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History of Saint Clare Parish

Key Events:
1892-1924: Ellis Island Immigration Station
1918: Mission Church (Giffords Lane)
1921: Mission Church (Nelson Avenue)
1922: Religious Education Program
1925: Saint Clare Parish
1927: Rectory (Nelson Avenue)
1929-1941: Great Depression
1936: Saint Clare School (Lindenwood Road)
1941-1945: World War II
1946-1964: Baby Boom
1957: Physical Moving of Church (Today's Chapel)
1959: New Church and Expanded School
1962-1965: Vatican II
1963: Presentation Convent (Lindenwood Road)
1964: Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge
1979: Cardinal Cooke Center (Nelson Avenue)
1990: Expanded School (Father Hicks Center)
2001: World Trade Center Attacks
2003: Expanded Chapel (Monsignor Murphy Center)
2012: Hurricane Sandy
2020-2021: Coronavirus Pandemic

Rectors of Saint Clare Mission:
1. Father Charles J. Parks (1918-1922)
2. Father David C. O'Connor (1922-1925)

Pastors of Saint Clare Parish:
1. Father David C. O'Connor (1925-1931)
2. Father Daniel M. Dougherty (1931-1944)
3. Father Christopher B. McCann (1944-1948)
4. Father William J. Farricker (1948-1954)
5. Father/Monsignor John J. Flanagan (1954-1973)
6. Monsignor John P. Keogh (1973-1985)
7. Monsignor Joseph P. Murphy (1985-2008)
8. Monsignor Richard J. Guastella (2008-2020)
9. Father Arthur J. Mastrolia (2020- )

Principals of Saint Clare School:
1. Mother Mary Dominic Ward, P.B.V.M. (1936-1943)
2. Sister Mary John, P.B.V.M. (1943-1951)
3. Sister Mary Monica Hussey, P.B.V.M. (1951-1964)
4. Sister Mary Assisium Schaber, P.B.V.M. (1964-1986)
5. Sister Rosemary Ward, P.B.V.M. (1986-2004)
6. Mrs. Jo N. Rossicone (2004-2015)
7. Mrs. Theresa M. Signorile (2015- )

Ordinations of Saint Clare Parishioners:
1. Father Victor S. Pavis (1943)
2. Father Edmund J. Dobbin, O.S.A. (1962)
3. Father John Patrick Duffy, O.C.S.O. (1981, Georgia)
4. Father John E. Boyle (1983)
5. Father Joseph J. Garbarino (1983, New Jersey)
6. Deacon Richard F. Mitchell (1989)
7. Deacon Nunzio A. Sorrentino (1999)
8. Father Eric D. Rapaglia (2000)
9. Deacon Richard J. Salhany (2003)
(Over the years, additional parishioners were consecrated as religious Brothers and Sisters. An Assistant Rector of Saint Clare Mission, Father Thomas J. McDonnell, was later ordained as a Bishop in 1947.)

Saint Patrick's Church, Richmondtown (founded 1862)
... Our Mother Parish

After "Columbus sailed the ocean blue" in an age of conquest, Spanish and French pioneers in the 1500s and 1600s brought the Catholic faith from the former Roman Empire to the "New World" of North America. British Protestants in the 1700s suppressed American Catholicism, but it strengthened greatly in the 1800s, after the American Revolution and then heavy European immigration to the Northeast seaboard. By the time Saint Patrick's Church and its gas lamps were built near Staten Island's central courthouse, during the Civil War that ended legal slavery, New York had become an important center of America's Catholic Church.

After the five boroughs consolidated into New York City in 1898, Staten Island was growing rapidly, even though it was not yet connected to the city water supply, and people could only come and go by boat. The South Shore neighborhood of Great Kills was still a quaint fishing village, previously known as Giffords, Gifford's-by-the-Sea, Newtown, or Clarendon, meaning "Clare's Hill." Schaneckberg's General Store and the Post Office were located in the Springstead Building on Amboy Road, near the coal-burning railroad and the horse-drawn fire station. The more-pleasant scents of freshly baked bread and pies from Hupfel's Bakery flowed down to the beach.

Land of Opportunity
The newly built Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island were soon welcoming ships to the bay carrying thousands of immigrants per day, whose families became the backbone of New York's workforce, congregations, convents and clergy. Mother Cabrini tirelessly ministered to her fellow immigrants and ultimately became their patron saint, the first American citizen to be canonized. Strict quarantines helped contain deadly outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera. A ten-year, acre-by-acre campaign against Staten Island mosquitoes finally eliminated malaria as a major health risk -- and for the first time, the average American newborn could expect to live beyond age 45.

As the village of Great Kills grew, so did the neighboring towns of Oakwood Heights and New Dorp Beach. On Sundays, Catholics would travel on dirt roads all the way to Saint Patrick's Church in the county seat of Richmondtown to attend Mass -- and then buy desserts next door from the first generation of Holtermann's, whose home became Saint Patrick's Rectory. Many parishioners took advantage of a local stagecoach service or the Richmond trolley to fulfill their Sunday obligation, grateful for the Sacraments but understandably wishing for greater convenience for their families. They could hardly have imagined how God would "multiply those humble loaves and fishes of old Great Kills" to become the largest congregation in the entire Archdiocese of New York. Perhaps this overview of our past will provide some useful perspectives on the present, and even a few thoughts to ponder for the future.

