The Priestly Life of a Parishioner of St. Mary's

Monsignor William T. McGuirl was one of the greatest church-builders in the history of the Diocese of Brooklyn when he died in 1933 as pastor of St. Joseph church on Pacific Street. But few now remember this capable cleric who in fact celebrated his first Mass in our parish church on April 3, 1885. In his priestly lifetime he erected five churches, a convent and two schools. Born in County Leitrim in Ireland, his family emigrated to Far Rockaway in 1863 when young William was four years of age. His father James opened a grocery store in the town. He had been one of the first six graduates at St. John’s College (later University) on Lewis Avenue in Brooklyn, and at his death his sister Mary bequeathed a scholarship to St. John’s University in his name. Young William then attended the seminary of Our Lady of the Angels in Niagara, and the Far Rockaway newspapers would report his occasional vacations at home with his family. He was the first one to celebrate Mass in what is now the parish of St. Sebastian in Woodside in 1894. In 1895 he became pastor of Visitation parish in Brooklyn, but after one year there, the church burned to the ground, leaving him the unenviable task of rebuilding. What he built there, however, is a gem of Gothic architecture. (An interesting point is that another son of St. Mary’s, Monsignor John Waldron, would be pastor of the Visitation from 1986 to 1998). Monsignor Mc Guirl also was responsible for the church buildings at St. Rita in Queens and St. Michael and St. Joseph in Brooklyn, as well as a new school at the latter. He served as police chaplain to the NYPD from 1906 until 1919, and was Vicar Forane in the diocese. Another claim to fame is that he sponsored the young Thomas E. Molloy to the seminary, who was to become Bishop of Brooklyn from 1921 to 1956. He was given a police inspector’s funeral to which over 1,500 people came. One of his obituaries noted the following:

The pastor of St. Joseph’s was a truly remarkable character, loved by his priests and revered by his people. He was a companion of the great and a true friend of the lowly. Fair and square in all his dealings, he played no favorites. He was a man of rigid honesty whose word was his bond. He was a tender, fatherly pastor to his flock and a forceful, energetic and withal prudent leader in civic affairs. He was a princely host and a clever toastmaster, renowned for his wit and humor. He was a very able preacher and a highly competent executive. He was a kind and generous patron of the poor. Monsignor William T. Mc Guirl is buried with other members of his family in our parish cemetery in Lawrence.

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St. Joseph's Hospital

The Sisters of St. Joseph founded St. Joseph’s Hospital on June 25, 1905. Its first annual report noted service to four hundred patients. By 1956 that number had grown to 7,000. Extensions were added in 1913, 1916 and 1937. By 1956 it had also acquired several residence halls for male and female staff and a large parking area. The annual fund-raising drives for the hospital from the very beginning showed support by the non-Catholic community of Far Rockaway, since all recognized that caring medical service knows no sectarianism. In 1971 it became St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, and is currently the largest employer on the peninsula. The priests of St. Mary’s have served as its chaplains throughout.

During this time St. Mary’s became the mother church to two neighboring missions, which eventually became parishes in their own right: Our Lady of Good Counsel (1910) in Inwood and St. Gertrude (1911) in Edgemere, which became an independent parish in 1923. Under Father Farrell plans were drawn up for a new rectory, but these would await the coming of the next pastor before being realized.

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Missions at Inwood and Hewlett

In 1908 Father Farrell established a mission at Inwood. As Our Lady of Good Counsel, it became an independent parish in 1910 with the Rev. John J. Mahon as its first pastor. Work on the current church was concluded four years later. It served two groups of immigrants: the Irish who worked as chauffeurs and maids in the great homes of Lawrence, and the Italian-speaking who worked in the Jamaica Bay fisheries. The Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters opened the parochial school in 1941. Parish programs provide religious education in the years since since the school has closed. St. Mary’s and Our Lady of Good Counsel continue to collaborate on many pastoral activities.

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