The angels of Saint Augustine Church surround you. In stone and glass, plaster and paint, their mighty chorus extends a warm welcome to the inquisitive pilgrim.
Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a long-time parishioner, this brief guide will help you appreciate the wealth of our parish: its people, history, and historic buildings.
Explore; savor the art and architecture; linger and pray. Additional information about our worship and programs is available. You are welcome to join us in mission.
Enjoy your tour. Six hundred and eighty-two angels await you!
Reverend Robert J. Whelan, Former Pastor
Expand the sections below to take a self guided tour of St. Augustine. You can also get a more extensive guide to the history, art and architecture of our church by downloading this PDF.
The main portal within the bell tower admits you to an outer vestibule, a place to physically and psychologically begin your transition from the noise and dust of the street to the temple within—a foretaste of the heavenly kingdom. Note the life-size marble statue of St. Anthony of Padua holding the Christ Child. The offering-slot in the statue’s base is appropriate for a saint devoted to the poor. Straight ahead the double doors lead to The City of God Library and Gift Shop (2001), formerly the choir room.
The attached pavilion to the right was constructed as a baptistery in 1916 after plans for a chapel were abandoned. This space is now the Holy Cross Chapel, dominated by the mission cross (1920s) which was relocated from the sanctuary. It is flanked by St. Joseph to the left and St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, to the right. Heroic Christians and martyrs of our own time are honored on the marble walls. Above to the right is a print of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas (1998), which was blessed in front of the original image in the basilica in Mexico City.
The windows here, by Alexander S. Locke, speak of the room’s original purpose. Beginning on the left:
Jesus Welcoming and Blessing the Children (Mk 10:13-16).
TheBaptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John (Mk 1:9-11).
The Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple by Joseph and Mary to Simeon and Anna (Lk 2: 21-38).
Above to the rear is a simple yet elegant art glass window admitting light to the library.
In the new bathroom (2000) can be seen The Guardian Angel watching over two children (Mt 18:10). The memorial inscription reads: “In Memory of Rose and Marie Locke,” given by the window’s creator. Before exiting the chapel, note the elaborate iron grillwork and double gates crowned with a gilt cross-in-glory. On each side are round, gilded medallions: the pious pelican feeding her young with her own blood, and the lamb triumphant reclining on books with seven seals (Rev 12:1-5), both symbols of Christ.
Now enter the inner narthex, or vestibule, where your transition continues. First-time visitors are often disoriented, facing yet again two sets of double doors and impatiently awaiting their journey’s goal. Take note of the exquisite window of The Good Shepherd (Jn10: 3-5, 11) donated by a kindergarten class. Those pennies add up! It is Jesus who leads us to the Kingdom of God.
The bronze plaque on the south wall honors the memory of Monsignor Ernest Fiorello, pastor from 1983 until 1991, who restored the church for its centennial in 1988.
As you reach for the doors, pause and take a look. All the entrance doors (16) and the four tympanums over the inner doors are the work of the Tiffany Glass Company (1910 Partial List of Tiffany Windows). The doors display a recurring pattern of gothic turrets and pinnacles, the outer sets lined with “bulls-eye” inserts and multi-faceted glass “jewels” to catch the light. Each tympanum above the inner doors presents a tetramorph, a portrayal of one of the four evangelists, and unique flowering vines. Though easily overlooked, they are among the most beautiful of the church’s art glass. Find St. Matthew, the winged youth; St. John, the eagle; St. Luke, the winged ox; St. Mark, the winged lion. Lastly, note the twenty-two cherubs peering down from the molding, and the two marble holy-water fonts, which are miniature octagonal baptismal fonts. As we enter the church, the blessing with water recalls our baptism in Christ by which we first entered the church, the body of Christ. Enter through the south (left) set of doors.
You are now in the rear of the nave. You may wish to step up into the choir loft to survey the church. Here the eastern apse affords a good view of the layout. Immediately apparent are the great size of the interior and the beauty of its proportions and appointments. The graceful ribbed vaulting of the ceiling draws the eye heavenward.
You are actually looking at an innovative hung plaster ceiling which was formed using gas pipe rather than wood. The church is 86 feet wide at the transepts and 170 feet in length from apse to apse. Several features suggest a departure from traditional Gothic style, most notably the presence of a double apse, one on each end of the church. A Brooklyn newspaper, The Citizen, reported in 1888 that it was the only such religious building in the United States. The rare examples in Europe are accidents resulting from a transition from Romanesque to Gothic where the architect began anew on the opposite end of what was previously built. Here the result is intentional. By eliminating a central entrance the architects created the opportunity to make full use of the eastern front. Rather than a traditional rose window, a feature planned for the adjoining chapel, a wall of glass allows the rising sun to flood the interior with light. Facing the altar, we also note the absence of a triforium, or middle row of arches. The aisle connects directly to the clerestory so that the church is not so high in relation to its width—indeed the width and height are nearly equal—lending to the pleasing proportions. The arches are wide and nearly rounded, rather than slender.
