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The History of
Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Parish
in Richmond Hill

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Monsignor Hald noted that in 1942 the Parish would be celebrating its Golden Jubilee and suggested that a fund be started for the purpose of renovating the church. Mr. Robert J. Reiley drew up the plans and the general contract was awarded to Mr. Droesch. Beginning June 23rd, 1941, all church services were held in the auditorium, and the renovation began. The completely refurbished church was opened to the public on December 14, 1941. New marble altars, sanctuary and communion rails, confessionals, tiled aisles, sacristies, heating system, loud speaking system, vestibule, baptistery, and organ were installed. The main focal point was the main altar with a brilliant dossal of silver and gold velvet and carved wooden canopy. There was new baptismal font of solid forest green marble and two beautiful stained glass windows, the gift of the Deehan Family in memory of their father, Timothy the first Trustee and their mother.

December 14th was also the first Sunday that the United States had entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. During the war an honor roll was kept of the war heroes from the parish at the altar of the Blessed Mother.

By April of 1945, the reality of peace seemed almost certain. It was at this time Monsignor Hald proposed the creation of a "Peace Monstrance". "The parish should present something tangible, beautiful and impressive to Almighty God as an act of thanksgiving for peace…Every man, woman and child in the parish will have a part in it. Meanwhile we shall collect jewels for it. If you have a diamond, ruby, emerald, pearl, or any other precious or semi-precious stone which you would like to have set in the 'sun' of the monstrance as your personal thank-offering see the pastor…There must be many beautiful stones in the parish that are not being used. They may be set in rings, brooches, stickpins that are no longer in style…Let us make our thank-offering to God rich and beautiful.

The response was overwhelming and the donation of gems poured in. Monsignor Hald did not want he wealthier parishioners to bear the burden of the entire amount for the construction of the monstrance; rather he wanted the entire parish as a whole to participate in its financing. On May 8, 1945, VE Day, Monsignor Hald presented his fund raising plan. "The present plan is to have every adult donate one dollar - no more, no less - every high school student 25cents, every elementary school child and infant, 10 cents. The campaign started on Memorial Day, May 30th, and ended on Independence Day, July 4th. He further added, "Moreover, the offering should be based on sacrifice; for instance, a pack of cigarettes unsmoked, a movie foregone, etc. The will have more spiritual value if it is based on sacrifice. Children may make their offering out of earnings for tasks done around the house.

The monstrance was finished within six months and exhibited on December 2, 1941. "There is only one word to describe it - magnificent. It is glittering with gems, gifts of grateful parishioners. Many of the jewels are heirlooms, and nearly all of them are steeped in memories of loved ones. It is not so much the gold or silver and precious stones of the monstrance that make it so valuable, but the sentiments of the gratitude, appreciation and sorrow that have gone into its making. Nearly every man, woman and child (including infants!) in the parish has contributed to the fund.

The monstrance stands 30 inches tall and weighs 200 ounces. Composed of sterling silver covered with gold plate, it is embellished with numerous precious, semiprecious and synthetic stones. Among these are diamonds, sapphires, topaz, onyx, aquamarine, peridots and rubies. The top of the monstrance is surmounted by a beautiful jeweled cross and below that just under the "sun" is a small figure of St. Benedict Joseph Labre, his arms raised in adoration. Benziger Brothers, Liturgical Art Studio, created the monstrance, but according to Father Joseph Pitsch, a long time curate at St. Benedict Joseph, it was Monsignor Hald himself who actually designed the monstrance. Around the base, the following letters are engraved, The Votive Offering of St. Benedict Joseph Labre Parish in Thanksgiving for Peace, the Safe Return of our parishioners in Service, and in Memory of Those Who Made the Supreme Sacrifice, World War II, 1941 - 1945."

When the Korean Conflict broke out one of the parish curates, Father William E. Maher returned to service as a chaplain in the army. On September 27, 1951 he and many of his fellow soldiers were killed when their plane crashed into the side of a mountain in Japan, as he was returning from a charitable mission in Korea.

During the 1950's Monsignor Hald had the Stations of the Cross replaced with mosaics and he began a major campaign to replace the "temporary" stained glass windows in the church. Above the organ loft a series of windows was devoted to the "History of the Catholic Church in America," with the central life size image of the Mary as the Immaculate Conception. By the side altar of Mary a set of windows illustrated the images of the Holy Rosary. Near the altar of Saint Joseph another set displayed panels on the life of Saint Benedict Joseph. The small lower windows displayed symbols of virtues for all to follow. Above them in the clearstory windows the images of various saints from around the world and above the main altar flanking the niche containing life size statues of the Jesus on the cross with Mary and Saint John a set of windows depicting the archangels.

In 1962 Monsignor Hald was designated as Protonotary Apostolic by Pope John XXIII, which permitted him to use a Bishop's ring and miter, and offer Pontifical Mass.

After a long illness Monsignor Hald died on March 8, 1966. He had served as pastor for 29 years. The March 17, 1966 Tablet described the Requiem Mass, where, before more than two hundred priests and an overflowing congregation, Bishop McEntegart presided. The eulogy, given at the gravesite by Monsignor Eugene Molloy, concluded, "May God join together in prayer today the voices of all whose lives were elevated by his life and labors - that million children, those thousands of faithful parishioners, those hundreds of priests - in one prayer that through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother and St. benedict Joseph Labre, the good and gentle soul of Monsignor Hald will rest in everlasting peace."

On June 24, 1966, Father Cornelius C. Toomey, administrator at St. James Pro-Cathedral in Brooklyn, was chosen pastor. He was also the Director of the Diocesan Choristers and his reputation as a musician and choir director were well known. In 1967 he renovated the auditorium so it could be used for a complete sports program for the youth of the parish. Redecorated and refurnished the church, with new flooring under the pews and new sanctuary furnishings and replaced the old organ with the "Monsignor Henry Hald Memorial Organ. A new stained glass window depicting the Last Supper of Christ with his apostles was installed in the niche above the altar, causing the removal of the 1916 statues depicting Christ on the cross flanked by Mary and Saint John. These renovations were done for the Diamond Jubilee of the parish in 1967.

On October 23, 1971, an accidental fire broke out in the priest's sacristy of the church, which spread quickly along the passageway to the altar boys' sacristy of the church. Many vestments were completely destroyed, and the intense heat from the fire melted many chalices and other religious articles. Father Toomey's extensive music collection, the work of many years, was lost as well. I order to clear the smoke from the church, firemen destroyed the stained glass windows in the choir loft that had depicted the History of the Catholic Church in America, and caused water and glass damage to the new organ. Masses were moved to the auditorium and repairs were made. The windows that were destroyed were replaced with different panels depicting various musical instruments.

June 20, 1975 saw the one hundredth class graduated from St. Benedict Joseph School. Later in 1975 Father William O'Leary took over as Administrator. In January 1976, Father O'Leary became pastor and Father Toomey became Pastor Emeritus.

On January 4, 1979 after many years of service Father Toomey passed away peacefully in the rectory.

Later that same year a second fire gutted large portions of the old school building. The principal's office, the secretarial area and many school records were destroyed. Other rooms on the second and third floor were also heavily damaged. Father O'Leary established a campaign to refurbish the school building and the response was immediate.

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