. Egan's health began to fail, and he passed away in 1968.

Msgr. John P. O'Brien, formerly the Director of Diocesan Cemeteries, was appointed as the fourth pastor of St. Brendan's. Msgr. O'Brien continues in the work of Msgr. Egan, guiding the parish through the revised liturgy, notably overseeing developments in the parish choir.


Msgr. O'Brien was reassigned to St. Catherine of Alexandria in 1971, and was succeeded by Rev. James B. O'Grady, as the fifth pastor of St. Brendan's.

Fr. O'Grady oversees the development of what will become the Giving Tree program, and continues in the tradition of his predecessors in cultivating a wealth of opportunities for parishioners to participate in parish life and grow in their own knowledge and faith: the establishment of a Parish Library, the development of a Mass for Shut-ins and the Sick, even the remarkable success of the parish basketball team (11-1 after fifteen years of sub-.500). Fr. O'Grady's most notable action is the construction of the Parish Hall, located in what had previously been the original basement church.

In 1977, Rev. Rocco D. Villani and Rev. D. Joseph Finnerty are assigned as parochial vicars, both men having previously worked at Cathedral College Seminary. They will assist Fr. O'Grady in leading the parish through some of the most significant challenges that it had ever faced: negatively, the closing of the high school in 1978, a repercussion of demographic shift in the greater New York City area, and the availability of newer, larger Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn; positively, the move, in 1979, of the elementary school from the smaller "new" building on Avenue O and East 12th Street to the larger "old" building on East 13th Street; and tragically, the 1979 Waldbaum's Fire, in which a fire and subsequent roof collapse led to the death of 6 firemen, and the injury of an additional 36 first responders (34 FDNY, 1 EMS, 1 NYPD-ESU). A Memorial Mass has been offered for the repose of the 6 firemen and the consolation of their families every year since. Also in 1979, Fr. Villani is assigned as Administrator, to help alleviate some of Fr. O'Grady's responsibilities as Pastor.

Rt. Rev. Msgr. Joseph E. Egan
Church Interior, circa 1970
Church Interior, circa 1981

Veterans Memorial

Rev. Msgr. Rocco D. Villani


In 1980, the decision is made to consolidate all parish operations to one side of Avenue O. Recognizing the shifting demographic trends in the neighborhood, it is proposed that a housing complex for senior citizens be developed. Although it will take some years before all of the technicalities are worked out, the "new" school building and the "new" convent, located across Avenue O from the church and the "old" school building, are demolished, in anticipation of the eventual development of the land. This will come to fruition in 1987, with the opening of the "St. Brendan's Houses". Administered by Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens, the "St. Brendan's Houses", while completely separate and detached from the parish in any operational sense, is perhaps intangibly linked in a certain historical-emotional sense.

Anticipating the parish's 75th Anniversary in 1982, and recognizing the need for a number of structural improvements, the decision is made to renovate the church interior during 1981. A feasibility study is headed by Jack McGrath, and Howard "Doc" Parsons oversees the fundraising drive. The last Mass in the pre-renovated sanctuary is offered on Christmas 1980. During construction, Mass is held in the school auditorium. The renovated sanctuary, which incorporated existent assets in conjunction with new assets and materials, is unveiled on Palm Sunday 1981. The space is then rededicated by the Most Reverend Francis J. Mugavero, fifth Bishop of Brooklyn, on Pentecost 1981.

All of the renovation and reorganization served to re-energize the clergy and the people of St. Brendan. Fathers Villani and Finnerty began the "Pope John XXIII Forum", which sponsored lectures and debates featuring notable speakers who addressed contemporary issues facing the church. Rev. Peter Vaccari, later to become the rector of the seminaries at Huntington and Dunwoodie, began a drama group, whose first performance was a Meditation on the Passion of Christ during the 1983 Lenten season, succeeded over the years by productions of L'il Abner, West Side Story, Grease, 1776, and Damn Yankees. Also in the Eighties, the Men's Club presented the parish with a bronze memorial honoring those men and women from St. Brendan who served in the armed forces.

The parish celebrated its 75th anniversary in October 1982, with a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by Bishop Mugavero, joined by over 50 concelebrants. A dinner-dance followed at El Caribe Country Club.

In 1985, Fr. O'Grady officially retired. Fr. Villani, who had served as Administrator since 1979, was named as the sixth pastor of St. Brendan's. Fr. Villani, having done so much already as parochial vicar and administrator, continued expanding the opportunities for engagement, notably instituting a Lenten Soup Supper.

In 1988, Fr. Villani was transferred to Mary Mother of Jesus, and Rev. James B. McMahon was named as seventh pastor of St. Brendan's. Like Fr. Villani, Fr. McMahon also comes to the parish from having worked at Cathedral College. In 1989, he is made a Monsignor.