The choir windows (Locke), nevertheless, are very Gothic; tall (24ft.) and pointed. They follow closely and faithfully the design of the Henry VIII windows in Westminster Abbey in London. Their theme, appropriately, is music. Each consists of a central portrait and a lower scene illustrating an example from the saint’s life. Begin to the left:
David, King of Israel, according to tradition the author of the Book of Psalms; holding a harp; illustrates the importance of the psalms in Christian worship.
Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr, a Roman noble who sang hymns to God on her wedding night. Patroness of church musicians and singers; portrayed with an organ.
Gregory I (the Great), (540-604), Pope and Doctor, Prefect of Rome. First monk-pope. Organized penitential processions through Rome’s streets during the plague. Co-patron with St. Cecilia of church music and musicians; credited with Gregorian chant.
Pius V, Pope (1504-1572); carried out the liturgical reforms of the Council of Trent; revitalized church music.
Catherine of Bologna (1413-1463), Religious. Franciscan nun; authored numerous popular hymns; depicted with a fiddle.
Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, born 910, Glastonbury. Played the harp; known for his musical compositions.
The pipe organ is the work of the well known and respected firm of George Kilgen & Son, Inc., St. Louis, MO. (Both the chancel and nave organs of St. Patrick Cathedral in New York City are by Kilgen.) It was dedicated on the Feast of St. Augustine, 1916. Extensive renovation, 1988, James A. Konzelman, Bayonne, N.J., except the choir division, which was renovated in 2003, John Klauder, Brooklyn, N.Y. The organ chimes were restored in 1991. The organ’s four divisions, Great, Swell, Choir and Pedal consist of 1,674 pipes, which are located in chambers raised above the gallery on either side of the organ console. The original pipe organ, brought from the old church, was built by Reuben Midmer & Son, a firm founded in Brooklyn about 1860.
Step down and pause in front of the baptistry (1988). Baptism signifies entrance into the church, so the original marble font is located near the church’s entrance, although it has been moved into the body of the church to enhance participation in the rites. Its octagonal shape speaks of the eighth day of creation, the day of Christ’s resurrection. Some would say also that it evokes the biblical flood, a passage from death to life through water, after which only eight members of the human race remained to become the people of the new covenant; Noah, his wife, and their three sons and their wives. The font’s inscription reads: “Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not.” A shallow pool behind the font allows for adult baptisms.
Surrounding the font are the images of twelve saints (Tom Glisson, et al., 1988) representing the present multicultural parish. Begin to the left:
John Neumann (1811-1860), Bishop of Philadelphia. Born in Bohemia, he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of New York and later entered the Redemptorists. Canonized 1977.
Frances Cabrini (1850-1917), Virgin, Patroness of Immigrants. Born 1850, Italy. Founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart; sent to U.S. by Pope Leo XIII to work with immigrants. First U.S. citizen to be canonized, 1946. Her body is enshrined in Manhattan at Cabrini Memorial School in Fort Washington. Known as Mother Cabrini.
Kateri Tekawitha, Native American, Martyr (1656-1680) Born in Ossernenon (Mohawk Nation, now Auriesville, N.Y.) Baptized Easter, 1676 by French Jesuits; beatified 1980. Model of virtue, she is known as “Lily of the Mohawks.”
Cyprian (c.200-253), Bishop of Carthage (North Africa), Martyr. He successfully argued that lapsed Christians could be restored to communion following a period of penance.
Peter Claver (1580-1654), Missionary to the Oppressed. Born in Catalonia; Jesuit missionary to the slaves at Cartagena, Venezuela. Canonized in1888.
Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), Native New Yorker, Wife, Mother, Founder. Received into the Catholic Church on Ash Wednesday, 1805; pioneered the parochial school system; founded the first American religious congregation, the Sisters of Charity. Canonized as the first American-born saint, 1975. Her home overlooking Battery Park is a public chapel.
Perpetua, Noble Woman, Mother, Martyr (c.181-203). Mentioned in the Roman Canon of the Mass.
Martin de Porres (1579-1639), Servant of the Poor. Born in Lima, Peru, of mixed races. He became a Dominican brother, renowned for his humility and service to the poorest of the poor. Canonized in 1962.
Rose of Lima (1586-1617), Patroness of South America. Joined the Third Order of St. Dominic and dedicated her life to prayer and charity. Canonized 1671, becoming the first officially recognized saint of the New World.
Thomas More (1477-1535), Attorney, Father, Martyr. Lectured on St. Augustine’s City of God. Beheaded for refusing to submit to Henry VIII’s claims. Canonized 1934. Patron of Lawyers.
Lorenzo Ruiz (c.1600-1637), Proto-Martyr of the Philippines, Layman, Father. Born in Manila; accompanied Dominican priests to Japan to offer comfort to persecuted Christians; martyred at Nagasaki. Canonized 1987.