Father Charles Parks (Rector 1918-1922)
... Founder of Saint Clare Mission Church

Toward the end of February 1917, Father Charles J. Parks arrived at Saint Patrick's Church to assume Pastoral duties. A native of Tompkinsville and a graduate of Saint Peter's Academy, New Brighton, he was a quiet, easy-going man. Father had served for eleven years as Pastor of Saint Sylvia's Parish in Tivoli, New York, where he was revered by his parishioners. His great vision and foresight would soon lead to the founding of three Mission Churches on fast-growing Staten Island -- Our Lady of Lourdes, in New Dorp Beach; Saint Charles, in Oakwood Heights; and Saint Clare, in Great Kills.

On July 7, 1918, the new Mayor John Hylan had not yet renamed Staten Island's main Boulevard for himself, the First World War was still raging, and the even-deadlier Spanish Flu pandemic had already begun. Nevertheless, a few dozen Catholic families persuaded Saint Patrick's to rent a frame building in Great Kills, as the Mission Church of Saint Clare of Assisi. Saint Clare was a close colleague of Saint Francis in 13th-century Italy, and founded the sister community of Poor Ladies after renouncing her noble inheritance. Father Parks chose the name in memory of a deceased family member, Clare Parks. The Mission Church was located at 105 Giffords Lane, between Katan Avenue and the 18th-century "Holy Spring House" at Dewey Avenue.

Saint Clare
This temporary arrangement led to ambitious long-range plans for an established parish with a larger church. In 1919, with the war successfully ended, property at the hilltop of Nelson Avenue was purchased for the sum of $2,000 in preparation for the laying of Saint Clare's cornerstone. Like the nearby Moravian, Lutheran and Episcopal churches, the new location was closer to the shoreline resorts of the day, but still just a short walk from the Great Kills train station. The Mansfield House, next to the property, served as a repository for the church vessels.

On May 19, 1920, during the first year of national Prohibition and women's right to vote, when the devastating Spanish Flu pandemic finally ended after its fourth wave, Archbishop Patrick Hayes ceremonially laid the cornerstone for the "new" Saint Clare Church (today's Chapel). A top-notch band from Mount Loretto Orphanage provided music, and full-scale construction confidently began. Saint Clare 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, and they went on to design many prominent American buildings over the next forty years. At a cost of $15,985 (approximately $250,000 in today's dollars), the wooden Church was equipped with heat and electric lights and accommodated 250 people.

At a dedication ceremony on October 30, 1921, Archbishop Hayes, traveling again by boat, formally blessed the new Mission Church of Saint Clare. Father Parks led a procession of altar boys, mounted police, and members of the Knights of Columbus and of the Holy Name Society. This was followed by a Solemn High Mass sung in Latin by the Assistant Rector, Father Thomas J. McDonnell (a future Bishop), and accompanied by Mrs. Phoebe Mansfield Colon on an organ donated to the Church by her family. Miss Jane Aikman (the future Mrs. Jane Carbis) became Saint Clare's weekly organist and would continue through the mid-1980s, a remarkable tenure of nearly 65 years spanning the first seven Pastors.

The Presentation Sisters (1922 arrival)
... Religious Education

Presentation Lantern
Religious instruction for more than two hundred boys and girls began in 1922 with the arrival of the Irish-rooted Presentation Sisters (P.B.V.M.), arranged by Father Parks and supervised by Father McDonnell. The pioneers -- Mother Mary Vincent, Mother Mary Dominic, and Mother Mary Aloysius -- held classes every Wednesday at 3:15 P.M. and again after the 9 o'clock Mass on Sunday morning, at Saint Clare's original property on Giffords Lane. This versatile building served as a Parish Hall until it became an American Legion post in 1953, and it even hosted the early years of Saint Clare's Pre-Kindergarten during 1977-1979. Presentation Sisters would continue educating generations of Great Kills children through the 20th century and into the 21st.

Father David O'Connor (Rector 1922-1925, Pastor 1925-1931)
... An Independent Parish

Father Parks oversaw the youthful stages of growth in Saint Clare Mission until his death on October 15, 1922, at age 52, the day before he was to dedicate Saint Charles Mission in Oakwood. He was succeeded as Pastor of Saint Patrick and Rector of Saint Clare by Father David C. O'Connor. Both congregations pooled their resources to erect a large monument to Father Parks in Saint Peter's Cemetery.

Father O'Connor was named the first Pastor of Saint Clare when it became an independent parish on January 5, 1925. It is interesting to note here that from 1918 until 1925, Saint Clare remained a Mission of Saint Patrick's Parish. However, it was not until February 1926 that Saint Patrick's transferred to Saint Clare's, for the sum of $1.00, the deed to the Church and its adjoining properties.

Father O'Connor found his tenure at Saint Clare exhilarated by the needs of the infant parish and the growth of Catholicism on Staten Island (30% of its residents by 1931, rising steadily to 60% in 2015). During 1925-1927, his temporary rectory was a house on Hartford Street, just below Hylan Boulevard. Under his direction, in 1927 the present 2.5-story Rectory was built at 110 Nelson Avenue for living quarters and the parish office, directly alongside the Church. Adjacent property was acquired for the eventual construction of a school, as the Island received its three New Jersey vehicular bridges and the population grew rapidly. Father's energy continued to galvanize the young parish for six years until he was called for Pastoral duties at Saint Joseph's Parish in the Bronx.

