CATHEDRAL PREP, BROOKLYN

by Kevin Walsh

Many years ago Donald Fagen of Steely Dan indicated that he wouldn’t be going back to his old school (Bard College in upstate NY). I rarely go back to any of mine, either — I was despised at my grade school by the faculty and student body alike, and I hated them right back; I have entered my old college building once since I graduated (I just don’t feel a connection); and the Center For The Media Arts, a trade school I attended in the 1990s that I credit for hooking me on the whole computer thing in the first place, eventually resulting in Forgotten New York — shut its doors in 1993, when I was still an employee there.

Cathedral Prep, 555 Washington Avenue on the border of Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant, is another matter; I have always looked back on it with fondness. I graduated in 1975 in the middle of a class of 35.

It’s a magnificent Flemish Gothic pile at Washington and Atlantic Avenues, festooned with concrete crosses, gargoyles and two magnificent spires. An intimidating iron gate protects what looks for all the world like a moat. The former Cathedral Preparatory Seminary was built by the Brooklyn Diocese in 1914-1915 and was originally a six-year seminary where young men would be trained for the priesthood. Cathedral was my high school. When I was in 8th grade, I knew even then that I did not have a vocation for the priesthood, but when Cathedral offered me a four-year scholarship, the choice was clear for my family and me. The commute was arduous (though at ages 14 through 17 I took these things in stride; I took the B63 bus down 5th Avenue in Bay Ridge to Atlantic Avenue, where I would wait for the B45. In the 1970s, the Underberg Building was still there, the vast PC Richard was a row of brownstones, and the Atlantic Mall was a slaughterhouse).

The faculty was a mix of priests and lay faculty, some saintly in mien and some violently profane; I once saw my (lay) math teacher (who got along with me for the most part) deliver a vicious beating to a guy who had mouthed off to him in the hall. I saw none of the buggery that springs to too many minds too quickly when they hear of an all-boys’ school staffed by priests. This week (January 2009) erstwhile Women’s Wear Daily publisher, author, and Parade Magazine columnist James Brady passed away. His brother, Father Tom Brady, taught me history at Cathedral and other staff such as Father William Flood and Father Frank Manzo were also positive influences.

At one time, the Brooklyn Diocese was described as “overflowing with aspiring priests,” (I am told my mother’s fondest wish was that I would become one) but some six decades after the school opened, it would be a completely different story; my graduating class in 1975 numbered 35, and Cathedral’s last class, in 1985, comprised only 16 students as vocations dropped off sharply over the school’s final two decades. The school closed in June of that year.

Entrance on the Washington Avenue side. A statue of the Virgin Mary used to be in this alcove.

The school’s distinctive gargoyles. The school yearbook was the Gargoyle and the newspaper was the Spire.

Happily, in the years after the school closed, the building was spared the wrecker’s ball and was converted to residential units. Sadly, the priests’ rectory stood abandoned for nearly 20 years after its closure. I’m told you can still see the foul lines where the basketball court used to be.

In August 2004 I made the acquaintance of Linda P., owner of one of the residential units of what are now Cathedral Condominiums. How cool would it have been to live in my old high school, and had Cathedral been closer to where I was working at the time (midtown), I might have made a bid for an apartment. At the time, though, with prices of $400K per 1 bedroom, it was outside my price range. The developers did an excellent job with the place — here’s a look at one of the interiors on Corcoran.

Linda was able to give me access to the common area, which pretty much the inner courtyard, where I had once hit an inside the park grand slam home run in wiffle ball. I hit a shot to the top of the shed in “centerfield” meaning that the “center fielder” had to climb a ladder to the shed, retrieve the ball, and fire it back in. I beat the throw.

One of the in-spiring Spires. 

Inner courtyard. In the olden days, the staircase wasn’t there, the windows were part of the school cafeteria, and the floor was concrete, not grass.

Above: Father Frank Manzo, in a vintage 1975 leisure suit, and below, (now Father) John Brown, who is a priest himself now (sadly, passing away in 2017). As you can see, the distinctive arched windows are still there. The high brick wall made a great handball court. In the 1970s, Cathedral had a great handball team. But St. Francis Prep was better. They were undefeated from 1971-1975.