Madeleine of Nagasaki, Martyr, Refuge of Missionaries. First Japanese baptized by St. Francis Xavier. Beheaded while her husband, Anthony Saga, a Christian assistant to the missionaries, was burned alive, 1634. Canonized 1987.
The tall brass candle stand in the Gothic style holds the paschal candle, the symbol of the Risen Christ in our midst. Formerly it held the sanctuary lamp and was positioned to the left of the main altar.
Note the lovely star emblem in the marble mosaic flooring, and the borders which feature flowering vines.
Entering the center aisle while proceeding towards the crossing, we can begin to “read” the windows (Locke) of the nave. They tell the story of St. Augustine and his mother, St. Monica. On your right, in the north aisle (left of the confessional), we begin:
The Spirit of Christ in the Family of St. Monica. St. Augustine is here represented as a boy being instructed by his mother. Grouped about are her husband, Patricius, their daughter Perpetua, and their youngest son, Navigius. The spiritual figure of Christ appears in the background of the home.
St. Ambrose and St. Monica. The Bishop of Milan responds to Monica’s pleading for her son: “The child of such tears cannot be lost.”
The Death of St. Monica. She envisions the child Jesus above her. The inscription reads: “Nothing is far from God.” She is surrounded by Augustine, Navigius in anguish, Augustine’s son Adeodatus, and Alypius, Augustine’s life-long friend. Other figures unknown. The scene may be derived from a medieval painting.
Now turn and look across towards the south aisle, to the right of the confessional:
The Conversion of St. Augustine. In a garden beside a fig tree (Adam was clothed in a fig leaf after the fall) with his friend, Alypius, napping nearby. The angel says: “Tolle, lege.” (Take up and read). Augustine holds open the scriptures; the oil lamp represents knowledge. He reads St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: “Put on the Lord, Jesus Christ,” and knows he must be baptized.
St. Augustine and the Child at the Seashore (after a painting by the early- renaissance painter, Pinturrichio). Trying to fathom the mystery of the Trinity, Bishop Augustine meets a child, or angel, who is trying to empty the sea into a hole in the sand. “Child, you cannot turn the sea into that hole”, says Augustine. “Neither can you comprehend the Trinity,” replies the child.
The Apotheosis of St. Augustine. The figure of the Savior receives St. Augustine, borne by angels. St. Monica, arms outstretched, waits to receive her son.
Look above to the three sets of clerestory windows. The east and west windows on both sides depict the four evangelists, their names inscribed to the sides, while the center windows show St. Monica and St. Augustine. The portraits are copies from a popular 1855 painting by Ary Scheffer, which hangs in the Louvre in Paris. The subject is mother and son in Ostia on their way home after Augustine’s baptism in 387. They share a transcendent moment gazing heavenward after discussing what joys the kingdom of heaven must hold, their faces lit from an unseen source above. Monica dies a few days later, her prayers answered.
Before leaving the nave, take note of The Way of the Cross. The fourteen stations which proceed around the church beautifully depict Jesus’ journey to Golgotha. They were made in Munich in 1891 while the frames were fashioned here and are unique to the church. At the pastor’s request these stations were all donated by women or in memory of women ($125 each). The gray marble wainscoting which runs beneath them and continues up into the window sills contributes to the sumptuous appearance of the interior.
Note as well the stately granite columns. To achieve the subtle variety of colors (three shades of blue, three shades of red, and one mottled) both foreign and domestic granites were used. Two varieties came from Scotland, the others from Westerly, Rhode Island; Barre, Vermont; and Fox Island, Maine. The stone for the bases was quarried in Ohio and dressed here on site. The columns are topped with richly carved Norman-Gothic capitals from which spring the arches. The transept columns are cut from a Nova Scotia stone.
The confessionals, two in the nave and two more in the transepts, were added in 1916, and the walls built out to accommodate them. All of the façades were rebuilt in 1988, the two in the nave being enlarged to accommodate reconciliation chapels for face-to-face confession, while the two in the transepts were transformed into storage space.
As you move forward towards the altar steps, you will see to your left and right the large windows which form the first and last scenes in the iconographical sequence of the life of Christ which continues in the windows of the apse.
Here it is appropriate to say more in general of the church’s more than 100 stained-glass windows, doors, and skylights. When the church opened in 1892, only the ornamental Tiffany windows and doors were complete. The more figurative windows were yet to be designed, so temporary windows made of a novel style of glass were ordered from Charles & Emanuel Champigneulle, a French firm in New York, and placed in the nave and apses. The 4,600 square feet of glass required was manufactured in Bar-le-Duc, France at a cost of $25,000. A few of these windows survive in out-of-the-way places of the church, such as the south tower.
