The original church, built in 1853
was located on Main Street just north
of Waverly Square, immediately north
of the Eastchester Fire Department
|NINETEEN HUNDRED SEVENTY-EIGHT witnessed the one hundred twenty-fifth
anniversary of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Tuckahoe. Its founding
in 1853 makes it the oldest Catholic church in the Town of Eastchester and
one of the nine oldest Catholic churches in Westchester County.
As well, this year marks other milestones. Exactly one hundred years ago, Immaculate Conception became an independent parish. Sixty-five years ago, in 1913, the religious Sisters of St. Francis first arrived at Immaculate Conception School; ever since then, they have been the teachers of and counselors to countless children. The present Convent and School building were constructed 50 years ago, in 1928. A major addition to the School was made 25 years ago, during the Church's centennial year.
Since few Eastchester institutions are older (only the Town government, the educational system and the Reformed Church of Bronxville, founded in 1850, readily come to mind) and since Immaculate Conception still stands today as a rock of continuity and a beacon of serenity in a society of rapidly changing values and mores, a passing review of the Church's history merits attention.
THE BEGINNINGSWhile the first Church was built in 1853, its origins go back farther, at least to 1850. Eastchester then was a far cry from Eastchester today. It must be borne in mind that, at that time, the Town included not only present-day Eastchester but all of Mount Vernon and a good portion of the northeast Bronx as well. According to the 1850 United States census, the population of the entire Town was only 1,637; they comprised 310 families and lived in 268 dwellings.
Modern Eastchester (the "Long Reach" of early colonial days) was, for the most part, rural in character. It is safe to assume that less than half (or fewer than 800) of the Town's population lived in today's Eastchester. The area's communities (one almost dares to call them hamlets) were Tuckahoe which, at least as a place name, had recently "moved" down from nearby Colonial Heights in Yonkers to the area then growing up around the railroad depot, its present location; Lakeville, the well-established area just south of Parkway Oval which would soon disappear as a territorial designation and merge into Tuckahoe; Waverly which is today's Waverly Square; Underhill's Crossing which, a few years hence, would become Bronxville; Union Corners, as modern Chester Heights was then called; and Upper Tuckahoe, the area immediately north of Eastchester High School which, in a few years, would be known locally as Sebastopol.
Aside from a few grist and saw mills on the Bronx and Hutchinson Rivers, the area's only industry centered about Tuckahoe 's three marble quarries which were second only to New York City in production of marble in the State but which, at the time, were experiencing a slump. Still, they employed about 150 men. These were stonecutters, skilled and highly-paid craftsmen who, for the most part, were of English and Scotch origin, and quarrymen who were semi-skilled and lower-paid laborers (in 1850, their average weekly pay was $8.75) and who were, in the main, newly arrived Irish immigrants. Of the Town's total population, approximately 356, or 20%, had been born in Ireland (other foreign born residents came from Canada, Nova Scotia, England, Wales, Scotland, Germany and France). Again, it is safe to assume that no more than half of these Irishmen, women and children lived in modern Eastchester.
And yet it was these few immigrants, living in what was then the north end of Town, who were most probably responsible for the Catholic Church's coming to Eastchester. The records of Most Rev. John Hughes, fourth Bishop and first Archbishop of New York, reveal that, as early as 1850 (the same year in which New York became an archbishopric), Rev. Eugene Maguire was visiting Tuckahoe three times a month. He celebrated Mass in a building known as the “Marble House.” He came from St. Raymond's Church, which had been founded in 1842 in what is now the Parkchester section of the Bronx but what was then in the Village and County of Westchester.
Prior to the time of Fr. Maguire' s missionary work and even during the period of his visitations when he could not get to Tuckahoe, the Catholics of the area traveled by foot and by horseback to St. Raymond's to attend Sunday Mass. Needless to say, such journeys were all-day affairs.
Fr. Maguire was soon followed in his visitations to Tuckahoe by Rev. Thomas McLoughlin of Blessed Sacrament Church in New Rochelle, which had been founded in 1848.
