Saint Philip Neri, a 16th-century layman and native of Florence, Italy, was a devout, outgoing man who often invited friends to his one-room apartment for shared prayer, Bible study and singing. They also engaged in acts of charity and mercy such as visiting the sick in hospitals, helping pilgrims who had come to Rome and teaching children the basics of the Catholic faith.
These informal gatherings became so popular that they moved to successively larger rooms that began to be described as “oratories,” that is, places where prayers were led. (The word “oratory” is derived from the Latin “orare,” meaning “to pray.”)
The priests and lay brothers who came to pray, live and eat together were designated a formal congregation—the Oratory—by Pope Gregory XIII in 1575. In Brooklyn, New York, the Oratory’s principal ministry is to two parishes: St. Boniface and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Father Mark J. Lane, C.O., is the pastor at St. Boniface; Father Anthony D. Andreassi, C.O., is the administrator of Assumption. We are proud to be Catholic churches who welcome everyone, including our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
We are also proud to feature several testimonials from several St. Boniface parishioners in this edition of Gaudete. Indeed, it is fitting that Saint Philip Neri, often referred to as “the saint of joy,” be connected to Outreach through Gaudete, which means “rejoice!”
Virginia L. Navarro
After years of feeling at times unwelcome and estranged from the Catholic Church, I felt a call to return to my spiritual home after renewing my relationship with God through centering prayer. I searched for a Holy Spirit-filled Catholic parish in which my son with two mothers could learn about his faith, and where we could both flourish. I found the Oratory Church of St. Boniface, and after attending one Mass, I knew I had found a community based on Gospel truth, love, mercy and compassion.
I stepped away from the church for several years after coming out. Aside from the rare occasion, I did not go to Mass because I felt that I didn’t really belong. After experiencing a family tragedy in 2018, I found myself sitting in the back of St. Boniface, my neighborhood church, trying to make sense of everything. The liturgy and music were beautiful, and reconnecting to my faith tradition helped me navigate my grief.
I knew it was an accepting place. (My neighbor, John, was already a member, and LGBTQ people and families are very present in the life of the parish.) Father Mark made it a point to let me know I was welcome and always asked me about my husband. This may seem like a small thing, but it means a lot in the context of an institution that has often had negative things to say about LGBTQ people.
I’ve been able to put my faith in action by joining and eventually chairing the social justice committee. I feel at home here, and I’m grateful to have found a spiritual home without having to leave my faith tradition.
I have been a parishioner at St. Boniface for over 30 years. As a gay man, I have always felt accepted and at home here. There has been a long, and sometimes quiet, welcome and openness in the Oratory community. Many other out gay and lesbian parishioners and I have served openly on the parish council and on various committees of this very active parish.
Over the years, we have advocated for and participated in various activities related to the LGBTQ community. For example, I joined the Inter-Parish LGBTQ+ Collective, a group that works with parishes to support and care for the Catholic LGBTQ community.
With that group, St. Boniface participated in meetings, days of reflection and retreats. We also participated in information and advocacy activities. As a member, I send out information of interest from the Inter-Parish Collective to the St. Boniface LGBTQ and allies email list. This has led to shared activities with other Brooklyn parishes, like when we shared a table with three other parishes at Brooklyn gay pride.
We have also volunteered to cook and serve meals once a month for those living with H.I.V./AIDS. For many years, we have collected Christmas gifts for this group. We contributed to the National Aids Quilt, and every year at vespers on National AIDS Day, we pray for and read the names of those we lost.
As a parish, we have made several attempts to create a LGBTQ and allies support group. The last attempt was a light supper and conversation event just before the Covid-19 pandemic closed things down. Around 20 people shared the evening. The consensus from that event was that the parish is so welcoming we do not need to form a specifically LGBTQ group, but we continue to revisit that idea again in the light of some of the statements from the wider church and events in society.
I tried three other parishes when I moved to Brooklyn before finding St. Boniface. Then, finally, I found a home: the preaching, the choir, and the warm, attentive people I found around me drew me in. As time passed, I taught Sunday school, attended small prayer groups and eventually joined the parish council. Then, I met Aldervan.
The first time Seamus invited me to attend services at St. Boniface, I knew it was a special place. In the ensuing years, I became more involved in the church and better understood the mission of the Oratorians. As a result, I appreciate how great our parish life is in the church today. In addition, I have tried to contribute to the community by working on projects, serving on the parish council and managing the nursery for the little ones. When our son, Joseph, came along, I wanted him to be fully part of this Catholic community .
Seamus and Aldervan
Though raised in different cultures and parts of the country, being Catholic is central to our identity. Neither of us can imagine not being Catholic.
Seamus had been a member of the Oratory for over 25 years when we met. He taught Sunday school for many years and even served as president of the church council. After joining St. Boniface, I served on the church council and helped with several projects. So, we have a spiritual home here.
Naturally, when our son Joseph was born, we wanted him to receive his sacraments at our church. He is now 13 and studying for confirmation. He serves as an altar server, and we believe because of the priests of the Oratory, and the culture of St. Boniface, that Joseph will always consider himself Catholic, too. It is who we are as a family.
Since I was little, I have always been doing something in the church. It was always fun. Currently, I am an altar server. It is fun and nice to know that I contribute to the Mass. Also, I am studying for my confirmation next year.
William “Bill” Derrough
My husband and I and our two sons discovered St. Boniface and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary somewhat on a whim. We had long been members of a parish in Manhattan which was very LGBTQ friendly. But since we moved to Brooklyn Heights in 2015, it was not convenient for us to make the trek into Manhattan every Sunday. What started off as a bit of a “backup plan” in terms of churches evolved very quickly into claiming the Oratory parishes as our new home.
We found the homilies to be incredibly relatable and fulfilling, the Oratory priests to be exceptionally welcoming and the parishes to be filled with parishioners of all ages and family arrangements.
We started to walk to Mass at Assumption on Sundays and have made that our home. Our two sons, currently ages 12 and 13, have become regular readers at Mass and our family could not feel more welcome than we do at Assumption. We feel like we have found a new, wonderful family of faith and fellowship there. And we have become very friendly with each of the Oratory priests, allowing our family to have a deep relationship with them where we feel like we can ask the hard questions when something is on our mind, and ask the easy questions we haven’t posed since C.C.D.