A Parish Born
St. Mary’s of Manhasset is today, in 2016, a sprawling, prosperous parish. It was not always thus. On July 29, 1853 the Reverend John J. McMahon, who was then pastor of St. Michael’s Church in Flushing wrote to Bishop John Hughes of the See of New York (the Diocese of Brooklyn had not yet been established) asking permission to establish a mission church at Manhasset for the few German and Irish Catholic farmers in the area.
On this same day, July 29, 1853, Pope Pius IX established the Diocese of Brooklyn (including the counties of Kings, Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk) and named Rev. John Loughlin as its first Bishop; thus Fr. McMahon was no longer under the jurisdiction of Bishop Hughes.
In his original letter to Bishop Hughes, Father McMahon asked permission to “solicit subscriptions (ask for donations) in the city to erect a small church at Manhasset—for the residents were too poor in spirit and in material wealth to help themselves.” It is not known whether he ever received permission for such a subscription but, judging by his rapid departure from the country, it probably came to naught.
Rev. McMahon very soon thereafter returned to Ireland and Reverend James O’Beirne, the new pastor at St Michael’s, continued to promote the mission Church of St. Mary’s at Manhasset.
Father O’Beirne organized the St. Mary’s mission at Manhasset and he or one of his curates visited there once a month for Mass and the sacraments. At other times the farmers had to travel by horse and wagon to St. Michael’s in Flushing.
Among his accomplishments at Flushing, Father O’Beirne built a new church there and, as soon as the new church was ready for occupancy, had the old church moved to Manhasset and set up on the east side of Plandome Road.
Mr. Tom Fay, maternal grandfather of Tom O’Connel, helped dismantle the old church in Flushing and haul it to Manhasset on a lumber wagon, and then helped to put the church back together again on the east side of Plandome Road on property deeded to Bishop Loughlin by William Havilland and his wife on Aug 1, 1857.
Below, is a crude map (author unknown) of old Manhasset showing the location of the first St. Mary’s Church. It should be noted that the bulk of Manhasset activity was in the valley at the foot of Spinny Hill with very little activity on Plandome Rd. The photo below shows Plandome Rd. at about the turn of the century, looking north from the railroad overpass. The first St. Mary’s Church can just barely be seen at the end of the road.
On the left at the top, is a photograph of the actual church which was reported to be “hot in summer and cold in winter in spite of its two pot-bellied stoves, one in the middle aisle and the other up near the altar.” The church building was dedicated on Oct. 4, 1857 and served the people of St. Mary’s until Aug. 15, 1917 when the present church (about half its present size) opened.
A Parish Builds
This period of our church history spans the years from the dedication of the first church building, shown left, to the dedication of the present church building.
Despite its new, hand-me-down church building, St Mary’s remained a mission church of Flushing until May 1863 when its first resident pastor, Father James A. Strain, arrived from Ireland. He didn’t last long, leaving Manhasset in November 1864 to become pastor of Holy Cross parish in Brooklyn. With his departure, St. Mary’s once again became a mission church of Flushing under Father O’Beirne. In November 1865, St. Mary’s was incorporated as “St. Mary’s R.C. Church at Manhasset in Queens County,” and it still retains this old legal title.
In 1867 Reverend Francis Cannon, a Benedictine, became St. Mary’s second resident pastor. He lasted only a few years before he was taken ill and returned to Ireland.
From its inception St. Mary’s, Manhasset, was a mission church of St. Michael’s, Flushing. In June 1871, it became the mission church of St. Mary’s, Roslyn, and remained in that status until 1901. Father William O’Donnell was appointed pastor in 1871 and died in 1872. Father Patrick F. Sheridan was then appointed pastor of St. Mary’s, Roslyn, and inherited St. Mary’s Manhasset as well. He built a mission church in Great Neck and moved there in 1876.
Father Mortimer C. Brennon of Ireland became the next pastor in 1878 but his health failed and he left in 1886. Fr. Brennon had eight altar boys, one of whom, William A. Gardiner went on to St Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore and became the first ordained priest from Manhasset. The next pastor was another Irish priest, Father Nicholas J. Doran, who served from 1886 to 1898. The next Roslyn-Manhasset pastor was an English-born priest, Father Martin J. Hogan, who lasted but a year.