THE FIRST CHURCHIt was Fr. McLoughlin who established and built the first Church of the Immaculate Conception in 1853. He built the simple but sturdy wooden structure on Main Street just north of Waverly Square, on what is now the vacant land immediately north of Eastchester Fire Headquarters (in truth, that was then the heart of Waverly). The property was acquired from Abijah G. Morgan, one of Tuckahoe's three major quarry owners.
This, however, was not the site originally intended for the Church. A local Catholic, Lawrence Behan, had donated land located on Prospect Avenue to Archbishop Hughes for the purpose of building a church. For whatever reason, this plan did not come to fruition. The property was therefore deeded to Morgan by the Archbishop in exchange for the Main Street land. More than fifty years later, when the present Church was built, a stained-glass window was donated by Mrs. Behan in memory of her late husband.
Parishioners numbered 106 adults and 50 children in the founding year. Evidently the new Church remained nameless for a short period of time (as had St. Raymond's for its first three years) since the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was not promulgated by Pope Pius IX until December 8, 1854. Immediately thereafter, several churches in the Archdiocese, including apparently Tuckahoe’s, were dedicated to the Mother of God under that title.
Notwithstanding a new structure, the Church remained a mission one, being attended by Fr. McLoughlin until 1867 and then by Rev. Jeremiah A. Kinsella of St. Raymond's and his assistant, Rev. James T. Cole, in 1867-1868 and by Rev. John McEvoy of St. John the Evangelist Church in White Plains (which had been established in 1852) from September of 1868 until September of 1877.
One can appreciate the arduous tasks faced by these pioneer priests when it is realized that, in addition to Tuckahoe, they served many other far-flung Westchester communities as well as their own. With the primitive means of transportation in mind, one can visualize them as being forever on the go.
In January of 1878, the Church came under the four-month ministration of the newly ordained Rev. Edward J. Byrnes.
AN INDEPENDENT PARISHThe Church was 25 years old when, in early 1878, Very Rev. William Quinn, vicar general of the Archdiocese, came to Tuckahoe and conducted a public meeting in the Church. As a result of his recommendations to the Archbishop, John Cardinal McCloskey (who had become America's first cardinal three years before), Immaculate Conception was canonically erected as an independent parish.
Rev. John Ambrose Keogh was appointed the first resident pastor in July of 1878. Although he took up his pastoral duties immediately, he initially had to reside in the home of John Caldwell (on Highland Avenue at Ridge Street, about three blocks from the Church) while a rectory was being built. It was constructed immediately south and to the rear of the Church on the site of what is now the parking area behind Fire Headquarters. It is ironic that this past summer minor flooding occurred in the parking area; it was traced to underground pipes that had served the rectory almost a century ago.
In the first full year of the new parish's life, 1879, there were
22 baptisms and two marriages.
Fr. Keogh is remembered to this day in at least two respects. The Church bell, which still faithfully rings the Angelus each day and summons parishioners to Mass was given by him in memory of his mother who died in 1885. Also the Tuckahoe council of the Knights of Columbus bears his name.
Fr. Keogh died in November of 1886. He was succeeded by Rev. Michael W. Newman the following month. However, Fr. Newman was not a well man and succumbed in September of 1887 after a pastorate of less than a year.
Although extant parochial records are incomplete, the earliest surviving records indicate that the Church's lay trustees in 1887 were Thomas Rickard and Dennis O'Neil; Mr. O'Neil, who lived on Main Street near Hall Avenue (and thus close by the Church) was beginning a trusteeship that was to span more than 30 years. These records also show that the parish and Eastchester were growing. Whereas in 1879 there had been only 22 baptisms and two marriages, in 1887 there were 127 baptisms and six marriages. The community was beginning to experience a wave of' Polish, Lithuanian and Italian immigrants.
