Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Blessing of the New Church of Saint Catharine in North Pelham in 1908

Saint Catharine's Roman Catholic Church stands at 25 Second Avenue in the Village of Pelham, New York.   In 1895, the Village of Pelham had not yet been incorporated within the Town of Pelham.  In the tiny little hamlet of Pelhamville there lived more than fifty Catholic families.  The area was within the parish of St. Gabriel's Church, New Rochelle that was led, at that time, by Rev. John Anthony Kellner, Rector.

Families in Pelhamville asked Father Kellner to allow the construction of a church in Pelhamville.   Father Kellner, in turn, sought the sanction of then New York Archbishop Michael Augustine Corrigan.  Archbishop Corrigan granted the necessary permission.  According to an announcement published in The New York Times on Christmas day the same year, a beautiful edifice was planned.  The report said, in part: "The church will be Gothic in style. It will have a seating capacity of 350 persons. The dimensions will be 35 feet by 76 feet. It will be a frame structure, with a bell tower over the sacristy.  The basement will be of stone."  Catholic Church For Pelhamville, N.Y. Times, Dec. 25, 1895, p. 16.

The 100 x 100 lot for the building was a gift of Patrick Farrell and was located near the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Blessed Redeemer.  Residents raised five hundred dollars toward construction of the building and obtained crosses and seven stained glass windows for inclusion in the new edifice.  Id.  Plans were made for a ground-breaking in January 1896 with an expectation that the building would be completed six months later in June.  On July 5, 1896, Archbishop Corrigan led the dedication of the new church building in Pelhamville.

Within only a few years the tiny little church building was no longer large enough to serve the needs of the growing church.  It only held about one to two hundred worshipers.  By 1908, the church needed a sanctuary that could hold up six hundred to meet not only its then-current needs, but also to allow for anticipated growth.  Reverend Father Francis P. McNichol, the Rector of the Church sought to build a bigger and more magnificent church building to replace the tiny structure.

Father McNichol was a driving force in the early years of Saint Catharine's.  Indeed, when he became Rector in 1897, the church had only its church building -- a building that was not even fully furnished.  He quickly set out to furnish the building.  By 1908, Father McNichol had successfully built a rectory (and paid for it himself), a convent for the Sisters, of whom six were living there in 1908, and a brick parochial school building.

Father McNichol next oversaw the construction of a new church building on the site of the old one, building around portions of the old church and even incorporating elements of that church in the design of the new one.  According to one account, for example, by 1908:

"Very little of the old church building remains, and that portion is merely a porch on the new church.  The front of the old church was taken out to make room for confessionals and baptistery, with a marble baptismal font.  The new church has been beautified with a new and graceful looking spire.  The wooden stairs have give place to a masonry structure with great blue stone steps.  The wooden supports of the old church have been replaced by brick piers.  The old time furnace has been relegated to the scrap heap and in its place a fine heating plant with radiators have been installed together with a concrete cellar."  (See full transcription of article from which this quote is taken, below.)

On November 1, 1908, the new church of Saint Catharine was blessed in ceremonies that lasted for much of the day.  Among many other dignitaries, His Grace Joseph Aversa, Archbishop of Sardes, Apostolic Delegate to Cuba, conducted the blessing.  In the afternoon, sixty boys, girls, and adults were confirmed in a beautiful confirmation ceremony in the newly-blessed church building.

I have written about the rich history of Saint Catharine's Roman Catholic Church in North Pelham before.  See, e.g.:

Mon., Jul. 27, 2015:  A Description of Churches in the Pelhams Published in 1913.

Wed., Apr. 09, 2014:  Brief History of St. Catharine's Parish Published in 1927.  

Fri., Feb. 28, 2014:  Brief History of the Role Churches Played in the Growth of the Pelhams Published in 1926.

Thu., Sep. 13, 2007:  Dedication of St. Catharine's Roman Catholic Church in the Village of Pelham in 1896.