In April, 1896, Father McCarty announced that negotiations were underway with the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company for a series of twenty stained-glass windows illustrating the life of the patron saint of the church to celebrate the silver jubilee of the parish. The parish appropriated $50,000 for this project and other interior decoration through memorial donations. In May, a contract with Tiffany for the two large transept windows was made public, and thirty-five windows were said to be under negotiation, a total of 3,600 square feet of stained glass at an estimated cost of $30,000. Frederick Wilson was the Tiffany designer assigned the task of providing the initial sketches for The Tears of Monica and The Baptism of St. Augustine by St. Ambrose for the south transept and The Death of St. Monica and The Consecration of St. Augustine as Bishop for the north. Each was to contain 600 feet of glass.
Father McCarty announced in August that it was not possible to complete all these windows as well as the three altars in time for the jubilee the following November. The windows needed much more study and planning. The money already donated for them would be held until their completion. (The Brooklyn Eagle, 4/22, 5/21, and 8/5/1896).
Construction of the school and rectory would further delay the installation of new windows. Around 1914 the task was taken up anew. Although the pastor had previously entrusted the Tiffany Glass Company and the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company (the company’s name changed many times) with the design of windows, vestments, lamps and furnishings, he now turned to the Locke Decorative Company. Perhaps he admired Alex Locke’s work in the neighboring churches of Queen of All Saints, on Lafayette Avenue, and St. Joseph on Pacific Street, or the new Jesuit seminary chapel at St. Andrew-on-the-Hudson (now the Culinary Institute of America). Intense planning soon began between Locke and McCarty for the new windows and by 1918 the work was complete.
American Opalescent Glass
Alexander S. Locke (1860-1921) began his career as an apprentice of John La Farge, who along with Louis Comfort Tiffany is credited with the invention of opalescent glass, a special kind of American stained-glass. Rather than being stained in the medieval way, opalescent glass is created with varying colors and ripples and folded to create the desired effect, dispensing with pigment. As many as three or four layers of glass are used. Locke became expert at this and developed his talents as a muralist as well, working with La Farge on the decoration of the Vanderbilt houses. After working with other glass makers, Arnolds and then Willet, he established his own firm in Brooklyn. He resided in Park Slope at 46 Montgomery Place in a house designed for him by C.P.H. Gilbert, and died at the age of sixty. O.W. Heinigke, in his obituary of the artist, wrote that Locke was “notable for his dependence upon the confidence and satisfaction of a comparatively few patrons.”Indeed he worked closely with Monsignor McCarty on each of the church’s windows for a period totaling almost four years. Nearly all the glass is American opalescent glass made especially for these windows. Where paint is used, it has been thoroughly vitrified. The parish is justifiably proud of its magnificent Locke windows. (Restorations: Rambusch, 1952; Gaspari, 1986; Albert Stained Glass, 2001.
The Nativity of the Lord and Visit of the Shepherds. (Lk 2:15-30). Dedicated on Christmas Day, 1917, in memory of S.B.S., south transept. A monumental depiction of the nativity scene surmounted by the angelic choir and the star of Bethlehem. “Gloria in excelsis Deo” (Glory to God in the highest); “Ave Maria gratia plena Dominus tecum” (Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with you); “Fiat mihi secundum verbum Tuum.” (Let it be done to me according to Your word). The twelve apostles surround the lower scene. (Locke used part of this design for a later work in the Basilica of St. Patrick in Montreal.) This window and its companion were said to be the most richly foliated windows in Brooklyn or New York at the time.
Above the reredos, or high altar, the sequence continues in a set of nine windows, each costing $500 in 1916:
The Boy Christ among the Doctors in the Temple. (Lk 2: 46-48)
The Marriage Feast at Cana. (Jn 2:1-11)
The Charge to Peter (The giving of the keys). (Mt 16: 15-19)
The Last Supper. (Mt 26:20-29)
The Crucifixion. (Mk 15:23-27)
Easter Morning. (Mt 28: 1-7)
Christ on the Road to Emmaus. (Lk 24: 13-33)
The Doubting Thomas. (Jn 20: 24-29)
Peter Recognizing Christ on the Shore. (Jn 21: 1-19)
The angels’ banners read: “Ego sum lux mundi” (I am the light of the world). (Jn 1:5)
The Ascension of the Lord. Dedicated Easter, 1918, in the north transept. The glorified figure of Christ is surrounded by angels; in the lower section the Apostles and Disciples look upward at the ascending Christ. Among the group are two young men in white robes mentioned in Acts I: 10-11.
There are two figural windows in the clerestory of the transepts which complement the side altar scenes, while two more are ornamental:
The Apparition of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary. South transept, west wall.
The Blessed Virgin with the Infant Christ Giving the Rosary to St. Dominic. St. Catherine of Sienna looks on. North transept, west wall.
The focus of the platform at the central crossing is the marble centennial altar (1988), a freestanding altar mandated by the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The priest now celebrates the Mass facing the assembly. He also faces the rising sun, following ancient custom, which had not been possible originally due to the orientation of the building.