Fr. Newman was succeeded by Rev. William J. Farrell who became pastor in November of' 1887. A graduate of Manhattan College, he was a large man who was known affectionately as "Father Bill." He installed three Gothic altars as well as an organ in the Church and enlarged its sacristy. His ambition was to build a new church and, in this direction, he attempted to obtain the French House property adjacent to the Church. Unfortunately for the people of his day, he was unsuccessful in this endeavor.
In March of 1894, Fr. Farrell was transferred to Tarrytown where he died shortly afterwards. He was succeeded by Rev. John B. Salter who became pastor in April of that year. He was, like Fr. Farrell, an alumnus of Manhattan College and had been pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Greenwich Village. In a continuing effort to raise funds for a new church, Fr. Salter often preached in churches in New York City, soliciting funds.
It was during Fr. Salter's tenure that is by 1900 at the latest, that Robert J. Bellew became one of the Church's lay trustees. He would continue in that post until 1945.
In July of 1905, Fr. Salter exchanged pastorates with Rev. John G. McCormick of St. Joseph's Church in Spring Valley, Rockland County. While he immediately rehabilitated and refurnished the Church and rectory in Waverly Square, the real vocation of the Jesuit-educated Fr. McCormick seems to have been the building of churches. While at Spring Valley, he had finished the construction of St. Joseph's and had built its rectory; he had begun the building fund for St. Anthony's Church in Bardonia and had constructed St. Margaret's Church in Pearl River, both outlying missions of St. Joseph's. He now directed his attentions to Immaculate Conception.
THE PRESENT CHURCHOn May 21,1906, Fr. McCormick purchased land for a new Church from Charles Dusenberry, Jr., a member of the Masterton family of quarry fame. The property, a small triangular plot on Winter Hill overlooking Tuckahoe, was obtained at a bargain price. At the cornerstone-laying ceremonies, Fr. McCormick publicly acknowledged Dusenberry's charity in selling the land at a sacrifice. Shortly thereafter, adjoining land was obtained from the Fulling family. Construction of the new Church commenced in early 1908. Thomas J. Duff of New York City and Mount Vernon was the architect while John Borup, a Tuckahoe contractor who put up the Gramatan Hotel in Bronxville as well as several Tuckahoe and Eastchester schools, was the builder. It was built with Tuckahoe marble and, within the Town of Eastchester, is the crowning achievement of that world-famous stone.
The laying of the cornerstone was held on November 8, 1908 and was a festive affair, attended by about 5,000 people from New Rochelle, Yonkers, Mount Vernon, Mamaroneck and White Plains in addition to Eastchester. The ceremony, which was preceded by a parade, was conducted by Rev. Msgr. Michael J. Lavelle, the Archdiocesan vicar general.
While funds for the job were raised by gifts and donations (and not by way of building loans or mortgages), money became tight as work progressed. Parishioners therefore began volunteering their free time to help with the construction. Long-time parishioners such as John Fix, Sr. can remember, as youths, watching their fathers, after a long day's work at their own jobs, toil well into the long Summer evenings to help complete the structure. Especially helpful were the skilled quarry workers who donated their time and energies to cut, dress, transport and lift into place the marble blocks.
The "Cathedral on Winter Hill" was finished by early 1911. However, consecration of the Church had to be postponed because of delays in the shipping from Italy of the Carrara marble altar and altar rails. Nevertheless, the new Church was immediately put to use. This freed-up the wooden Church in Waverly Square which, in that same year of 1911, was made into Eastchester's first parochial school, Immaculate Conception School.
The new Church was canonically consecrated on Saturday, May 18, 1912, by the Archbishop, John Cardinal Farley. The event was publicly celebrated the following day, Sunday, with a solemn high Mass said by Rev, Msgr. (and later Cardinal) Patrick J. Hayes, the chancellor of the Archdiocese, and presided over by Cardinal Farley. In the sanctuary were about 60 priests, representing all parts of the Archdiocese. In the congregation were many Protestant residents of the community who contributed generously toward the building of the Church; again, Fr. McCormick went out of his way to publicly thank, from the altar, the parish's non-Catholic friends. Solemn vespers were sung in the new Church for the first time that Sunday evening.