Wed., Sep. 12, 2007:  Announcement of Planned Construction of St. Catharine's Roman Catholic Church in Pelhamville in 1895.

Tue., Dec. 06, 2005:  The Origins of St. Catharine's Roman Catholic Church in the Village of Pelham, New York.

Pelham is lucky in that local newspapers reported extensively on the ceremonies that were held that day.  Thus, there are records of the ceremonies, attendees, decorations, musical programs, and more for the event -- a rich historical record for a beautiful church.

Saint Catharine's in April, 2011.  Source:  Wikipedia.

NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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Below is the text of several articles published at the time regarding the blessing of the new church building at Saint Catharine's.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.


North Pelham, Oct. 28. -- This village will probably witness the largest gathering of Catholic clergymen and laity in his history next Sunday, when St. Catherine's church will be blessed with appropriate ceremonies.  Services will be held in the morning and afternoon.  In the morning at 10:15 o'clock, Archbishop Aversa, papal delegate to Cuba and Porto Rico, will bless the new church while the sermon will be preached by the Rev. John O'Rourke, the distinguished Jesuit preacher and editor of the 'Messenger of the Sacred Heart.'  Archbishop Farley will administer confirmation in the afternoon at 3 o'clock, and will also preach and give the benediction.

Archbishop Aversa is expected to arrive in New York from Rome tomorrow, and it is said that he will remain here in this country two months.  He will then return to Europe as Nuncio to Vienna, which is the highest diplomatic post of the papacy, the occupant of which becomes a cardinal within a year or two.  One of the first duties which Archbishop Aversa will be called upon to perform will be the blessing of this new church edifice.  North Pelham is certainly fortunate in having him so soon after his arrival. 

After the blessing of the church mass will be said by Rev. George Waring, chaplain to the United States army in Cuba, and captain of the staff of General Barry.  Among the distinguished guests whom Rev. Father McNichol, the rector of the church, will have at dinner, will be:  Archbishop Aversa, Archbishop Farley, of New York; Adrian Iselin, jr., Supreme Court Judge Keogh, Thomas M. Mulvey, president of the Emigrant Savings bank of New York, who was lately created a Knight of St. Gregory; John George Beresford, Monsignor Lavelle, the rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral and vicar general of New York; Monsignor Hayes, the chancellor of the diocese.

The new church edifice is a credit to the village and is in reality the crowning event of Rev. Father McNichol's work here.  He began his pastorate in this village with practically no parish at all.  Very little of the old church building remains, and that portion is merely a porch on the new church.  The front of the old church was taken out to make room for confessionals and baptistery, with a marble baptismal font.

The new church has been beautified with a new and graceful looking spire.  The wooden stairs have give place to a masonry structure with great blue stone steps.  The wooden supports of the old church have been replaced by brick piers.  The old time furnace has been relegated to the scrap heap and in its place a fine heating plant with radiators have been installed together with a concrete cellar.

The new church is in the form of a cross.  The old structure seated 200; the new church will have a seating capacity for 600.  In the cross section of the church are six great stained glass windows.  On the northern side the subject of the center window is 'St. Joseph.'  The subjects of the windows on either side of the center are 'St. Frances de Sales, Bishop of Geneva,' and the 'Guardian Angel' protecting of the old church building remains, side of the section the subject of the central window is 'The Blessed Virgin Mary,' which is a copy of the celebrated picture of the Immaculate Conception at Lourdes.  The others are St. Francis of Assisium [and] St. Clare.

All of the subjects are exquisite in expression and coloring.

The sanctuary is large and spacious.  The two new marble altars are certainly gems in beauty.  The sanctuary is covered with a rose colored Royal Wilton carpet.  The vestry for the priests, with its altar of polished oak and stained glass windows, resembles a beautiful chapel.  It is connected by a passageway, with a vestry for the altar boys.  The entire building has been covered with galvanized iron and stuccoed with cement.

