Diocese of Brooklyn Parish History | St. Kevin Roman Catholic Church

St. Kevin Roman Catholic Church

Serving Catholics in Flushing, Auburndale and Bayside

St. Kevin Parish History

First Mass 1926

No Roman Catholic Parish in the latter-day history of New York City was started around more primitive surroundings than that of St. Kevin. When the late Msgr. John Delea was called to establish the parish in 1926, 90% of the land that is now Auburndale was either farmland or woodland.
In the short space of 32 years - short, that is, as primitive history goes - the section has sprung from primitive land to one of the most heavily populated sections of Queens. And, it was the establishment of St. Kevin Parish which brought more families to live here.

With what wisdom the late Archbishop Thomas E. Molloy foresaw the growth of St. Kevin Parish is evident in a description of the land which made up Auburndale when he called Msgr. Delea to the Episcopal Residence in Brooklyn and told him: "Father Delea, this will be your new parish. Yours is the fast-growing borough in New York City and your parish, now only farms and woods, will one day take its place among the largest in our diocese. Grow with your parish. Plan well."

Msgr. Delea at that time was well known throughout Queens as "Father Delea." He had served in Astoria and when called to start the new parish was assigned to the adjoining parish of St. Andrew Avellino.
He planned well - and quickly. After getting the signal to "Go Ahead" from his bishop, Father Delea got things underway in a hurry. Wherever he looked in the expanse of his new parish, the new pastor saw little in the way of homes. But there was one house and he chose that to "start" his parish.
That was a house on 194th Street north of Northern Boulevard which Father Delea selected for his first "church." It was a two-story frame building - still standing, incidentally, and now known as 42-26 194th Street. The new pioneer-pastor decided that he would have Masses on the first floor of his new house and would have his "rectory" upstairs.

Church Built on Farm

So it came that on the 20th Sunday after Pentecost - October 10, 1926 - the first Mass was said at 7 AM by Father Delea in the house that was to serve the faithful of his parish for almost a year. It had been known for some time that when a church was built in the parish that it would be named for St. Kevin. That was the name Father Delea had often dreamed would be used on his parish church to memorialize one of the greatest saints of his native Ireland.
An article in the North Shore Journal, a thriving Flushing newspaper of the day, describes the first Mass in the new parish thusly in the issue of October 12, 1926:

St. Kevin's, Flushing's newest church, was formally opened last Sunday with four Masses celebrated by the Rev. John B. Delea, pastor and the Rev. John Savage. The church is located at 42nd Ave. and Cross Island Boulevard and will accommodate the residents of the Auburndale and Treasureland sections of Flushing. Before the formation of St. Kevin's parish, Catholics of Auburndale and surrounding sections found it necessary to go to Bayside or Murray Hill to hear Mass.

Almost as soon as his first Sunday's Masses were over on that October day, Father Delea was planning the bigger and better St. Kevin's church. So it was with joy that he announced at the Masses on October 24:

The Bishop is pleased to grant us the name of St. Kevin for our prospective church.

The section buzzed with the plans for the new church. At each Sunday's Masses, there would be one announcement or another to remind the good parishioners that they would soon be hearing Masses in their own spacious St. Kevin's.

Generous Benefactors

Here are typical announcements taken from the records of St. Kevin's, written in Fr. Delea's own hand and in themselves forming a chronicle of the growth of the parish:
  • October 31, 1926 - "The banns of marriage published for the first time between Thomas Parrish of St. Kevin's and Edna Blawley of Our Lady of Lourdes, Queens Village.
  • November 28 - "The pastor of the parish had the privilege of appealing to the people of St. Mary's, Long Island City, and Our Lady of Refuge, Brooklyn, for help to build our new Church."
  • December 5 - "Received $1,300 from Our Lady of Refuge and $440 from St. Mary's"
But in the week previous the Flushing Journal, displaying a photograph of Father Delea, announced to its readers:

The Rev. John B. Delea, pastor of St. Kevin's, has announced the purchase of the 30 lots fronting 45th Avenue, 194th Street and 195th Street in Auburndale, as the site of the new church. The property has frontage of 200 feet along 45th Avenue and 300 feet each on 194th and 195th Streets. Ground will be broken within the next 10 days for the new church, which will be of Colonial design.The boundaries for the new parish are 210th Street on the east, Crocheron Avenue on the north, 28th Street on the west and Blackstump Road on the South.