Father Daniel Dougherty (Pastor 1931-1944)
... A New School, Overcoming Poverty and War

In November 1931, Father Daniel M. Dougherty, a classmate of Father O'Connor in the ordination year 1905, became the new Pastor of Saint Clare. He was actually the first of two New York priests named Daniel M. Dougherty, a perennial source of confusion!

Saint Clare's Father Dougherty wasted no time in meeting the needs of the growing parish. Almost immediately, architect Higgins was commissioned to design a grade school at 151 Lindenwood Road, behind his 1921 church building. Even the burden of the Great Depression wasn't enough to sway the parishioners' determination to see this dream fulfilled. On July 1, 1935, Monsignor Joseph A. Farrell, Dean of Catholic Clergy for Staten Island, blessed the school grounds and assisted Father Dougherty in removing the ceremonial first shovelful of dirt. The cornerstone was laid with the inscribed motto "PRO DEO ET PATRIA" (For God And Country) and construction began.

Mother Mary Dominic
A little over a year later, on September 14, 1936, after a cost of approximately $175,000 (over $3 million today), Saint Clare School opened its doors, staffed by the devoted Presentation Sisters. The main floor housed four classrooms and a gym/auditorium (seating capacity 700) that doubled as a lunchroom and would host many large parish events. A statue of the Blessed Mother stood at the end of the hallway. The second floor contained four more classrooms as well as a Teachers' Lunchroom and Principal's Office. Mother Mary Dominic Ward served as the first Principal, and the teaching staff consisted of Mother Mary Aloysius and Sisters Mary Clare, Mary Alacoque, and Mary Aquinas, each covering one or two(!) entire grades. The nuns commuted to the school every day from their residence at Mount Saint Michael's Home for Children, in Greenridge.

By the end of the 1930s, Saint Clare was a flourishing social center for the community. The Parish Hall was used for meetings and activities by Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, Cheerleaders, the Saint Clare Catholic Club, and other parish-sponsored groups. The school played host to C.Y.O. Basketball and a weekly Games Party held on Monday nights. Other activities included the annual Society Circus bazaar and carnival, summer fairs by the shore at the foot of Nelson Avenue, as well as the annual Winter Dance.

Saint Clare School recorded a milestone in the spring of 1938 when 16 eighth-graders became its first graduates. By the following year, the senior class had nearly doubled to include 28 students, and World War Two broke out in Europe.

In July 1940, Father Dougherty took a leave of absence for health reasons and was temporarily replaced by Father Joseph A. Tytheridge. Fortunately, Father Dougherty rebounded quickly and by October was back in the stream of progress created by the growing parish. With the help of Father Tytheridge, who stayed on as Assistant Pastor, Father Dougherty organized a release-time program for public-school students, which went into full swing in October 1941. On Wednesdays between 2:00 and 3:00 P.M., the full-time Saint Clare students assembled in the school auditorium for a film, while the nuns led release-time religious instruction in the classrooms.

Sister Mary John
In December 1941, Pearl Harbor brought the Second World War to the United States, and the reality of Air Raid Drills to the school. The sight of students sitting on the hallway floors was not unusual, heads tucked in their folded arms, I.D. tags visible, waiting for the "All Clear" sign. In May of the following year, Father Dougherty blessed a Service Flag honoring parishioners serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. The flag contained one blue star for each person serving (75 in all) and one gold star for a Marine who had died. Updated regularly, it was suspended from the choir loft for the duration of the war that would ultimately last eight times as long. Particularly heartbreaking was the loss of brothers Thomas and John Kellett, former Saint Clare baseball stars. In their honor, the American Legion renamed its local unit as the Watkins-Kellett Post, which soon acquired the Parish Hall on Giffords Lane.

The parish continued to grow as the 1940s progressed. When Sister Mary John assumed her duties as Saint Clare's second Principal in 1943, all eight classrooms were in use. Parishioner Victor Pavis was ordained as a Priest, after attending the earliest years of Saint Clare's Religious Education as a boy, and later coaching the parish baseball team as a seminarian. Father Dougherty requested another period of sick leave, but this time he was unable to return to parish work. In May 1944, his Pastorate was officially re-assigned to Father Christopher B. McCann.

Father Christopher McCann (Pastor 1944-1948)
... Post-War Demobilization

Father McCann hailed from Saint Joseph Parish in New Paltz, and at one time had served as a commissioned Navy Chaplain. Through his efforts and guidance, Saint Clare Kindergarten was instituted in September 1945 at war's end, and a uniform dress code found its way into student life. The Mothers' Club was also founded in 1945 to raise funds for the school through social functions and to assist in its daily activities. Most important of all, it served to unite the mothers of the parish to create a force of immeasurable impact.

Though ill for much of his term as Pastor, Father McCann had a strength and quality of leadership that served to unify the people of the parish, as the nation adjusted and demobilized from World War Two. At a time when transportation conveniences weren't taken for granted, bringing together parishioners distributed over such a large area was no simple task. Father McCann's pastorate was an inspiration to many who furthered the goals of growth and unity. When he left Saint Clare's in November 1948 and died the following year, it took the competence and energy of Father William J. Farricker to continue his work.

Father William Farricker (Pastor 1948-1954)
... Post-War Growth

The parish buzzed with activity during Father Farricker's pastorate. Growth came with post-war immigration, the G.I. Bill, and the many large families of the Baby Boom. Extra Masses were added, the classrooms filled up, and planning began for a larger church.

