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
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
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.
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.