The exterior balconies, which weren’t there when I was a student, are a nice touch, as are the plantings and grass in the common.

Cathedral is the only one of my old schools that I really miss and, while I wish it were still a school, it seems to have found a second wind in its afterlife as a pleasant living space in a neighborhood that has been improving rapidly in recent years, though we’ll have to see if the great recession of the late 00s will have an impact on that.

Linda later sent along some pages from a Cathedral Prep yearbook from the late 1920s or early 1930s. The school’s interiors looked remarkably similar when I attended classes in the 1970s.

In the 1970s, athletic instructor John Crane was the senior member of the faculty, with over 45 years of service. These yearbook photos feature him and the teams he coached.

Photographs from August 2004; page completed January 29, 2009

39 comments

Al Tumielewicz February 23, 2012 - 12:04 am

Class of 1972. Brought back some real fond memories of the place. Some of the best years of my life along with lasting memories were created and nurtured inside of those hallowed walls.

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Denis McGowan April 18, 2012 - 5:14 pm

Class of 1979, brother! Truly these were some of the finest people that I have ever met, the faculty were outstanding, and my life was greatly influenced by the piety and deceny of the priests who taught us there.

I miss the old place!

Thanks for sharing, Kevin!

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Bill April 17, 2013 - 11:12 am

Class of 1959. Went on to college and law school. Haven’t been back since graduation but clearly remember the commute on the LIRR from Long Island, the daily trudge from Van Nostrand or Flatbush Ave, the basketball court with giant pillars at one end, the hours spent on the outside basketball court, Thursdays off and Saturday mornings on, Father Dias etc, etc. Best school I ever attended. I would leave early at least once a week and take the train over to the Village. Many happy evenings listening to folk music, watching foreign films and drinking beer! Thanks so much for the website.

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Laura Jean July 17, 2013 - 3:41 pm

I am (along with 20 others of us) John Crane’s grandchild. How nice to see him remembered on your blog!

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Kevin Walsh July 18, 2013 - 8:38 am

I have some photos of him, and the campus, back in the 20s

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John hogan April 13, 2017 - 10:55 am

He was a great guy. I played v bball in 1961. He is mentioned In book on Vince Lombardi-

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John September 25, 2013 - 7:06 pm

Class of 1970. Thank you for putting this presentation together. It brought back a lot of memories. I will always be indebted to Cathedral for the great education in the Arts that I received, and the good education in Math. The Sciences, that was the weak point.

I will also be grateful for the friendships made, a number of which survive to this day.

Most of our instructors were priests, but there were a few lay teachers. Great memories of the likes of Uncle Willy (Father William J. Lanahan), who used to restore order when someone would start getting a little rowdy by barking out, “Achh-tung!” in a slightly elevated tone.

And three cheers for Felix and Gregorio, the janitors (“Caught you guys! One, two, another, another” when Gregorio would walk into the bathroom on the lower level and find a pack of guys smoking in there).

And last but not least, three cheers for Agnes, who ran the cafeteria!

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Tony Calabro April 21, 2014 - 5:30 pm

The pictures and memories of Cathedral are terrific. I graduated in the 70s, went on to St John’s and Grad School, but the best teachers I ever had were at Cathedral. I have nothing but the fondest memories of Father Flood, who taught us Latin and helped us with handball. Fr. Manzo who was a fantastic science teacher who was responsible for me majoring in Biology and getting into the pharmaceutical business for many years. Of course Fr. Lanahan our English teacher. Our class dedicated the year book to him and he is a reason I always have a book going even if its on my Kindle. Fr. Brady was the best History teacher and to this day I am fascinated with European History and the French Revolution. Fr. Martusciello helped me overcome my fear of Math and I I actually got As in calculus in grad school….sometimes. Mr. Crane was the kindest gym teacher and the Felix and Gregorio were there and kept the place spotless. There were so many others like Fr. O’Connell, our principle and Father O’Donald. I’m sure I’m missing some but they were all fantastic. I truly miss them and hope they and their families realized what a positive impact they had on us back then. Special thanks to father Flood, who in a lot of ways saved my life, literally once day at the beach when I got caught too far out and he came to rescue me before the life guards even saw me.He and father Brady were probably 2 of the biggest influences in a good way on my life. Thank you to both.

