History of St. Joseph Parish
In October of 1901, the new parish of St. Joseph’s Garden City was created. The Most Rev. Charles E. McDonnell, second Bishop of Brooklyn and Long Island, designated Fr. James E. Flynn as founding pastor. Eighty Roman Catholics, constituting the membership of the new parish, gathered in the Stewart Arms Casino to participate in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the first act of public worship conducted for Catholics in the community. The casino had originally served as living quarters for the artisans who had constructed the Cathedral of the Incarnation, the seat of the Long Island Episcopal Diocese.
Following the first mass in what became known as the Garden City Casino, Mr. J.J. Lannin, President, offered Fr. Flynn the use of a hall in the building which originally occupied the site of the Garden City Hotel. A large growth in the number of parishioners during late 1901 and 1902 required Fr. Flynn to move once more – this time to the second floor of a building on Hilton Avenue.
Continued growth of the parish pointed to the need for a church. Fr. Flynn began to negotiate for the acquisition of property large enough for a church and rectory. His dealings began with the Garden City Company, the organization established by Alexander T. Stewart. Its principals, Allan W. Evarts and George L. Hubbell, greatly encouraged the building of a Roman Catholic Church in the community. With their cooperation and probably some adept bargaining by the new pastor, a site on the southwest corner of Fifth Street and Franklin Avenue was purchased for $1,000. While the purchase price was even at that time a true bargain, the site was on the extreme outskirts of the village, there being no structures south of that corner and nothing but vacant fields up to the gas works on the Hempstead border. The legend is that the close relationship between Mr. Hubbell and Fr. Flynn was such that Garden City’s pioneer developer suggested the boundary lines of the parish to the new pastor. Reason and practical experience, however, seem to suggest that the decision was made by more experienced personnel behind the doors of the Chancery Office in Brooklyn.
On May 29, 1902, a trolley line opened, running from Mineola, down Franklin Avenue in Garden City, to Hempstead’s Main Street and on to Freeport.
In September 1903 ground was broken for the church, and on Thanksgiving Day of that year, the cornerstone was laid. During 1904, construction proceeded under the watchful regard of Fr. Flynn. Workman and skilled craftsmen rode the new trolley to work. By the end of that year, there stood for all the community to behold, a striking red brick example of Romanesque architecture. On Sunday, May 14, 1905, the completed church was dedicated by Bishop McDonnell. As a footnote to history, the activities of that day reflected the true spirit of ecumenism, which now embraces the entire church. The Hempstead Sentinal reported the following: “A number of the Catholic priests who officiated at the dedication of St. Joseph’s Church attended service at the Cathedral of the Incarnation at even-song Sunday.”
In 1909, Fr. Flynn was assigned to a parish in Brooklyn, and was succeeded as pastor by the Reverend John McEnroe, who remained until 1917, continuing the work which his predecessor has so effectively launched. It was during this pastorate in October 1910 that St. Joseph’s welcomed a new neighbor, Doubleday Publishing Company, a longtime leader in the commercial publishing field. The buildingdesign resembled that of Hampton Court in England, set amongst lavish gardens, a tennis court,fountains and a pool. Until our new neighbors appeared Franklin Avenue still did not have theappearance of a business district. Looking north from Stewart Avenue, there was nothing to see but thesingle trolley track of the Long Island Traction Company running up to the Courthouse. To the south,there was the new Garden City Garage on Seventh Street, the sign of the Blacksmith Shop, a row ofsmall employee’s cottages, and a few old homes.
In 1917, St. Joseph’s third pastor arrived, Rev. Edward A. Holran. Under his leadership, and the collectivecontributions of the parishioners the church acquired a beautiful organ. Individual parishioners donateda bell for the church steeple, the tabernacle doors, and a grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes.Located at the base of the bell tower, the grotto was an attraction for visitors from all over Long Island.
Fr. Holran also attempted to provide for the future needs of the growing number of parishioners whohad settled in the now bustling community. He negotiated the acquisition of another 250 square footparcel to the south of the church site, bounded by Franklin Avenue and Fourth Street. In 1922 Fr. Holranwas transferred, and these holdings were added to shortly after the arrival of the new pastor, Rev.Francis J. Healy, the former editor of the Brooklyn Tablet. He acquired adjoining lots to the west of thechurch, fronting 150 feet on Fifth and Fourth Streets. Combining this with a parcel of 500 feet alongFranklin Avenue to a depth of 400 feet on both Fourth and Fifth Streets, the growing parish wasprepared to engage in some serious planning for a larger church. The parish had grown from eightyparishioners in 1901 to 2,200 parishioners between 1926 and 1930. Preliminary plans were drawn up fora new $500,000 church.
