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Holy Innocents prepares for centennial - Venerable Roman Catholic church looks to fully restore house of worship

As the centennial of the Holy Innocents Roman Catholic Church in Flatbush approaches next December, the historic house of worship has a long wish list of improvements necessary to fully restore it to its original prominence.

Designed by renowned Pittsburgh-based architects Helme and Corbett, Holy Innocents is the first in the 150-year history of the Diocese of Brooklyn to be included in the National Historic Registry. The Church, located on 279 East 17th Street just off Beverley Road, has served first German, Italian and Irish families, and now provides for a mix of Haitian Creole, West Indian, and other Caribbean parishioners who live in the area.

“On a good Sunday, we will have one thousand people over five of our masses, in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole” Monsignor Rollin Darbouze said. “The parishioners are very happy about the renovations. They want us to do it all at once, but my answer to them is that we need money.”

Holy Innocents is also home to a historic E.M. Skinner pipe organ, which was refurbished over the past three years after Music Director Alfred Cresci obtained a grant from the Joseph G. Bradley Charitable Foundation.

“The organ doesn’t take over a liturgy, it enhances the liturgy by inspiration,” Cresci said. “It inspires people to not only sing but think about the theme of the mass.”

The organ, which was restored by John Peragallo of The Peragallo Organ Company, took on a somber note one recent weekend, as Peragallo recently passed away from cancer. According to Cresci, Peragallo’s son said that the Holy Innocents organ was one of his father’s favorite projects.

“My thought was that if I could get interest in the organ, we’d like to get the whole church restored,” Cresci said. He hopes that the attachment that parishioners and Holy Innocents School alumni have developed for the Church will help raise money for major capital projects. The most notable projects include repairing breaks in the stained glass windows, adding light fixtures to lighten the dark interior ceiling, repainting the murals, and, most expensively, at a cost of $800,000, restoring the roof.

“The copper roof is very rare. It has to be historically accurate and it has to be copper,” Cresci said. “You can’t fix the inside of the church if water is coming in. The work that would be done inside the church would be all for not if we didn’t waterproof it.”

Cresci’s plan is to start work on the roof first. He hopes it will be complete by November 1 of this year. Meanwhile, next summer, students from the University of Delaware will be joining Carolyn Tomkiewicz of the Brooklyn Museum in restoring all the murals on the church walls by fall 2009. Cresci has also been working with Venturella Studios to restore cracks in the stained glass windows and re-lead several window panes, which will hopefully be completed by November 2009.

In addition, the church hopes to build a $9 million community center for the public on a lot diagonally across from P.S. 245 at 286 E. 17th Street. Assemblymember Rhonda Jacobs has pledged $250,000 for the project and Cresci has been speaking with several other elected officials on moving the project forward.

“All it takes is money and the power of prayer,” said Cresci. “Never underestimate the power of prayer.”

Holy Innocents Roman Catholic Church is located at 279 E. 17th Street in Flatbush. On November 15, the Church will host an alumni mass, welcoming all parishioners who have worshipped at Holy Innocents. For more information, visit 222.holyinnocentsbrooklyn.org or call 718-469-9500.

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