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ray wilmot August 19, 2014 - 10:10 am

I attended Cathedral from 1953 to 1959. My best friends are classmates from those years, true, solid, intelligent and honest. The teachers, especially Fathers Gradilone and Deas, made a lifelong impression with their dedication to learning, gentle good humor, and concern for others. I still strive to live up to the ideal they set for us.

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ken oconnor November 12, 2014 - 11:25 am

Glad I came across this site. I left Cathedral after only 3 years then went on to St Augustine (1961-1964) . Then onto Hunter College in Manhattan then onto St Francis on Remsen street where I graduated. I used to hang out with Shoal Harrison (passed away), Louie Chesimard, Billy Farrell, John McGlade, John Malcovich and Jed Clampet and Tommy O’Brien. I remember playing football in the Parade Grounds with Father Hunt and Fr Brady on Thursdays and handball in the courtyard. Had an upperclassman friend named Jimmy Collins who lived next to the schoolyard I hung out in in Brooklyn. Had a GREAT time there and it brings back lots of good stuff.Still can’t believe I remember all those names.

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John O'Connor April 20, 2016 - 6:02 pm

I graduated the HS in 1964… and used to play handball…and for some reason thought of Shoal Harrison who payed some mean handball. I was saddened to see he had died. Jo’c

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Nick Trivisonno February 8, 2019 - 9:23 am

Hi! I was there from 1960 to 1965. Then onto St. Francis.

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Joe Russotti March 8, 2017 - 5:48 pm

Wow! Some of my fondest life’s memories were from my Brooklyn Cathderal years (graduated 1972). I still cherish those times and wish I could have been more mature and focused in life to have brought when I learned there (inside and out of the classroom) to a more genuine fruition. I’ve always maintained the academic and athletic discipline that I learned at Cathedral,but much of my life was sidetracked. I thank God that finnaly later in life I have reestablished a spiritual reverence for Catholicism and a firmer adherence to Christianity.
I still remain in contact with some of my Cathedral “brothers” and still feel a special bond with them.

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raymond brown April 22, 2018 - 4:01 pm

Joe I hope you remember me Ray Brown. I try to find my good friends from Cathedral Prep. I hope to get in touch with you.

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Kevin Walsh April 23, 2018 - 7:36 am

Good to hear from you!

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Anonymous January 21, 2019 - 8:50 pm

Hello Ray! Of course I remember you. Check out my Facebook page. I’ll be happy to talk to you sometime b

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Anonymous January 21, 2019 - 8:50 pm

Hello Ray! Of course I remember you. Check out my Facebook page. I’ll be happy to talk to you sometime.

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julio rivera November 11, 2019 - 1:35 pm

Hey Ray how are you man last time I saw you I was amazed at how big you’ve gotten. We played some ball and reminisced for a while remember? Anyway it’s me Julio would love to hear from you.

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Joe Russotti June 17, 2020 - 12:23 pm

Hello Ray. I just saw this (06/17/20). I hope you are doing well. Try to talk to me on Facebook. Then we can talk!

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john tiernan April 13, 2017 - 8:04 am

Great old place. I went there for 2 yrs and left in 1960. We started out with 110 kids in freshman year and after i moved out to Long Island i went to the Major Seminary of Immaculate Conception in Lloyd Harbor and found what would have been my graduating class. Only four went all the way.

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John hogan April 13, 2017 - 8:19 am

Left after junior year 1961 Fr Oconell was my favorite example! Jocco was my bball coach , he also coached Vince Lombardi ! That was before he transferred to St Francis

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John Caruana April 14, 2017 - 10:52 am

Class of ’64 but stayed one more year before transferring to Fordham and the “iron hand” of the Jebbies. Jocco Crane, Vinnie LaRocca…Fr. Shea trying to move his immenseness between the chemistry benches. The back stairway that could have doubled for a multi-level jail. We were too young and stupid enough not to realize how absolutely scary the whole place was. The ghosts of 1914 must still linger. Left just before Bed-Sty became BED-STY!!!!