On the grounds, which extend from First to Second avenues and have a frontage of several hundred feet, Rev. Father McNichol during the time that he has been in the village has built a rectory and paid for it; a convent for the Sisters, of whom six are now living there, and a brick school building.  This school is under the direction of the regents of the state of New York.  At the last examination one of the pupils took the blue seal of honor, which, it is said, is the second time that such an honor has come to any scholar in the town.

One of the oldest residents in the town and one who has seen the village grow from a small hamlet with a few houses to the present prosperous village, is Michael McHugh.  He said the other day:  'Yes, I told Rev. Father McNichol when he came to Pelham that he would starve.  But now when I look on the church, the school, the rectory, the convent and the beautiful grounds, I take my hat off to him.  In a way it reminds me of an article I read in the newspapers the other day.  A man in Pittsburgh died and left thirty thousand dollars for a monument in his memory.  After his death his nephew sold the monument.  When I look at what Rev. Father McNichol has done, I say that they will never sell his monument.'

Certainly when one looks at the complete parish which Father McNichol, had built up during his short pastorate, the four buildings provide a scene which a New York paper has pronounced to be the most picturesque that can be found on the line of the New Haven road."

Source:  BIG CHURCH EVENT AT NORTH PELHAM, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Oct. 28, 1908, p. 3, col. 1.  

Archbishop Aversa To Be Assisted by Archbishop Farley at Service.

The new Church of St. Catherine [sic] at Pelham will be blessed to-morrow at 10:15 by Archbishop Joseph Aversa, Papal Delegate to Cuba and Porto Rico.  The celebrant at the high mass which follows will be the Rev. George Waring, United States chaplain of the 1st Cavalry and captain on the staff of General Barry.  The Rev. J. H. O'Rourke, S. J., will preach the sermon.  At 3 o'clock in the afternoon Archbishop Farley will administer the sacrament of confirmation. 

This parish was founded eleven years ago as an offshoot of St. Gabriel's, at New Rochelle.  In this time the rector, the Rev. Francis P. McNichol, has built a schoolhouse, a convent, a rectory and the new church."

Source:  TO BLESS NEW PELHAM CHURCH -- Archbishop Aversa To Be Assisted by Archbishop Farley at Service, New-York Tribune, Oct. 31, 1908, p. 10, col. 1 (NOTE:  Paid subscription required to access via this link).


Pelham, Nov. 4. -- Never before in the religious annals of the town of Pelham have such gatherings been seen in any church as attended the services held in St. Catherine's [sic] church Sunday, when the church was blessed in the morning by Archbishop Averse, papal delegate to Cuba Porto Rico, and in the afternoon the rites of confirmation were administered to sixty boys, girls and adults by Archbishop Farley.  Not only did the residents of the town attend these services in large numbers, but there were visitors from Mount Vernon and New Rochelle.  The central and side altars were decorated with candles and red roses, carnations, lilies and other flowers.

The important service was that which took place at 10:15 a.m., when the church was blessed by Archbishop Averse.  The papal delegate first blessed the exterior, walking entirely around the structure, followed by the prelates.  As he entered the church and blessed the interior the choir chanted the 'Ecce Sacerdos.'  At the conclusion of the ceremony mass was celebrated by the Rev. Father George Waring, chaplain to the United States army in Cuba, with the rank of captain on the staff of Gen. Barry.

In addition to Archbishop Averse, the following clergymen were in the sanctuary during the mass:  Rev. Francis McNichol, pastor of the church; Most Reverend M. Lavelle, Very Rev. Dean Lings, Right Rev. Monsignor Hayes, Very Rev. Monsignor Murphy, Rev. John H. O'Rourke, S. J.; Rev. James N. Connolly, Rev. Thomas McLoughlin, Rev. John B. McGrath, Rev. Charles Cassidy, Rev. J. V. Lewis, Rev. P. Manzelli, Rev. D. J. McMakin, Rev. Jose;ph Smith, S. J.; Rev. John McQuade, Rev. John Kellner.