The School became a model of organization under the direction of Sister Mary John. Each morning, prayers were at 8:40 and classes, starting with Religion, began at 8:45. Art classes became a regular part of the curriculum, and Miss Dillon came from Manhattan every week to teach Music. The responsibilities of the students went beyond their studies, however. On Sunday mornings they reported to their classrooms at 8:45 for 9 o'clock Mass in the auditorium. They also stayed after school to assist the nuns in cleaning the rooms, while the fathers volunteered their time for repairs and maintenance.

Edmund Dobbin graduated from the School in 1949, and would later become an Augustinian Priest and the longest-serving President of Villanova University. He happily returned to Saint Clare in 2011 to lead the 75th Anniversary Mass for its school.

Saint Clare had become a lively suburban community as well as a church and school. The Fathers' Club, founded in 1950, sponsored two plays, three dances, and two picnics every year to benefit the school's textbook supplies. The fathers also expanded the sports program that included Little League Baseball and a C.Y.O. Swim Team, despite the hardships of the Korean War.

Sister Mary Monica
In September 1951, Sister Mary Monica Hussey came from Our Lady Queen of Peace, New Dorp, to become Saint Clare School's third Principal. Sister Mary John had been called to the Bronx to serve as Principal of Our Lady of Grace.

In December, the Sisters sponsored Saint Clare's first Christmas Pageant. The auditorium provided the setting, as it had for many other seasonal affairs such as the Society Circus bazaar, Turkey Festival, Saint Patrick's Entertainment Night, and the Children's Christmas Party sponsored by the Mothers' Club with Penny Sale proceeds.

The outdoor Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, donated by Saint Clare parishioners, was blessed and dedicated by Father Farricker in 1953. The ceremony included a procession of students who placed flowers at the Shrine and a crown of golden roses on Mary's head. The Vatican proclaimed the first-ever worldwide Marian Year, to mark the 100th anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

In May 1954, Father Farricker was called to assume Pastoral duties at Manhattan's Epiphany Church where he had served most of his priesthood, and his tenure at Saint Clare came to a close. He was succeeded by Father (later Monsignor) John J. Flanagan, a hard-working man who had once served as Chaplain of the Yonkers Police Department.

Monsignor John Flanagan (Pastor 1954-1973)
... A Larger Church, an Expanded School, and a Convent

During the 1950s, Great Kills grew at an extraordinary rate, and the newly approved Narrows Bridge (today's Verrazzano) was sure to bring even more residents to Staten Island from Brooklyn. The Island became especially attractive to municipal employees seeking a safe and drivable suburban enclave within city limits. New homes sprung up all over the parish to replace woods and farms. Additional Masses were scheduled, and school classes swelled with over fifty students each. The time had come to move ahead on expanding the parish facilities. Father Flanagan launched the ambitious program with great enthusiasm, building on the original plans from Father Farricker.

In February 1956, the Mansfield House and property next to the Church were purchased, to serve as the site for the new Church and the expanded School. A major fund-raising campaign began. Three hundred parishioners worked tirelessly from April 22 to June 14, 1957, far surpassing the minimum goal of $225,000, and initiating the largest building project ever undertaken by a Staten Island parish.

It was at this critical time that an additional "force of nature" came to Saint Clare's with the arrival of Father Eugene J. Hicks as Associate Pastor. This fiery preacher met the challenges of being the first black Catholic priest ordained in New York, which prompted a congratulatory note from Jackie Robinson after his similar trailblazing in baseball a few years earlier. Among other cross-cultural innovations, Father Hicks introduced Great Kills' Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service for Christian unity, which has been a friendly annual event with Saint Clare's Protestant neighbors ever since. A generation of students also knew Father Hicks as the official School Disciplinarian -- some students more than others! He would eventually become Saint Clare's longest-serving priest (29 years, 1957-1986), making him a crucial conduit of parish traditions bridging five Popes, three Cardinals, and three Pastors.

Starting in 1957, construction preparations involved relocating classes to make way for the School's new wing, as well as physically moving the old Church to allow space for the new Church's foundation. Although there had been plans to donate the old Church from 1921 to Our Lady Star of the Sea in Huguenot, the final decision was that it would remain at Saint Clare, as a Chapel for weekday Masses and Eucharistic Adoration. In October 1957, parishioners helped roll the building 100 yards down Nelson Avenue to the site where it stands today, still in daily use.

On October 25, 1958, Bishop Joseph F. Flannelly presided over a Confirmation Mass followed by the new Church's Cornerstone Dedication Ceremony. Despite a steady downpour, the spirits of the parishioners who gathered remained exuberant and undampened. Intensive construction began after a metal box was placed in the cornerstone, containing Church organizations' and School staff rosters along with pictures of the Chapel, Francis Cardinal Spellman, and the just-deceased Pope Pius XII.

Work progressed quickly on both buildings, and by September 1959 the School addition was ready for students. The three-story annex, faced in brick and limestone, more than doubled the School's capacity by adding ten classrooms and a fully equipped cafeteria.

The new Saint Clare Church was essentially complete by the end of the year. It combined both a modern flair and a distinguished architectural lineage, thanks to architect Joseph Sanford Shanley, a leading specialist for Catholic churches on the East Coast. Its open octagonal shape allowed it the luxury of accommodating 700 people, and it also had the distinction of being the first church on Staten Island with central air-conditioning.