I OWNED the drums in the orchestra from 61-65 with Fr. Matonti who married me to my first wife Susan ’71. Also presided over her funeral in 1983 when she died of cancer at age 34; our daughter was 5.

Amazingly, they gave me my first job out of college. Taught Freshman history, Senior sociology and tended the library for a year before going back to grad school. I still have dreams about the place sometimes…some good, some meh… But CONDOS? Do you see all the window A/C units now? NO CENTRAL AIR!!! Must be one hell of a sales team. Wonder if the ghost of Jocco still roams the halls to this day…

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Kevin Walsh April 15, 2017 - 10:30 am

Fr Shea was a large fellow. I was baptized by him, and met him again 13 years later when I attended Cathedral.

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Patrick Walsh December 4, 2020 - 9:53 pm

What ever happened to Fr. Shea

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Jeffrey Heedles January 30, 2021 - 10:19 am

I remember you John quite well. You were a good teacher. I do remember when Dennis Morgan and I were in the bathroom and we talked about the teachers and Dennis reminded me that you were in there and you yelled out IT IS CARUANA good laugh . Sorry to hear about your wife . Hope all is well with you now . Stay Safe. Jeff Heedles

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John Hehir December 13, 2017 - 7:34 pm

Attended Cathedral from 1953 to 1957. I was the second generation to graduate from Cathedral. Jocko Crane was there for the both of us. Fantastic memories and training.

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Ed McVey March 15, 2018 - 8:35 am

I attended Cathedral from 1951 to 1957 with Mike Dolan from Belle Harbor in the Rockaways. My happiest times.Went on to seminary in Huntington for one year but received my BA ffrom Cathedral College in 1957 after matriculating at St Francis College in my senior year. Fr O’Connell , Fr Feldhaus, Fr Kelly and Father Gradilone had the biggest influence on me for th rest of my life.

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Dennis F Heinrichs February 21, 2019 - 12:59 pm

Dennis Heinrichs
1964 to 1968. Cathedral was an incredible life experience . Great classmates Joe Ward, jack Rheinhart, Tommy moody, Mike Hogan, joe Rella, Robert Shirripa, Big Joe Cianella, Patty Clerkin, George Lopez, Johnny hand Joe P. to name a few and their faces flood my mind. Lots of attrition over the Four years for sure but good guys all.
Teachers incredible. Father George Deas an inspiration to me. “Christlike”. Father Flood the dean of boys. A mans man with a ruddy complexion and firm kind eyes. Father Brady caused me to get a degree in history the teach at James Madison High School on Bedford. Vinny Marticello and his tough subject. Only class I ever failed (Geometry) 2 bachelors degrees and a masters . Spanish with father Garvey Meade. French with Vinny Larocca, brilliant man . Father O Donnell. Big smile wanting the the best out of us and for
each of us. It’s been 50 years now. Age and life often takes many things from us. But it hasn’t taken these warm and wonderful memories from me . I venture to say that just as we learned that when you received a sacrement it left an indelible mark on your soul so too did our home on 555 Washington Ave.

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Pasquale Bianculli April 20, 2019 - 3:30 pm

I attended Cathedral in Brooklyn for two tears, 1964-66. Though Bishop Loughlin welcomed me for my last 2 years of high school, leaving Cathedral was one of my poorest decisions. I remember many names from that time, I was close friends with Fernando Ferrarese, Bob Romano and many more whose faces I still can see but don’t remember names. I remember Latin with Fr. Casey, Math with Fr. Martusciello, history with Fr. Brady who told us always to remember, “Charles Martel defeated the Moors at Tours in 732” I was never sure what to do with that information, and no one ever asked me for that particular answer. But it was music class with Fr. Matonti which basically changed my life. It was my first exposure to classical music, Smetana, “The Moldau”, Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition, Handel “Messiah” and “Vatican Rag” by Tom Lehrer, which caused a very irreverent yet hysterical laughter among the more cynical students ( me included). I went on to St. Francis College for Psychology then turned completely to music. I finished my Masters in Guitar Performance and have been performing and teaching ever since. I have taught music at the United Nations International School in NYC for 31 years. I am truly grateful for my experience at this most distinguished and special school. It will be in my memory forever.

