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The History of
Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Parish
in Richmond Hill

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At the November 6, 1892 cornerstone ceremony Father McCarthy of Saint Augustine's Church gave the sermon. It is a treasure of the parish archives and the past hundred years has enhanced the beauty of the words.

"Dear Brethren - The condition of the weather is hardly favorable for any extended remarks, here in the open air, and, though I have much to say to you, I will only make a short address. In the beginning of a new church and in the laying of its cornerstone, religion takes another step in advance, another lamp is lighted that will cast its brilliant rays into the darkness; another pathway of light begins to appear between God's throne in heaven and God's church on earth, up with the angels will carry the petitions and heart breakings of the many who are needy and afflicted on earth and come back laden with help and grace to bear. The solemn ceremony which takes place here this afternoon mean this and much more. This event is of the most intense importance to the present and to the future, to society at large and to the church of God. Every good Christian is a blessing to the world. He radiates a good effect on society in favor of order, just as fire emits heat. As sunshine smiles on this earth, just so does real goodness communicates itself and make itself felt, and any organization, no matter of what character, which has for its motive the betterment of society is doing an incalculable good to that society. Here will be given the great marriage sacrament. From the citadel of truth went out the mandate, many centuries ago, one for one only and the principle of monogamy, and when a good Christian man takes that sacrament and enters into the martial state, he should transmit. So far as it is in his power, the goodness he possess and help the one he takes unto himself to go with him to heaven. In time children come to them and these will need the most careful care and teaching. Their steps must be set in the right path and they must be guarded so that they do not stumble and fall.

So I say this occasion is the utmost importance for the future as well as today. Society thinks it is doing great things toward reforming mankind and society is doing its best, the legislative body of this state does great things and enacts wise laws with the same end in view and they do the best they can, but to what purpose, if what they do is not sustained by institutions like this, whose cornerstone, thank God, is being laid to-day. The legislatures pass laws to protect society, they strain every nerve, but they need the help and support of Christian institutions. Institutions like this virtually quench the fires which would burn men's souls forever and raise men to a place where they are in perfect safety here and hereafter. Therefore, when a Catholic church is started a favor is conferred upon the country and thinking men will acknowledge this. We place an angel at the front door, not like those with flaming swords who stood at the door of the gates of Eden, but to beckon them to come in, and St. Benedict Labre stands before the great throne in heaven interceding for you and all whom you may be called upon to assist into the light. Here in this holy place God's people will be ministered to. Is it not well for us to know that when we are crushed to earth by different circumstances God's saints in heaven are interceding for us? Is it not a good thing that St. Benedict Labre is chosen as the patron of this church, showing that all the saints were not canonized years ago, but here was one, taken from a lowly walk in life and canonized by the present pontiff? In this place God's word will be preached and will evoke sentiments of goodness. Here waters of regeneration will be poured on the heads of young and old; here the sacraments of the mass, with its governing objects to give glory to the Eternal One, to offer up sacrifice for the wrongdoing of the people, both here and abroad, and to ask mercy for us. We say to you that we congratulate you upon the appointment of him who has been sent here to carry on this noble work. I must refrain at this time from saying anything in his presence, but if what he has done in the past means anything, then we can truthfully say to you that his tongue has, indeed, been touched with eloquence, his heart filled with zeal and his mind imbued with the full knowledge of what he has undertaken. For your sake may this building last for years; may God strengthen all connected with it and bring eternal salvation to pastor and people alike."

Next, Bishop McDonnell stepped to the podium: "I must confess that I come forward with great difference in the hope of adding anything to the very able adage that you have already heard. I should not, however, allow this occasion to pass by without thanking you all for the interest you have shown in being present to encourage Father Maguire and on the success you have undertaken, for I have no doubt that this venture will be a success. Your patron saint, Benedict Labre, although canonized only a few years ago, has already done something for this country. There was in Rome a distinguished Protestant minister, the Reverend John Carey of Boston, who, by the death of Benedict Joseph Labre, was brought… into the faith, and he came back to this country to work in the missions of New England.

So that saint, on whose virtues the church has placed her stamp of approval by canonizing him, is well selected as the patron of this church. It is necessary that I should ask you to help your pastor in the work he has taken up, because I feel that when you see him laboring with untiring energy for this parish I know tat you will come to his assistance and hold up his hands and show him nothing but kindness and… generosity in all his endeavors. And now in bringing this service to a close, I pray God to bless you and all your families now and in the future in all your undertakings."

1892 Drawing of St. Benedict Joseph Labre ChurchIn less than a year's time the church building was completed and it was dedicated by Bishop Mc Donnell on October 8, 1893. When it was ready the local papers gave a glowing account of its beauty. One describing its location said, "The new temple of worship is situated on Johnson Avenue, nearly opposite the Morris Park Station of the Long Island Railroad, and is surrounded on all sides by very neat looking villas, showing much prosperity." It presented a "very cheerful appearance". "The steeple (one hundred and forty feet high) is mounted by a large gilt cross which is visible for many miles." A vivid description of the church was given by The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

"However pleasing the appearance of the exterior, it does not prepare the visitor for the surprise of the inside, for in place of a neat but humble little country church, the richness of the fittings, the elaborate decorations are so striking, so ornate, that the people of many long established city parishes might well envy those Morris Park.

The pews are of highly polished ash with cherry trim, and are surprisingly comfortable. The pew ends have tastefully carved Gothic panels. In the apse behind the main altar are three stained glass windows depicting figures of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph. Sparing no expense, Father Maguire hired the distinguished artist Leon Dabo to decorate the church's interior.

The dome of the apse contains a painting showing two angels in adoration, a very rich and skillful composition by Mr. Dabo. Between the windows are the busts of the four evangelists by the same artists. The walls of the church have been painted in warm olive tints, relieved by a colder ornamentation, which, together with the really beautiful carpet of rich, warm hues, produces a most pleasing effect. Over the side altars, of which there ate two, are life size statues of Saint Mary and St. Joseph and above these are mural paintings, depicting scenes from the life of St. Benedict.

The walls of the body of the church have been left their natural colors at present, but the eye is agreeably relieved by the grand fresco depicting three angels holding a scroll, on which are the words "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" over the organ gallery and forming a vis-à-vis to the altar. Mr. Leon Dabo, the artist who added a great deal to the ornamentation of this building, is one of the most distinguished figure painters of the younger school and is at present engaged in the gigantic task of decorating the basilica of St. John the Baptist of this city (Brooklyn) and St. Paul's church. New York. The Stations of the Cross depicts the agony of the Saviour in a befitting manner and fill up the inter-sections between the stained glass very well."

Father Maguire was very pleased with the reception his church received. The high altar of the church once belonged to the Church of the Nativity, Father Maguire's first parish. He arranged with his good friend and pastor of Nativity, Father Moran, to have the entire altar dismantled, rebuilt, and elaborately decorated in rich colors, embellished with gold leaf.

The Church has sufficient land to erect to the left a school and house for the sisters and to the right a parsonage. It is expected that Father Maguire will begin the erection of the latter this fall, as the debt of the church, which cost all told $15,000, is regarded as very small."

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