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The History of
Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Parish
in Richmond Hill

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In May 1980 Father O'Leary celebrated his fortieth year of the priesthood. Later that year, Father Thomas William Hendel, a Queens native who was baptized at Saint benedict Joseph, replaced Father O'Leary, first as administrator and then as pastor. Father O'Leary became Pastor Emeritus. Father Hendel would son become Monsignor Hendel.

In 1988 the school celebrated its 75th anniversary with a school Mass and a parade of the students. In May at a dinner-dance, and later that month at a Mass of Thanksgiving was offered. Many alumni, former teachers and former parishioners attended the celebrations.

Finally on October 18, 1992 the parish celebrated their One Hundredth Anniversary at a Mass of Thanksgiving followed by a Jubilee Dinner-Dance.

HISTORY OF CONGREGATION

"The new pastor (Father Maguire) 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"

The early congregation of Saint Benedict Joseph Labre parish was mostly Irish and German. This was in the later part of the 19th century, the parish records will easily bare witness to this.

Morris Park was more of a working man's community and was located next to the Morris Park Railroad Shops. The older village of Richmond Hill was at one time a summer garden area with many wealthy denizens coming only for the summer. Many of the homes in that northern area had music rooms, libraries and domestic quarters in their homes.

The creation of Holy Child Jesus parish in 1910, as explained in the newspaper article, removed many of the wealthier parishioners of the church who had resided in the Richmond Hill area of the parish.

Well into the 1980's the population of the area as well as most of Queens sifted to a very multiethnic culture. The influx of Spanish speaking people rises. They came from all the various countries of Central and South America. There was also an increase in the black population as well.

The largest change within the neighborhood is the population of Shiks from India who have moved into the neighborhood in the 1990's. Their temple is housed in the former Methodist Episcopal Church of Richmond Hill, one block south of Saint Benedict Joseph Church, and is the largest on the eastern seaboard.

INFLUENTIAL PERSONS

As to the clergy involved in the history of this parish. The influence of Bishop McDonnell and Bishop Molly is noteworthy. Saint Benedict Joseph was the first parish established by Bishop McDonnell. Each pastor held an imprint of their work on the parishioners and in the parish complex of buildings including the church and school. Ranking high among them are Father Maguire, Father Fahey, Monsignor Hald, Father Toomey and Monsignor Hendel. The work of the Sisters of Saint Joseph is also to be honored from the first principal Sister M. Alipius and her staff of sister among whom we point out Sister Mary Agatha Hurley whose letter gives us significant insights into the early life of the school. The sacrifice of Father William Maher who was killed in Japan is also to be made mention. Then we have the numerous vocations of priests, sisters, brothers and deacons who came from our parish.

Among the parishioners Thomas Lally is the earliest. It was he who ventured to petition the Bishop to establish a parish in Morris Park/Richmond Hill. Timothy Deehan was a gentleman farmer and had a farm located at 111th street south of Atlantic Avenue. Mr. Deehan was the first Trustee of the parish and was instrumental in its organization for numerous years. Many have names with our records, baptismal records, wedding certificates, death notices, War Honor Rolls etc. Their names can be found on vestments, chalices and tapestries and on many plaques throughout the parish buildings. Their generous support over the years sustained the parish of Saint Benedict Joseph Labre.

HISTORICAL MOMENTS

October 8, 1893 - Dedication of Church building - "At the rectory the bishop and attending clergy, vested and formed in procession followed in the wake of the cross-bearer and acolytes to the grand central portal of the church, outside the building. Standing the Bishop repeated in Latin this prayer "Assist we beseech thee O Lord, our actions by the holy inspiration" etc. Then the Bishop began at the antiphon. This was as followed by the chorus chanting the "Miserere." In the meantime, toward the right, the procession of clergymen proceeded around the exterior of the church, the Bishop sprinkling the walls above and below with holy water.

Since the early infant years of the parish the Catholics were proud to take to the streets of their town. There were numerous articles written newspapers describing processions, parades and rallies held by the parishioners. The description of the Blessed Sacrament held by the pastor under a cloth canopy and followed by a procession of children and parishioners left an impact on the neighborhood.

The parade held in honor of the 25th Jubilee was more of a town event with even the Borough President of Queens at the head of the parade. Rallies were held by the Holy Name Society and were visible as they marched through the streets of Richmond Hill. The Saint Benedict Joseph Baseball Team was watched with eager anticipation in the early 1900's. The Fairs, Picnics and Theatre Programs attracted all residents of the villages of Morris Park and Richmond Hill and received numerous glowing reviews in the local papers.

The choir and chorus especially under Father Toomey were asked to perform at many city events.

When the clouds were darkened by war, many Societies of the church raised money to send needy supplies to the soldiers at the front. There were ambulances bought with funds raised at parish functions and sent to Europe and overseas displaying the name of our parish during both wars.

The Labre Monthly was published to inform all in the area of the work that the parish was engaged in. Comments were made about the social changes during numerous periods of time and commented on various fades and trends. Humorously remembered was the comments made against the evils of the comic book that so many children had been caught reading.

In the early 1980's a drive was created not to raise money but to collect memories of the past. An archive was created and many photographs, maps, letters and journals were donated and cataloged. Volumes were filled with mementoes of the past and a complete written history of the parish was created. The numerous artifacts led to the opening of a Parish Museum that celebrated the history of the Parish. A rather unique experience for any parish.

Finally, Saint Benedict Joseph Labre is the only church is the world dedicated to this saint. Upon the visit of Cardinal O'Connor in the 1980's he commented that if had the opportunity to open a parish he would place it under the patronage of Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, the Beggar Saint. He felt that with so many people suffering from the homelessness Saint Benedict Joseph Labre would prove an inspiration.

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