While, even today, the consecration of a church immediately upon the completion of its construction is an extraordinary event, it was an astounding feat in 1912, for, to be canonically consecrated, a church must be free and clear of all debt. Fr. McCormick and his parishioners rightfully took pride in their accomplishment. The names of all those who in any way contributed to the building of the Church were placed in a sealed copper box under the main altar.
As is indicated on a plaque in the rear of the Church, the congregation numbered about 900 souls in that year of consecration.
Around that time, both the old Church and the rectory in Waverly Square were transported on horse-drawn skids down Main Street, through the Square and to the new Church grounds; the job took several weeks to complete. Once at the new site, the old Church structure, placed in what is now the eastern part of the parking area, became the permanent home of the parish's School. The rectory, which has been modernized over the years, still serves as such.
THE MISSION AT BRONXVILLEFr. McCormick did not limit his energies to Tuckahoe. Within months of his arrival at Immaculate Conception, he organized a mission at Bronxville under the patronage of St. Joseph. He celebrated the first public Mass in Bronxville in the Gramatan Hotel on October 8, 1905. The following year he purchased property at the corner of Park Place and Kraft Avenue; he also bought the old schoolhouse, which stood on Pondfield Road where Woolworth's is presently located and moved it to his new corner plot. Evidently, Fr. McCormick encountered some difficulties or possibly resistance in establishing the Bronxville mission, difficulties to which he occasionally referred, because he and his newly ordained assistant, Rev. Joseph L. McCann, with the permission of the Archdiocesan authorities, laid the cornerstone of the new Church privately in 1906.
St. Joseph's Church was dedicated on September 22, 1907. Although it remained a mission church of Immaculate Conception, it did have its own lay trustees, the first of whom were Frederick H. McGrath and John A. Wise. As Fr. McCormick noted, the congregation consisted of "about 16 families and the maids employed in the vicinity."
In 1922, the Archbishop, Patrick Cardinal Hayes, erected St. Joseph's as an independent parish. Although he had been transferred from Immaculate Conception in 1912 after six years of faithful service to both Tuckahoe and Bronxville, it was only fitting that Fr. McCann was appointed the first pastor. Under his tutelage, the present Church was built and opened on April 1, 1928. In 1972, the parish celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Since its founding in 1905, St. Joseph's Church as well as its School (which opened in 1951) have been important factors in the religious and civic life of the Bronxville community.
THE EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURYHaving completed the task assigned to him by Cardinal Farley, Fr. McCormick was transferred to the pastorate of Holy Trinity Church on West 83rd Street in Manhattan in March of 1913. He was succeeded by Rev. Richard B. Cushion who became pastor the following month and who served as such for almost nine years. During his tenure, the Town's population continued to grow with the arrival of more Italian immigrants as well as Blacks. Under his aegis, a Celtic cross was erected on the Church grounds, overlooking the Village, in honor of the 169 men and women from Tuckahoe, Eastchester and the Tenth Ward of Yonkers
who served in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps in World War I. It was dedicated in an impressive ceremony in 1918 and still reminds the community of its servicemen and women and honored dead of all wars. It is also indicative of the reliance of a good part of eastern Yonkers and Crestwood, prior to the founding of Annunciation in 1931 and St. Eugene's in 1949, upon Immaculate Conception.
In January of 1922, Fr. Cushion was transferred to be come pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Mount Vernon where he was subsequently made a monsignor.
He was succeeded by Rev. Edward J. Beary that same month. Even though the automobile was then in wide use, Fr. Beary still made his parochial rounds on horseback, a fact which is remembered to this day. The stable, which was razed in the late 1940's, stood at what is now the entrance to the playing field parking area. In later years, it served as a garage; its side also served as the wall of a handball court, used by many a schoolboy.