The next pastor Father Louis N. Mantel served St. Mary’s, Roslyn, from 1900 till 1929 but he had served for only a few months when the status of St. Mary’s, Manhasset, again changed and it became a mission church of St. Peter’s of Port Washington, a parish which had begun just a few years earlier in 1897. Father Patrick J. Cherry was the next pastor and lasted until 1909 ,when he was replaced by Father Francis A. McCartney who served but a year. His successor, Reverend Joseph Carroll, served St. Mary’s, Roslyn, from 1911 till 1922 but served St. Mary’s Manhasset only a few months for, in March 1912, St. Mary’s, Manhasset, ceased being a mission church and came into its own again.
It might be mentioned in passing that an old parish record shows the total annual parish receipts from all sources in 1908 to be $1,424.56. The current weekly collection alone amounts to more than fifteen times that amount.
In March 1912 the Reverend William K. Dwyer, on the right, became the pastor of the newly released church and the growth and blossoming of St. Mary’s Manhasset began. He built the rectory and occupied it by 1916 (see above) after which he started building the new church and is responsible for its Spanish mission style architecture.
Father Thomas J. Quinn, on the left, who succeeded Father Dwyer in 1916, completed the church construction and opened it for service on October 17, 1917—sixty years after the dedication of its predecessor. Above, on the right, shows the front of the rectory and part of the church at that time. Father Quinn finished the basement of the new building to serve for meetings and socials. Eighty five years later Monsignor John McCann, pastor, oversaw the renovation of the same area for essentially the same purpose, defined by the needs of our time. Father Quinn remained at St. Mary’s until 1924.
A Parish Grows
Reverend Ambrose P. Donnigan, a Brooklyn-born priest, became pastor of St. Mary’s in 1924 and served for four years (see photo right). Fr. Donnigan began St. Mary’s parochial school in May, 1925, laid its cornerstone on Sept 14 of that year, and opened it for classes on February 1, 1926. The school was built to match the mission style of the church. The land he bought for the school ran from Northern Boulevard south to Second Street. This property originally had a white frame house on Northern Boulevard which was moved to Second Street to make way for the parochial school construction. This white house shown on the left served as the first home for the nuns, Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who were the first teachers in the elementary school. Many years later, after the convent was built, this house was moved again, this time to Brinkerhoff Lane, and served as the first residence for the Marist Brothers who arrived in 1950 to teach at the boys’ high school.
Another Brooklyn-born priest, Fr. Francis J. Coppinger, (see photo left) became the next pastor in August 1929. When he arrived at St. Mary’s a house stood between the church and the elementary school. He purchased this house to serve as the convent for the nuns and, after much expansion and renovation, it continues in that role. Fr. Coppinger died on March 13, 1932, the first parish priest to die at his St. Mary’s post.
Our next pastor, Fr. James F. Higgins (see photo right) was also born in Brooklyn and came to St Mary’s in 1932. In May 1934 he purchased the strip of land between the elementary school and Brinkerhoff Lane. It was during his term in office that St. Mary’s was visited by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who shortly thereafter became Pope Pius XII.
Our next and longest reigning pastor, Reverend John K. Sharp, (see photo left) was yet another Brooklyn-born priest and was appointed pastor of St. Mary’s by Archbishop Molloy (see photo below) on May 10, 1934 and served in that post until March 23, 1969, when he retired at age 77.
When Fr. Sharp arrived at St. Mary’s, the rectory built in 1916 to house two priests and a housekeeper held a second curate housed in the attic. The church built shortly after the rectory had seating for about 360 people. The elementary school built in 1926 had 8 classrooms. On his arrival the parish was in debt to the tune of about $50,000. Early on, Fr. Sharp initiated a fund raising campaign which netted $91,000, making it possible to wipe out the parish debt, add six classrooms to the school and make improvements to the convent.
During the First World War Fr. Sharp conducted a “Gifts for God” campaign inviting the parishioners to donate old gold or jewelry and thereby raised enough money to erect the memorial fence fronting the elementary school playground on Northern Boulevard (see photo below) and to erect a statue of the blessed Virgin Mary in front of the church entrance (see photo below left).
