The History of Regina Pacis
St. Rosalia & The Crowning of Mary
On the Second Sunday of May in 1942 in the middle of World War II, the Pastor of St. Rosalia Parish, Msgr. Angelo Cioffi, asked the parishioners to make a vow to our Lady to keep our soldiers safe and return them home to us and to bring lasting peace to the world. As a vow, the 12,000 parishioners at the time promised to build a magnificent Church dedicated to Mary, the Queen of Peace. At the time, the property had nothing more on it than two unappealing gas tanks. The Church, which had taken only 3 years to build and cost $2 million dollars, was finally completed and dedicated on August 15, 1951. The church was beatifully decorated with all forms of donations and art. The painting of Regina Pacis which hangs over the main Altar was painted by the famous artist Ilario Panzironi when he was 93 years old.
Before it was finished being built, in 1949, after the blessing of the Cornerstone of the church, Msgr. Cioffi asked the people to donate their own personal jewelry in order to make a crown for the painting of Regina Pacis.
As a way of thanking Mary for the safe return of their sons and daughters, the parishioners began to donate wedding rings, bracelets, necklaces, lockets and other types of precious jewels to the project.
The jewels were given to the firm of DeNatale Brothers in Manhattan so that the crowns and stars could be made. It took 3 years to make them.
When they were finished, Msgr. Cioffi and Mr. DeNatale went to Rome and had a special audience with Pope Pius XII asking him to personally bless them. The Pope’s secretary at the time was Msgr. Giovanni Battista Montini, who himself would later become Pope Paul VI. On returning home from Rome, Msgr. Cioffi scheduled events leading up to the Coronation itself. One such event was a “Coronation Banquet” held at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel which was attended by 3,000 people.
Lost and Returned
One week later, during a wedding, Father James Russo noticed something strange. A six-inch hole had been cut into the gate that protected the altar painting. And the security system was off. Someone had stolen the crowns.
The people of Regina Pacis were horrified. The crime made the front page of the Eagle, and Time magazine reported the theft, making it a national story. Parishioners started a collection to replace the crowns. Brooklynites wrote editorials in the paper calling the thieves immoral. The children of St. Rosalia's school prayed each morning for the return of the crowns. A symbol of peace in post-war America had been taken away, and no evidence had been left behind.
And then, after eight days, a mysterious package arrived at the rectory. Inside were the crowns, almost perfectly intact! Father Cioffi burst into the 10:00am mass the next day and announced their miraculous return. Parishioners were overwhelmed: some applauded, some prayed, some cried, and three fainted.
What's In the Cornerstone of the Church?
The Cornerstone of Regina Pacis is a five-ton block of granite. It bears the Sign of the Cross and the Date, An Olive Branch, 12 symbolic stars and, in bold letters: SALVE REGINA (Hail, Holy Queen). When the Church was built they followed the custom of placing special timely items inside the cornerstone. Our cornerstone has the following inside it: a collection of coins dated 1949, A copy of the 1949 Annuario Pontificio which is the Vatican listing of every Cardinal, Bishop, Priest, Monsignor, Diocese, Department and Religious Order in the whole world at the time. It is published every year. Also enclosed is a copy of the Catholic directory of NY, the Tablet, Il Crociato (an Italian language Catholic newspaper which existed at the time) St. Rosalia's Parish bulletin, a Medal of Pope Pius XII and one of Our Lady Regina Pacis. The Cornerstone was blessed by Bishop Raymond A. Kearney, Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn, on October 29, 1949.
The Central Mural of Our Church
The ceiling mural shows the Coronation of Our Lady Regina Pacis in heaven. It is a huge creation, 60 by 27 feet, painted by the distinguished artist Ignacio LaRussa. In the lower part we see the image of Pope Pius XII, the reigning Pope at the time the Church was built, symbolically blessing the Shrine of Peace in the presence of Prelates and a large congregation that looks up ecstatically at the Coronation of the Blessed Mother. Further up, resting on the clouds and in a semi-circular formation, we see the various saints who particularly distinguished themselves for their devotion to the Mother of God. From the center, left to right: St. John Bosco, St. Bernadine, St. John the Evangelist, St. Bernard, St. Joseph Calasanctius; right to left: St. Lawrence, St. Alphonsus, St. John the Baptist, St. Grignon de Montfort, St. Dominic. Above these saints, a choir of Angels with St. Michael the Archangel. Then, still further up, the glorious image of Our Lady Regina Pacis in the act of being crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth by the Eternal Father and Her Divine Son while the Holy Spirit is streaming down beams of light and graces upon her. It took the artist 3 solid years to produce this matchless creation!
Mary, Mother of the Unborn
Under the direction of then Reverend Ronald Marino, Mary Mother of the Unborn Chapel was dedicated on March 5th, 1989. On behalf of the Italian Apostolate of the Diocese of Brooklyn, and through the pastoral solicitude of the Reverend Monsignor Dino M. Zeni, the statue was placed at the newly dedicated chapel at Regina Pacis Roman Catholic Church of Brooklyn, for the perpetual veneration of the faithful. The dedication was also celebrated by Reverend Archbishop Renato R. Martino, Apostolic Nuncio of the Holy See to the United Nations.
Today the chapel remains a sacred and comforting place of prayer for loved ones of new-born children, expecting couples, adoptive parents and children with special needs.
Our parish is the ONLY parish in the Diocese which has this devotion to Mary, under this title. The "baby chapel" has been a real blessing for hundreds of couples who have visited it. Our Chapel of Mary, Mother of the Unborn, has been the subject of many magazine articles here in the USA, in Italy and in Canada.
St. Joseph Chapel and Columbarium
When Regina Pacis was originally built in 1950, it had a completely functioning lower church, which was needed because of the large numbers of parishioners in the area at that time. Over the years, as people moved away, the lower church became unnecessary and the space was emptied and used for many things from bingo to tennis. The space is the same size as the upper church.
The current pastor, Msgr. Ronald Marino, began to explore ideas on using that space again. After some consultations, it was decided to restore the space to a worship site where Masses, prayer sessions and other religious functions could take place. It was also decided to include areas along the sides of the new chapel which would house the cremated remains of people who had died, were cremated and whose families wished them to be interred in the Basilica of Regina Pacis. This area is called a Columbarium.
"With the growing number of people who choose cremation as a final disposition after death, the ability to house these remains inside a basilica is a beautiful idea", said Msgr. Marino, who cited the high cost of cemetery burials and funerals in general. He wanted to create a dignified Catholic alternative for people to choose.
Regina Becomes a Basilica, And More
In more recent years, Regina has continued to grow with the support of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI elevated Regina Pacis to a Minor Basilica on October 19, 2012.
On December 8, 2012, the Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of Brooklyn, celebrated a Solemn Mass inaugurating Regina Pacis as a Minor Basilica.
On the Solemnity of All Saints, November 1, 2015, His Excellency Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of Brooklyn Blessed the new Saint Joseph Chapel and Dedicated the Columbarium.
The Basilica of Regina Pacis was selected as a “Mercy Church” of the Diocese of Brooklyn for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
On Sunday, December 13, 2015, Bishop James Massa, Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn, celebrated the Rite of the Opening of the Door of Mercy.