During Fr. Beary's pastorate, the Church celebrated, in 1928, the 75th year of its founding. Its population in that year was estimated to be 1,808 persons; there were 53 baptisms, 10 marriages and 14 funerals. For all of his pastorate, the lay trustees were Judge Frederick P. Close and the redoubtable Robert J. Bellew. Judge Close became Supervisor of the Town of Eastchester during the 1920's. In 1931, he was elected a Justice of the New York State Supreme Court; eight years later he was elevated to the Second Department of that Court's Appellate Division, of which he ultimately became Presiding Justice. He served as a trustee of the Church until 1945.
Fr. Beary's charity and that of his devoted and long-time (16 years, 1926 to 1942) assistant, Rev. Robert E. Delaney, especially during the dark days of the Depression, are also remembered to this day.
THE MISSION AT CRESTWOODIt was during Fr. Beary's pastorate that Immaculate Conception established a mission at Crestwood. The need for such a mission, however, predated its foundation.
Shortly after the turn of the century, a convalescent home for women, St. Eleanora's Home, was founded in Crestwood. Staffed by the Sisters of Charity, it was located on the grounds (which were more extensive then) of what is now St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary on Scarsdale Road. Over the years, some of the Home's patients made use of Immaculate Conception for their religious needs. In turn, several of the Church's priests regularly served St. Eleanora's; for example, Rev. Victor Lajocano who was an assistant pastor in 1906 also served for many years as a chaplain at the Home.
Eventually, in 1927 Fr. Beary established a mission at the Home to serve the needs of St. Eleanora's as well as those of the surrounding area. It was dedicated to St. Patrick. The mission remained in existence until the founding in 1931 of the Church of the Annunciation two blocks away, at the corner of Westchester Avenue and St. Eleanora's Place.
During their Easter vacation in 1929, Fr. Beary employed two students at St. Joseph's Seminary to paint the pews of the mission chapel. One of those seminarians was Joseph Grogan, a native of the parish who went on to be ordained a priest. The other was named Daniel P. Byrne.
MSGR. KERWIN, MID-CENTURY AND THE CENTENNIALFr. Beary died in January of 1939 after a pastorate of 17 years, the second longest tenure to date in the Church's long history. He was succeeded by Rev. Joseph A. Kerwin who came to Tuckahoe after having served for 22 years as a curate at Holy Name Church on West 96th Street in Manhattan. It was to be under Fr. Kerwin's guiding hand that Immaculate Conception experienced its most spectacular growth.
He quickly installed altars to each side of the Church's main altar. These were consecrated on May 4, 1942 by Fr. Kerwin's former pastor at Holy Name, Most Rev. Stephen A. Donahue, Auxiliary Bishop of New York.
Notwithstanding the Second World War, the parish was able to celebrate its 90th anniversary on the Fourth of July weekend of 1943 with Masses of thanksgiving as well as of petition for the protection of those in the Armed Forces.
In 1946, John F. Boland and William J. Fisher, Jr. became the lay trustees. Mr. Boland was succeeded in 1956 by William F. Daley who thereafter served until the late 1960's; Mr. Fisher also served until the late '60's.
The Town as well as the Church underwent a surge in numerical growth after the War. In 1943, the parish's population had stood at 1,500 adults and 700 children. Ten short years later, in the centennial year of 1953, it had almost doubled to a total of 3,950.
Obviously, children were an integral part of this population explosion. To care for their educational needs, Fr. Kerwin added a modern wing to the Convent in 1951 and a major addition to the School in 1953.
The centennial year of 1953 was a joyous one for the parish. Work on the addition to the School was progressing, the grounds were beautified and major renovations were made to the interior of the Church. That year's bazaar, an annual and popular event of the 1940's and 1950's, was held under tents on the front lawn on White Plains Road and was, as usual, a success.
The celebrations were crowned with a solemn pontifical Mass of thanksgiving on October 4, 1953, which was presided over by James Francis Cardinal McIntyre, Archbishop of Los Angeles, and Most Rev. Joseph F. Flannelly, Auxiliary Bishop of New York (Francis Cardinal Spellman, originally scheduled to attend, was ill at the time). Pope Pius XII imparted his apostolic blessing on all the parish's clergy, religious and laity. Personal notes of congratulations were sent by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Governor Thomas E. Dewey.
