a resource of information on the origin &
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The History of Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Parish in Richmond Hill
The following historic compilation on the history of Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Parish has been researched and provided by Carl Ballenas.
history of Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Parish must begin with its patron
saint and to the community and its members into which this church was
Saint Benedict Joseph Labre was born in France more than two hundred
years ago. In his short life, he lived to be only 35 years old; this
poor wandering man chose a life of extreme poverty, hunger, rags and
silent contemplation. His sanctity was recognized by many and when he
died in Rome in 1783 the children ran through the streets crying, "The
saint is dead!" The process of his canonization was begun immediately
but was hampered by the French Revolution. In 1883, the one hundredth
anniversary of Benedict Joseph's death, Pope Leo XIII canonized him
The community that would nourish Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Parish
began in 1868. This area of lush forests and farmland lay merely one
mile west of the old town of Jamaica and was often called West Jamaica
by many for want of a better name. At what is now 111th Street and Jamaica
Avenue stood the tiny farming hamlet of Clarenceville created in 1853.
On June 29, 1868 a New York lawyer Albon Platt
Man and his partner, landscape architect, Edward Richmond purchased
the Lefferts farm. Their purpose
was to turn the farm into a new settlement and they would eventually
name it Richmond Hill. It would become one of the earliest residential
communities on Long Island. It was one of the first so-called "garden"
developments; followed later by Forest Hills and Kew Gardens.
Over the next year, streets and avenues were laid out and the land divided
into lots. The area where Myrtle, Lefferts and Railroad Avenues meet
Jamaica Avenue, along with the
completed and commodious Richmond Hill Depot, earned this section the
name "Gateway of Richmond Hill."
When the first advertisements on this new garden community were published
in 1870, Richmond Hill had no more than 250 acres and was located north
of Jamaica Avenue. The land south of Jamaica Avenue was sparsely populated
and was covered with orchards and farmland.
The community of Clarenceville
and Richmond Hill coexisted for many years but the village of Richmond
Hill would soon over shadow the smaller and older hamlet. By 1885 a
movement came about to create a new village east of Clarenceville a
south of Richmond Hill. The proprietor of this development was Frederick
W. Dunton, a nephew of Austin Corbin, president of the Long Island Railroad.
Mr. Dunton was the president of the "Bicycle Railroad" and became interested
in the development of real estate on Long Island in 1883. Along with
William Zielger, who was a large land holder the village of Morris
Park was created. The place was so called because many years
earlier it had been owned by a Mr. Morris. It had formerly been known
as Morris Grove, originally a ten acre tract of woodland enclosed by
a rail fence and with a crude frame structure which served as a shelter
against rain. It was a favorite picnic ground for many years. The railroad
established a station there and called it Morris Park.
During the years 1872 to 1878 a young man was doing his priestly studies
in Rome. Undoubtedly this young seminarian had heard much about the
Blessed Benedict Joseph and had cultivated a devotion to him. It is
said that the saint's humility appealed strongly to him. The name of
this young man was Charles E. McDonnell, who on April 25, 1892 was consecrated
the second Bishop of Brooklyn in Saint Patrick's Cathedral, New York
by Archbishop Corrigan. On the second of May the new Bishop crossed
the East River and took possession of his new diocese which included
all of Long Island at the time. Brooklyn, on the western end of his
diocese was a city in its own right; and Queens was a sprawling county
of scattered hamlets and villages, counting among them Clarenceville,
Richmond Hill and Morris Park.
The small group of Catholics who had settled in Clarenceville, Richmond
Hill and Morris Park would travel to Saint Monica's in Jamaica or to
Saint Elizabeth's in Woodhaven to hear Mass. The neighborhood was predominately
Protestant and many of the original settlers were of New England stock.
However, the few Catholics decided to petition the new Bishop of Brooklyn
to found a parish in their area.
Mr. Thomas Lally, a builder and real
estate dealer of Morris Park, who lived on 115th Street and 95th Avenue,
was chosen to petition the new Bishop to establish a parish in the community.
The request was granted and on July 12th, 1892 the young Bishop visited
the Catholics and "expressed himself as thoroughly pleased with the
surroundings and purchased eight lots at an unusually low figure." (Brooklyn
Daily Eagle - 1892) The eight lots were found in the hamlet of Clarenceville
on the Stoothoff farm, located between Jamaica Avenue and Atlantic Avenue.