Note how the new altar’s columns closely resemble those of the altar rail behind it. Formerly, the pews continued up the aisle to the rail.
The present pulpit was reworked from a chancel bench in 1988. The original stood behind the altar rail and can now be seen in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, minus its brass base. A solid bronze angel seven and a half feet in height and weighing nine hundred pounds, it cost $1,200. Affectionately known as Rafael, it was designed by The Gorham Manufacturing Company. Better known for its silverware, Gorham was a competitor with Tiffany for the upscale metal-goods market in the late nineteenth century and made special exhibition pieces to display its workmanship. This design won first prize in its place at the World’s Columbian Exhibition of 1893 in Chicago. The original, in iron, is in Trinity Church, Chicago, and survived the fire of 1920 which destroyed old Trinity Church. No other examples are known to exist. Rafael now has seasonal duties such as holding the Book of the Dead on its reading stand during the month of November, bearing aloft the Advent Wreath or the Easter Fire on its flat top, or simply adoring the Most Blessed Sacrament with empty hands held aloft.
The presider’s chair is of richly carved oak. Its plaque reads: “This chair was used by his holiness Pope John Paul II at Shea Stadium, October 3, 1979.” (The pope may be a Mets’ fan but the occasion was a prayer service hosted by the Diocese of Brooklyn.) It has also been used on other occasions by the diocese for episcopal ordinations at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
Altar candlesticks, bronze, 1997, Mexico.
Credence tables. The older is used for the offertory gifts, marble and bronze (restored 2000). The table behind the presider’s chair, wood and bronze, 1988.
The parish uses three processional crosses:
The La Monica Cross, below, named after the donor, 1995. Commissioned by the parish for its 125th anniversary from artist, Tom Glisson; it was first used for the 1995 papal mass in Central Park where it was venerated with incense by his Holiness, Pope John Paul II. The staff is modeled on an African story-telling-stick in the Brooklyn Museum.
Cross of painted canvas and wood, also by Tom Glisson, 1993. It was commissioned by the Archdiocese of New York for the Papal Youth Mass at St. Joseph Seminary which was cancelled due to the pope’s illness. Gift of the artist.
Cross of the Resurrected Christ, silver and gold metal. Purchase, 1980s.
Step up behind the centennial altar into the former sanctuary, now the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, a place for private prayer and adoration and the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours. The floor’s exquisitely detailed marble mosaic depicts a pelican piercing her breast to feed her young with her own blood, an early symbol of Christ.
The altar table (mensa) with its elaborate screen (rerodos) dominates the western apse. Charles F. Hall Company, Boston, 1897. American marble and alabaster. $28,000. It extends thirty-four feet in width and rises thirty-five feet to the central pinnacle; it weighs twenty-one tons. The names of the donors, members of the Sanctuary Guild, were kept sub rosa, never to be revealed, but were printed on parchment and placed in the cornerstone of the altar. The centerpiece is a silver and gold tabernacle (Alfred E. Parfitt, 1895) adorned with gemstones. (Restored 1952, Rambusch; 2000, Adrian Hamers.) It is a masterpiece and one of the most expensive tabernacles in the country, guarded by its own security system. (See video in library.) The electrically operated burglar-proof safe is itself of interest. A Mr. E. Stancliff custom-designed the one-inch-thick “hardenized” steel plates which roll on ball bearings. It still functions beautifully 110 years later. All the precious metals and stones were donated by parishioners in the form of coins and jewelry. It is enclosed in marble with worshipping angels swinging censors. The inscription below reads: “Venite ad Me omnes” (Come to Me all of you). Above, the four evangelists adorn the corners. To the left is the angelic hymn of praise: “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus” (Holy, Holy, Holy); to the right: “Dominus Deus Sabaoth” (Lord God of Hosts). Exquisitely carved grape vines laden with fruit, stalks of wheat, and wreathes of leafy grape branches with fruit clusters adorn the altar piece. Two adoring angels, of unknown origin, flank the tabernacle (22 karat gilding, 2000), while a silver and gold crucifix surmounts it. A marble door opens from behind, reached by a marble staircase with an elaborate brass rail. It enabled the priest to expose the Most Blessed Sacrament for adoration by the faithful. A silver and gold monstrance studded with precious stones, also created from donations by parishioners, was placed on the shelf, while the crucifix rested on a lower level. Nowadays the new altar is used for adoration.
Below the mensa, Jesus is enthroned on the Mercy Seat, arms extended to embrace the whole world. Surrounding are figures personifying temptation, sin, sickness, death, affliction, poverty, old age, youth, power and science, all appealing to the Savior. Two archangels, armor-clad, bearing the alpha and omega on their breastplates, flank this scene.