On that festive day, Father Kerwin became Monsignor Kerwin when Cardinal McIntyre announced from the pulpit that the pastor had been elevated as a domestic prelate. Later, Msgr. Kerwin was further honored by being made a Prothonotary Apostolic.
Msgr. Kerwin celebrated the golden anniversary of his ordination in 1967. Two years later, he retired, ending a pastorate that spanned 30 years. When he died on June 3, 1973, he was mourned by the entire Town as well as the parish.
Msgr. Kerwin would have been the first to admit that his success was due in large measure to the able assistant pastors who served with him. For so many years his right-hand man was the late Rev. Charles J. Kaufmann who holds the record for the longest service as an assistant (27 years, 1935 to 1962); "Father Charlie," as he was affectionately but furtively known to more than a generation of school children, was responsible for the successful lawn fetes of the 1940's and 1950's, the School, Holy Mount Cemetery and numerous other parish activities. After he was transferred in June of 1962 to be come pastor of St. Mary of the Snow in upstate Saugerties, Immaculate Conception shared in the joy of his appointment as a monsignor.
Other assistants to Msgr. Kerwin who contributed so much to the life of the parish include Rev. William R. O'Neill (1946-1953) who had served as a Navy combat chaplain with the Marines in the South Pacific during World War II; Rev. Charles McHale (1953-1962) who is now at St. Peter's Church in Kingston; Rev. Joseph P. Moore (1962-1969) who now, as Monsignor Moore, is pastor of Holy Name of Mary Church in Croton-On-Hudson; and Rev. Edwin C. Koenig (1962-1971) who is now pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Harlem.
UP TO THE PRESENTUpon Msgr. Kerwin's retirement in May of 1969, Rev. Msgr. Daniel P. Byrne, the present pastor, assumed his duties. A native of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Manhattan, he was ordained in St. Patrick's Cathedral on June 8, 1935 and had served for 24 years with the New York Apostolate and for 8 years as pastor of Sacred Heart Church on West 51st Street in Manhattan. He was made a domestic prelate on December 18, 1962. As pastor, he has overseen a renewal of almost all aspects of parish life; he is known far and wide for his warmth and friendliness and already is an institution in the Eastchester community. In 1975, he celebrated with the parish the fortieth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.
His assistants are Rev. John J. Scanlon and Rev. Patrick A. Walsh, S.M.A. Fr. Scanlon, who grew up in St. Frances of Rome parish in the Bronx, came to Immaculate Conception in 1970 after having served in other parishes and as a Navy chaplain with the Marine Corps in Vietnam. He was ordained on May 30, 1953 in St. Patrick's cathedral and, earlier this year, celebrated his 25th anniversary as a priest. Fr. Walsh, a native of Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland, was ordained a priest of the Society of African Missions on December 20, 1965 in Newry Cathedral, Newry, County Down. Before his arrival in Tuckahoe in 1972, he served with the missions in Nigeria. Both have continued the tradition of dedicated service by the assistant pastors to the parish and community.
Mention should be made of those priests, both secular and regular, who over the years have come from near and far to assist on Sundays and other special events. They have contributed vitally to parish life and the Church owes them much.
The Church also owes much to those men and women who, over the years, as sextons, caretakers and staff workers, have been responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the parish.
Since 1969, the lay trustees have included Terence Rice, Andrew Vogt, Vincent Iorio, Thomas A. Brennan and Dominic Pintavalle. Currently, the trustees are O.R. Strittmatter and Thomas A. Brennan, Jr.
IMMACULATE CONCEPTION SCHOOL AND CONVENTIt already has been seen that Immaculate Conception School, the Town's oldest parochial school, was founded in 1911. Fr. McCormick established it in the old Church structure in Waverly Square. Its first principal was Eva Dempsey, a native of' the parish. By 1912, the structure had been moved down from the Square to what is now the main parking area on the present Church grounds. There, it resumed business.
