The Missionary Pastors of St. Mary’s

St. Mary’s began its life as a mission outpost of Jamaica. The Irish-born Rev. Michael Curran was the “circuit-riding” missionary assigned by Archbishop John Hughes of New York for Queens and Suffolk. He had been ordained in 1826 at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmetsburg, Maryland, and was to establish numerous mission outposts throughout Long Island. While servicing St. Monica’s parish in Jamaica, he came to Far Rockaway and it was he who celebrated the first Mass here in William Caffrey’s Hotel in 1847. He died as pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Astoria in 1856 after 30 years in the priesthood and is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Flatbush.

The priests who succeeded Father Curran at St. Monica’s church in Jamaica took care of Far Rockaway’s Catholics between 1848 and 1868. In 1848 the Reverend Edward Maginnis, born in Ireland and ordained in 1837 at Mount St. Mary’s, took over the mission at Far Rockaway, and in 1850 began holding services under a tent for the large summer congregation. He was a doughty Long Island missionary who had built the first church of St. Patrick’s in Huntington, Long Island, in 1849 and celebrated the first Mass in Glen Cove. It was to him Andrew Brady donated the land at today’s Plainview Ave. and B. 19 St. for the erection of a church in Far Rockaway. In a small irony, Father Maginnis was named the first resident pastor of St. Mary, Star of the Sea on Court St. in Brooklyn in 1855. He became a professor of the seminary faculty at Niagara University in 1858 where he died in 1861.

St. Mary’s cornerstone-laying took place on August 15, 1852. Archbishop Hughes of New York was unable to preach at the occasion because he had sailed to Halifax the previous week in search of priests and religious for his growing diocese. So he sent in his stead the Rev. John Murray Forbes, a notable minor figure in nineteenth century theological controversies.

Father Farley succeeded Father Maginnis as resident pastor of St. Monica’s in 1855 and continued the service to Far Rockaway. Father Farley was also born in Ireland in 1814 and ordained in 1843 at Rome’s Lateran Seminary. During his tenure the first St. Mary’s church was completed in 1857. One of the earliest newspaper references to a service in Far Rockaway discovered so far was one conducted by Father Farley, the marriage of John Gedney to Maria Fleming, reported in the Hempstead Inquirer on August 15, 1857. He is numbered among those Brooklyn priests who during this “brick and mortar” missionary period were also noted as clerical authors and translators. Father Farley died in 1890.

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The “Bell” of St. Mary's

A notable remaining artifact of this era is our church bell. It is practically the only surviving artifact from the old St. Mary’s church, which burned to the ground in February 1974. It now hangs above the Blessed Sacrament chapel and is visible through the skylight. The inscription on the bell reads as follows:

Given by Edward Roche
In memory of his parents David and Ellen Roche
A.D. 1897
“Sancta Maria, Ora pro Nobis”
Made at McNally Foundry
Baltimore, Maryland 1897

Edward Roche grew up in Far Rockaway. His father David was a native of County Cork and the owner of resort properties in Far Rockaway, including Roche’s Beach (now B. 17th St.). They are not to be confused with another Edward Roche, a builder who constructed the rectories of St. Mary’s, St. Gertrude’s and renovated that of Our Lady of Good Counsel. When you pray before the Blessed Sacrament, look up at the bell and say a prayer for all the benefactors and past parishioners of our parish over the years.

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