Divine Mercy Parish is a merger of three Catholic formerly parishes in the Williamsburg/Greenpoint neighborhoods. This parish was founded by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in January of 2011. Whenever possible, the parish seeks to unify the diverse members of its community by offering a wide variety of activities in each of our three worship sites.
Following is a brief history of each church:
St. Francis of the Paola is the ‘youngest’ of the churches that comprise Divine Mercy Parish. The parish was founded in 1918. Although the church is the most recent of the three in Divine Mercy Parish, the history of the land upon which it is built has the oldest documented history.
The Dutch first arrived in present day New York City in 1609. In 1640 Peter Stuyvesant, acting for the Dutch government, was appointed the first governor of the City of New Amsterdam—later called New York when the British took control in 1665. The area surrounding the present day church was considered the heart of Dutch Brooklyn. Peter Stuyvesant is said to have lived on present day Humboldt Street and he oversaw the construction of a wall to protect the Dutch colonists in the village from raids by local native Indians. Remnants of this wall were still standing on church property as recently as the 1920’s and the stones of Dutch structures—which included a wooden church—can still be found in the basement of 206 Skillman Avenue. On the site of the present day St. Francis of Paola Church, a small octagonal church was built on this site by the Dutch followed by a wooden church in 1840. This last structure was known as the ‘Church on the Hill’ by the local community. As the Dutch moved out of the neighborhood this last church fell into disuse.
In 1903 the Williamsburg Bridge was first opened. This joining of our neighborhood to Manhattan Island brought many Italian and Jewish immigrants who were formerly living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to our neighborhood. Their presence in Williamsburg is still felt to this day. At that time, the Lower East Side had the population density and sanitary conditions of Calcutta, India. People were desperate to leave. As the Italian population continued to explode (over 1 million Italians immigrated to the United States in 1906 alone!), it was recognized that the needs of this ever increasing Catholic population had to be addressed by the diocese.
In 1887 the parish of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel was founded, but that soon proved inadequate to the growing needs and the fact that the immigrant Italians were not welcomed in other ethic parishes (German, Irish, Polish, Lithuanian, Czech, etc.). The Second Bishop of Brooklyn Charles McDonnell saw the necessity of another Italian parish and in 1918 purchased the old Dutch “Church on the Hill,” which was then dedicated as an Italian National Parish. This meant that St. Francis of Paola had no specific parish boundaries like other churches. Rather, St. Francis would welcome Italian Catholics who wished to worship in their own language who were not welcome in other Catholic communities. Rev. Leo Arcese was named the first Pastor of St. Francis of Paola. Fr. Arcese also purchased a building on 25 Orient Avenue to serve as rectory and later as convent for the Franciscan Sisters who served and taught in the community. A larger Church was built in 1923 and dedicated by the Third Bishop of Brooklyn Bishop Thomas Molloy. Yet, even this structure was not adequate to the growing community so that finally a third structure—the church that stands today was built and dedicated on April 26th, 1942.