Until 1930, the pastor alone has handled all of the duties of the parish. It was then that Fr. Healywelcomed an assistant, Rev. John Lee. Now four Masses were celebrated on Sunday. At this time, adecision was made to delay new construction due to the condition of the economy. Fr. Lee was soontransferred, and his successor, Rev. Charles E. Curley was assigned as assistant.
As more and more Catholics continued to move into Garden City, the necessity for enlarged facilitiesbecame more urgent. In 1934 St. Joseph’s welcomed Rev. Edward C. McManus as its fifth pastor. Hesoon endeared himself to all the parishioners, especially to the children. He was an accomplishedpianist, who enjoyed playing for the parishioners at every opportune occasion. Two new assistants wereassigned, and then six Masses were celebrated on Sunday’s as well as four on each weekday.
One of Fr. McManus’s main objectives was the erection of a parochial school. At a time when GardenCity residents were bearing the burdens of the national depression and subsequent recession, Fr.McManus appealed to his parishioners to support a building fund to enable construction of a schoolbuilding. In 1938, ground was broken and the cornerstone laid for a school on the site which had beenacquired twenty-one years earlier. The school and auditorium were completed and dedicated inSeptember 1939, in time to welcome 169 pupils for kindergarten through sixth grade.
Fr. McManus also initiated a church building fund, but before an adequate amount has been acquired,Bishop Molloy in 1950 assigned him to St. Augustine’s parish in Brooklyn. All of his friends were verysorrowful at the news of his untimely death on May 8, 1951.
Rev. Joseph V. Nichols, who had previously been pastor of St. Martin’s in Amityville, succeeded Fr.McManus. He was frail in stature, but a dynamo in spirit. Despite his poor health he immediatelyundertook the task of raising funds for a larger church. Fathers Thomas F. McGlade, Vincent A. Kennedy, and William Costello were his assistants and greatly aided in fulfilling his ambitious plans.
In the spring of 1953, amid mingled feelings of sorrow and gladness, the first step towards building a new church was taken. The Angelus rang out from the chimes of the old church for the last time. Demolition proceeded rapidly, and soon the ground was ready for the new church. An altar was placed on the stage of the school auditorium, and a portable unit was used in the school basement. Nine Sunday masses were celebrated there until the new church was completed. The new edifice, seating 950 people, was available for worship for Easter Vigil Services in 1956 and was dedicated that year.
The new rectory, located on Fifth Street just west of the new church was not ready for occupancy until 1957. At that time, the old wooden rectory on Franklin Avenue was demolished, and the landscaping around the church completed. During 1957, the newly created Diocese of Rockville Centre assumed jurisdiction over St. Joseph’s parish. Through the generosity of the dedicated parishioners, by 1959 the indebtedness on the new church and rectory had been reduced to $50,000.
In the spring of 1959 the people of St. Joseph’s were asked to make the necessary sacrifices to accumulate a minimum fund of $300,000 to begin work on an addition to the school and to replace the old convent. The campaign receipts exceeded the minimum goal and construction soon commenced. The total cost of this project exceeded$1,000,000. Twelve new classrooms and a magnificent gymnasium provided adequate accommodations and physical training facilities for school and the constantly expanding CYO program. The new convent with all modern equipment completed a group of buildings of matching beauty.
On July 25, 1960, while work on the new school was in progress, Fr. Nichols was called to his eternal reward.
On October 2, 1960, Bishop Walter Kellenberg honored St. Joseph’s Parish by appointing his Vicar General, the Right Reverend Monsignor Vincent J. Baldwin, V.G., S.T.D., J.C.B., to be its pastor. On July 26, 1962, the beloved pastor was consecrated the first Auxiliary Bishop of the Rockville Centre Diocese and Titular Bishop of Bencenna. One of his many accomplishments took place in the summer of 1969, when an air conditioning system was installed in the church.
In 1972, seeing that the church pipe organ had fallen into such serious disrepair that restoration would require an enormous expense, and after consulting with many authorities in the field of liturgical music, as well as the advisory Parish Council, it was unanimously agreed that a new organ was needed. After three years of planning, the organ which took two years to construct, was shipped from Genoa, Italy. It was installed in St. Joseph’s church in the late spring of 1975. The Blessing and Dedication of the organ took place on October 19, 1975.