DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.



St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Church




St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Church was constructed in Bushwick by the wealth of German breweries and was named for the wife or daughter of the Church's largest sponsor, Leopold Epping. The beautiful, Spanish-baroque structure was built in 1910 and is located on Bleecker Street, between Bushwick and Central Avenues. (Alderman 2008). The demographics of this area of Bushwick indicate a predominance of Latinos from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Ecuador. (Nocera 2009). In the 2000 New York City Census Tract, the breakdown on race was African Americans at 21.8%, and the Hispanic population totaled 2,931. According to the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau's data on the foreign born population of Brooklyn's Community District 4, the neighborhood of Bushwick has a Latino occupancy of 72.6%. (U.S. Census Bureau 2000). A 2000 socioeconomic profile of this Bushwick neighborhood indicated that the educational attainment was 49.7% high school graduates and 6.7% as college graduates. (Census FactFinder 2000). In conclusion, the neighborhood of St. Barbara's Catholic Church can be identified as largely Latino.


Courtesy of New York City Census FactFinder 2000


Prior to its Latino predominance, Bushwick had several European settlers. The first being the Dutch who were mainly tobacco farmers in the 17th century in then rural Bushwick, followed by the Scandanavians, French and English. By the late 18th century, Bushwick had become predominantly German due to the permanent residency of Hessian mercenaries who had once temporarily occupied the area for supplies during the Revolutionary War. Eventually, Bushwick became lost its ruralness to commercialism and industrialization. Several German breweries had been established making Bushwick the main site for American brewing. The success of the breweries helped finance the building of many mansions in Bushwick, along with spectacular churches; one of them being the local church of St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Church. (NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development 2009).


Over the centuries, Bushwick experienced further demographic changes with the heavy inflow of Italians who shared occupancy with the Germans. However, during the mid-20th century, the Germans migrated, allowing Bushwick to become one of the borough's largest Italian-American neighborhoods. By the 1960s, this location had become home to Puerto Ricans and African Americans after the gradual departure of Italian-Americans. By 1965, Bushwick's overwhelming Latino occupancy had become incorporated in the local businesses and politics and local churches. Today, the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood indicated by the 2000 Census remains the same and can be immediately identified by a few homes and buildings that are in disrepair. Though the locale has several national businesses such as a wireless phone company and fast food chain restaurants, many of the establishments are mainly Latino in its restaurants, shoe and clothing stores, small bodegas.


Theology &Worship


St. Barbara's Church has a bilingual Mass, along with English and Spanish Masses. Although some of the younger parishioners spoke English, the main language spoken at St. Barbara's is Spanish. Its interior contained breathtaking frescoes in the high-domed ceilings resembling those at the Vatican Museum in Italy, exquisite carvings and beautiful stained-glass windows – both depicting Biblical scenes of Jesus. There were several European-inspired statues of saints depicting Biblical characters such as the Virgin Mary and St. Paul which are usually found in Catholic Churches, however, there was also an influence of the Church revitalization from Vatican II by the inclusion of Spanish-specific brown-colored statues such as the revered saint of hope, the Virgin of Guadalupe. This feature indicates an ethnic integration of the neighborhood.


Courtesy of St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Church



  Courtesy of St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Church


Courtesy of St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Church


St. Barbara's bilingual Mass showed evidence of Church revisions from Vatican II. Firstly, there was a bilingual bulletin provided for non-Spanish parishioners. Also, the altar was close to the congregation, and the priest faced the congregation during the Mass. Before Vatican II, the altar was built into the wall of the church and the priest faced the altar as a sign of reverence to the tabernacle located in the middle of the altar. (Ring 2005). The Mass is considered the primary source of communion with God, therefore ritual involves participation in singing of hymns, recitation of Creeds that reiterate the Church's beliefs. At the beginning of the Mass, the cross was carried by the Church's youth; all of them being Latino, while the organist played the Entrance Hymn. The cross is an important sacramental in the Catholic Church, therefore, there were many of them were found at various locations both inside and outside of St. Barbara's. Following the Entrance Hymn was the bilingual greeting and blessing from the native Dominican priest. The traditional Catholic worship continued with the Penitential Rite in the solemn recitation of the Prayer of Confession. The Prayer of Confession is the parishioner's opportunity to confess, ask for God's mercy and be reconciled with Him. The Biblical readings and Responsorial Psalm were performed by Spanish-speaking lectors who were part of the laity.