The parish continued to grow. In 1948, Fr. Sharp started a fundraising campaign to build a high school. The first high school classes began in the elementary school building. A memorable feature of this fundraising campaign was a benefit concert put on in Manhasset on St. Valentine’s Day by stars of the Metropolitan Opera Company.
Performances by Lucia Albanese, Lucille Browning, Giuseppe DeStefano, Robert Merril, Italo Tojo, and Dick Marzello thrilled the audience, which included such notables as the tenor Giovanni Martinelli and the baritone Giuseppe DeLuca. Fr. Sharp in expressing his appreciation said that he felt like singing “One Enchanted Evening” but that, “fortunately for the audience” he “knew very little of the tune and none of the words”.
The high school was completed in 1950 with the Marist Brothers teaching the boys and the Sisters, Servants of Immaculate Heart of Mary teaching the girls. (see photo below)
In 1952 permission was granted to expand the church, to double its size, expand the convent and improve the Brothers’ house. The photo below shows the rear exterior view of the expanded church.
1953 saw the church expansion completed. Side altars were recessed on either side of the main altar with a carved wooden figure of the blessed Virgin spinning wool in one recess and, in the other recess, a statue of St. Joseph busy at his carpentry. Suspended from the ceiling over the main altar was a unique carved wooden scene of Calvary. The cross held two bodies of Jesus, one facing the new, and one facing the old sections of the church. At the foot of the cross were two—life size wooden statues, one of the blessed Virgin and the other of St. John. That cross hung undisturbed for fifty years but crashed to the altar below in 2001.
In June 1954 Fr. Sharp was named Right Reverend Monsignor, a title he enjoyed very much, but he was not ready to rest on his laurels. In the fall of 1955 he purchased three acres of land on the west side of Clapham Ave. on which he secretly hoped to build a second high school. In the spring of 1956 Archbishop Molloy gave permission to proceed with the construction of the second high school. Shown below is a photograph of the second high school. The original high school became the girls’ high school and the new building became the boys’ high school. The Marist Brothers moved from the old frame house to the top floor of the boys high school.
Bishop Molloy, who was so helpful in the development of St. Mary’s Parish, died on November 26, 1956, and shortly thereafter, on April 6, 1957, the old Brooklyn Diocese was partitioned with the counties of Nassau and Suffolk becoming the new Diocese of Rockville Centre with Bishop Walter P. Kellenberg as its first bishop. Monsignor Sharp continued on as pastor under Bishop Kellenberg until March 26, 1969, when he retired after 30 years of service as pastor of St. Mary’s.
During all this time, many priests served as assistants. Their names and periods of service are listed below:
Rev. W. Francis Miller, 1923-1925
Rev. James J. Dolan, 1949-1954
Rev. Walter A. Kiernan, 1925-1926
Rev.Joseph E. O’Brien, 1949-1950
Rev. John F. Bukey, 1926
Rev. Bernard Burnes, 1953-1959
Rev. Francis J. Burns, 1927-1928
Rev. Albert J. Hoffmann, 1954-1967
Rev. Thomas F. Code, 1928-1937
Rev. William F. Costello, 1958-1964
Rev. Vincent A. McCarthy, 1935-1939
Rev. William J. Conlon, 1959-1966
Rev. Lawrence W. Kalch 1937-1939
Rev. Harold H Paul, 1964-1965
Rev. Florence W. Crowley, 1939-1941
Rev. John P. Murphy, 1965-1968
Rev. George M. Driscoll, 1939-1940
Rev. William Marrin, 1966-1967
Rev. Joseph A. Holzheimer, 1940-1942
Rev. Raymond H. Nugent, 1967-1969
Rev. Robert S. Barnwell, 1942-1949
Rev. Edwin C. Collins, 1967-1968
Rev. Joseph F. McNicholl, 1942-1945
Rev. Robert L. Brown, 1968
Very Rev. Msgr. Francis B. Concannon, 1945-1958
Rev. Alfred J. Rogers, 1968-1973
Only a few photos are available shown here (left to right): Fr. Francis Concannon, Fr. James Dolan and Fr. Albert Hoffman