THE PARISH HISTORY OF ST. CLEMENT ST. MICHAELS
The seed is planted: the roots of St. Michaels parish lie in the missionary efforts of Father Louis Riccio of Mount Carmel Church, West Brighton, among the Italian speaking residents of Northfield. Though neighborhood streets and across fields, Father Riccio would summon the faithful to worship by ringing a hand bell. In 1913 St. Michaels church was established as an out-mission of Mount Carmel Parish 180 VanPelt Avenue. The catholic community soon grew to a sizeable number and with the completion of the Goethals Bridge across the Kill Van Kull; Patrick Cardinal Hayes decided to convert the out-mission into a national parish. On July 17th 1922, Father Emil .E. Molinelli was appointed the first pastor of St. Michaels by the Archbishop.
Born in Genoa, Italy, Father Molinelli was raised and educated in lower Manhattan. After studies at St. Josephs Seminary, Dunwoodie New York, he was ordained as a priest by John Cardinal Farley on May 17th, 1913 in St. Patricks Cathedral. This was the very year St. Michaels mission was being established on Staten Island.
During the First World War, Father Molinelli served as a chaplain with the rank of first Lieutenant in the fledging U.S. Air Force. He is described by a writer of his time as a sincere an unselfish cleric dedicated above all to the spiritual welfare of all his parishioners.
The new church rises: the land and environs on which St. Michaels Church and Rectory are located is Northfield history. Originally it was the settlement of farmers and mariners who lived along the shore front or inland in large spacious homes. Family names such as Post, Zeluff, Bush, the VanPelt Brothers and Merrell were among some of the prominent settlers.
With the turn of the century, Italian, Slovak and Irish immigrants began to buy homes and property in the Harbor. One of the properties selected for St. Michaels Church was bought from the Mannino Family. Here at 207 Harbor Road a general store known as Yaccarinos, served the area residents then later became the parish house.
The first fruits begin: at last the congregation had its new home and life of the parish become more settled. Father Molinelli regularly trained altar boys in the Mass prayers. Practicing the Latin responses every Saturday were young men like Sam Silvestri, Vincent DeMasi, Peter Ghignone, Mike Scaporatti, Chester and Stanley Zukowski and others.
With the new hall, the pastor and sister shad adequate space for the religious instruction of the children. Many dedicated nuns shared in the ministry with Father Molinelli. Some of them and the names of their religious orders are lost in history. However from a letter in the parish archives, it would appear that the missionary helpers of the sacred heart formerly located on Cary Avenue West Brighton, were active at St. Michaels. One of these sisters is still remembered. Sister Gonzaga Geoghegan, who conducted religious vacation school and helped to train St. Michaels choirgirls, is fondly remembered. Until her death on May 4th, 1973, Sister Gonzaga retained a special love for her missionary work on Staten Island and frequently recalled interesting accounts of her beloved St. Michaels.
St. Michaels congregation was originally founded to care for the spiritual needs of the Italian immigrant. The immigrants left their homeland to find a new life in America and brought their ancient Catholic faith to Mariners Harbor. One of these Angelina Tagliaferro exemplifies the early Italian immigrants who centered their lives around the church.
Our sister church: a complete history of the catholic church in Mariners Harbor must also include an abbreviated history of our sister Church, St. Clements located at 126 VanPelt Avenue. Father William Egan, the founder and first pastor, incorporated this diocesan parish on December 15th 1910. Joseph .P. McDonagh and Francis Case Hayden were the first lay trustees.
The rectory of St. Clements and the parish hall were located on what is now called Farleys Field. Harold Conrad was the first parishioner baptized on December 8th, 1910 in St. Clements Church, which had also been a store. The first marriage blessed in this church was between Thomas Kane and Mary Veronica McDonald on January 29th, 1911.
Father Egan was succeeded as Pastor of St. Clements in 1921 by Father James .J. Powers. In 1932, Father John .J. Byrne was appointed pastor and after eleven years of priestly ministry, died here. Some, today, can still remember the beloved Father Byrne still lying in state before St. Clements altar.