While Fr. McCormick publicly acknowledged the parish's debt to Miss Dempsey, who had volunteered her services, he realized that he had to put the School on a more solid footing with a permanent faculty. He therefore asked the Sisters of St. Francis of the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin to take on the job. He had witnessed first hand the Sisters' dedication and educational skills when, immediately after his ordination in 1889, he served at the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin on Staten Island for two years. Their motherhouse was then (as it is now) in Hastings-On-Hudson.
In 1913, Sister M. Francis arrived to become the founder and first superior of Immaculate Conception Convent and first principal of the School. With her were two other nuns, Sister M. Francis Clare and Sister M. Gregory. The latter was starting a long association with Immaculate Conception: she continued teaching for several years and was principal from 1922 until 1925 and again from 1955 until 1961 (in between those periods, she found time to serve as Mother General of the entire Community from 1949 until 1955).
The old Church structure was partitioned into classrooms by flexible wooden slats. Each classroom had its own entrance with a few wooden steps. Each nun was in charge of two classes.
The first Convent was the present caretaker's house on White Plains Road which, prior to its acquisition by the parish, had been the Fisher House.
By 1917, there were five nuns living in the Convent and teaching in the School. There were 202 students. While the number of Sisters remained the same until 1928, the number of students during that span increased to as high as 256 in 1926.
Because of the increasing number of school children and the age of the old wooden structure, the pastor, Fr. Beary, found it necessary to build a new School building in 1928. It was only natural that a new Convent be erected also. And so, construction was begun in that year and finished the next. The Class of 1929 was the last to graduate from the old schoolhouse. Because of the Depression, a circumstance unforeseen at the time construction was started, the debt incurred in building the School and Convent persisted and was not satisfied until after World War II.
With the new School, the faculty increased to eight and the enrollment jumped to 300. The old wooden School was then turned into a recreation hall and served as such until it was razed in 1939. A kindergarten was opened in 1940. In 1944, a second first grade was inaugurated and each year thereafter a new class was added to each successive grade.
The post-War baby boom caused the enrollment to increase dramatically as did the new migration to the suburbs. Fr. Kerwin found it necessary to increase the faculty, which by this time again included lay women, which resulted in the need for additional living space for the Sisters. Accordingly, a modern wing to the Convent was started in 1950 and finished the following year. It was dedicated by Fr. Kerwin's old friend, Bishop Donahue, in September of 1951.
The following year, the parish undertook a major fund-raising campaign to raise the money necessary to build an addition to the School. It was typical of the parishioners' dedication and generosity that sufficient funds were raised so that the groundbreaking could take place in the Fall of 1952. The addition, which at least doubled the size of the School, was dedicated by Cardinal Spellman on October 3, 1954.
Now in its 67th year, Immaculate Conception continues to provide its children with a quality education as well as religious and moral teaching. They number more than 400 and are taught by a faculty and administration made up of eight full-time religious, two part-time religious and 20 lay women and men whose dedication is already legendary. There are two classes for each grade, from pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade, a 7,000-volume library, a modern cafeteria, a specially equipped science room, reading workshop room, art room and music room. The students are afforded a wide range of extra-curricular activities. A unique educational tool is the School's participation in the Archdiocese's Instructional Television System, the nation's largest such system, which brings to each and every classroom a wide variety of special made-for-television instructional programs as well as similar programs prepared for commercial television.
Presently, the principal is Sister Marie Magdalena who is the 14th
Franciscan and 15th woman to
The children who have received their primary education in Immaculate Conception School over the past 67 years number in the thousands. They have gone on to become conscientious citizens in almost every field and profession. The School and parish rightfully take special pride in the number of their young men and women who have become priests, brothers and nuns. Its graduates have also retained a loyalty to the School; for example, last year the Class of 1952 celebrated its 25th anniversary with a reunion Mass and lunch; members came from as far away as California and North Carolina to attend.
