St. John’s Alumnus Administers to Diverse Brooklyn, NY, Parish
Rev. Alonzo Cox ’05C recalls St. John’s University as a place where his vocation to the priesthood was intensified and his life’s path was cemented. “I did so much discernment at St. John’s,” Fr. Cox said recently. “I had a great experience. It gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in the full college experience. I met people there who I stay in touch with to this day. I had the best of both worlds.”
Today, Fr. Cox is Pastor of St. Martin dePorres Parish in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Created by the Diocese of Brooklyn in 2007, the merged parish consists of three area churches: Our Lady of Victory, St. Peter Claver, and Holy Rosary.
Fr. Cox grew up in a very Catholic family, attended Mass and religious education classes every Sunday, and recalled that Pope John Paul II’s 1995 visit to New York, which occurred shortly before his Confirmation, made a profound impression on him. “I remember the Holy Father said, ‘Be not afraid,’ and consider what God might be calling you to be. I felt a stirring in my heart that maybe a vocation to the priesthood was there.”
After consulting with his parish priest, Fr. Cox began working as a sacristan and receptionist at his local church, Queen of All Saints, Brooklyn, and noted the positive influence of several priests who modeled for him a life devoted to Christ. He decided to join the priesthood and entered the minor seminary at Cathedral Seminary House of Formation in Douglaston, NY while attending St. John’s for undergraduate studies. Following his time at St. John’s, Fr. Cox attended the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, NY, and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Brooklyn in 2010.
Fr. Cox said that young people may be encouraged to pursue a vocation to the religious life by spending time before the Blessed Sacrament. “I think we’re beginning to see the start of a surge in vocations, and it starts with Eucharistic adoration. It’s a place where we can allow Jesus to speak to us heart to heart.”
One of the most profound experiences of Fr. Cox’s time at St. John’s, he recalled, was the construction of St. Thomas More Church. “I was a freshman when ground was broken for the church and watched the progress intently throughout the next couple of years. It was an amazing thing to see.”
St. Thomas More was dedicated in 2004, Fr. Cox’s junior year. “There was a whole new feeling on campus now that we had a freestanding church instead of a chapel. When St. Thomas More opened, I saw more students going in for Mass or just to pray and sit with God—and I was one of them. Any free time I had, I would go there just to pray.” A Philosophy major, Fr. Cox remembers several faculty members as being “faith filled” and encouraging of his vocation.
During his time at Immaculate Conception, Fr. Cox spent two summers in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, where he learned Spanish. Upon ordination, he was assigned to St. Clare Parish in Rosedale, NY.
“They were very excited to have a young, 27-year-old priest,” Fr. Cox observed. “I was showered with so many graces there. They had a thriving school with approximately 300 kids. It was a predominantly African American and West Indian parish—and an amazing community in which to minister.”
Appointed Pastor of St. Martin’s in 2014, Fr. Cox was the youngest pastor in the Diocese of Brooklyn at that time. “This is a unique parish. It’s a merged entity comprising three communities. There’s a large African American, Caribbean, and West African community with a sizable influx of hipsters.”
One of his biggest challenges upon assuming his new role, Fr. Cox noted, was bringing the two communities together and ministering effectively to both. “I think we’ve done a great job here. Our young people are looking for a place to belong, and I think our older parishioners see their role as a passing of the baton to our newer members.” He added, “As a priest, it’s great for me to look out and see Black faces, white faces, Asian faces, and Hispanic faces.”
There has been a great deal of cultural sharing and community building, Fr. Cox emphasized. “We’ve done amazing things,” he said, noting that administration of three churches can be hectic and stressful, “but it’s what we’re doing to build up the kingdom of God. We’re doing great things in Bed-Stuy.”