Parish Life in the Late 1800’s

Father Brunemann invited the Dominican Fathers for the first parish “Mission” in 1871, one of the earliest such revivals in the history of the diocese. The Mission was more or less an annual fall event for much of this period. The Forty Hours Devotion was also established early in our Parish history, a practice that finds continued life today in our monthly Hours of Adoration. The earlier pastors had to erect buildings, establish institutions and raise the money to do so, typically through special fund-raising events. A summer festival or “church fair” around August 15 was very common. Parish societies sponsored events of a purely social nature: boat rides, ice-cream socials, picnics and even concerts and lectures. After 1890, an annual St. Patrick’s Day concert and lecture became a regular feature for many years. Almost from its inception in 1877 the children of the parish school presented “entertainments”, first at one of the local hotels, and after 1909 in the “Lyceum” of the new school. The children were trained to sing dance, act, recite and create “tableaux vivants” by their teachers. Patriotic themes were highly prized on these occasions. The show itself would run several nights and raise much-needed funds for the school. This custom seems to have continued on through the era of the Sacred Heart Brothers. (1909-1940)

Parish societies began to increase in number under Fathers Murphy and Zimmer. For example, by 1885, there existed the Sacred Heart Society and the Sodalities of the Blessed Virgin, the Holy Angels, and the Infant Jesus. The Holy Name Society started in 1905, with a Junior Holy Name within a few years. A parish choir has an active calendar by the 1890’s, and even a parish school band performs after 1904. In 1898 the Maris Stella Council of the Knights of Columbus was founded, and by 1906 the state Knights of Columbus convention was held at one of the Far Rockaway hotels.

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St. Mary's Fourth Pastor

St. Mary's fourth pastor, the Rev Michael G. Flannery was born in 1861 in Brooklyn and ordained in 1884 after studies at Le Grand Seminaire in Montreal, Canada. He pastored St. Mary’s from 1896 until 1904. During this period the Maris Stella Council of the Knights of Columbus was founded (1898), making it one of the oldest councils in New York State. Father Flannery was on occasion a lecturer at the Catholic Summer Institute at Cliff Haven, New York, which was a kind of “Catholic Chatauqua”, or intellectual and cultural camp meeting. He published his own religious poetry in Catholic magazines of the time. He subsequently served at the parishes of St. Paul and Queen of All Saints in Brooklyn. He died in 1930.

The Brooklyn Eagle of October 23, 1898 carried a feature about the work of the priests in the “rural districts” of Queens and Long Island which gives us some insight into Father Flannery. Bishop McDonnell, who succeeded Bishop Loughlin in 1892, adopted the strategy of sending priests, after a few initial years in Brooklyn under a seasoned pastor, for their first pastorate in “the country” where parishes and priests had been few and far between. In addition to the resulting growth in the number and buildings of Catholic parishes in Long Island, there was the concomitant problem of isolation and lack of support for the thinly spread out priests who were more accustomed to the closer quarters of city parish life. The Eagle reported their pastoral strategy:

 “To guard against isolation and lonesomeness the country rectors have organized themselves into the Roman Catholic Clerical Country Club, north side and south side. They hold conferences, discuss the problems of the day, consider different phases and schools of architecture. They exchange pulpits and give retreats and in many ways help one another to bear the burden of the ministry. They are about to engage in an explanation of the decrees of the Vatican council and the compilation of a new catechism. The following sketches of some of the bright members will be interesting:

“The Reverend M. G. Flannery was born in 1861 and educated in St. Patrick’s Academy, St. Francis College and in Grand Seminary, Montreal, where he was ordained by the late Archbishop Fabre in June 1884. He was assigned to St. Ambrose parish, this city, and after eight years was appointed rector of Our Lady of Sorrows, Corona, and a few years later was transferred to Our Lady, Star of the Sea, Far Rockaway. Father Flannery is of a decidedly literary and artistic taste and is an authority on church liturgy and art, is familiar with all the schools of medical thought and archaeological lore, and is called the Rossi of America. For five years he served as director of studies to the Fenelon Reading Circle, the exclusive Catholic literary set of this borough, and brought it up to its present high standard.”

A little later in the article comes a profile of another “rural” rector who would succeed Father Flannery as pastor of St. Mary’s in 1904: “The Rev. Herbert F. Farrell, rector of Westbury, was born in 1865 in St. Paul’s parish, and was educated in St. Francis College and St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore. He was ordained by Bishop Loughlin, February 8, 1888, and was assistant to the Rev. D. J. Hickey at St. Francis Xavier Church, Sixth Avenue and Carroll Street, for eight year. He founded and guided the successful Xavier Club attached to the parish and the Reading Circle. He is a man of high literary attainments and a connoisseur on artistic subjects, a delightful singer, a forcible public orator and church builder, and a veritable apostle, having founded a church at Mineola recently and cleared it of debt.”

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St. Mary's Fifth Pastor

The Rev. Herbert F. Farrell, V.F., was born in Brooklyn in 1865 and ordained at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore in 1888. While an associate in St. Brigid’s parish in Westbury he became the first Catholic priest elected to the school board. He served as pastor here from 1904 until his death in 1924. He erected the current school building, which was dedicated by Bishop Mc Donnell on September 9, 1909. The architects were Lehman and O’Kane of Far Rockaway; the contractor was P.J. Brennan and Son of Manhattan; and the cost was $125,000. The auditorium (or “Lyceum”, as it was originally known) seated 800 persons, with a balcony and stage. It was modified in the mid-1980’s and serves now as our gymnasium. In 1909 the Brothers of the Sacred Heart began a thirty-one year tenure of teaching the older boys in the school. The Holy Name Society was founded in April 1905. In the period around 1910, the parish had 1700 or more congregants, and double that number in the summer with visitors to the beach. When the cornerstone of St. Francis de Sales church in Belle Harbor was laid in 1907, it was Dean Farrell of St. Mary’s who delivered the sermon. Dramatics flourished in the parish with the staging of numerous new productions, including The Mikado and H.M.S. Pinafore.

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