In the beginning . . . .
On April 5, 1923 the Very Reverend Father Bernard Kevenhoerster, O.S.B. received a letter from the Diocesan Council at the insistence of Archbishop Patrick Hayes.
152 Madison Avenue
New York, NY
My Dear Father Bernard,
You will be pleased to learn that the Dio-
cesan Council yesterday appointed you
to take charge of the entitre section of
land in Throggs Neck, Edgewater, Silver
Beach and any other settlements embraced
in this general territory. You may commence
operations at once.
With every best wish, I am
Sincerely yours in Christ.
(signed) Joseph P Dineen
SECRETARY OF THE COUNCIL
Father Bernard was then pastor of St. Anselm's Church on Tinton Avenue in the Bronx. As a number of Catholic families began to move into our neighborhood the Archbishop, ever mindful of the needs of his flock, placed the area under the spiritual guidance of the Benedictine Fathers. The letter was received by Prior Bernard on Friday afternoon, April 6, 1923 and on the same day he toured the area locating a fairly large frame building housing three stores. It was located on Eastern Boulevard, later to be renamed Bruckner Boulevard, and was directly across the street from where our church stands today. The only other Catholic church, St. Raymond's, was many miles away and the locals were in desperate need of a parish of their own. Many a tale was told of the hardships encountered by the faithful who together with their families made the long walk to celebrate the holy sacrifice of the mass at St Raymond's. On Saturday morning, April 7, 1923 under the direction of the Rev Louis Traufler, O.S.B., first assistant at St. Anselm's, the partition between the stores was torn down and all the articles required at church services were transported from St. Anselm's. The newspaper, 'The Bronx Home News', reported that a large moving van was hired and all the required articles for saying mass including a small organ and collection baskets were safely delivered to the still unnamed church on Eastern Boulevard. The Good Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt, NY, who were stationed at St. Anselm's school, as well as many neighborhood people worked tirelessly with Fr. Louis and by that same evening everything needed for Sunday morning Mass was in place. Sunday, April 8 1923, was an occasion of great joy and celebration as the first ever mass was said at the chapel later to be called St. Benedict's Church. People were astonished to find so well equipped and attractive a chapel. The altar was decorated with beautiful Calla and Easter Lilies. While St. Anselm's choir sang, Fr. Bernard offered the first mass at 10:45 and Fr. Louis the second at 11:45. Despite the rainy weather the chapel was filled to capacity at both masses and overflow crowds numbering about 500 gathered around the chapel to assist at the sacred mysteries. On April 17, 1923, another letter was sent from the Chancery Office announcing that Cardinal Hayes had approved of the name St. Benedict for the new parish to be formed in Throggs Neck. In another letter, Archbishop Hayes, designated Fr. Louis Traufler as Pastor of St. Benedict.
It was evident from the start that the temporary chapel was entirely inadequate and Fr. Louis immediately requested authority from Archbishop Hayes to proceed with acquiring new property and erecting a suitable church building. On May 25, 1923 a letter from the Diocesan Council gave them the go-ahead to procure new property and $35,000.00 with which to do it. It so happened that property across the street from the chapel, a vacant piece of land measuring 50' by 200', was available and deemed suitable for the task at hand. It was a block bounded by Eastern Boulevard and Otis Avenue from east to west and Edison and Logan Avenue from north to south. A small brick building on the northeast corner of Edison and Otis Avenue was also purchased and would become the rectory. Surely the Lord provides because several milles away in Pelham Bay Park, Fr. Louis came upon some barracks which had been used as a naval training station during World War 1. He bought two of the barracks, had them disassembled and moved to the new location. With a few structural changes, they were erected back to back extending the full length of the property from Otis Avenue to Eastern Boulevard with the front of the church on the boulevard. Thus the first St. Benedict Church came to life.
On September 17, 1923, the temporary chapel was designated as a temporary schoolhouse. The Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt were assigned to St. Benedict's school and the tradition of excellent education and faith-based instruction continues to this day. In the summer of 1924 Fr. Louis negotiated for the purchase of a two-family brick residence on the northeast corner of Edison and Otis Avenue, as well as a vacant piece of land running along Otis Avenue. Since only the lower floor of the house was vacant, it was converted into the original convent for the Dominican sisters teaching in the school. The vacant space on Otis Avenue was ideal for the erection of an eight-room school and construction went forward quickly. On September 14, 1925, a proud little band of 263 pupils marched into the then new St. Benedict School where Grades 1 to 5 had been organized. For the next several years, St. Benedict's Parish settled down to the normal busy parish life of masses, devotions, novenas and missions. In addition to the various church societies, a dramatic group of local amateurs
assembled and gave several performances each year. The annual bazaar was started, bus rides and picnics were held. The parishioners of St. Benedict enthusiastically joined in all parish activities, and so the groundwork for the thriving parish of St. Benedict we see today was laid.
Fr. Louis was succeeded as pastor by Fr. Gerard Spielman, O.S.B, in September of 1928 and it was a sad day for the parish as Fr. Louis was greatly loved. He was known as the, 'the Mayor of Throggs Neck('). Father Gerard made an important contribution to the parish on April 2, 1929 when he purchased a piece of property on Edison Avenue, 100' x 100', which formed the nucleus of the ground on which the present School of St. Benedict stands. Realizing the limitations imposed on him because of advanced age and the overwhelming amount of work to be done at St. Benedict's, Fr. Gerard suggested to Father Abbot that a younger man be selected to take his place. And so on August 17, 1929, the Very Rev. Richard Simmer, O.S.B., became the third pastor of St. Benedict's. The completely new school opened on October 27, 1930 at a cost of $450.000.00.