First Church is Built

The land for the new church was actually part of the Frame farm, which also took in the land on which stands the old rectory and the new church and rectory. On the south it adjoined the John Schumacker Farm, which later became the site of St. Kevin's convent and school.
It was two weeks before Christmas when Father Delea told his ever increasing parishioners in the house-that-was-a-church, that "on last Wednesday we broke ground for our new church."
It did not take long to get the new St. Kevin's built - everyone seemed to pitch in with a will and a way that brought joy to the heart of Father Delea.
"We have received $2,000 for our Building Fund from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Astoria," was one announcement in early 1927. Then: "Card Party a success, $450 realized - we have received $1,311 from St. Andrew's parish in Flushing for our Building Fund - we will take a census of the parish next week." And then finally, on May 27, 1927:

It is with great joy that I can announce today that our new church opens on June 12. Masses will be at 8, 9, 10 and 11 o'clock and the First Communion for the children of the Parish will be at the 9 o'clock Mass."

Father Delea made that announcement as one of the milestones in his life. Right on schedule the church, not too imposing but built to weather the years and to stand stalwart and true in the service of Our Lord, opened its doors. On the occasion of the opening day, the Rev. John Savage assisted Father Delea in the four Masses. More than 1,000 persons attended.
The new St. Kevin's was spacious and grand. Its three wooden altars were spotless and white. In the new pews the parishioners of the new parish found the comfort that was denied them in the old "church" as they heard Mass.
Linger here a moment to visualize St. Kevin's church as it stood in 1927.
The John Schumacker Farm was still being worked from the church grounds south to Rocky Hill Road, which is now 47th Avenue. To the north was Northern Boulevard and beyond that the Long Island Railroad pointing out to the Island, now hardly more than woodlands.

A Parish Grows

Oh, yes. There was a rectory for St. Kevin's church - now "old rectory" on 195th Street. It was moved there from Northern Boulevard and Francis Lewis Boulevard where it had been the Luke Otten home. Built in those days to stand the rigors of the Long Island winds and weather, the house came through the horse-drawn moving well and has served the priests like an old friend through 32 years.
There was a basement to the new St. Kevin's church. Where heretofore card parties and social events and to be held in buildings through the neighborhood and donated for the purpose, now the social life of the parish could go on right beneath the church.
"There was never any question that the church would be called St. Kevin's, though Father Delea also had a great affection for St. Catherine of Siena," an old timer remembers today. "So when he planned Masses for the basement to accommodate the thousands to come in the fast-growing parish, Father Delea announced that henceforth the basement church would be known as St. Catherine's Chapel."
Another old parishioner says:
"The surrounding land was 90% vacant when the new St. Kevin's church was opened. As soon as the church was built, though, homes sprang up all around it. It was as though the church attracted new thousands to Auburndale."
St. Kevin's was fortunate in having among its parishioners an artist, Vincent Aderente, who lived on 208th Street. He painted the beautiful murals which, even today, are the most attractive in any building in the city. The murals were painted in 1937, 10 years after the church was opened.
There is little more to tell of the founding of St. Kevin's parish, but all who had a hand in building the Church and establishing the parish can look back with deep feeling on those pioneering days. Little items in the records of St. Kevin's give an idea of how those first parishioners must have been.

The first card party was given in the Bayside police station. The first cake sale was organized to buy screens for the church to keep out the flies from the neighboring farms. A dinner dance will be held on July 20, 1927, at the Clearview Golf club for wooers for the first bazaar. A group picture of the bazaar workers and all those who want to come will be taken next week.

Pioneers all, in service and homage to God!