Four life-size statues look down on the altar. On the left, St. Paul, whose epistles influenced St. Augustine’s conversion; St. Augustine himself as a bishop; St. Monica, his mother; St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan who baptized him. St. Monica’s canopy is topped with a pelican, a symbol of suffering and self-denial, while above St. Augustine’s is a crown which typifies mastery and glory. The four sets of standing angels represent the four ends for which the mass is offered: (from the tabernacle outward), the two with trumpets raised indicate “Glory to God”; holding the instruments of passion, “Satisfaction for Sin”; in prayerful posture, “Petitions for Favors Needed”; and on the ends, “Thanksgiving for Favors Received.”
Between the statues are richly carved and detailed biblical scenes chosen to echo themes in St. Augustine’s life; from left to right:
Jesus Raises the Son of the Widow of Naim. “Young man I say to thee arise.” (Lk 7: 14) This indicates the raising of Augustine, a widow’s son, from the death of sin to spiritual life.
Moses Strikes the Rock in the Desert and the Thirsty Israelites Drink. (Ex 17: 1-7) Moses represents God, the rod, grace, the rock, Augustine, the stream, the holiness and wisdom of Augustine.
David’s Victory Over the Giant of the Philistines, Goliath. (I Samuel 17) Perhaps this represents Augustine’s triumph over a sinful past or his long but victorious theological battle against the Manichean heresy.
The Canaanite Woman Pleads for Jesus to Heal her Daughter who is Troubled with an Evil Spirit. (Mt 15: 28) “Woman great is thy faith.” This subject indicates the ceaseless, triumphant prayers of Monica pleading for the wayward Augustine.
It is interesting to note here the controversy surrounding the dedication of this altar. While The New York Times’ headline for the dedication of the side altars read simply: “Two Altars Consecrated” (12/10/1897), the one for the main altar some days later read: “American Flag in Church—Bishop McDonnell Ordered It to Be Taken Down at St. Augustine’s, Brooklyn. It Hung Behind the Altar—Consecration Ceremony Delayed Until a Workman Took the Emblem Away—Its Presence Against the Roman Catholic Rubrics.” (12/25/1897) The Christmas Day article seemed to delight in the controversy pitting religious faith against patriotism.
Look above to the apse ceiling where ranks of angels, some with censors, and others with armor and swords, hover in attendance. This is all that remains of Locke’s decorative scheme (1916) that continued throughout the church. The poor condition and great loss of plaster from water damage led to a decision to paint over the designs in 1988.
To the left in the south transept is the altar of The Sacred Heart. Charles F. Hall Company, Boston, 1897. American marble and alabaster, $12,000. Dedicated by Bishop LaRoque of Seabrook, Canada. Standing atop an orb, Jesus shows forth his compassionate heart. On the left are St. John, the beloved disciple, and an angel presenting the crown of thorns on a pillow. On the right is St. Mary Magdalene, and to her side an angel holding a royal crown on a pillow. Under the altar is another Christological symbol, the Lamb Victorious.
To the right in the north transept is the altar of Our Lady of the Assumption. Charles F. Hall Company, Boston, 1897. American marble and alabaster, $15,000. This title is indicated in records but because Mary is shown holding the Christ child, the depiction must be taken as a composite. She stands on a cloud escorted by numerous cherubs, each playing a unique musical instrument. To the left is her spouse, St. Joseph, holding a lily and flanked by a banner which reads: “Ave” (Hail). To the right are her mother, St. Anne, and an angel whose banner reads: “Fiat” (Let it be done). Under the altar table is the infant Jesus in swaddling clothes.
The sacristy door to the right presents a stained-glass cross surrounded by grape clusters made of brilliant red glass jewels (Tiffany). Note the peephole of clear glass enabling one to check on the progress of the communion procession from the sacristy.
Lost Tiffany Lamps
Removed from these three altars prior to 1950, presumably due to changing fashions, were hanging votive lamps (1891), original designs by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company never to be repeated. It is not known what became of them. The central one over the main altar cost $1,000, a princely sum at the time. It consisted of a circle of seven silver angels facing outwards, their hands outstretched in adoration, holding lights representing the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Under their feet was a base of metal filigree work studded with colored, multi-faceted glass jewels. A basket below, of the same work, contained five lights, representing the five wounds of Christ. Lastly, a large Celtic cross, also of filigree work and enriched with opals dangled below. The lamp measured eighteen feet from top to bottom and provided electric light for the altar. It was described by news accounts as the largest and most handsome lamp in the country and entirely unprecedented in the history of Christian art.
The altar rail is a sturdy marble balustrade of arches and multi-colored columns (c. 1916). It replaced the original, more delicate brass version decorated with passion flowers that was topped by a rose-colored marble rail. Father McCarty had collaborated closely with Tiffany on the design. The existing rail was lowered to its present position during a renovation in 1952 (Rambusch), and a new brass rail added behind, creating a passageway for the distribution of Holy Communion.
