St. helena HISTORY AND 75th anniversary celebration
We had a wonderful celebration on Saturday, September 12, 2015 at 5:30 pm for the St. Helena 75th Anniversary, which began with the Holy Mass. A Bronx priest, the Most Rev. John Jenik, who is the pastor of Our Lady of Refuge Church and an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York, was the main celebrant, and Msgr. Thomas Derivan, who became the parish's fourth pastor on September 15, 1996, was the homilist. Rev. Emilio Sotomayor, Sch.P., the parish's fifth pastor and Rev. David Powers, Sch.P., the sixth and current pastor, were also present at the Mass. The parish's current and several former parochial vicars were also present. Bernie Waters, who was the music minister at the parish for many years, was the featured soloist.
Following the Mass, there was a reception in the school hall. Appetizers and light refreshments were served, and current students gave tours of St. Helena School.
St. Helena's was built as the Catholic Church for the newly built region known as Parkchester.
Construction of Parkchester began back in 1938 by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and by 1940 the south quadrant was completed allowing for the first 500 families to move in as the rest of development was constructed and completed by 1941 and by 1943 all 12,271 apartments were rented. The diocese expected over 10,000 Catholics would live near the parish.
Met Life had purchased the 129 acre site from the Roman Catholic Church (for the sum of $5 million) which from 1861 until 1938 served as the New York Catholic Protectory—an orphanage for boys and girls. In 1904 there were well over 2,500 children under the care of the Protectory.
On May 3, 1940, His Excellency the Most Rev. Francis J. Spellman, Archbishop of New York, announced the establishment of a new $600,000 parish and parochial school in the Bronx in the new massive Parkchester development. The parish was dedicated to St. Helena, the saint who found the true cross, and it would also serve as a permanent remembrance of the Cardinal's own mother, Helen Spellman. The parish replaced the beer garden of Loeffler's Picnic Park.
Eggers and Higgins were chosen as the architects for the new structure, and the George Fuller Company were closen as the builders.
Eggers & Higgins was a New York architectural firm partnered by Otto Reinhold Eggers
(1882–1964) and Daniel Paul Higgins (1886–1953). The architects were responsible for the construction phase of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial beginning in 1939, two years after the death of its original architect, John Russell Pope; they also completed construction of Pope's other famous design, the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, also in Washington D.C.. The pair were longtime associates of Pope in the firm he founded in 1903 as the Office of John Russell Pope, Architect. Eggers
was a brilliant designer and renderer who served as Pope's right hand for almost thirty years. They changed the name of the firm to Eggers
& Higgins in 1937, soon after Pope's death.
The new parish's very first Mass took place on June 9, 1940. Mass was celebrated by the newly appointed pastor Msgr. Arthur J. Scanlan, S.T.D. in the Loeffler building, and about 1,000 parishioners attended it. Msgr. Scanlan had been appointed the president of St. Joseph's Seminary in 1930, having previously served 20 years on the Seminary faculty. The Christmas Midnight Mass in 1940 was celebrated by Msgr. Scanlan in the newly constructed Loew's American Movie Theatre. The first children baptized in the parish were the daughters of John and Antoinette Roden, twins named Linda and Lorraine Roden, who were baptized on July 14, 1940 by one of the two newly appointed Parochial Vicars Rev. Gustav J. Schultheiss, who was later appointed chancellor of the archdiocese in 1954. The other assistant was Rev. Henry J. Vier.
The wedding of John and Dolores O'Leary, performed in St. Helena's Church on April 15, 1950 by Fr. Owen McEnaney.
Groundbreaking for the Church building took place on December 1, 1940, and on June 8, 1941 the cornerstone was laid. Addresses were given by Msgr. Scanlan and his two assistants Rev. Charles Giblin and Rev. Francis Murphy, and the two trustees, Police Inspector John Burke and Patrick Byrne. Of early Italian Renaissance influence, the new plant was constructed of select brick with limestone trim. The church and school face east with a frontage of 146 feet on Olmstead Avenue, while the north side of the church and convent occupy 170 feet on Benedict Avenue. The nave of the church was designed to seat 900 and the balconey to accomodate 177 additional. The school was built to provide classroom facilities for 600 pupils. The convent was built to provide living quarters for 23 sisters. On October 4, 1941, Msgr. Scanlan celebrated the first Mass at St. Helena's in the suditorium of the Church, but it was on Christmas morning 1941 that Mass was celebrated for the first time at the altar of the new Church of St. Helena. The three marble altars, the main and two side altars, were consecrated on April 14, 1942 by the Most Rev. Stephen J. Donahue, Auxiliary Boishop of New York, and sealed within the altars were the relics of
Saint Helena (Feast Aug. 18),
St. Pia of Numidia (Feast Jan. 19), and
St. Amantius (Feast June 6).
St. Helena Elementary School officially began on September 11, 1940 at Loeffler’s Tavern, and in September 1941 the new school building was finished and could accomodate 600 children in grades 1-8.
Shown below, the St. Helena School class of 1945.
On opening day, there were 461 students, and they were taught by eleven Dominican Sisters of Sparkill. The first principal was Sr. Purissima Reilly, O.P. Sister would later become the founding major superior of the new Sparkill Dominican mission in Pakistan.