In 1992, facing increasing expenditures and decreasing income, the elementary school closed. The shock of the experience would prove to be a factor in compelling the Diocese to undertake a comprehensive study on the operation and general feasibility of Catholic education in Brooklyn and Queens (the "Convey Study"), eventually leading, albeit perhaps indirectly, to the current diocesan education model. Despite this setback, the spirit of the parish remained strong, and a number of parish programs and activities remained vibrantly active.

In 1998, Msgr. McMahon retired, and Rev. Arthur Purcell was named as the eighth pastor of St. Brendan's. The continued vitality of the parish is notably demonstrated during the Diocesan "Alive in Hope" campaign, when St. Brendan's raises $330,484 against an assigned goal of $196,000.


Recognizing the declining enrollment in the parish membership, yet recognizing also that indomitable spirit exhibited by those who remained, Fr. Purcell instituted the "Time, Talent, Treasure" initiative as a way to proactively approach parish life and the participation of the parishioners in it.

In 2003, the church interior was renovated again, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor. The 2003 renovation improved the sound systems, and made a number of aesthetic improvements. The Most Reverend Thomas V. Daily, sixth Bishop of Brooklyn, celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving following completion of the work.

In 2004, shortly after celebrating his 25th anniversary of ordination, Fr. Purcell retired from active ministry. Former pastor, the now Msgr. Villani, was appointed as temporary administrator.

In 2005, Rev. Frank W. Spacek was named ninth pastor of St. Brendan's. Msgr. Villani stayed as well, serving once again as parochial vicar, his initial position at St. Brendan's back in 1977.

The parish celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2007, welcoming home numerous parishioners and priests. For the first time in 100 years, a statue of St. Brendan was installed in the church, in addition to a new baptismal font. The festivities were capped off with a dinner-dance at El Caribe Country Cub.

Church Interior, circa 2005
Rev. Vasile Godenciuc, Rev. Peter D. Gillen, Most Rev. Paul Chomnycky, Very Rev. Peter Shyska, and members of the Ukrainian Catholic Mission Parish, circa 2016
Church Interior, circa 2019


In 2015, Fr. Spacek was reassigned to St. Saviour's, and Rev. Peter D. Gillen was named administrator. In 2016, Fr. Gillen was formally installed as the tenth pastor of St. Brendan's.

Also in 2016, a Ukrainian Catholic mission parish, serving the needs of Byzantine Rite Ukrainian Catholics, was established, and began meeting at St. Brendan's. Starting with a few dozen members, the Ukrainian Catholic Mission Parish of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary now numbers as one of the largest Ukrainian Catholic parishes in New York.

In 2017, the 110th Anniversary of the parish was celebrated, highlighted by the initial awarding of the "St. Brendan Navigator Awards". The inaugural class included longtime parishioners Billy Flynn, Yvette Sladky, Vinny Mangual, Carmina De La Rosa, and Rev. Vasile Godenciuc, the founding administrator of the Ukrainian mission parish.

In 2019, in anticipation of the 100th Anniversary of the upper church, additional work was done to the sanctuary and apse area, including the commission of a new tabernacle. Sadly, also in 2019, Msgr. Villani passed away, having spent nearly half of his priestly career at St. Brendan's.


In 2020, like the rest of the world, St. Brendan's was faced with the difficulties of COVID-19 and the subsequent shutdowns, lockdowns, limitations, and restrictions. The parish pivoted quickly, with the priests celebrating Mass in the rectory (not dissimilar to Fr. Hickey in 1907), and streaming these Masses over the internet, so that parishioners could still feel a part of the parish while being apart from the parish. Upon the lifting of the major restrictions, St. Brendan's joyously welcomed parishioners back to their parish home.

Adapted from previous histories compiled by: Louise Camarro, Manuela Camarro, Theresa Casey, Fr. Joseph Finnerty, Helen Flynn, Joan Flynn, Bridget Ganger, Edward Johnson, Mary Johnson, Joan McNamara, John McGrath, Rita Palermo, Mary Rudloff, Claire Seiz, Edmund Seiz, Joseph Shanley (75th Anniversary Committee); Fr. Arthur Purcell, Msgr. Thomas Clancy, Edward Johnson, Mary Johnson (preliminary collaboration with 100th Anniversary Committee); Fr. Frank Spacek, Stephen Rzonca, Barbara Cahill, Mary Francentese, Katherine Keane, Sr. Barbara Hanlon CSJ, Rose Huczko, Sr. Rosmary Lesser CSJ, Arthur Lonto, Vincent Mangual, Maureen Moogan, Frank Scarola (100th Anniversary Committee); Chris Berrios; James J. Edgell