Depressions, recessions, and unemployment, regardless of how minor, have a most serious effect on business and individuals alike, and the church is not immune to these developments. In the face of a panic such as was experienced in 1929, the results are immeasurably worse, and the effects are felt for many years to come. As the economic life of the community affects business and the individual, so is the church affected. While the spiritual life of the church goes on, the financial results can be devastating. We see this in our own day. In this respect the Church of St. Benedict was no exception and all of the progress from the inception of the parish was caught in the web of circumstances and brought to a sudden halt. It was in the face of such developments that the Rev. Fr. Albert Heuring, O.S.B., was appointed Pastor on September 27, 1939. With the growth of the parish and the 846 children enrolled in the school, additional sisters had been added to teach, and the convent consisting of several outmoded buildings barely provided the minimum comfort for the good sisters. The same scenario today would, most likely, result in the closing of the school as we see happening everywhere around us. Likewise, the rectory was totally unsuited for the growing needs of the parish. To complete the picture, the church was in debt for $462,524.95, not including the $21,550.27 in arrears on real estate and water taxes, some of this reaching back to 1932, on the commercial property owned by the church. Here then, was an assignment for a man of vision, foresight, courage and, above all, faith. The newly appointed pastor, Fr. Albert, was the man for the job as all these qualities were found to a high degree in this man of God. Literally applying the Benedictine motto, 'Work and Pray', he set forth to set things right. His favorite motto was, 'All for the honor and glory of God', but the road ahead was not an easy one. Every penny of parish funds had to be zealously guarded; there was no room for a single extravagance, but necessities had to be provided.
In 1941 the parish received its first lift out of the doldrums. Through the efforts of His Excellency, Archbishop Francis Spellman, arrangements had been made with a bank whereby the interest on the church's debt was substantially reduced, a considerable saving on a debt of almost half-million dollars. During the years 1939 to 1950 Fr. Albert kept a personal handwritten record of the church indebtedness and its long and painstaking climb out of debt. On December 26, 1950, the final payment of $25,000.00 was made. The debt now liquidated, a heavy load was lifted from the shoulders of Fr. Albert and the vision persisted more strongly for a new church, a church worthy of the name St. Benedict, a convent worthy of the good Dominican Sisters who had dedicated their lives to teaching the children, and a rectory designed to serve the pressing needs of the parish. As early as 1952, at a meeting of the parish trustees, Fr. Albert disclosed preliminary plans for the construction of a new church. On February 1. 1955, the Diocesan Building Council advised Fr. Albert that permission had been granted to begin the detailed drawings for the new upper and lower church at a cost of #1,410,900.00. At the same time permission was also granted to begin the detailed drawings for a new convent at a cost of approximately $300,000.00. Masses were held in the school auditorium while construction was in progress.
On Mother's day, May 8, 1958, the first mass was offered in the lower church. With the exception of the pews, communion rails, confessionals and pulpit, all the furnishings of the lower church, including the altars, were from the original church building and in their new setting they seemed to take on new dignity and glory. Father Albert said the first mass at the temporary altar in the upper church on September 14, 1958, even though it was, as he stated, 'unfinished, unfurnished and unpaid for.' How much progress has been made since that date is evident in the beautiful structure we employ for prayer and worship today. In the high altar and in the Sacred Heart altar, the repository altar, there are relics of the martyrs: St. Gregory, Priest; St. Orosius, Priest and St. Titus, Deacon. Our Lady of Grace altar contains the relics of the martyrs: St. Bonianus and St. Felicissimus.
With a prospective saint of our own, in the person of Terence James Cardinal Cooke † who attended St .Benedict school, all the wonderful sisters and lay teachers who taught in our school, the truly dedicated and holy pastors from Fr. Louis Traufler to Fr. Steve Norton, and all the faithful who are honored to call St. Benedict our home and our church, we humbly and gratefully thank God for the good fortune He has graced us with.
"All for the Honor and Glory of God" ...
St. Benedict's Debuts New Website
Parish wants to share information online
By Patrick Rocchio
Thursday, December 10, 2009 12:13 PM EST
St. Benedict’s Parish has launched a second generation website designed to bring parishioners together for interaction and exchange on the Internet.
The parish’s old website had become antiquated and lacked the latest developments in computer technology. With that in mind, Father James Collins, associate pastor at St. Benedict’s, called on parishioner Bailey Provetto for help. Provetto is a graphics designer who also runs the St. Benedict’s Playhouse for young children.
“I think that it’s important for the church and parish to reach out to people, so we can be in touch,” Collins said. “One of the ways we do this is through computer technology. We’re a very large parish and sometimes when you have such a big organization, people become disconnected.” Provetto has designed a website that appeals to the full spectrum of parishioners, a website that addresses all facets of church life.
“Bailey had done such a great job with the Playhouse website, we thought that it would be great to have similar web pages for [the rest] of the church,” Collins said.
The new website lists Mass schedules and the church calendar. It also includes information on St. St. Benedict’s School, the parish’s religious education program and the North East Bronx Senior Center. “We wanted the website to reflect all the things we do,” Collins explained.
The website tells a history of the parish, thanks to church historian John Jones, a St. Benedict’s parishioner for his entire life. “[Jones] will write a history of the parish and put it onto our website,” Collins said. “It will include his remembrances. We will have people in the parish share their own memories as well. In addition, he will work on a history of Terrance Cardinal Cook, who grew up in the parish and graduated from the eighth grade in our school.” The Vatican is considering Terrence Cardinal Cooke, who led the Archdiocese of New York from 1968 to 1983, for canonization as a saint, Fr. Collins said. St. Benedict’s parishioners are proud. In addition to information on programs inside the parish, the website boasts links to websites for the Archdiocese of New York and the Vatican. “If you click around the pages, you’ll find that there’s a lot going on at St. Benedict’s,” Fr. Collins said.