About Us‎ > ‎

Architectural Highlights

1918: Saint Clare Mission Church on Giffords Lane
1921: Saint Clare Church in The American Architect journal
c.1927/1921: Rectory and old Church in original position
c.1955: aerial view of Saint Clare neighborhood
1957: preparing to move the old Saint Clare Church
1959: architectural lineage of the new Saint Clare Church
1959: stained glass windows of the Life of Clare
1959/2002: Möller/Peragallo pipe organ
1963: award-winning Saint Clare Presentation Convent
1979/2001: 16' Clare statue; award-winning pre-kindergarten
2002: Eternal Flame honoring World Trade Center victims
2018: Church property map
2018: Satellite view

Staten Island's first Catholic church was established in 1839. Before then, priests occasionally ferried from Brooklyn to lead services at the "Holy Spring House", a small private home that stood along Giffords Lane at Dewey Avenue for about two centuries until a 1975 fire. Starting in 1862, mid-Island Catholics could travel by foot or horse or trolley to receive the Sacraments regularly at Richmondtown's newly built Saint Patrick's Church.

Finally in 1918, Saint Patrick's new pastor, Father Charles J. Parks, established the Mission Church of Saint Clare of Assisi in a rented hall at 105 Giffords Lane, near Katan Avenue. This frame building was modest in size and appearance, but proved to be quite a versatile asset for the residents of Great Kills. It served as Saint Clare's temporary church for three years, then as the Mission Hall and Parish Hall for three decades (shown here in 1940), and next as an American Legion post for three decades more, before being replaced by private homes.

In 1921, the newly constructed Saint Clare Church on Nelson Avenue (today's Chapel) was said to be the first Catholic church in the United States built in simple Colonial style. Its young designers, Otto R. Eggers and parishioner Daniel P. Higgins, were featured in an article of The American Architect for their patriotic innovation. They went on to design the original portion of Saint Clare School, and many prominent American buildings over the next forty years.

This vintage postcard shows Saint Clare's Rectory (c.1927) and the old Church (1921), in their original position along Nelson Avenue.

A brave photographer's flight over Great Kills gave us this aerial view of Nelson Avenue and Saint Clare's in the 1950s. The old church had not yet been moved to its new location as today's Chapel. Construction had not yet begun on the new church and the expanded school. Near the bottom of the photo, the house just south of the school on Lindenwood Road had not yet become Saint Clare's Presentation Convent. Within the next decade, all these plans would come to fruition as the Verrazzano Bridge was built and the parish tripled in population.

In October 1957, the old church was physically moved to allow space for the new church's foundation. The YouTube captions are not quite right -- the church building that moved was Saint Clare's second (1921), not original (1918), and the auditorium was not moved. Still, thanks to longtime property supervisor Robert Fleming, these old film-clips give a wonderful glimpse of parishioners preparing to roll the old church a few hundred feet down Nelson Avenue to the site where it stands as today's Chapel.

Saint Clare's 1959 church combined both a modern flair and a distinguished architectural lineage, thanks to its architect Joseph Sanford Shanley, a leading specialist for Catholic churches on the East Coast. As a fine example of adaptive design progression, Saint Clare's octagon-shaped, red-brick exterior in Colonial Revival style was patterned after Shanley's earlier Church of Saint Charles Borromeo (Newark 1937), which The New York Times hailed as "outstanding."

Saint Clare's open, brightly domed interior drew inspiration from America's first Catholic cathedral, which was consecrated in 1876 by one of Shanley's prominent relatives (Baltimore Archbishop James Roosevelt Bayley) and which was prestigiously declared a Basilica in 1937. Saint Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, the family's Catholic founder whose vocation led her from New York to Baltimore, was the archbishop's aunt and the architect's great-great-great-aunt. Shanley designed her Shrine Church as his final project, at the former site of her Manhattan home by the Staten Island Ferry.

Fund-raising for Saint Clare's 1959 expansion project actually surpassed $1 million (more than $10 million in 2018 equivalents). As a result, the new church was able to include nine beautiful stained-glass windows depicting the Life of Clare in 13th-century Italy. The parish published a glossy booklet describing the windows in 1994, to honor the 800th anniversary of Clare's birth. Note how the interior church wall was sky-blue at the time, matching much of the school and the old church (today's Chapel).

The new church was also able to include a modest pipe organ from M.P. Möller, Inc., with the console and enclosed pipes to the right of the altar, and exposed pipes in the rear gallery. The instrument was later expanded in 2002 by Peragallo Pipe Organ Company, at the initiative of Saint Clare music director Daniel R. Palko and an anonymous bequest.

In November 1961, Saint Clare Parish purchased the house next to the School, for its faculty of Presentation Sisters who had been commuting every day since 1936. Parishioner Kenneth W. Milnes designed the conversion of the 1931 house into a sixteen-room Convent with its own chapel. By autumn of 1963, construction was complete, the rooms were furnished by parishioners, and twelve Presentation Sisters moved in. The Chamber of Commerce bestowed an architectural award to Saint Clare's Presentation Convent soon after, proclaiming it one of the best building projects completed on Staten Island that year. In 1999 it was re-dedicated as the Presentation Center, providing much-needed office space and meeting rooms for the many lay ministers carrying forth the retired Sisters' legacy of service to Saint Clare parishioners.

The main entrance to the parish's Cardinal Cooke Centre (1979) features a contemporary 16-foot statue of Saint Clare, one of her largest in the world, sculpted by longtime parishioner Hans Karl. A 20-foot statue may be the only larger one in the Americas, built in 1965 for the saint's namesake city of Santa Clara, California.

The parish center was designed before Saint Clare's had a pre-kindergarten program, which soon began using most of the upstairs space. A major 2001 renovation of the pre-kindergarten area earned an Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects, for the playfully modern colors and shapes designed by parishioner David L. Businelli and Stephen Perrella.

Their design received national attention when it was featured on the cover of Contract magazine.

Next to the outdoor Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima and the Pathway of Prayer is a poignant tribute to victims of the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001. This Eternal Flame memorial was created by Saint Clare Parish and its extensive WTC Outreach program, with substantial contributions from the KeySpan gas company. The lamp, pedestal and plantings are prayerfully simple, and the decorative ground-level bricks name and honor the 29 parishioners who died suddenly from the tragedy, including 11 firefighters. The September 2002 dedication was attended by 600 people and featured on the television news. The designer was parishioner David Businelli, who previously won architectural awards for Saint Clare's landscaped Pathway of Prayer (Chamber of Commerce, 2000) and the innovative pre-kindergarten (American Institute of Architects, 2002).

Church property map (click to enlarge)

Saint Clare's now has six major buildings, dating from 1921 to 1979: the church, school, converted convent, parish center, chapel, and rectory. In counter-clockwise order, they surround the central parking lot, and in turn are surrounded by the suburban neighborhood's detached one- and two-family homes. The church property occupies 2.5 acres between Lindenwood Road and Nelson Avenue, within the long block to the north of Edgewood Road.

Satellite view

See also:
History of Saint Clare Parish