Week 9: Basilica of Regina Pacis


1230 65th Street
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn

Christian (Catholic)

Architect: Anthony J. DePace (1892–1977)
Dedicated: 15 August 1951
Elevated to status of minor basilica: 19 October 2012

This visit almost didn’t happen: the forces of nature seemingly combined against me in the form of a nor’easter on Friday 2 March. The next morning I set out with my four-year-old son, Colin. The plan seemed simple enough: take the subway a couple of stops to Roosevelt Island, where we would catch the ferry down to Pier 11/Wall Street. From there we would transfer to another ferry down to Brooklyn and then catch a bus to get to Regina Pacis to explore.

We barely made it off Roosevelt Island.

Not only had the rough weather required the suspension of water-based transport, but unusually high tides — the nor’easter was so strong that it had caused an almost hurricane-like storm surge — had damaged some of the ferry landings. The citywide ferry system’s opening had been delayed by five hours, until noon, on that Saturday. Colin and I arrived at the Roosevelt Island ferry landing for the day’s first Astoria ferry to Pier 11/Wall Street only to find a locked gate. When the ferry arrived, the crew had difficulty figuring out how to unlock it. That in turn delayed our boat, which got to Pier 11 late — just moments after our connecting South Brooklyn ferry had departed. We would have to wait another hour and a half for the next ferry, during which our transfers were likely to expire, not to mention Colin’s patience (and probably mine, too). So instead we got something to eat and spent a bit of time exploring Lower Manhattan.

My sights were still set on visiting the basilica as soon as possible. So on the following Monday, 5 March, I set out with all three of my children — including Fiona, 7, who is currently homeschooled, and Heath, 2 — to take the subway to Brooklyn. I figured it could be a fun adventure for the four of us, and I enticed them by promising lunch at Coney Island afterward.

This is another house of worship that I didn’t even know was there until I started doing research for this project. But when my children and I arrived at the 62 St subway station — the combined D and N train stop at New Utrecht Av-62 St is about a ten-minute walk from the basilica — I wondered if I had in fact noticed it on previous subway rides through the area. The D train runs on elevated tracks through this part of Brooklyn, and the basilica not only rises above all the other buildings for blocks around but its red-tile roof particularly stands out.

It is even more impressive up close. As we walked from the subway I was struck by just how much of Brooklyn looks the same. (Of note, along the way we passed St. Rosalia, which forms part of the Parish of St. Rosalia–Regina Pacis. About a week after this visit I learned that St. Rosalia, which was officially closed [PDF] by the Diocese of Brooklyn in 2017, will be sold to a developer that plans to demolish it.) We used to live in Bushwick and this neighborhood, Bensonhurst, felt familiar, with tidy blocks of mostly two-story rowhouses as far as you can see. That made the effect of the basilica and its associated buildings, including a rectory and a school, even more pronounced.

What is also really striking about Regina Pacis is how genuine its architecture feels. Inside and out, such detail has been given to the church’s Neoclassical style — the Corinthian pilasters and capitals in Indiana limestone on the facade, the murals in the barrel vault over the nave, the ornate altar and the coffered ceiling over the apse — that the architecture takes on a timeless quality. During my visit, I was unaware of the church’s age and had difficulty guessing it, and I noticed only one detail that hinted at it: the terrazzo flooring. I wondered then if the flooring had been replaced at some point, but after learning that Regina Pacis was dedicated in 1951, I’m guessing the flooring is original. This is above and beyond your typical 1950s architecture.

The basilica’s history began a decade before, in the midst of World War II. On the second Sunday of May 1942, the pastor of St. Rosalia, Monsignor Angelo Cioffi, asked his 12,000 congregants “to make a vow to our Lady to keep our soldiers safe and return them home to us and to bring lasting peace to the world.” After the end of the war in 1945, which brought victory for the Allies and the parish’s soldiers safely home, construction began with the groundbreaking on 3 October 1948. The church took three years to build and cost $2 million.

Over half a century after its completion, a new honor was bestowed upon Regina Pacis. At the request of Nicholas DiMarzio, the Roman Catholic bishop of Brooklyn, Pope Benedict XVI elevated the church to the status of minor basilica. A press release from the Diocese of Brooklyn explains:

“Minor Basilica” is a title of honor conferred by the Holy Father on a church of great architectural, historic and spiritual importance. It may be a cathedral, a parish church or a shrine. These exceptional churches serve as an important center for the entire community of faith in demonstrating and living out the rich values of the Gospel. This honor signifies Regina Pacis’ particular link with the Roman Church and the Supreme Pontiff ….

Regina Pacis is the third basilica in the Diocese of Brooklyn and one of only 74 in the United States. And while Fiona, Colin, and Heath enjoyed exploring this beautiful building, what may have been more important to them is that it’s only a few subway stops from Coney Island’s hot dogs.

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