A Brief Parish History

     While our parish of Saint Bernadette has stood on 13th Avenue in Dyker Heights for many years, we have humble beginnings. Our parish was built while the neighborhood was still considered "mission land", in the times of the horse and buggy. Until the parish construction was complete, the Mass was offered through the Knights of Columbus on 86th Street and later in a storefront on 13th Avenue, across from the current Church building.

     The story of our parish is a story of its founding pastor and first parishioners, who came together with the monumental task of establishing a new Church building and a new community of Catholic believers.

     The following brief description of the parish's early days are taken from an impersonal record. These writings have been deposited within the cornerstone of our parish, where it will remain as a lasting testament to all whose contributions allow us to freely and devoutly worship Our Lord, following the example of Our Blessed Mother and her visionary, St. Bernadette of Lourdes, France.

     "Incredible as it may seem, the fact remains that from the day and date of Bishop Molloy's letter to the Reverend Francis P. Barilla on June 24th, 1935 to this Sunday afternoon of October 11th, 1936, things have happened to prove actions speak far louder than words.

     "Father Barilla's appointment took effect at noon Friday, June 28th, 1935 and upon June 30th, Sunday Masses were said in the auditorium hall of Archbishop John Hughes Council of the Knights of Columbus at 86th Street and 13th Avenue. It was an amazing turn-out of parishioners who greeted the new pastor of this newly established Mission Church at the two Masses on that eventful day. There was an immediate announcement that on the following Sunday there would be four Masses, and by the third Sunday six Masses were said in order to accommodate the people who flocked to the Holy services.

     "Daily services must have their place and Father Barilla, already foreseeing the great work to be done and possessed with indefatigable energy and zeal, rented a store at 8218 13th Avenue and there began the real work, with daily Masses and evening services for the faithful, and the four cold walls of the store building became the inviting and inspiring Chapel of St. Bernadette under the magic guidance of the young priest.

     "Here in the rear of the Sanctuary of St. Bernadette lived the new pastor in true missionary style, sacrificing himself and working far into the night on plans and gathering around him every member of his flock to aid in carrying on the great task of not only organizing the Church of St. Bernadette, but in the establishing of church societies and committees to work on every detail with the one object in mind -- the building of the edifice we now behold in the course of construction wherein the worship of GOD will be complete in splendor and sanctity."

Taken from First Shrine Church of Saint Bernadette in the Western Hemisphere, by Arthur Ridgeway Ryan, historian, and Reverend Francis P. Barilla, founding pastor.