They were sold to the Bishop by Joel Fowler
for a price of $2,300. Three days later he appointed Rev. William J.
Maguire to the pastorate. At the same time the Bishop placed the infant
parish under the protection of Saint Benedict Joseph Labre. It was the
first of many parishes established during his episcopate. It is the
only parish in the world that has been placed under the protection of
this poor wandering saint. The original parish boundaries extended from
the Rockaway division of the Long Island Railroad to Van Wyck Avenue
and from the Jamaica Town line to Jamaica Bay.
Father William Maguire was born in Brooklyn. He made his classical studies
in Saint John's College and his theological studies at Niagara University.
He had the distinction of being the first St. John's graduate to be
ordained to the priesthood. For fourteen years he had served as assistant
to Father Moran, the pastor of the Church of the Nativity, Brooklyn.
The new pastor went bravely to work, visiting the Catholics of his scattered
parish. He rented Fielder's Hall on Jamaica Avenue at the northeast
corner of 111th Street in the hamlet of Clarenceville and celebrated
the first Mass on July 24, 1892 for a congregation of sixty people,
mostly of Irish and German nationality. He offered two masses that day,
one at eight o'clock and the second at ten-thirty. The first collection
amounted to $29.54.
By July 29, 1892 a number of the congregation felt that the eight lots,
located in Clarenceville did not suit their needs and bargained for
12 lots on Johnson Avenue (118th Street) in Morris Park. The price was
set at $4,300. Many in Clarenceville were against the new site and a
petition, containing over 70 names was sent to the Bishop but the new
The first rectory was a house rented by Father Maguire and was located
on 116th Street near Atlantic Avenue. The first Trustees were Timothy
Deehan and James McEnery. Mr. Deehan had a large farm on 111th
Street just south of Atlantic Avenue. He kept his horse and carriage
at the services of the new pastor and often accompanied Father Maguire
on his sick calls and pastoral visits. Father Maguire did not have any
assistants at that time and had to keep oil in the lamps shovel snow
and work the furnace by himself.
A glance at the records reveals that twelve children were baptized the
first year of which the first was Frederick Charles Handte, on August
14. Mr. Patrick Moriarty and Rose Mary Courtney had the distinction
of being the first to take their nuptial vows in the newly founded parish
on November 23, 1892. The first marriage in the newly built church belonged
to Mr. Moriarty's cousin Michael Moriarty.
Meanwhile, preparations were made for Bishop McDonnell to lay the cornerstone
for the new church on November 6, 1892. The wooden church was designed
by the well known architect Mr. Raymond F. Almirall and the contract
to build it fell to Mr. Mulligan. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle article described
the ceremony that took place. Present at the laying of the cornerstone
were more than one thousand people. The music was sung by a chorus of
twenty voices all from the Church of the Nativity (Father Maguire's
former parish). The membership of the new parish was about four hundred
parishioners. "In the cornerstone was placed a box containing copies
of the daily newspapers, specimens of the different American coins and
a history of the parish and its work prepared by the pastor". (Although
this original church no longer exists, the cornerstone does. In 1916,
a new brick church was erected and the old church was moved to 117th
Street to serve as a Parish Hall. On the second side of the cornerstone
a new date of 1916 was engraved. Later the building became a school
annex and was finally torn down in 1938 to make way for the new school
extension. The original 1892 cornerstone with the two dates was saved
and reset into the foundation of the school addition.)
Richmond Hill - The
Richmond Hill Historical Society with authors Carl
Ballenas and Nancy Cataldi have written
this comprehensive book on the history of Richmond Hill. Read
more about this book and how to purchase it for your collection.
Children's Tale and Coloring Book -
Carl Ballenas created a coloring book
on the history of Richmond Hill including rare photos, text and stories.
What better way to enjoy while learning and appreciating our community.
Read more about this book and
how to purchase it for your collection.
Slideshow of Victorian Richmond Hill - Thanks
to Joseph DeMay, Jr. for his enormous contribution in creating
this fascinating slideshow of
images that show many locations of early Richmond Hill from the turn
of the 19th century along side its corresponding present day image from
2003. View and enjoy the slideshow here.
the Living Spirit" - Thanks
to Joseph DeMay, Jr. for creating this slideshow
of the Walking Tour at Maple Grove Cemetery, where students portrayed
the notable people who have been laid to rest at this historic cemetery.
and enjoy the slideshow here.