Bensonhurst pastor who saved church from closure to leave

Bensonhurst pastor who saved church from closure to leave
Photo by Derrick Watterson

A popular pastor who revitalized a struggling Bensonhurst Church will be reassigned in January, disappointing parishioners who credit him with saving the church from closure and restoring it to its former glory.

“I’m upset about his leaving,” said John Mazzola, a member of the St. Finbar Church’s pastoral council who joined the parish five years ago. “He turned the church that was closing into a church that’s vibrant.”

Rev. Michael Louis Gelfant, 42, was assigned to St. Finbar Church on Benson Avenue and Bay 20th street in 2010, and was instructed to close down the struggling house of prayer, that, like many other Brooklyn chapels, suffered from shrinking attendance and financial woes, he said.

“When they transferred me over here, it was to close the parish, to shut it down,” he said, adding that the church’s school and financial mismanagement had driven St. Finbar into bankruptcy. “It was really neglected and falling apart.”

But Gelfant said that once he met the church’s passionate parishioners, he decided to turn the church around, stripping down its staff, cutting expenses, and attracting young families to the historic parish, founded in 1880. Word soon spread that the church was on the up and up, and attendance doubled within six months, Gelfant said.

Gelfant credits his decision to return St. Finbar “back to the people” with the church’s revival, claiming that the church regularly circulated surveys gauging members’ satisfaction and that parishioners launched a number of fundraising campaigns that fixed up the premises. In 2016, extensive renovations began on the church, funded by the Catholic higher-ups and by parishioners’ donations, Gelfant said, adding that many church-goes dedicated their skills and manual labor to the project.

“It was parishioner-based, and we were able to save $350,000,” Gelfant said. The renovations included the installation of a new high altar, marblework, and woodwork, as well as repairs to the organ, all of which parishioners helped complete, according to Gelfant.

And while congregants are grateful for the reverend’s leadership, they lament his upcoming transfer to a church in Queens in 2020.

“It’s very sad for everyone,” said Louis Cerchione, a local who has been a member of St. Finbar since 1978. “When something was done, it had to be 110 percent. And he gave it 120.”

Reach reporter Rose Adams at radams@schnepsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–8306. Follow her on Twitter @rose_n_adams
Revival: Rev. Gelfant — who was the youngest pastor in Brooklyn when he took the helm at St. Finbar Church in 2010 — conducted extensive renovations on the historic chapel.
Photo by Derrick Watterson