On my first real visit to New York, some 10 years ago, a leisurely walk through Brooklyn Heights and its surrounding neighborhoods brought me to Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Carroll Gardens. Designed by Patrick Charles Keely in the late 19th Century, this Gothic revival church suffered a devastating fire in 1951. By then, the parish was largely Italian American—as evidenced by the names on the stained-glass windows.
One of the stained-glass windows, however, stopped me in my tracks.
The name inscribed in the window is Crescenzo Orlando. My mother’s maiden name is Di Crescenzo. And her paternal grandmother’s maiden name is Orlando. Both names are common in the town my grandfather was born in, Guardiagrele, in Abruzzo, not far from the Adriatic Sea.
Though family members on both the Di Crescenzo and Orlando sides of the family tell me that relatives of ours worked on sewers and aqueducts in New York City around the turn of the 20th century, I have no evidence that anyone from the family settled in New York City. The Orlandos moved to Putnam Valley, N.Y., while the Di Crescenzos settled on the south side of Chicago.
Surely, however, there has to be some family connection, or at least a connection to Guardiagrele. A local historian suggested I look at neighborhood census records around the time the church was restored after its fire. But thus far I have not undertaken that task.
Only two years ago did our side of the family learn that my great great grandparents are buried in Putnam Valley. It was good to learn that I had a family connection to the state of New York. I’d love to find out whether I also have a family connection to Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.
This past December, I joined the Christmastime church tour, led by Turnstile founder Cindy VandenBosch and Most Holy Trinity’s Parochial Vicar, Father Tim Dore. Starting outside with an overview of the once-German neighborhood, the tour brought us inside to the Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine beside the altar, down to the crypt under the church, where the parish’s founding pastors are buried, and then all the way up to the dizzying tower (with an opportunity to step outside and take in the view of the Manhattan skyline in the distance).
Finally, though not part of the tour, Turnstile’s website tells us that this church is mentioned as a “miniature cathedral” in the 1943 novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:
“Francie thought it was the most beautiful church in Brooklyn. It was made of old gray stone and had twin spires that rose cleanly into the sky, high above the tallest tenements. Inside, the high vaulted ceilings, narrow deep-set stained-glass windows and elaborately carved altars made it a miniature cathedral.”
– Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, published in 1943