The History of Our Lady Queen of Peace and Our Lady of Lourdes
The history of the parish of Our Lady Queen of Peace and Our Lady of Lourdes actually started on June 18, 1905 with the ordination of Father John J. Hopkins in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. After ministering to the people of the Bronx, Manhattan and New Paltz, Father Hopkins was chosen by Cardinal Hayes to start a parish in New Dorp. President Harding was guiding post-war America into an era of growth, as Mayor John Hylan was doing the same for New York City. The 1920s were about to roar.
In the summer of 1922, after a petition to the Archdiocese by the Catholic residents of the area for their own priest, Father Hopkins, a man of wisdom and foresight, made his way into the farmland and down a dirt road called New Dorp Lane armed with a vision. That vision included a Church and school for the local Catholic community whose only access to worship was at St. Patrick’s in Richmondtown or at Immaculate Conception in Stapleton. Being a determined character, Father Hopkins made a commitment to the Catholics of New Dorp to bring Sunday Mass to the area even if it had to be in a storefront, as many parishes had done. The Black Horse Tavern, that had been serving the public since the Revolutionary War, then took its rightful place in parish history as the site of the first Masses to be celebrated in this growing community. Located near the little traffic triangle that now splits Amboy Road and Richmond Road, owner Patrick Curry was happy to oblige. Mr. Curry agreed to close the tavern at midnight on Saturday nights, and family members Cassie and Lizzy arranged for a curtain to shield a portion of the room from the area that had little to do with worship, in preparation for the only Sunday Liturgy available to the faithful people of New Dorp. The vision of Father Hopkins had taken root.
Because he saw that his church would assume a significant role in the life of the town, Father Hopkins rejected a piece of property on Locust Avenue that had already been purchased by the petitioners. Instead, he negotiated with Doctor Grout whose home was situated on Cloister Place and Third Street, but whose property flowed around the corner onto New Dorp Lane. The Grout Home was to become the rectory and the wooded land became the site of the church and school. On October 10, 1922, Father Hopkins was to incorporate his new church.
The Federal Government then converted the estate of William A. Vanderbilt into an air defense station called Miller Field. In preparation, it announced its intention to clear the estate of all buildings. In a dramatic stroke, Father Hopkins arranged for a wooden chapel located on the estate to be carefully lifted and slowly moved up New Dorp Lane, and to be placed on a concrete foundation that had been prepared on the new property site. The chapel was prepared for the celebration of mass, and not only became the tangible beginning of the parish, but the fulfillment of the promise made to the faithful residents of the Catholic community.
On weekdays, the chapel was filled with the excited chatter of children attending grades one through four, as Our Lady Queen of Peace School was established. Father Hopkins’ plan was to add one grade each year until the school was fully populated. The children of the parish families learned their reading, writing, and arithmetic in the wooden structure where moveable partitions could be removed to make way for daily mass, while desks were moved out of the little church into the courtyard to allow for Sunday mass congregation. If it rained on Sunday, there was no school on Monday.
In his effort to fulfill his ministry to those members of the parish living, or just summering, at the shoreline of New Dorp Beach, Father Hopkins boldly purchased property on Cedar Grove Avenue for $3,000, and set into motion what eventually resulted in the laying of the cornerstone and dedication of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Mission Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace. Thus, the dedication of Our Lady of Lourdes preceded that of Our Lady Queen of Peace by four years.
The dedicated parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes, then fully functional with three Sunday Masses in the summer and two in the winter, continued to volunteer year after year to maintain their beloved church to this very day. Donated vestments and altar linens have always been the province of the Rosary and Altar Society.
In the 1950s, Father Bergin of Our Lady Queen of Peace met a young man named Ross Calimano just home from the service. In his concern for young altar servers and their safety in crossing Hylan Boulevard, Father asked Ross to teach them the Latin for mass at Our Lady of Lourdes. Many of today’s parishioners remember “Deacon Ross” as the loving caretaker of the Mission Church and its devoted parishioners.
In an unforeseen move, the City of New York bought the strand of land along the shorefront of New Dorp, with plans to extend the roadway of Seaside Boulevard. In so doing, the City took ownership of the property that was occupied by Our Lady of Lourdes. Today, the Mission Church holds a rental agreement with the City of New York, and its liturgical life continues in worship, Friendship Clubs, and an outreach program of the department of the aging, whose members make gratifying use of the lower level.
