St. Mary’s is the fifth-oldest parish in Queens and one of the oldest in the Greater Metropolitan area, going back to the days of the first beach resorts in the New York City area. The Marine Pavilion was the first grand bathing hotel established in Far Rockaway, at approximately Plainview Avenue between B. 19 and 20 Sts. in 1833. According to Sharp’s History of the Diocese of Brooklyn, the Rev. Michael Curran celebrated the first Catholic Mass in 1847 in a hotel owned by William Caffrey. By 1850 summer Masses were celebrated by the Rev. Edward John Maginnis (or McGinnis), pastor of St. Monica’s in Jamaica, in a tent for the burgeoning summer crowd. Thus, the history of Catholic life in Far Rockaway is older than the Diocese of Brooklyn itself, which was established only in 1853.
In January 1851 a plot of land was donated by Andrew Brady as a site for a new Catholic church, to be built by local men who contributed their labor and money. The cornerstone of the first church of St. Mary, Star of the Sea was laid on August 15, 1852. This building was located at approximately the site of the old Marine Pavilion, which in turn later became the location of St. Joseph’s (now St. John’s Episcopal) Hospital. The first Mass in the new church was in 1857 by the then-pastor of St. Monica’s, the Rev. Anthony Farley. This first church was located on ground adjoining St. Joseph’s convent on Central Avenue, and was reached from Broadway. It lay back from the road and worshippers climbed over a “stile” to get there. There are references to a parish schoolhouse adjacent to it as early as 1872, which may have been used for Sunday school and parish meetings. It may also have served as the original parish school building when the Sisters of St. Joseph came in 1877.