In 1976, during the nation's Bicentennial, Immaculate Conception's Home-School Association presented an Outstanding Alumnus Award to Vincent D. Bellew, Eastchester's Commissioner of Recreation and chronicler of "Our Town" who graduated from the School in 1925; he may be said to typify the School's contributions to the community.
This is the 65th year of the Franciscans' presence at Immaculate Conception. Today, the Convent is home to 12 nuns, 10 of whom teach in the School. Their present superior (the 14th) is Sister M. Annunciata who has taught the first grade for many years.
In addition to Sister M. Gregory, two other nuns associated with the Immaculate ,Conception community have been Mothers General of the entire Community: Sister M. St. Mark in 1959 - 1965 (in addition to being principal of the School from 1965 until 1971 and again from 1972 until 1977) and the present Mother General, Sister Mary Patricia McCaffrey, who taught in the School from 1950 until 1958.
Simply stated, the Sisters' contributions to the parish and the community defy description.
HOLY MOUNT CEMETERYLike so many other nineteenth-century country cemeteries, the Church's cemetery, Holy Mount, started out on the very grounds of the Church in Waverly Square. However, it has long since been moved to its present site at the northern end of California Road where it maintains a beauty and dignity seldom found in other Westchester cemeteries. It may be said, in all respect, that buried there is the collective history of Immaculate Conception and modern Eastchester.
THE PARISH TODAYToday, 125 years later, Immaculate Conception has grown from a modest wooden Church of some 156 parishioners to what is sometimes referred to as the "Cathedral on Winter Hill" which includes the members of more than 2,100 registered families. The figures for 1977, the most recent ones available, show that in that year there were 101 baptisms, 129 confirmations, 51 marriages and 61 funerals.
But numbers alone do not tell the story of the parish's commitment. Parishioners are engaged in a broad spectrum of parish affairs - a Parish Council, Altar Rosary Society, a Choir that is second to none, Bible Study Group, Home-School Association, Ushers, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine which, with a dedicated lay and religious staff, annually instructs approximately 700 young people, Legion of Mary, Lectors and Commentators, Prayer Group, Finance Committee, Immaculate Conception Players, Pro Life Committee, Builders' Club, Blood Donor Program, Catholic Charities Annual Appeal Committee, Altar Boys, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.
Additionally, there are several community groups such as the Catholic
Women's Club of Eastchester and the John A. Keogh Council of the Knights of
Columbus which are closely linked with the Church.
Members of the parish are to be found in the ranks of any number of civic, professional and service organizations, giving witness to their commitment to the community.
As it has been since the founding, the Church's very existence centers about the daily and Sunday liturgy as well as other devotional services.
Earlier this year, as part of the 125th anniversary celebration,
the parish raised funds to make extensive renovations and redecorations to
the interior of the Church (the last such major renovations having been made
in connection with the 100th anniversary in 1953). These renovations have
added new beauty to the Church and have also allowed the Church to conform
to some of the norms of the new liturgy. The 125th anniversary celebration
culminated on September 17, 1978 with a Mass of thanksgiving, the principal
concelebrant of which was the Archbishop, Terence Cardinal Cooke (as it turned
out, the parish was fortunate that he could attend since the celebration
occurred between the Vatican conclaves that elected Pope John Paul I in August
and Pope John Paul II in October). Fifteen other priests celebrated the Mass
with the Cardinal; they included, in addition to the Church's regular and
Sunday clergy, Rev.
Approximately 60 nuns, Franciscans as well as members of other communities, were also in attendance.
Afterwards, the Cardinal greeted the parishioners (after which he had to hurry to attend the Diocese of Brooklyn's celebration of its 125th anniversary). There followed a gala reception on the Church's front lawn.
Thus, briefly stated, 125 years of Church and community history. What may be said in summary? Perhaps it is best to quote the closing remarks of the 125th anniversary souvenir journal:
“Our past accomplishments present an enviable record, our future is dependent upon our continual efforts. It is our most sincere wish that Immaculate Conception may be a source of Catholic guidance and a beacon of inspiration for many generations to come. Let us persevere in the Lord!”