Father James .A. Dunnigan is also remembered as being actively involved in the forming of the Catholic Boys Brigade. Finally, Father J. M. Madden was appointed Pastor of Saint Clements until 1945.
Into the future: Father Burke little realized on the day he celebrated his first Mass at St. Michaels Church that he would be called to serve as the fifth pastor of the United Parish of St. Clement-St. Michael. He was appointed to succeed Monsignor King in August. 1977. After fourteen years, Monsignor King was appointed pastor of another St. Michaels on West 34th Street, Manhattan. The parishioners honored him at a tearful farewell reception in the parish center.
As the years passed a new priest would come to the parish of St. Clement - St. Michaels, and would change the parish by uplifting a very poor parish that was economically hurting to a very productive parish. The Reverend Nicholas .J. Soares, who later became a Monsignor and was going to make things happen. Since Father Soares appointment to the North Shore 15 years ago, his efforts to increase the parish roster have included physical improvements to church buildings and additional programs for parishioners. Father Soares said he has been able to finance the improvements because of the support and hard work of the parishioners in general, and fund-raisers and cost-cutting in particular. Father Soares has also started a parish council and a teen club, as well as a sports program and bible classes for Hispanics. He has also instituted congregational singing at all the Sunday masses. The Mariners Harbor pastor notes that baptisms in the parish, which had previously peaked at 65 to 70 annually, have increased so far this year, including many adults. The parish has become self-supporting, rather than being helped by Archdiocesan Inter-parish Financing as in previous years. Father Soares was born in Bulsar, India, and grew up as a Roman Catholic of Portuguese-Indian ancestry in largely Hindu city. Before entering the seminary at Sacred Heart Institute in Assam, India, he received masters degrees in economics and political science from Madras University and a bachelors degree in education from Bombay University. He was ordained in Bombay in 1964.
The St. Clement - St. Michael Roman Catholic Church is compiled by Rev. Monsignor Nicholas .J. Soares. It contains intentions for all upcoming masses, announcements of future events, and explanations of scripture. He says, Various parishioners have told me that my scripture explanations in the parish bulletin are used in their lay organization throughout the island for their teaching values. Because of his bulletin success in getting new converts, Monsignor has been honored many times with awards. The awards are given because they have found his bulletin to be a great evangelizing tool.
Pro-life Worker: Monsignor Nick is also an unambiguous pro-lifer. He has gone on many trips to pro-life marches to Washington D.C. alone with the parishioners. A memorial to the unborn now rest upon a marble slab carved with which Cardinal Bernard Law eulogized at Cardinal John .J. OConnors funeral in May 2000.
Our parishioners led by Monsignor Soares have also visited trips to various pilgrimages. He was able to visit sites, have mass at the place of the nativity, and read scripture that pertained to that place. They have also carried a cross along the Viva Della Rosa, where Jesus carried his cross. Monsignor Nick has been involved at interfaith gatherings with other religious groups. By acknowledging other faiths, he has opened communications and respect to others faiths, as well as theirs to ours.
Monsignor Nick is and admired with much love for the work he has done and still is continuing to do. Here is a written letter that Bishop Patrick .V. Ahern wrote when after he performed a confirmation in our parish:
I wish my gratitude could match your generosity. I want it to, but I dont have words to express it properly. Your extraordinary generosity, which heaps gifts upon me, makes it very hard to compose a proper letter, but you know I am deeply, deeply grateful.
How much I enjoyed both of the Confirmations. I thought the second even better than the first, full of enthusiasm, and the climax was capped when the guy shouted out: Yes! He really helped to sell the autobiography of Therese.
I want to congratulate you on your wonderful work in that parish. Everybody loves you because you love everybody. You take an interest in each parishioner. You reach out for them and they respond. The number of converts each year is truly most impressive and the general success of the parish is quite amazing.
Keep on with what youre doing, and enjoy every minute of it as you seem to do.
With warm good wishes and prayers and asking your own, I am
As you can see, how much Monsignor is loved and thought of and what a fabulous example he portrays our lord Jesus. He is an exceptional representative and would never turn anyone away that is hungry for the good news.
- Taken from a Parish Report written by Gerald Palmieri.