From the beginning, Father Hopkins dreamed of the English Gothic church on New Dorp Lane whose cornerstone would be set on September 26, 1928 with the blessing of His Eminence Cardinal Hayes. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in 1928 marked the inauguration of Our Lady Queen of Peace Church, and was celebrated before hundreds of parishioners, whose sacrifices and fund-raising efforts helped to raise the staggering cost of $500,000.
Father Hopkins invited the Presentation Sisters to assume administration of the parish school. On June 30, 1929, Father Hopkins and the Presentation Sisters conferred diplomas on seven boys and four girls who comprised the first graduating class of OLQP. He passed away on November 22, 1947, twenty-five years to the day that he placed the wooden chapel on its foundation on New Dorp Lane, having breathed life into his parish. His impact transcends time and continues to this day.
With the end of World War II, the nation was about to grow with unprecedented speed, marked by the “baby boom”, the economic and building expansions, and the new peacetime way of life; and, New Dorp grew right along with the trends. The population entered an upward spiral which fostered an Island-wide business rebirth. Our Lady Queen of Peace School experienced an escalation in enrollment, and the parish saw an overwhelming increase in the number of registered families. These changes called for a growth in the number of masses, and created a compelling case for more classroom space.
Once again, the parish initiated a financial mobilization to raise $500,000 by an eclectic assortment of fund-raisers to keep pace with the growing demands of the time. Begun under Father James A. Quinn, the new pastor, and completed under Father John V. McGavrick’s twenty year pastorate, the parish experienced a building modernization, rendering an impressive complex of structures that are in service today. The new facilities were dedicated on July 7, 1963 by the Most Reverend Joseph M. Pernicone, Auxiliary Bishop of the New York Archdiocese.
The efforts of a dedicated clergy and a faithful community had produced the following:
School: 950 seats in an eight room school building that included a 350-seat cafeteria with a
stage and auditorium facilities.
Chapel: Lower level of the main church, renovated from an activities hall with a stage and hard-
wood flooring for dancing, to a chapel with seating for 350 parishioners at additional
Convent: Former parish school converted into a residence and chapel for the Sisters of the
Hopkins Hall: Lower level of the convent converted to a hall for the use of parish organizations
After Vatican II, (1962-1965) which was convened by Pope John XXIII, the main altars were turned around in response to new guidelines, English was introduced into the Liturgy replacing the traditional Latin, and several other changes were made as directed by the Council, as Our Lady Queen of Peace and Our Lady of Lourdes entered the modern era. The changes became ingrained measures of our Catholicism. In 1972, Terence Cardinal Cooke came to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the parish, as now Monsignor McGavrick was guiding Our Lady Queen of Peace and Our Lady of Lourdes. After Monsignor Donald Pryor became pastor in the 1980s, the appearance of the church began to be enhanced by the addition of rich wood panels, a modern pulpit, a sound system, and a myriad of subtle changes. More importantly, families remained in the parish in continuing generations, bringing to their beloved parish a permanence, dedication, and loyalty throughout the years.
As times changed, Father Hopkins would have been surprised at the sight of boys and girls serving on the altar, wearing their OLQP shoes or perhaps a new pair of Nikes, the inclusion of lay men and women as Lectors and Eucharistic Ministers, and the many changes that have taken place in the Church. But he would recognize his vision as alive and well in the various ministries that are carried out faithfully by the laity, for it was this same vision and depth of faith that made all of this possible.
Recently, parishioners may recall Monsignor Sheehan providing food and a smile for a needy person, or father Gannon helping a student with the admission process into a high school or college. The success and the strength of the parish has always been the long line of good priests who baptized us, to whom we confessed our sins, from whom we received our First Holy Communion, who saw that we were confirmed by the bishop, who counseled us bought us ice cream cones, married us, who went to Hanley’s with us, and then returned to the altar to celebrate the lives of our loved ones as the bells tolled in the tower. They sympathized with our tales of woe, complimented our Easter hats, laughed, cried, and walked with us through good times and bad, never forgetting to teach us the way to God.
Part of that strength was provided by the good Sisters of the Presentation who taught us to read and write, conjugate verbs, multiply numbers, and to look at life in the spirit in which God intended. That same influence continues today through our dedicated teachers and school staff who carry on the standard of the Presentation Sisters, and the vision of Father Hopkins.
The faith instilled in the hearts of our parishioners, and especially our children, carries on as their lives touch the lives of others, and those lives in turn touch a multiplicity of others. This influence continues to fan out to numbers without estimate. It becomes an inheritance of the present and future people who will continue to respond to the spiritual nourishment and the vibrant hearts of these churches of Our Lady Queen of Peace and Our Lady of Lourdes.