Soon afterwards, some Marist Brothers joined the faculty. The parish purchased some land and opened two high schools, St. Helena’s Girls’ High School and St. Helena’s Boys’ High School, both of which later merged to become the co-ed Msgr. Scanlan High School. In 1951, there were 2,974 students enrolled at St. Helena School, and the upper grades were transferred to the high school buildings. In September 1957, the parish opened a two-year business school, which became known as St. Helena Commercial High School.
The joyful spirit of St. Helena’s flourished in fervent worship, bustling bazaars, parades, shows, a parish band, basketball games, parish dances, the annual New Year’s Gala Celebration, movie night, and roller skating. The parish Glee Club was founded by Fr. Owen McEnaney, who wrote many original songs and lyrics.
Shown below, the Glee Club sang at the 1965 New York World's fair.
Msgr. Scanlan often said: “It’s fun to be good, and it’s good to have fun.”
Msgr. Scanlan is shown here blessing the marriage of Arthur and Norma Panetta on September 19, 1953. The Panettas had three children, all of whom attended St. Helena's. "Msgr. Scanlan was special to my family and is remembered with affection and respect," said Mrs. Panetta, who is now 89 years young.
The second pastor, Msgr. John Voight eased the parish through the mandates of the Second Vatican Council. He was a man of great accomplishments and distinctions. He was a leader for many years in the field of Catholic education, Superintendent of Schools, and Secretary of Education. He began many programs at the parish, such as Leisure Club, Parish Council, and Project HAND, which is the largest senior citizen center in the city, starting as a little store-front on Winchester Avenue. In a homily for All Saints Day, he wrote: "The danger today is that we get so bombarded with bad news, so bogged down in things that are wrong, that we forget the things that are right. The tragedy is for you and me to stop believing in ourselves and in our fellow human beings. If any of us are here today, it is because there are some people who had faith in us, back there; somewhere, sometime, somebody believed in us and believed in life and taught us to do the same. As we are constantly confronted with the raw and ragged edges of human nature, the outlook is often dark and discouraging. The need of the hour is for people who can believe and work for the best things in the worst times. Jesus did that. The Apostles did that. Let us do the same."
The baptism of Kevin O'Leary by Fr. McEnaney in 1953.
The third pastor, Msgr. Philip Mulcahy was a poet who instilled within the parish a tremendous love for Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and the Eucharist. He introduced many new activities and organizations. Over the years, the demographics of Parkchester began changing, and the area became more multicultural. A Shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe was built where a venerable old oak tree once stood in the parking lot. The first Multicultural Mass was held in 1994 and has become an annual tradition. The elementary school began a program for three-year-olds in 1996, and this year the elementary school will open a special Universal Pre-School program. The Sparkill Dominican presence has gradually declined, and the last Sparkill Dominican Sr. Margaret Mary Rankin, O.P. departed in 2001. In 2014, a new religious community, the Piarist Fathers, began ministering at St. Helena’s, and the former convent became a seminary for young Piarists studying theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary.
It is hard to believe that 75 years have passed. Helen Urban, at nearly 101, is our parish’s oldest parishioner and has been a member of the parish since its foundation. Nearly twenty children a month are baptized at St. Helena’s, and the parish is looking ahead to its centennial celebration in 2040. Imagine what wonderful things will take place here at St. Helena’s within the next 25 years. One thing is for certain: “We will have fun!”
One of the "founding members" of St. Helena's Parish is Helen Urban who turned 102 on November 21, 2016. Her daughter, Marilyn, was the very first baby born in Parkchester. Marilyn attended St. Helena School. Helen's husband, Joseph, bought the very first car in Parkchester. She currently lives in Sparkhill, New York, and she sends her prayers and best wishes out to the parish and all its current members.
St. Helena's Boy Scout Troop 65 was founded in 1951, which means the troop is celebrating its 65th anniversary in 2016. Each year, the troop enjoys summer camp at Camp Keowa, as they did here in 2014.
THE HISTORY OF THE BUSINESS HIGH SCHOOL
It was opened in September of 1957
The first name of the school was St. Helena Business School
It was created for students who were not necessarily college bound – secretarial, NYPD, NYFD, etc.
It was a 2-year school (Juniors & Seniors only)
The principal and teachers were mostly religious (Sisters) with some lay teachers
The school was housed at the opposite end of the campus from the St. Helena Girls’ School & Boys’ School
The school name was changed in 1973 to Monsignor Scanlan Business School
The school name was changed again in 1975 to St. Helena Commercial High School
The school eventually became a 4-year high school - still named St. Helena Commercial High School – and moved to a different building on campus
St. Helena Commercial High School closed for good in June 2002 to the great disappointment of many
In December 2014 the Business School Alumni Association was formed……and thanks to their efforts a Business/Commercial reunion was held on campus in May 2015 and was attended by many!
And thanks to the generosity of many of the Business/Commercial school alumni, nearly $4,000 was raised to pay for the Memorial Stone monument that is being dedicated on October 3, 2015.
Dear St. Helena,
Thank you for inviting the Marist Brothers to attend Saturday's 75th graduation. I am a 1954 St. Helena Graduate, and I first met the Marist Brothers as a 7th grader at the Hutch campus, and I am grateful to St. Helena Parish for so much. Distance prevents my attending, but St. Helena Parish and School will always be in my prayers.
Br. Edmund Sheehan, FMS
Librarian, Christopher Columbus HS
PHOTOS FROM THE 75th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
September 12, 2015