Fund-raising for the Church and School actually surpassed $1 million (more than $10 million in 2019 equivalents), from a congregation still just a fraction of its current size. As a result, the new Church was able to include nine prayerful stained-glass windows depicting the Life of Clare (completed in 1969), as well as a modest pipe organ (later expanded in 2002). On Christmas Eve, 1959, the parishioners gathered for Midnight Mass to celebrate the birth of Christ and the birth of their new Church.

On May 22, 1960, Cardinal Spellman officially blessed and dedicated the new Saint Clare Church and the expanded School, connected by two indoor passageways. The morning ceremonies were also attended by Borough President Albert Maniscalco, Lieutenant Governor Malcolm Wilson, and former pastor William Farricker, followed by a Solemn High Mass offered by now-Monsignor Flanagan. In a memorable sermon, he called the day an auspicious one of joy and significance. He stated that the new construction and the inauguration of its services were a source of "pardonable" pride and gratification to the priests, nuns and parishioners whose sacrifices made it possible. Borough President Maniscalco echoed President Eisenhower in praising the Church's enormous educational contributions to the city and the nation. It was a day of celebration for Saint Clare, but there was still work to be done.

In November 1961, Saint Clare Parish purchased the house next to the School, for the faculty of Presentation Sisters who had been commuting every day since 1936. Monsignor Flanagan hired parishioner Kenneth W. Milnes to plan the conversion and expansion of the 1931 house into a sixteen-room Convent, with its own chapel funded personally by Monsignor and Mae Flanagan, his sister and close advisor. By September 1963, construction was complete, the rooms were furnished by parishioners, and twelve Presentation Sisters moved in for the start of the school year. 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 a ceremony the following April, Bishop Joseph M. Pernicone blessed and dedicated the new Convent. He congratulated Monsignor Flanagan for completing such a large building program for a parish that had tripled in population in the decade since his arrival. (According to one source, an alternative proposal was to divide Saint Clare's into three parishes.) At this time, the School had twelve nuns, six lay teachers, over a thousand full-time students, and eight hundred release-time students. Monsignor Flanagan praised the dedicated Presentation Sisters and their new home, which would let them be fully accessible to students and parents.

Sister Mary Assisium
Sister Mary Monica left Saint Clare School in June 1964 to take up administrative duties at the recently founded Countess Moore High School, later renamed Moore Catholic. She was succeeded as Saint Clare's Principal by Sister Mary Assisium Schaber, who had previously taught at Saint Paul's School in New Brighton. The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge opened on November 21, 1964, after the Kennedy family declined to have it named for President John F. Kennedy who had been assassinated one year earlier. (They opted instead for New York's largest airport and a Staten Island ferryboat.) When Eltingville's Holy Child Parish was established in 1966, Saint Clare's official parish boundaries took essentially their current form similar to Great Kills' 10308 zip code -- though of course parishioners from anywhere should always feel welcomed.

Saint Clare's challenges of the 1960s were met head-on, with somewhat less turbulence than in more-urban areas. The expansion program initiated by Pastors Farricker and Flanagan enabled the parish to accommodate the community's dramatic growth. The introduction of Xerox technology let energetic eighth-graders begin producing graduation yearbooks that became marvelous annual "time capsules" of the School and parish. In 1965, Sister Assisium and Monsignor Flanagan oversaw the integration of male and female students, who had been taught in separate parts of the School for years. Monsignor also began implementing the many important Catholic Church reforms brought about by the Second Vatican Council, including the change from Latin Mass to English, the reversal of the altar, and the expansion of congregational praying and singing. By dutifully managing and delegating his pastoral duties, Monsignor Flanagan watched the results perform like a well-oiled machine.

Toward the end of the 1960s, however, Monsignor's health began to fail. While he continued supervising the parish, it was clearly taking its toll on him. At the same time, priests -- and all Americans -- were contending with immense political issues of life and death, including the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and Roe versus Wade. Monsignor Flanagan died on September 2, 1973. On September 6, Terence Cardinal Cooke officiated at a Mass of Christian Burial.

Monsignor John Keogh (Pastor 1973-1985)
... New Activities, New Vocations, and a Parish Center

During the last week of October 1973, just days after the Arab oil embargo triggered an energy crisis and Middle Eastern entanglements that would last for many years, Saint Clare's welcomed Monsignor John P. Keogh as its new Pastor. Monsignor Keogh came from Saint Boniface, a parish he'd established in Monsey, New York, with a warm wit and personality that quickly endeared him to the people of Great Kills.

With the same foresight and energy that seemed, by now, to be requisite for the Saint Clare Pastorate, Monsignor rolled up his sleeves and got to work. In a short time, electronic bells were chiming through the neighborhood for weekend Masses and weekday Angelus hymns, and heritage events like Irish Night, the Italian Festival, and the Polish Festival became annual affairs. He helped establish Bingo, Folk Group Masses (1974), Musical Theater Productions (1974), Girls Basketball (1974), Boys Soccer (1975), Co-ed Track (1977), Pre-Kindergarten (1977), the Varsity Club (1979?), and many other social and athletic groups that enticed more parishioners into getting involved. He saw the want and provided the means. In no time at all, there was something for almost everyone to participate in.

Monsignor saw both potential and need in Saint Clare. It was this visionary gift that initiated a campaign in November 1976 for a Parish Center, a sports and social facility at 150 Nelson Avenue for the entire parish. Once again the congregation banded together to help make a dream materialize, this time raising $800,000 (nearly $4 million in today's dollars). A recurring pond was drained and construction was completed within two years. Then on June 16, 1979, quietly battling the leukemia that would eventually end his life on earth, Cardinal Cooke visited and dedicated the Center that bears his name. After the Cardinal's death, the Vatican declared him a Servant of God, the first official stage toward his possible sainthood.

