The School

St. Mary’s is unique in having been served by not one, but two Catholic schools: the parochial school and the Academy.

The school was at first located in the old rectory of St. Mary’s, next to the old, first church at the site of the hospital today. On Sept. 5, 1877, Star of the Sea Academy opened with twenty day-pupils and several boarders. The first principal was Sister Mary Ignatius Mahoney, and the teachers included Sister Eusebius Scanlon. At times over the years the academy was referred to as “St. Joseph’s Academy”. The convent for the Sisters of Saint Joseph of both the academy and the parochial school was on Central Ave., now B. 20 St.

The Josephite Sisters, under the forward-looking direction of Mother Mary Louis, decided to turn the academy building into a hospital in May 1905. The Academy then moved to an old hotel across the street on Broadway, and eventually to the former Patrick Donohue property at New Haven and Central Avenues, where the Academy continued to prosper until 1934 when it closed. The old academy building was reactivated for school purposes from 1949 until the mid-fifties when it served as a kindergarten of the parish school.

The parochial school also began operation in 1877, starting out with 60 pupils. Sister Mary Bonaventure Phelan was the first principal, a position she held until 1909. The parish school moved into the old church itself in 1885 when the second church was erected at the corner of Clark and Catherine Streets (New Haven Avenue and B. 20th St.). As the parish population grew, the pressures on the old building were intense. The parish school was at a critical stage in its development.

Such was the situation in 1904 when the Rev. Herbert Farrell became pastor. Alfred Bellot gives us an informative contemporary summary in his 1917 History of the Rockaways:

Father Farrell had been a member of the Public School Board of Education at Westbury, and later on its president, the first Roman Catholic priest ever to occupy such a position in the State of New York. This experience strengthened his conviction that an up-to-date parochial school is the most important feature in a successful parish. His first efforts were to raise funds to realize this need. Sensing considerable prejudice against the scheme, he began the publication of a Parish Monthly to create a sentiment favoring Catholic education. The little periodical, aided by pulpit talks, quietly but effectively did its work, and in the fall of 1908 work was begun on the new school, an acre of land having been secured. The building, which is of Tudor Gothic design, is of brick and terra cotta, and is known as the Lyceum…The entire cost, including land and equipment, was one hundred and forty thousand dollars.

The architects of the building are reported to have been “Lehman and O’Kane of Far Rockaway” and the contractors P.J. Brennan and Son of Manhattan. The new building opened with about 200 students, which had increased to four hundred by 1917.

The new building brought a new principal, Sister Leo Gonzaga Mc Arthur, who was in turn followed by a succession of memorable women religious (with the year each began her term): 1919-Sister Mary Damien Tierney; 1924-Sister Mary Redempta Dykeman; 1930-Sister Saint Philomene Salveson; 1931-Sister Francis Loretto Dunn; 1939-Sister Anna Joseph Hartigan; 1940-Sister Marie Noel Were; 1946-Sister Alphonse Liguori Lynch; 1950-Sister Louis Gonzaga Leahy; 1956-Sister Mary Alexandrine Daly; 1958-Sister Devota Maria Bligh; 1964-Sister Stella Francis Starr; 1967-Sister Helen Theresa Neenan; 1969-Sister Mary Judith Summerville; 1972-Sister Marie Perpetua Butler; 1978-Sister Winifred Mc Kevitt. In 1981 Sister Regina Delaney, O. S. U., became the first non-Josephite principal of St. Mary’s. The Sisters of St. Joseph withdrew from the school entirely and the convent was closed in June 1983.

Another 1909 innovation in the new building was the arrival of the brothers of the Sacred Heart to teach the upper boys’ grades. The first three were Brothers Felix, Adelard, and a younger Brother. Brother Adelard succeeded Brother Felix as boys’ principal, and in 1912 Brother Matthias became director, administering and teaching until 1918. Brother Timothy was in charge from 1919 to 1925, followed by Brother Matthias again, by Brother Leopold in 1931 and by Brother Valerian in 1937. The last boys’ division principal in 1940 was Brother Valerian, and the last brothers teaching in the school were Brothers Leo, Kenneth and Warren Laudumiey.

Female lay teachers taught the lower boys’ grades for many years, as well as girls in later years. Their names are dear to many alumni: Angela Dwyer, Elizabeth Stippell, Lillian Tocci, Lillian Roche, Mary Carlucci, Mary Jones, Catherine Barden and Edna Murphy, to name but a few.

Under current principal Angela Brucia, St. Mary’s achieved the prestigious Middle States accreditation in 1994, flourishes with an enrollment of over 360 and growing (K -8), features music and computer education, and boasts an alumni association of over 1400 members. A long-term building reconstruction plan is underway that will enable St. Mary’s to grow and serve Far Rockaway Catholics in the Third Millennium.

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