Parish History

Setting the Stage

Between 1845 and 1854, nearly three million new immigrants entered the United States due to European political unrest, famine, economic hardship, and religious persecution. The two largest immigrant populations at this time in American history were the Irish and the Germans. During the 1840’s, nearly two million Irish came to America, and over one million Germans arrived during the 1850’s.

View of Visitation BVM from Visitation Place, ca. 1931
View of Visitation BVM from Visitation Place, ca. 1931

Half of the population of New York by 1850 was foreign-born. In Brooklyn alone, one in three persons had either a German accent or an Irish brogue. By 1855, twenty-five percent of the city of Brooklyn’s population was Irish. Many of the country’s new arrivals served as the chief labor force for America’s factories and infrastructure projects, such as the Eire Canal. Later, many immigrants would go on to serve in the American Civil War.

With these new arrivals came their faith. For the Irish, Roman Catholicism was dominant. For the German immigrants, the dominant faiths were Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Jewish. During the 1830’s, there were approximately 600,000 Catholics in the United States. In 1850, there were 23 priests on Long Island serving 22 parishes.

By 1852, there were over two million Catholics. Pope Pius IX and New York’s Archbishop Hughes, in 1852, established the Diocese of Brooklyn. In 1853, Father John Loughlin was named Bishop of Brooklyn by Archbishop Hughes.

A Parish is Born

The founding of the parish of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary occurred in 1854, just one year after the appointment of Bishop John

Loughlin. Originally located on the corner of Verona Street (then Ewen Street) and Van Brunt Street, the parish was commissioned by Italian, Irish, and German factory and dockworkers.

View of Visitation BVM Coffey Park, Red Hook, ca. 1931
View of Visitation BVM Coffey Park, Red Hook, ca. 1931

Bishop Loughlin dedicated the first church on October 29, 1855. However, due to a rapid increase in the local population and tothe booming shipping and manufacturing industry in the Red Hook area, a larger church was needed. The second church began construction in 1876. It sat 1,500 parishioners and measured 175 feet long by 60 feet wide. Completed in 1878, this structure was constructed of Connecticut granite and wood at a cost of approximately $180,000.

The second church of the Visitation stood for twenty years until a fire destroyed it on July 12, 1896. Following the disaster, the Irish and Italian congregation immediately began the construction of a third church a few yards away at the corner of Richards Street and Verona Street. The present gothic revival church is constructed of dark Manhattan schist. The elegant bell tower includes four clocks, framed in copper, with one on each side.

View of the Choir Loft and Organ, Visitation BVM
View of the Choir Loft and Organ, Visitation BVM

Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s current pipe organ was built in 1917 by Reuben Midmer & Sons. It replace the 1855 Henry Erben Mechanical action pipe organ.

Today the church is administered by the community of priests and nuns of Koinonia John the Baptist.