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Kevin Walsh April 20, 2019 - 6:12 pm

I too went from Cathedral Prep to Ft. Francis College.

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Eileen June 14, 2019 - 11:14 am

Hello, my father went to Cathedral Prep, but I always thought it was in Manhattan. Was there a campus in Manhattan in the 1950s? He would have graduated class of 1959, Michael Regan. Thanks for any information.

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Frank Dwyer June 25, 2019 - 6:13 pm

I went to Cathedral Brooklyn from 75 to 79, and then on to the college for four more years. It was a wonderful place, and I recall all the great faculty others have mentioned. Father Brady and Father Martusciello were wonderful rectors, teachers, and spiritual leaders. I built volkswagons with Father Shea, and help Sister Barbara Mullen in the Library. Had father Flood for Latin, who was very kind in passing me since I learned only a few words. There were also Mr. C., Mr. G., and Mr. Rella, who taught Math, History, and Music. They painted houses on the side, and had a business card that read the “3 W’s.” Father Coyle and Milmoe taught us English, and thought in the first years, Father Coyle seem to take some delight in keeping us scared, I came to like him and I learned a great deal from him. Sister Alexa was also there and taught reading.

Some of the best times were playing ball after school, and football on Saturdays. There was a game named after Father Brady, Brady Ball, the exact nature of which I do not recall, other than you would attack the guy with the ball. We also had a bowling team run by Father Manzo. We were not very good.

I recently became involved in the Alumni group of Queens Cathedral Prep. I visited the school and was so reminded of the spirit of Cathedral Brooklyn that I became involved in the Alumni. I recommend people reach out and join their Alumni group. They also make Alumni welcome at Mass, just call and they are very welcoming. Also, in the school is a room dedicated to Brooklyn Cathedral, the statute of Mary that we all loved, and the Brooklyn trophy case, that stood beneath the main stairs. I am particularly fond of that trophy case, since my classmate and subsequent roommate at Douglaston was kind enough to tackle me though the glass as we played football in the hallway. The only penalty was the many stitches in my arm. Father Brady would not even allow us to pay for the glass. What a great place. I can be reached at dpyn3100@hotmail.com
Eileen, to your Question, there was a Manhattan Cathedral Prep at 555 West End Ave in Manhattan. It graduated many fine men, who remain among the many priests in the New York Diocese, and many others who went on to great lives.

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Kevin Walsh June 26, 2019 - 10:26 pm

Yes, I wonder where the faculty who were relatively young are. Vinny Ciraulo is still with us and Joe Rella is on Facebook.

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Eileen July 19, 2019 - 12:09 pm

Thank you, Mr. Dwyer, for responding. My dad passed away 2 years ago, so I was afraid I’d never know.

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Rick McClain January 14, 2020 - 6:19 pm

I attended Cathedral for my freshman year, which happened to be the year the school closed. I have always said if I could go back and relive one year of my life it would definately be Sept 1984 to June 1985.
The school meant so much to so many. I loved the school, teachers, and fellow students. I actually have a tattoo of the front door and the inner courtyard corner door (where home plate was) on my right forearm.

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Dennis Heinrichs February 24, 2020 - 11:01 am

Sad news today. The passing of my classmate( Brooklyn 1968) Joe Rella. A special guy with a big heart and an even bigger smile. Heaven is enriched by the his presence there. Please say a pray for this remarkable man and for those who will miss him.

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Joseph Sheley June 10, 2020 - 3:24 pm

I want to thank all of you Cathedral alums for this site. I recently published a book on minor seminarians of the 50s-70s. Your various comments helped me a lot as I
framed the discussion around the huge boom and the traumatic bust of minor seminaries. If you are interested, go to Amazon Books and look for PREORDAINED by
Joseph Sheley. If not, no worries. Again, just wanted to acknowledge the value of your comments. If you do read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts: jfsheley@gmail.com

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patrick December 3, 2020 - 8:09 pm

Any way go see pictures of Cathedral over the years

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Dennis F Heinrichs May 29, 2021 - 9:36 pm

I was wondering in there was anyone still out there from The Brooklyn Class of 1968?
Would love to contact an old classmate or two.

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