by Michael Rizzo
Anniversary Mass for Long Island City parish
LONG ISLAND CITY — Almost 500 of the faithful packed St. Raphael Church on Sept. 29 for a liturgy that was celebrated in English, Spanish and Korean for the 150th anniversary of the Long Island City parish.
Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros was the main celebrant at the noon Mass, the only one the parish would hold that day. It was the feast day of St. Raphael, a feast day the archangel shares with St. Gabriel and St. Michael.
The Mass marked the end the parish’s sesquicentennial year. Father Jerry Jecewiz, pastor, said the parish was initially formed in the 1800s to serve Catholics being buried in nearby Calvary Cemetery. As cemetery workers, many of them Irish and German immigrants, began to settle in the community, known then as Blissville, St. Raphael’s parish began to grow.
The church building where the anniversary Mass was said was built in 1881 and is the oldest Catholic church in Queens County still being used on a regular basis.
But there has been change.
The make-up of the parish is now one-third English speaking, one-third Spanish speaking and one-third Korean speaking. Many of the churchgoers of Korean descent live away from the area but have made St. Raphael their religious home. Outside the church stands a white statue of St. Andrew Kim Taegon, the patron saint of Korea. Inside the church is artwork of Our Lady of Guadalupe commemorating the Blessed Virgin Mary’s apparition in
“The groups of our parish are more than just a community,” Father Jecewiz said. “They’re a communion.”
Yohan Choi, 46, was raised in the parish but now lives in Flushing with his family. He maintains his ties to St. Raphael as its Korean liturgy coordinator.
“We do have a variety of ethnic groups here, but we all work together,” Choi said.
That communal work was evident as one entered the church vestibule. Photos of the church from the last two centuries were on display along with a 1981 flier for the dinner celebrating the building’s centennial.
“They’ve always had those kind of events,” said John O’Sullivan, 45, who has never left the parish and fondly recalled his days as an altar boy. “This parish is a microcosm of the coming together of people from all cultures.”
As more churchgoers arrived, a young man handed out information on the Korean Martyrs Apostolate, which is based at St. Raphael’s. Across from him, Veronica Sanchez, 36, was distributing the program for the anniversary Mass. She moved to the parish three years ago.
“It’s a special day for everyone,” she said. “I am Spanish but the Korean people and everyone come here for the same reason, Jesus.”
Tony Rossi, the lector for the Mass, has always lived in the parish. He said there’s a sense of community in the parish because of the leadership of the priests and pastors through the years and the building they worship in.
“We’re in the big city,” he said, speaking of New York, “but this church is homey. It has the feel of a country church. It’s our spiritual home.”
Rose and Emmet Reilly, 73 and 77 respectively, beamed proudly when they said they too were lifelong parishioners and felt the parish has always had great groups in it.
“This is God’s house,” Rose Reilly said, “I hope it will last forever.”
In his homily, Bishop Cisneros said there was one language in the church that day, not three. “One of faith,” he said. He added that for 150 years the Catholic faith has been the center of life for the parish and that faith has sustained it.
“St. Raphael was sent on a mission to heal the world and that is the mission for each one of us,” he added.
Just before the Mass concluded, the congregation showered thunderous applause not only on Father Jecewiz but on another of the concelebrants, 93-year-old former pastor Msgr. Gus Bednartz, who had returned to St. Raphael’s for the first time in many years.
Then, as the faithful left the church, they were greeted by bright, early autumn sunshine. There, at the top of the church steps on Greenpoint Avenue, with the vista of multiple midtown Manhattan skyscrapers behind him, stood Bishop Cisneros.
He greeted everyone with his blessing and wished them all a simple, yet joyful remark: “Happy anniversary.”