During the mass the following musical program was presented:  'Come Holy Ghost,' choir; 'Just for Today,' soprano solo by Miss Marie Straehle; 'Mary, Dearest Mother,' choir; 'Oh, Lord, I Am Not Worth,' choir.

At the conclusion of the mass, the Rev. Francis McNichol spoke briefly of the work that had been done during his pastorate in North Pelham.

Then followed the sermon of the morning, preached by the Rev. John H. O'Rourke, S. J.  He congratulated, in the name of his grace, the archbishop, the Rev. Father McNichol for his untiring energy in bringing to completion the beautiful church which had just been rededicated to the service of God, and thanked the people for their self-sacrificing generosity in enabling the pastor to beautify the house of God.

He then proceeded to give a graphic description of the ceremony which had preceded the mass, pointing out its origin and its symbolism.  He drew briefly pictures of the dedication of the tabernacle by Moses, and Aaron in the desert, spoke of the dedication of the temple of Jerusalem, in the time of Solomon, and of the dedication of the temple under Zarubabel, after the years of lingering captivity of the children of Israel in Babylon.  His final description was that of the dedication in the days of the Machasbees after Antiochus had interdicted the ceremonies in the temple on Mount Moriah.  Coming then to the new law, the preacher eloquently instanced the example of Constantine and dwelt at length upon the dedication to the service, of the mothers and of God and all the lambs, the pagan temple of the Pantheon.  He said that the sacred rite which had been witnessed symbolized two things, namely, a separation and an ablution.  He called attention to the fact that the church now, after the ceremony, was a thing set apart and separated from profane use and destined only for the worship of the most high God.  The rite performed was an oblation by which this holy temple was presented to the Almighty, and it now became His home, not that the heavens and the earth do not belong to him, but it is His under the peculiar aspect, that it is His, as a free and sacred offering from His loving children.

Rev. Father Waring dwelt upon the symbolism of the sacred rite and pointed out that it symbolized the dedication of the soul to God.  He contrasted God's love for the material temple and then His love for the temple of men's souls, for which He died and shed His blood.

The sermon was followed by the benediction of the most blessed sacrament by Archbishop Aveners, who was assisted by the prelates.  In closing, the choir rendered 'The Holy God.'

In the afternoon a class of sixty was confirmed by Archbishop Farley in the presence of a large assemblage, including many persons from other churches.  The boys had red bows tied around their right arms.  About a half hour before the ceremony began they filed into the church down the center aisle and occupied the front seats to the right.  They were followed by the girls who were attired in white dresses and wore veils, which were tied up with white satin bows and wreaths made of smilax, decorated with red carnations.  They presented a beautiful scene as they marched down the center aisle.  They occupied the front seats to the left.

It was 3:30 o'clock when Archbishop Farley entered the sanctuary.  He also immediately began his address to the confirmation class, saying in part:  'My dear children, this day will prove a most memorable one to you.  Great happiness comes to you today, and I hope that you will always remain in your present state of faith, and keep in the love of God.  I don't know as it has occurred to you why the church has taken so much interest in you.  Children are supposed to be more or less in the way with many people.  Not so with the church.  They are the dearest objects in her care.  Why is that?

'See the beautiful school that you have and which your pastor has placed here for you.  Why has the church made all these sacrifices?  Simply for this reason.  That the church may prove to the world that she is the true church of God.  If there were no other proof, the evidence of her devotion to her children would be enough.'

The archbishop spoke of Christ's love for the children and gave examples of this love which were manifested during the divine ministry of Jesus.  He continued:  'What did Jesus mean when He said, 'Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of heaven.'  He meant to say that these children reminded Him more than anything else of His heavenly home.  We might go on with other illustrations why our Lord and Saviour loved the little children and why the church loves them.

