Friends of Mount Manresa

Watchlist: St. Mary’s Church

By on February 25, 2017

ST. MARY’S R.C. CHURCH 1101 Bay Street, Rosebank, Staten Island

St. Mary’s R.C. Church stands as an architectural focal  point in Rosebank,with its prominent tower visible for
miles around.

Mary1Countless thousands of Staten Islanders share personal memories there, from family baptisms and weddings to
funerals. The Archdiocese of New York closed the church in 2015.
  • St. Mary’s is the second oldest Roman Catholic
    Church on Staten Island. (The oldest is St. Peter’s
    on St. Marks Place in New Brighton.)
  •  The cornerstone for St. Mary’s was laid in 1857; the
    first mass was celebrated at the church on Christmas
    Day 1857
  • The adjoining rectory was constructed in 1858.

DESERVING LANDMARK STATUS:
“The church is an instant landmark in its red brick composition and tall central tower, its style elegantly
rendered in a Northern Italian Romanesque style,” says the nonprofit Historic Districts Council (HDC), headquartered
in Manhattan. “It sits prominently upon a hill, virtually intact since its construction in 1857, although its
surroundings – suburban corporate infill encroaches upon it.”
“Landmark status would preserve this structure’s place on Bay Street in case this property is ever sold, as the
continued subdivision of Staten Island and loss of its history unfortunately prevails,” HDC has noted.
St. Mary’s could face demolition if the Archdiocese of New York decides to sell the property on which it is
located.

 

“This historic church should not suffer the same fate as the historic structures at Mount Manresa and the very
rare old-growth forest on that site that include a Black Tupelo tree slightly over 400 years old and possibly the
oldest living tree in New York City,” said Jack Bolembach, president of the Committee to Save Mount Manresa.

“This beautiful pristine property was tragically destroyed by a builder because it was not landmarked or zoned
properly.”
“St. Mary’s Church is a long-standing structure dominating the community since 1857,” Bolembach notes. “The
church’s architecture is beautiful. Thousands of Irish and Italian immigrants and their first to fifth generation
descendants attended this church.
“I am surprised it was never landmarked. Many churches in Brooklyn not as old nor with as unique an
architecture have been landmarked. The community must be educated and made aware that this beautiful
historic structure could be destroyed.
“We learned from Mount Manresa that the time to act is before the site is sold.”
NEIGHBORHOOD AND CHURCH HISTORY:
When St. Mary’s was constructed, Bay Street was known as New York Avenue and the neighborhood was called
Clifton.
In the early 1800s, “the entire waterfront consisted of widely scattered, fairly large farms,” wrote James
Ferreri in an article published in the Staten Island Advance in 2009. “What we know today as Alice
Austen House and Park at one time was part of the 114-acre Austen Farm, half of which consisted of
orchards and woods; the other half had been cleared and cultivated.”
“By 1836, a group of New York City businessmen began buying up the older farms, and formed the Staten Island Association,” Ferreri wrote. “The group published an elaborate brochure to promote their land holdings of over 600 acres as an ideal setting for one of New York’s earliest picturesque suburbs. It was decided by the group that the area would be called Clifton, after the cliffs along the shore.”
The history of St. Mary’s Church is forever linked to Rev. John Lewis, who was born in Alsace-Lorraine in 1821 and arrived on Staten Island in 1852.
“Without a church, Father had to say Mass in people’s homes and one of the first to open his doors to the young priest was Michael O’Connor,” according to a history of St. Mary’s prepared by the congregation on the occasion of its 125 th Anniversary.
“Shortly after Father Lewis’ arrival, Mr. O’Connor and Capt. William Corry went into partnership and built the first parsonage for St. Mary’s, free of charge,” the history continues.
“After constructing the first church and school on Wood Road – now St. Mary’s Avenue – Father Lewis began plans for the present St. Mary’s Church,” with the cornerstone laid in April 1857.
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