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The History of
Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Parish
in Richmond Hill

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1907 photo of St. Benedict Joseph Labre Parish on Johnson Ave.

Bishop McDonnell set father John O'Neill to administer the affairs of the parish until a pastor would be appointed. He came on February first and remained a little over a month until the arrival of Father Henry Zimmer who was appointed to the pastorate. But Father Zimmer's health was delicate and after two weeks he requested the Bishop to relieve him of the assignment. Father O'Neill returned on March 17th and remained until April 24th when Father Patrick J. Fahey took possession as the new pastor.

Father Fahey was born in Galway, Ireland on March 17, 1857 and was ordained in Westminster Cathedral, London in 1884. Soon after his ordination he joined the Josephite community in England and was sent on a mission to Africa. In 1887 the work of the order was extended to the United States and Father Fahey found himself doing mission work in Richmond, Virginia. Objections were made to the work of the Josephites, largely because of the refusal to segregate whites from blacks. Father Fahey found similar problems in his next mission in Baltimore, and eventually was transferred to Brooklyn. He first served at Saint Cecilia's parish in Brooklyn and then to the Church of the Sacred Heart, before he was assigned the pastorate at Saint Benedict Joseph Labre. He fitted admirably into the life of his new parish and he proved to be a worthy successor to the popular Father Maguire.

As the years rolled by, the parish increased in numbers and the church could no longer accommodate the crowds. Gradually other parishes were formed within its original boundaries. The first daughter parish of Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Parish was Saint Mary, Gate of Heaven established in 1904.

Father Fahey endeared himself to his congregation quickly and dove into many dreams for his parish. He celebrated his Silver Jubilee in 1909 with much fanfare by the parishioners. It was extensively covered in the local papers and much preparation was made to show their devotion to their pastor. A letter was published in the paper as to how they wanted to celebrate this event.

"On April 18, 1909, our esteemed pastor Father Fahey celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination to the sacred priesthood. We deem it fitting on this occasion to unite with him in giving thanks to God for the manifold favors of which he has been the recipient and which enabled him to discharge the onerous duties of priest and pastor, especially during the nine years in our midst. Therefore at this time of his silver jubilee we feel it our duty to join him in his thanksgiving and to tender him some substantial token of our gratitude and esteem for his successful labors among us. We ask your cordial cooperation for the success of this celebration. By united efforts success will be assured."

It was requested in the Richmond Hill Record newspaper that the residents decorate their homes on April 18 when the jubilee parade would be held.

On that day a solemn high mass was celebrated followed by a grand parade through the streets of Richmond Hill. Included in the parade were the St. John's Senior Military Band, a uniformed corps of the First New York Regiment of the Knights of Columbus, and a procession of hundreds of parish children marshaled by the Sunday school teachers, followed by male members of the church. Almost every home was decorated, each more elaborate than the last, as though the neighborhood competed with each other to see who would make the grandest display.

Father Fahey reviewed the parade from the rectory's front porch, which was also decorated for the occasion. He received a bouquet of Flowers from the children, and declared that, although someone suggested that he might someday have charge of a larger and wealthier parish, he desired nothing better than to stay in Morris Park. On April 19 a reception was held at Dauer's Hall. Thomas McDermott, representing the parish, presented Father Fahey with a purse of $500 in gold.

In October of that year the parish mourned the loss of Thomas Lally, the man who had first petitioned the Bishop for the establishment of the parish and who was also the son in law of Timothy Deehan. He was found drowned in Jamaica Bay and was only 45 years old and left behind a wife and ten children.

In 1910 the parish of Saint Benedict Joseph Labre was rocked to its foundation by a change that forced many to leave. In December of that year Bishop McDonnell carved a new parish out of the original boundaries of the parish. The daughter parish of Holy Child Jesus was founded with Rev. Thomas A. Nummey appointed pastor. It included all that was the original settlement of Richmond Hill extending to Union Turnpike to Atlantic Avenue west of Greenwood Avenue (111th Street) and to Fulton Street east of Greenwood Avenue. Many parishioners of the existing church, Saint Benedict Joseph began to boycott the new church.

