Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church
Address: 1073 Ocean Avenue
Cross Streets: Foster Avenue and Farragut Road
Year Built: 1933-1934
Architectural Style: French Gothic
Architect: Henry V. Murphy
Other works by architect: St. Peter Claver School in Bed Stuy, garage/house at 152 Berkeley Place in Park Slope, with Edward H. Lehmann, first four buildings of St. John’s University, Queens.
The story: It’s not often we have a good photographic record of a Brooklyn building’s construction. The parishioners at Our Lady of Refuge are fortunate, as are those of us who appreciate church architecture. The Brooklyn Eagle took a lot of pictures when this building was going up, giving us an excellent visual history to go along with the names and dates.
Houses of worship are important parts of neighborhood development, so when Irish and German Catholics began settling in Midwood at the turn of the 20th century, it was important for them to have a church in their midst. Brooklyn’s Catholic Bishop in 1911 was Bishop Charles Edward McDonnell. He authorized the building of a new parish, and sent out Rev. Robert O’Donovan to be the first priest. For some reason it was hard to buy land in this part of Flatbush, but Fr. O’Donovan prevailed, and was able to buy this plot on Ocean Avenue near Foster. The cornerstone for the first church was laid, and a small, one story church was built in 1912.
This simple chapel didn’t take much time to build, and only two weeks later, the first mass was held in the unfinished space. That September, only five months from the ground breaking, the church was done, and was dedicated by the Bishop. Photographs show a modest chapel, which the congregation soon outgrew. By 1928, Our Lady of Refuge was in dire need of more room.
Father O’Donovan organized a fund raising campaign, and eminent Catholic church architect Henry V. Murphy was signed on to design a large new church, big enough to accommodate more community growth. Murphy, who was a very versatile designer of sacred spaces, designed a French Gothic church that still manages to be very 20th century, with a hint of Deco sensibility. Just take a look at his St. Peter Claver School to see him go full blown Catholic Deco. (more…)