The sacristy at the North West end features an elaborate oak vestment case, complete with innovative drawers that swivel out to store large vestments without the need to fold them, such as copes. Note the handsome wood wainscoting and the patterned walls and ceilings. The four windows (Tiffany) display symbols of Christ surrounded by Gothic tracery and interspersed with palm fronds. Left to right: I.H.S., a monogram for the name of Jesus Christ; Chi-Rho, an abbreviation and symbol for Christ; Alpha, the first letter of the Greek Alphabet; and Omega, the last. This sacristy also serves as a chapel and is furnished for Mass. On the walls note the oil painting, Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem, (Tom Glisson, 1992). Also, an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, (painted tile, 1986, Guatemala).
The south sacristy houses the Msgr. McCarty Catecumenon, a meeting place for catechumens and prayer groups. A frieze of fruiting oak and ivy branches like that in the north sacristy borders the ceiling. The skylight above presents the figure of a dove representing the Holy Spirit. A lovely wall of seven glass panels (Tiffany) admits light from the cloister linking the church with the school and St. Monica’s Hall below. In this passage note the twenty-two cherubs with wings spread, holding shields and looking downward. The lamp above, with its “bulls-eye” glass, is thought to be Tiffany as well (restored 2001, Albert Stained Glass). The set of three windows on the south wall, by an unknown artist, present the theme of Christ’s passion.
The church was painted most recently in 1999 (D’Ambrosio Studios), following a smoky fire on September 29, 1998, the Feast of the Archangels. Fortunately the church was open and the fire discovered in time for the Fire Department to extinguish it without serious damage.
The church has been the setting for many scenes for television series, independent films, and major motion pictures, most recently a wedding scene for Mona Lisa Smile in 2002 starring Julia Roberts. Its excellent acoustics make it a popular site for concerts as well, such as performances by The Brooklyn Philharmonia Chorus, The Brooklyn Youth Chorus, and the Park Slope Singers.
Upon exiting the church, look up at the bell tower. It is perhaps the most striking feature of the church—and highly ornamental. It rises 150 feet and is surmounted by a twelve-foot-high cross. While the pastor’s instructions for the architectural competition had stated a preference for a tower rather than the usual steeple, he nevertheless believed bells to be unnecessary since the congregation was well aware of the Mass schedule. On Christmas Eve in1923, an electric carillon was dedicated in memory of the eighteen parishioners killed in World War I. The Mass that followed was reportedly the very first Christmas Midnight Mass in the United States (The Tablet). Cylindrical metal tubes which hung in a cabinet in the rectory, each tuned to a different note by its length, were struck by a hammer controlled by an electric panel and the sound was amplified from the tower. In 1992, Fr. Fernando Ferrarese installed a new digital carillon in memory of his predecessor, Msgr. Fiorello, which tolls the hours, the Angelus, and the mass times.
The brownstone exterior, a popular choice for Protestant Gothic-Revival churches in the late nineteenth century, is quite rare for a Catholic edifice. It is, in fact, the only brownstone Catholic Church among the Diocese of Brooklyn’s more than 220 churches. The stone is of the Pleasant Valley type from West Orange, New Jersey. A semi-porous sandstone, it has weathered poorly in certain areas and is in need of restoration. Note the carved cherubs’ faces and the copper gargoyles which hover above. Look also for the “green-man” on the south façade, a human face composed of carved foliage, and the dog snouts which serve as gutter spouts.
A majestic copper statue of the Archangel Gabriel holding a trumpet crowns the eastern apse. It is the work of the well-known New York sculptor J. Massey Rhind (1860-1936), a Scottish immigrant whose work includes the northern bronze doors of Trinity Church on lower Broadway, the heroic caryatids of Macy’s 34th Street façade, and figurative sculpture at Grant’s tomb. The statue consists of hammered sheet copper over a braced copper frame which was manufactured by the W. H. Mullins Company, OH. This firm excelled in large, outdoor works such as Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ monumental figure of the goddess Diana, a weathervane which topped the old Madison Square Garden. On December 8, 1890, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the angel was raised to its place. Together with its pedestal it measures twelve feet in height. It was restored in 1963. Two other New York churches have similar angels, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and Riverside Church, but St. Augustine’s is the oldest of the three and, some would boast, the most handsome.
The south tower rises seventy-five feet and features a crown of glory, pinnacles and crenellations. Over the crossing is a tall copper fleche complete with gargoyles and a weathervane. A stone cross tops the south transept, and a metal one over the west end. In An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn (Gibbs Smith, 2001, p. 346) Francis Morrone writes:
The play of forms — conical and pyramidal, flat and swelled — and the play of colors make this one of the most powerful church designs in Brooklyn and indisputably the Parfitt Brothers’ masterpiece. Though this church is built of Gothic forms, the skillful use of color and the sheer force of the massing make this more reminiscent than any other church in Brooklyn of H. H. Richardson’s Trinity Church in Boston.
