Church History

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In 1867 New York’s Upper West Side was farmland with an occasional elegant country house built by wealthy downtown New Yorker’s.  It was a time of immigration and of veterans returning home from the Civil War to rebuild their lives and homes.  Early Dutch settlers had named the area Bloemendale, and the city was expanding northward along Bloomingdale Road, a narrow strip of road that served the area with hourly stagecoaches.  Over on Eighth Avenue, a street railroad ran a single car up to 84th Street.

A cluster of homes had sprouted along the stagecoach route, especially near St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, founded in 1805.  This settlement, named Bloomingdale Village, was served by two somewhat distant Catholic churches - St. Paul the Apostle, near today’s Columbus Circle and founded in 1858, and also by Annunciation, founded in 1853, located north of Bloomingdale village, up on 131st Street.  By 1867 the Catholics of Bloomingdale Village strongly desired a church they could call their own.

The resulting petition to Archbishop John McCloskey of the Archdiocese of New York for a local priest to establish a parish and build a church had a favorable response.  The Archbishop responded that if the petitioners could provide for temporal needs by securing a site, he would provide for the spiritual needs.

The Bloomingdale Catholic Association was promptly organized and raised $11,250.  With this sum a site was procured at the corner of Bloomingdale Road and 97th Street.  By July, when Fr. Richard Brennan arrived on his hired horse and buggy, construction of the church was advancing.  The plain wooden church measured 35 by 80 feet, with capacity for about 500 parishioners and the original cost was about $3,000.  Fr. Brennan celebrated the first Mass on August 9, 1868 and the Church was consecrated on September 20, 1868.

By 1871 Fr. Brennan had the foresight to acquire all the land Holy Name Parish encompasses today.  In 1880 an elevated train began service up Ninth Avenue (today’s Columbus Avenue) and with the improved transportation, a local building boom soon ensued.  By 1891 the parish was bulging at the seams and the building of a new church was initiated.  The new church was completed in 1900 – A Gothic structure, built of richly carved pink Milford granite (CT?), with Munich stained glass windows and one of the best examples of “Wooden arched ceiling”.  Today it is considered one of the most beautiful churches in New York City.

By 1905 Holy Name School had opened its doors. The Sisters of Charity taught the girls and Christian Brothers taught the boys.  The long serving principal, Br. Richard Grieco retired in 2009 and in September 2009 Mr. John Joven was appointed principal of Holy Name School.  Community building and collaboration have been the hallmarks of Mr. Joven’s long tenure in Catholic eduction.  De La Salle Academy, leasing the top floor of Holy Name School, is a middle school for gifted students with an enrollment reflecting the diversity of the greater New York metro region.

During the ensuing years post-World War I, the parish thrived.  Parishioners in the Holy Name Boxing Club won the Golden Gloves championship ten out of twelve times, and for thirty years the parish produced more vocations to the priesthood, brotherhood and sisterhood than any other parish in the archdiocese.  In 1932 Monsignor Stephen Donahue, born on the Upper West Side and a member of Holy Name School’s first graduating class of 1906, returned to Holy Name Parish as the Pastor.  Two years later he was ordained a bishop and become prominent throughout the Archdiocese.  The Pope appointed him Administrator of the Archdiocese in a vacancy between Archbishops, and he was a candidate for the office of Archbishop.

Following World War II, the parish underwent another demographic change as large numbers of Spanish-speaking families migrated to the neighborhood.  These new neighbors were not greeted hospitably everywhere but Holy Name, church, school and community center embraced them.  They brought new melodies to the church liturgy and a Latin beat to the community center.  Beginning in 1952 as urban renewal projects began to impact large tracts of New York, the Upper West Side was not immune.  A large swath of the parish, 14 square blocks of tenement housing and brownstones were demolished, ranging from 97th to 104th Street, between Amsterdam and Manhattan Avenues.  This demolition of homes and the threat of further evictions below 97th Street prompted the flight of thousands of parishioners to other boroughs or out of the City, creating a climate of stress and hardship for remaining parishioners.

Historically a parish of immigrants, in the earliest days those of Irish, Italian, German and English descent, we have grown today into a faith community embracing many more nationalities, including French and Spanish-speakers from around the world.  Liturgies are celebrated in English, Spanish and French every weekend.  Holy Name celebrates the festivals of the Blessed Mother and patron saints of many nations. 

In 1990, John Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, invited the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province, to assume the urban ministry at Holy Name of Jesus Church.  The friars have brought a rich spirituality and vitality to this mission, beginning with the renaissance of the Franciscan Community Center (FCC).  Adhering to the Franciscan mandate to find new and creative ways to serve the needs of the greater community, beyond the parish borders, the FCC welcomes those of all races, creeds or ethnicity to a wide range of programs – Senior Services, Food Pantry, Home Visits, Counseling Services and the largest program is dedicated to Youth Services, with over 1,000 members of this group alone.

Holy Name is also blessed to have the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM), who also serve the parish, FCC and through other ministries, New York City.  Along with the Friars and the Secular Franciscans, the Sisters represent the richness and diversity of the Franciscan family, with the joyful witness to the vision of St. Francis and St. Clare.