Facing Gentrification, Brooklyn Parishioners Still Come Together to Worship

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By Emily Drooby

Hundreds of people packed Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary & St. Stephen Church on the morning of Sunday, September 9. 

While the church is located in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, many of its parishioners are not. 

As life-long parishioners, Michael Delgado and his wife Illisse call Sacred Hearts – St. Stephens their second home. 

They wake up early on Sundays to prepare for their hour and fifteen minute commute from Mount Vernon, New York to Brooklyn to attend church. 

The price of living in the area is what made them move over an hour away. 

“We couldn’t find anything affordable in Brooklyn, the prices have gone up so much,” he said. “It’s a sad thing to not be able to stay in the neighborhood you grew up in,” Michael added.

Much like the rest of Brooklyn, the neighborhood of Carroll Gardens has been the process of gentrifying for years. Changes and renovations continue to cause housing prices to skyrocket. 

According to NYU’s Furman Center, the median gross rent in the neighborhood jumped from $1,660 in 2006 up to $2,280 in 2017, making it one of the most expensive neighborhoods anywhere in the city. 

These numbers follow a pattern of rising housing prices throughout Brooklyn.

“We’re seeing it in Crown Heights, we’re seeing it in parts of Flatbush, certainly in downtown Brooklyn,” said Judith Desena, a gentrification expert and sociology professor at St. John’s University. Desena says the rising costs are working against families, but have created a boost in roommates willing to live together and share expenses.

“Sometimes there’s four of them sharing an apartment. We are seeing more and more of unrelated adults living together. They pool their money, right? Families can’t compete with that,” she explained. 

For years, parishioners of Sacred Hearts – St. Stephen have been feeling the effects of the gentrification of Carroll Gardens and Brooklyn as a whole.

Colleen Trojano and her family couldn’t meet the bills, and were sad when they had to leave. 

“My husband grew up here. We raised our children here, and just the history of the neighborhood where rising prices came in, we ended up moving out to Staten Island,” she said. 

What’s remarkable about this congregation is that a longer commute hasn’t prevented these  families from coming back. 

“It’s not just that you’re going to church to praise God, or to praise Jesus, it’s also to pray together as a family. It’s like, you go visit your family every week. I visit my mom every week, so in a sense, for me it’s the same thing,” said Illisse.

“It’s about people, it’s about the relationships we have with one each other, Christ and that we experience together as a community,” explained John Heyer, the church’s Pastoral Associate. 

Although rising housing prices are sending families to new homes, the faith community remains in Carroll Gardens remains solid.