Saint Clare's Cooke Center (originally spelled Centre) is equipped with basketball courts, locker facilities, conference rooms and offices. Outside stands a contemporary 16-foot statue of Saint Clare, one of her largest in the world, sculpted by longtime parishioner Hans Karl. Today, in addition to countless hours of basketball, the Center is used for everything from Pre-Kindergarten to Track.

Throughout his years at Saint Clare, Monsignor Keogh took every opportunity to emphasize the importance of vocations for the Lord's Vineyard. These efforts and prayers were rewarded when three more men from the parish were ordained as priests: John Patrick Duffy, a former police officer who joined a community of Trappist monks in Georgia; John Boyle, who went on to serve Staten Island; and Joseph Garbarino, who graduated from Saint Clare School in 1971 and later settled in New Jersey. Monsignor Keogh also personally recruited numerous young catechists and musicians and others who would remain active in parish ministry for decades.

Over the course of Monsignor Keogh's Pastorate, it was not unusual to see him in the School stopping to talk to the students, or in front of the Church before and after Mass with his hand out to greet everyone, or leading hymns with his rich baritone voice booming from the back of the Church. His kindly manner and dedication to his congregation made him beloved by young and old alike, even when a tuition system had to be instituted to support the over-subscribed School. His entire Pastorate was during Sister Mary Assisium's record 22-year tenure as Principal.

Monsignor Keogh's leadership continued until he retired at age 75 and was named Pastor Emeritus during the summer of 1985. He was succeeded by Monsignor Joseph P. Murphy, the seventh and longest-serving Pastor of Saint Clare.

Monsignor Joseph Murphy (Pastor 1985-2008)
... Engaging Lay Parishioners as Leaders

Monsignor Murphy arrived at Saint Clare after 15 years of service as Archdiocesan Chancellor for Cardinals Cooke and O'Connor, and proved to be a quick study at parish management. Monsignor's next 23 years at Saint Clare kept a steady focus on improving parishioners' experience of the Sacraments -- but in an era when priests and religious sisters were dwindling in number, he increasingly succeeded by turning to the laity as Saint Clare's source of strength.

Growing numbers of faithful laypeople from throughout the community, including a great many women, began answering the call as teachers, lectors, musicians, ushers, Communion ministers, Parish Council members, and more. Parishioner Eric Rapaglia was ordained as a Priest, and two parish men were ordained as Permanent Deacons, Richard Mitchell and Nunzio Sorrentino. Deacon Rich eventually became the only clergy to serve more than 30 years at Saint Clare.

Many other members contributed "Time and Talent" to provide valuable Christian service, such as counseling fellow parishioners, welcoming new residents, guiding new parents, coaching young students, organizing social activities (often with nearby congregations), protecting the environment, maintaining the parish properties, leading prayer groups, caring for the sick and unborn, advising the unemployed, feeding the hungry, consoling the bereaved, and assisting hundreds of surviving relatives after the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001. (Saint Clare's Eternal Flame memorializes the 29 parishioners who died suddenly from the tragedy -- more than all the wars combined in parish history -- including 11 firefighters and a stillborn baby. Over the years, even more deaths resulted from the toxic smoke.)

Sister Rosemary
With Monsignor Murphy's encouragement, the people of Saint Clare were answering Christ's call to serve one another, as never before. Starting at long last in 2003, the archdiocesan Safe Environment Program further assured that the parish's clergy and employees and volunteers would always be systematically screened and trained for the necessary protection of children and young people, bolstered by civil authorities. A long-ago Parochial Vicar was laicized in 2005, for misconduct sadly stretching back to previous decades.

Saint Clare School also adapted to the times in pursuing its mission. Sister Rosemary Ward was the last nun to serve as Principal, from 1986 to 2004. Then Mrs. Jo N. Rossicone became the first Principal to join from the public school system (without religious consecration) as the Presentation Sisters retired. Science and technology aspects were greatly modernized for the new century, while the School maintained its strong Catholic identity.

In 2008, Saint Clare received a "Catholic Schools for Tomorrow Award for Innovations in Education," one of only twelve schools nationwide. Saint Clare's educational programs also received a national "Mustard Seed Award" that year for family involvement, following a national "S.P.I.C.E. Award" for exemplary parish use of Internet technology. At a time when this was considered pioneering, Saint Clare's adopted a modern website, event calendar, technology training, parishioner podcasts, email groups, office network, membership database, online payments, social media, and extensive desktop publishing, all in the service of Catholic faith formation, ministry activity, and overall parish goals.

As usual, Saint Clare's physical facilities had to be updated in response to changing needs. Thanks to the leadership of Sister Rosemary and Monsignor Murphy and the generosity of parishioners, the bursting-at-capacity School was expanded again in 1990 with a new library, computer lab, science room, offices, and meeting space. The new wing was named the Hicks Center, honoring Father Hicks' remarkable 29 years of service at Saint Clare that ended with his fatal collapse on Thanksgiving 1986 at the close of Mass. Cardinal O'Connor visited to lead the funeral. (Ten years later, just before Thanksgiving 1996, Monsignor Murphy himself was badly hit by a car, but fortunately recovered.)

