The Brooklyn Daily Eagle did a solid story yesterday on Dyker Heights’ Regina Pacis church .
While the parish of Saint Rosalia- Regina Pacis (which means Queen of Peace in Latin) had humble beginnings, today its votive shrine is one of the most magnificent works of religious architecture in New York City. Generous parishioners, a saintly monsignor, a pious mobster and World War II all played roles in its construction.
Originating in 1902 by a group of Italian immigrants who worshiped in a nearby storefront , Saint Rosalia Parish was created in 1904. The church was built on 63rd Street and 14th Avenue in the following years. After being appointed as pastor in 1923, Father Angelo Rafael Cioffi began to plan renovations and new construction.
It was around this time when property was purchased on 65th Street and 12th Avenue, where a chapel would soon be built.
From the Eagle:
In 1938 Pope Pius XI bestowed Father Cioffi with the title of monsignor. The parish had grown over the years, and Msgr. Cioffi envisioned even greater expansion. As young men marched off to fight in World War II, the parishioners vowed to build a shrine to Our Lady if they were granted victory and the blessing of peace. A building fund was established that included plans for the shrine, a new convent, and enlargement of the school.
The monsignor was a gifted fundraiser, and to this day older parishioners still living in the area can recall his appeal at Mass for a “silent collection.” This did not mean that the faithful should not speak as the plate was being passed, but rather that they should maintain the quiet by depositing only bills rather than coins.
Artistic embellishments and treasures abound in the shrine. Above is the 60’ by 27.5’ ornamental ceiling painting of Mary’s Coronation in heaven as the Queen of Peace. The Holy Trinity appears in the clouds surrounded by angels and other heavenly figures. Below, on Earth, is a representation of the shrine, clergy and parishioners gazing upwards. Off to the right, one of the figures is clearly that of Msgr. Cioffi. Joseph P. Leuzzi, an octogenarian and retired attorney now residing in Ramsey, N.J., lived down the block from the shrine and served as an altar boy at St. Rosalia’s and Regina Pacis. The monsignor pointed out one of the altar boys in the painting and told the young boy that it was a painting of him. The neighborhood in which Regina Pacis is located has been sometimes associated with organized crime. Joseph Columbo, of the crime family bearing his name, lived a short distance away on 84th Street. Prior to it being called the Columbo family it was known as the Profaci family, led by Joseph Profaci. Although he was the head of a criminal enterprise, Profaci was reputedly a very religious man. It is also reputed that his image is likewise represented in the celestial painting adorning the shrine’s ceiling.
Today, the church’s impressive 150 foot bell tower stands tall over Dyker Heights and the entire block of 65th Street between 12th Avenue and 13th Avenue, with the exception of one house, is dominated by parish buildings – including one that rivals churches like 5th Avenue’s Saint Patrick’s Cathredral in both scale and beauty.