'I wish to congratulate your pastor and this congregation on the improvements that have been made here since my last visit.  You have a church here that compares very favorably in size and beauty with many of the churches in New York.  You have added a parish school here.  Such a school is second only in importance to the church, and I congratulate your pastor on this work done.  If we do not have Catholic schools, we will not have Catholic churches.  If our children receive instruction elsewhere, it is with very great danger to them.'  He referred to the comfort which parents might experience realizing that their children were attending the parochial school.

He referred to his visit with the pope in Rome, which occurred only a few weeks ago, and told how gratified the pope was to receive so many congratulations from his people on the occasion of his golden jubilee.  He said that he brought with him the papal benediction.

Archbishop Farley then said to the children:  'Why are you here today?  You are not here today to show your white veils and dresses.  When you are confirmed, you are made soldiers of Jesus Christ.  You have courage -- not the kind of courage such as is shown on the battle-field -- but that kind of courage which would impel you to die rather than evade and disobey God.  Remember that there is nothing so precious as the faith in which you were confirmed.  Pray to God that you may ever be willing to suffer any loss.

'Dear parents, you have your part to perform.  It will depend largely on you to what extent your children persevere in the faith.  It will depend largely on you whether the children remain loyal Catholics to the end.  God has so ordained it that no influence is stronger than the influence of parents.  God has given to them a two-fold power over the souls of their children.  The child looks on his mother as a queen and on his father as a king.  This two-fold influence is given you so that you may mould [sic] the lives of your children for eternity.  See to it that nothing happens in your lives which will in any way interfere with the growth of your children.  It is most urgent on you that you walk carefully before them.'

He then asked the children to pledge themselves never to touch intoxicating liquors.  The children then arose from their seats and holding their right hands over their heads repeated the following pledge after the archbishop:  'I promise, with the help of God and through the intercession of the blessed mother and St. Joseph, to abstain from all intoxicants until I am twenty-one years of age.'

The following children were then confirmed by the archbishop, assisted by Rev. J. V. Lewis, Rev. James N. Connolly, Rev. Dean Lings, Rev. P. Manzelli, Rev. Thomas, McLoughlin, Rev. Kellnes:

Girls -- Agnes Mary Lowery, Lillian Mary Costello, Helen Marie Walsh, Avera Maria O'Sullivan, Gertrude Cecelin Mulligan, Cecelia Dorothy Marvel, Katherine Mary Bernadine, Alice Josephine Jetter, Mary Florence Straehle, Mary Marie Kennedy, Mary Marie Barker, Josephine Maria Kelly, Emma Maria Jettir, Frances Maria Cammarano, Emogine Maria Barker, all of North Pelham; Anita Mary Curnen, of Pelham Heights; Mary Margaret Loring, of Vernon Heights; Mary Catherine Van Horn, Catherine Maria Templeton, Mary Florence Tilford, Elizabeth Margaret English, Margaret Maria Carson, Helen Maria Desmond, Mary Elizabeth Templeton, all of Pelham Manor.

Boys -- Malcom Paul Pickhardt, Irving Augustine Godfrey, John William Costello, Edward Joseph Pickhardt, Philip Joseph Marvel, Ernest John Ohliger, William Thomas Reilly, Raymond Joseph Ohliger, John Lawrence Burke, Godfrey Francis Keller, Thomas Francis Kennedy, Francis Michael Kennedy, all of North Pelham; Edward Joseph Rosenheimer, Vincent Francis Rosenheimer, George Joseph Boldin, of Pelham; Henry Michael Tilford, William Francis Say, John Paul Connelly, William Paul Desmond, Steven Francis Loughman, all of Pelham Manor.  Several adults were also confirmed, including Michael McHugh, one of the oldest residents in the village.

During the confirmation the choir rendered 'Veni Creator' and 'Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest,' and the Misses Justina O'Sullivan and Esther Smith sang a duet.

The service came to a close with the benediction of the most blessed sacrament by Archbishop Farley, assisted by the visiting clergymen."

Source:  NOTED PRELATES AT CHURCH IN NORTH PELHAM LAST SUNDAY, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Nov. 4, 1908, p. 7, cols. 1-3.

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