The Catholic Mass is conducted first through prayers and Biblical readings used to edify the homily of the parish priest. The gospel is derived from Scripture and is presented to the congregation by the priest. Following the homily is the sermon which is a breakdown of the Scripture in vernacular. (Puddy, Roberts 2006). At St. Barbara's service, the bilingual homily with Scripture was presented by the priest with the sermon topic, “If This Were Your Last Day on Earth.” This sermon was given as a reminder of the importance of living a Christian life prior to the last day on earth. Presentation of the sermon was found extraordinary because of the priest's question-and-answer interaction with the many children in attendance at the service. Further evidence of Vatican II was when the priest left the pulpit to be closer to the congregation. Prior to Vatican II, there was spacial and communicative separation between clergy and the laity. The sermon was followed by the Nicene Creed. The theology of the Roman Catholic Church is based upon four core beliefs which are encapsulated in the Nicene Creed. The Creed is the declaration of the Christian faith in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” Church, and is recited at every Mass. Most of the service was conducted in both Spanish and English, however, the Offertory Hymn sung in Spanish. The priest's presentation and blessing of the Eucharist in the form of bread and wine was also spoken in Spanish and English. Of utmost import to the Mass in the universal Church is the intake of Holy Eucharist in the bread and wine. The Holy Eucharist is considered to be a transformation of the actual body and blood of Christ which was sacrificed for the sins of mankind through his death on the cross, and a serves as a reminder of Christ's presence during the Mass. Also, as the word “Eucharist” is defined as “thanksgiving,” Catholics view the ritual as a demonstration of gratitude for the enrichment through the body and blood of Christ. (Puddy, Roberts 2006). Before receiving the Eucharist, the parishioners at St. Barbara's rose to recite the Our Father before receiving an invitation to partake in the Eucharist.


Catholic theology also includes a belief in the Holy Trinity which is defined as God dwelling in three divine persons in God the Father, God the Son in the form of man through Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit who was sent to help Christians after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Fahey 1997). Observation and reverence to the Holy Trinity can be seen during every Catholic Mass through the congregation making the sign of the cross with their right hands. This act of respect to the Trinity was witnessed throughout the service at St. Barbara's.


Another Vatican II liturgical adjustment observed during this portion of the Mass was the congregant's choice of receiving the host in the hand instead of on the tongue, as opposed to Vatican I's instruction that the host be received on the tongue. At the end of the Mass, a final blessing was given by the priest and the Final Hymn was also sung in Spanish.


All hymns at St. Barbara's bilingual service were accompanied by an organist; there were no other instruments used in this service.


As parishioners left St. Barbara's, the priest availed himself to them as they left the Church. He greeted everyone with a blessing and would lay hands on the sick and pray for them. The Mass had elementals of Liberation Theology in the open communication between clergy and laity, and the incorporation of ethnicity. However, one aspect of traditional Catholicism that still remains at St. Barbara's was parishioners' veneration for the priest who seemed to be respected and revered as a representative of the infallible and supreme Holy See: the Pope. As indicated in the perceptions of Catholics and the church organizational structure, the Church still regards its religious leaders with unwavering respect despite the concept of collegiality established at Vatican II.


One of the many interesting conclusions made concerning the Mass at St. Barbara's was that in spite of the fact that the Bushwick neighborhood surrounding this German church had experienced an ethnic and cultural transformation, the church was able to reverently adhere to the Catholic Church's core beliefs in its theology and worship, while successfully integrating the ethnic and cultural needs of the community in its liturgy.



DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.