This left Father Fahey with only the south part of Morris Park and took away from him nearly all the wealthy Catholics in that part of Queens. It was reported in the local paper that most of the Richmond Hill Catholics refused to desert the old church. Father Nummey had a map prepared and sent it to all the Catholics in the two parishes. The map did not prove efficacious in drawing the Richmond Hill Catholics away from the Morris Park church when Father Nummey had the map printed in the local paper with the following letter: "After due deliberation and with only one object in view - the welfare of souls - the Right Reverend Bishop has assigned to you the task of the erection of a new church. As your spiritual head he has the right to impose this obligation upon you, and as loyal, obedient subjects he expects and it is a duty necessary for salvation to obey him whom the 'Holy Ghost has appointed to rule the Church of God.' 'Let every soul be subject to higher powers, for there is no power but from God, and those that are ordained of ordinance of God. And they that resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist purchase damnation to themselves.' (St. Paul, Rom. XIII. 1 and 2.)

"We naturally expect opposition from those who have no faith, but when it comes from those whose sympathy and encouragement we ought to have, especially in a struggle like ours at present for the mere necessaries of life, to deprive us of the little we should get and sorely need is unkind, disheartening, not Christ-like and selfish. But to oppose a work of this kind is to oppose Jesus Christ." "He that is not with me is against me. He that gathered not with me scattered." (Matthew XII., 30).

Father Fahey with Members of the Catholic Club of St. Benedict Joseph Labre Parish

The following year in 1912 a grand Parish Fair was held at Saint Benedict Joseph and was dedicated to raising money for the completion of a dream that Father Fahey had envisioned many years before, to build a school and convent. The local paper the Richmond Hill Record reported. "The object of the fair is the erection of a parochial school. The congregation hails the advent of this school with delight, and intends to make gigantic efforts to help their beloved pastor, The Rev. P. J. Fahey, in his desire to have the school completed by September 1913." All the parish societies, as well as most of the parishioners, labored diligently to make Father Fahey's dream become reality. The children of the parish sold each family bricks for five cents apiece so, according to one parishioner recalling that time, "all the neighborhood owned a brick in Saint Benedict's school." Mr. Thomas H. Poole of the Catholic University was the architect and Mr. Frank Doresch, the builder. There were eight classrooms but when opened in September of that year only four rooms we used. On September 8, 1913 the school was opened. The building was not quite finished and the teachers and pupils were put to some inconvenience. The school was staff by the Sister of Saint Joseph, there were four teachers, including the principal Sister M. Alipius. The convent was not completed until the following December and the Sisters traveled everyday from Saint Malachy's Convent in Brooklyn until their home was ready. Mass was said in their chapel for the first time on December 8, 1913. One of the first teachers at the school was Sister M. Agatha Hurley, whose hand written accounts of that first year is a treasured moment in the archives of Saint Benedict Joseph. "One stormy day we had some trouble getting to school. The Long Island trains were tied up and the Jamaica Trolley was not much better. After about an hour's time we reached Richmond Hill and walked along Church Street to the school. Occasionally a head popped out looking for us. When they got a glimpse of us a loud cry went up - 'Here they are!' - and all were in perfect order on our arrival - Father Fahey was happy to be relieved of his task. He was exhausted." She also wrote that Father Fahey was so proud of his school that every visitor he had was taken through the classes at any time. We were well inspected." Later on she would describe with great sorrow the death of her first student, "George Kennedy - who stole a ride on an ice cream truck while on his way to school. On jumping off he slipped and was crushed by the wheels. He died in Mary Immaculate Hospital. All the school children attended the mass and four of his classmates carried his coffin."

On September 29, 1915, Father Fahey made one of usual pastoral calls. He left his horse and carriage standing in the street. Two little girls climbed into the carriage, and an exceedingly loud toot of an auto horn caused the horse to start to run. Father Fahey returning to the carriage saw the horse start and threw himself at the head of the animal, checking his speed, but being thrown down sustaining a broken arm. The girls escaped injury. The horse was stopped before any further damage had been done. Father Fahey was removed to Saint Mary's Hospital for treatment.

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