Mrs. Rossicone
As more of the Presentation Sisters retired after decades of dedicated teaching, in 1999 the parish's under-utilized Presentation Convent was converted into the Presentation Center. This building now provides much-needed office space and meeting rooms for the many lay ministers carrying forth the Sisters' legacy of Christian service to Saint Clare parishioners.

The Cooke Center was designed before the parish had a Pre-Kindergarten program, which was soon enrolling hundreds of students every year. A major renovation in 2001 added playfully modern colors and shapes that earned an Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects.

Finally in 2003, when a deteriorated foundation required extensive reconstruction of the Chapel building (the old Church from 1921), the parish took the opportunity to build a finished basement. This large and flexible meeting space included a lending library and extensive resources for 9/11 recovery. It was designated the Faith Formation Center, and was later renamed the Murphy Center, after his well-earned retirement to become Pastor Emeritus at age 79. Saint Clare's Improvement Fund, which he inaugurated, continues to provide for restorations and upgrades to the parish facilities.

Monsignor Richard Guastella (Pastor 2008-2020)
... Inspiration and Quality in a Post-Growth Era

When it came time to appoint Saint Clare's eighth Pastor in July 2008, Monsignor Murphy recommended and, after a parish visit, Cardinal Egan agreed to assign Monsignor Richard J. Guastella, affectionately known to all as Father Richard. Prior to his arrival at Saint Clare, Father Richard vigorously led Holy Rosary parish in South Beach for 21 years, after previous service as Archdiocesan Vocations Director and in other parishes. He was consistently hailed as an inspiring preacher, and as a warmly approachable and down-to-earth priest who took the time to know thousands of parishioners by name.

Reflecting the shifting demographics of the Catholic Church in metro New York, Father Richard was Saint Clare's first Italian-American Pastor, after nine decades of Irish-American leadership. He was also the first dog-owner, enlivening the parish with first Max and then Benny.

Like Monsignor Murphy before him, Father Richard brought to Saint Clare's a strong emphasis on Christian faith as a foundation for everyday life, a strong pastoral commitment to active participation by the laity, and a strong business sense for managing the parish's resources wisely. Also like Monsignor Murphy, Father Richard had to shepherd the parish through an unexpected local disaster, as Saint Clare's became a key distributor of information, goods and services for hundreds of neighbors severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

As part of a comprehensive planning process, in 2013 the Archdiocese conducted a detailed multiple-choice survey of all its parishes. Some 399 individuals responded from Saint Clare's, adding more than 150 written comments, with the full results published here on the parish website. Though not a scientific sample, the feedback was both positive and constructive. On a scale of 1 to 10, the parish received an overall rating of 9.2, including dozens of comments along the lines of: "a model parish." As one might expect with such a large and active congregation, the parish could sometimes be perceived as more hectic than peaceful. And as with most American churches during this time, only a portion of members were actively involved while most were not, especially young adults. Still, member satisfaction with parish life was very favorable, and the survey helped to highlight some areas for possible improvement.

Mrs. Signorile
Saint Clare School marked its 75th Anniversary in 2011 with events including a pair of special Masses led by Father Edmund Dobbin (a proud 1949 graduate) and Archbishop Timothy Dolan. The School continued as a model of excellence, with its former teacher Mrs. Theresa M. Signorile, a mother of three graduates, smoothly following Mrs. Rossicone's retirement as Principal in 2015. Students in the science enrichment program earned frequent recognition for major community projects, and were strong competitors in international technology tournaments. Parish students also kept participating enthusiastically in sports, scouting, and the arts, including a 2016 Northeast division championship for Saint Clare Cheerleading. Archbishop Dolan returned as Cardinal in 2018 to lead a prayer service for the School and an All Saints Mass for the Religious Education program, as well as blessing the updated computer lab.

Parish life continued as a non-stop whirl of activity (and parking!) around Saint Clare's six principal buildings and reaching out to the wider community. The annual summer Feast of Saint Clare served to highlight all of these items, along with the important enhancements that Father Richard prioritized for the safety, accessibility, comfort and appearance of the 2.5-acre parish property. Parishioners supported these projects with more than $2 million in pledges to a "Renew and Rebuild" capital campaign during 2016-2018, even without the need for any additional buildings as Great Kills' growth finally started to level off.

The pastorate of Father Richard came to a sudden and tragic end in 2020, as a coronavirus pandemic erupted into a year of turmoil and the world's worst crisis in decades. The "super-spreading" disease leapt from an infected bat, then a Chinese market, an Italian soccer stadium, and an ominously close Westchester County synagogue. In one region after another, authorities reluctantly restricted and suspended schools, sports, businesses, travel, even religious gatherings, in a desperate bid to slow the virus. Its airborne droplets proved so contagious and stealthy that unprotected victims kept doubling every few days, with or without initial symptoms. Befitting the patron saint of television, Saint Clare Church distinguished itself as one of the first parishes to begin webcasting Masses and classes online, and later held some innovative car-oriented events. Unfortunately, Saint Clare's enormous congregation size in a dense metropolis became a deadly disadvantage for several critical weeks, in a pandemic whose citywide death toll quickly dwarfed the World Trade Center attacks.