The original clay tiles still grace the roof, in subtle patterns. They were made in Ruabon, Wales by the J.C. Edwards Company and are of the brindle variety, shading in color from light red to brown. Records note that a strike interrupted the delivery of some shipments and installation was temporarily halted. After 115 years they have exceeded their expected life. A recent conditions survey of the exterior by Integrated Conservation Resources, Inc., NY, estimates that a restoration sensitive to historic preservation will cost several million dollars. A Capital Campaign was launched in 2005 for the first phase, the restoration of the bell tower and the two large transept windows. The entire undertaking will represent a commitment on the part of the present and future generations equal to the sacrifice of those who erected this church to the glory of God.
A brownstone wall surrounds the church property, wrapping around Park Place and Sterling Place for nearly five hundred feet (c.1907). It is topped with a wrought-iron fence decorated with gothic trefoils and monograms for St. Augustine. Entrance columns topped with lights complete and unify the design.
The Victorian-style three-tier fountain that graces the front gardens was cast in Queens and completed the morning of September 11, 2001. It was dedicated to all who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center. “The water I will give shall become a fountain of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:14).
The flag pole was restored in 2003 by the firefighters of Ladder Company 105 and Engine Company 219 on Dean Street in honor of their brothers who died on September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center. A memorial stone records their names.
The mature oak trees (originally 18) that surround the property were dedicated in memory of the parish’s young men killed in World War I, while the white dogwood to the right of the tower bears a plaque in memory of Dr. Steven K-Tim, a Brooklyn Botanic Garden botanist who cared for the church’s gardens. The rectangular block of stone inscribed with a cross dates from 1892,or perhaps as far back as 1871 if it served the old church. It once sat curbside and allowed those arriving by horse-drawn carriage to make a dignified exit to the sidewalk.
Completing the parish complex are several other buildings. The handsome rectory (Parfitt Brothers) was designed in 1887 but not constructed until 1905-07. Changes in style and fashion in the interim resulted in some adaptations. Additions were made in 1916, 1924, and 1967. It contains beautiful woodwork, fireplaces, and more than eighty stained-glass windows, doors and skylights. With nearly forty rooms and eleven baths it is most certainly one of the largest residences in Park Slope.
The elementary school (A. Parfitt, 1908) fronts Sterling Place. In 1895 the Sisters of St. Joseph opened a Free Kindergarten which would later become St. Augustine Academy, located at 48 Park Place beginning in 1903. When the new building opened in 1908, the Christian Brothers were invited to staff the boy’s division, which was the beginning of a boy’s high school program as well. The primary school closed in 1983 due to declining enrollment. The high-school graduated its first class in 1913. An addition (A. Parfitt), including a large auditorium and a residence for the Christian Brothers (originally planned for the Sisters), was built in 1924 on Park Place. The auditorium’s stained-glass windows include a depiction of the church’s tower. The school developed a stellar academic reputation and produced many notable graduates in the fields of business, education, and public service, including Hugh Carey `38, former governor of New York State; J. Ronald Morgan `56, CEO of Pershing Limited; Frank Macchiarola `59, former Chancellor of the NYC Board of Education and now President of St. Francis College; Joseph Bruno `61, Commissioner of the NYC Office of Emergency Management; and Joseph Esposito `67, Chief of Department of the NYPD.
In 1926 the school was renamed Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School but reverted to St. Augustine in 1933 when a new building opened in Fort Greene and assumed that name. The Alumni Association maintains the school’s legacy in St. Augustine Chapel and Lancer Hall at Bishop Loughlin. The NYC Board of Education presently operates two schools in the former St. Augustine schools.
Of historical interest is the plane crash of December 16, 1960. With fifteen hundred students present in the classrooms that morning, a United Airlines DC-8, which had collided with a TWA aircraft over Staten Island, narrowly missed the school buildings and crashed just a block away killing six people on the ground and all 128 passengers. The angel Gabriel on the church’s roof was credited by many with averting an even greater disaster than that which occurred.
In 1926 the parish purchased the Robins’ mansion and carriage house at 114 Sixth Avenue (c.1868-72) totaling six lots for use as a convent for the Sisters of St. Joseph. The brownstone row house had been greatly enlarged by the Robins family, owners of a dry goods store at 410 Broadway, New York City, and the parish added another extension. Note the brownstone carriage-step in the garden engraved with the letter R. The carriage house served as a garage and meeting place for scouting groups. It was renovated into classrooms and meeting space in 1983 when the schools were sold and named the Father Dempsey Center, honoring a former pastor. It houses the Helping Hands Food Pantry which serves hundreds of local families, a shelter for homeless women operated in conjunction with the Partnership for the Homeless, the Hope Dinner which supports persons with HIV/Aids, and several dozen parish and community groups. It is scheduled to be demolished at the end of 2004 to make way for a new, larger parish/community center with 14 units of affordable senior housing above it. The mansion was completely renovated in 1998 and now houses the DePorres Residence, a home for developmentally disabled men directed by the Sisters of Mercy, and private apartments above.