Despite many initial precautions, in Spring 2020 the first wave of coronavirus swept through New York, infecting Saint Clare's four priests, the resident seminarian, several staff members, the Pastor Emeritus in his retirement home, and thousands of other parishioners. Hospitals were overwhelmed, visitors were prohibited, and funeral Masses would have been double the usual number if they had been allowed at all. The unpredictable virus most severely attacked the lungs of male senior citizens, and sadly but proportionately claimed the lives of dozens of parish members, including both Monsignor Richard Guastella (on Holy Thursday, April 9, at age 73) and Monsignor Joseph Murphy (on May 16, at age 91). Countless tributes poured in from Island residents and beyond, even from music star Harry Connick Jr, whom Father Richard had long ago hired and befriended as a little-known teenage pianist in Manhattan. In an outpouring of emotion, memorials for the two beloved Pastors, led by ________ __________, were scheduled for mid-2021(?), when full churches were deemed safe again with vaccines and face masks for protection. During the intervening Winter 2020-2021, regrettably, a season of indoor gatherings and a weariness with pandemic safeguards led to a second wave of fatal contagion, and the coronavirus nearly doubled the nation's combat deaths from the four years of World War Two.

Monsignor William J. Belford, Dean of Catholic Clergy for Staten Island, who attended seminary with Father Richard, became Saint Clare's temporary Administrator from April through August 2020. Father Arthur J. Mastrolia, who was a newly ordained priest at Saint Clare decades earlier under the leadership of Monsignor Murphy, was then appointed and installed by Cardinal Dolan as Saint Clare's ninth Pastor, to begin healing the parish for a gradual return to normal life.

Father Arthur Mastrolia (Pastor 2020- )
... A Fond Return to His Former Parish

Father Arthur was a warmly remembered young priest at Saint Clare from July 1988 until January 1993, and then the Spiritual Director and Headmaster of Cathedral Preparatory Seminary. For many years, he has been a widely traveled leader of church pilgrimage tours. He served as a Pastor in Congers followed by Yonkers, as well as Chair of the Archdiocesan Priests' Council. His return to Saint Clare was a much-appreciated source of continuity, for a congregation that had suddenly lost 35 years of leadership to the coronavirus. The parish eagerly welcomed Father Arthur back to the next generation of Great Kills, looking forward to many more years of fruitful ministry, building on the legacy of his predecessor Pastors.

The clergy was further bolstered by the arrival of Permanent Deacon Richard Salhany, another returning parishioner from the 1980s, whose experience as a hospital executive was especially helpful during the 2020-2021 contagion. Meanwhile under Mrs. Signorile's leadership, Saint Clare School weathered the pandemic quite well. Online video instruction, face masks, ventilation upgrades, virus testing and other precautions combined to keep the school's teachers, staff, students and families in overall good health until vaccinations became available.

Saint Clare Parish Today
Thanks to Staten Island's post-Verrazzano population surge to a half million, the once-tiny Mission Church of Saint Clare has grown to become the largest congregation in the Archdiocese of New York, visited by every Archbishop since Hayes laid the Chapel cornerstone in 1920. Now the parish is the lively spiritual home of more than seven thousand registered families from every background, including well over a thousand students (Saint Clare School plus Religious Education), dozens of dedicated full- and part-time staff members, and hundreds of active volunteers. The parish bulletin generally runs 12 pages per week, just to sketch all the activities.

A typical sacramental year includes over a thousand public Masses, two hundred Baptisms, First Confessions, First Communions, Confirmations, Anointings of the Sick, Funerals, and fifty Weddings. These are led by an experienced Pastor and three or four additional clergy, often enriched by international priests. In fact, in 2012 one of these international priests founded a new Saint Clare Church in Mankessim, Ghana, inspired by his years serving in Great Kills.

In times of happiness and sadness, Saint Clare parishioners of all ages gather to hear God's word, sing God's praise, experience God's presence in the Sacraments, find support, overcome sin, break down barriers, and lift up the community with goodwill. Despite inevitable human faults, the congregation's collective efforts and prayers continue helping to build God's Kingdom, striving to give witness and share His love to neighbors far and wide, in the parish and throughout the world. The challenges are many, and more participation is always welcome and encouraged.

Though fully engaged with modern life in America's largest city, Saint Clare's parish family appreciates the rich "small town" heritage and the milestones that have brought it to this day, a hundred generations since Jesus walked the Holy Land, and barely a hundred years since the horse-and-buggy era when Great Kills was still named after "Clare's Hill." Together now, the parish enters its second century, asking God's help to live up to the legacy of the generations who paved the way -- in the words of the school slogan, a legacy of "Faith, Service, Excellence." May our gracious God bless Saint Clare Church as its mission continues for everyone -- from a rich past, to a vibrant present, and on into a promising future.

Most of this Parish History was taken from the commemorative journal "Saint Clare's School: Golden Jubilee 1936-1986." The original 1986 version was researched by Angela Ryan with archival assistance from Monsignor Florence Daniel Cohalan and Sister Marguerita Smith, and written by Thomas Reilly. Subsequent updates were made by Jo Rossicone and Gregg Patruno, under the supervision of Monsignor Richard Guastella and his successors. Further suggestions are welcome.

See also:
"Architectural Highlights," from Saint Clare Parish website.
"Clare of Assisi" (Chiara Offreduccio, 1194-1253), from Wikipedia.
"History of Saint Clare School," from Saint Clare Parish website.
"List of people from Staten Island -- Religion," from Wikipedia.
"Presentation Sisters," from Saint Clare Parish website.
"St. Clare's Church (Staten Island)," from Wikipedia.