In honor of the centennial anniversary of St. Anastasia parish, Douglaston, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio celebrated Mass there on Oct. 18.
Calling St. Anastasia “one of the strongest parishes in the diocese,” Bishop DiMarzio said he hopes it continues to faithfully serve and support the community.
Msgr. Anthony Sherman, pastor, said each generation of the parish contributed with its development. Over the years, parishioners not only have grown in faith but they reached out to those in need and became involved in parish life, he said.
“The parish is part of the kingdom of God in this part of the world,” he said.
Many parishioners agreed. Catherine Cosgrove, who has been a parishioner for 23 years, said the loving kindness of the parish inspired her to become an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.
“The parish extends that invitation,” she said. “They want everybody to come together.”
In his homily, Bishop DiMarzio reviewed St. Anastasia’s past, saying the parish’s history can help members to be like the parish’s forbearers.
In 1915, then-Father Francis Uleau was tasked with establishing a new parish. About 100 parishioners began to celebrate Mass at a house and then an inn. The first church building, a white wooden structure, was built in 1918. Father John Clark, who led the congregation until 1922, celebrated the first Mass at the new church in 1919.
As families started growing and the area developed, St. Anastasia continued working for the betterment of its members. The permanent church replaced the wooden church in 1936. The sacrifice of the founding members of the parish and the strength of the community during the years of World War II led to growth.
“This is how we understand the growth of the Church: we build one generation on another,” Bishop DiMarzio said.
This hit a chord with Maureen Ferguson, a parishioner since she was two years old. At Mass, she remembered the families she grew up with and Father George Helfenstein, pastor from 1945 and 1967. Ferguson’s father founded the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society and her mother was president of the Ladies Auxiliary Society, sung in the Latin Mass choir, belonged to the Legion of Mary and helped the sick.
“It was always a very active parish,” she said. “The people here were people who served.”
The parish also was committed to Catholic education, building a school in 1929 that was first run by the Sisters of Mercy. The building where the parish school used to be now houses Divine Wisdom Academy, an independent Catholic school founded with the guidance of the diocese and chartered by the NYS Board of Regents. In 2013, the academy expanded to a second campus near St. Robert Bellarmine parish in Bayside. It now has an enrollment of about 700 students.
“This has become the poster child for all academies,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “(It) really shows that when the laity takes it seriously, when they take a responsibility, it really can take off.”
Hearing this made principal Michael LaForgia proud of the academy’s progress. “It was very touching to hear the bishop’s comment,” LaForgia said. “We feel blessed to have his support.”
LaForgia commended the effort of the pastoral teams, board of directors, and the pastors – Msgr. Sherman and Msgr. Martin Geraghty in Bayside – for nurturing faith formation and faith development in their kids.
“(Divine Wisdom Academy) was a great school; it molded me into a good upstanding Catholic citizen,” said Joseph Chong, a member of the academy’s first graduating class in 2010. “It is just an amazing community … No matter what path you take in life, they help you out and they stay with you.”
Year of Celebrations
After the centennial Mass, children and adults took “a step back in time” and admired historical cars while enjoying food and games.
The centennial Mass concluded a year of monthly activities, including a time capsule, a concert, school reunions and celebrations to honor parishioners, marriages, alumni and past clergy.
Carolyn Meenan, chairperson of the anniversary committee, said the running of the events was hard work but also rewarding.
The yearlong celebration allowed the parish’s nearly 2,000 registered families to contemplate the past as they move into the future. One event was a pilgrimage to Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn to honor the original pastors.
“It made history come alive,” Msgr. Sherman said.
Gloria Velautham said she felt blessed to witness the anniversary because of her connection with St. Anastasia. Before the first church was completed, Msgr. Uleau celebrated the first Masses in what is now her house.
Melanie Kissane Chong, a parishioner for over 40 years, was one of nine siblings who attended St. Anastasia School, received her sacraments at the parish and has sent her children to Divine Wisdom Academy.
“It is a blessing to be part of (St. Anastasia),” she said. “People give their time, their money, their blood, their sweat and tears for it to be strong.”
T.J. McSherry, longtime parishioner and choir member, agreed. “It is a great parish. Everyone is warm and friendly,” he said. “All the pastors and priests that I have known for over 60 years are wonderful.”
During its centennial year, parishioners supported the Generations of Faith Campaign – a diocesan fundraising initiative to meet the material needs of the Church in Brooklyn and Queens. Msgr. Sherman said St. Anastasia surpassed its goal and raised $1,470,000.
“Not only did we celebrate but also we sacrificed,” Msgr. Sherman said. “It meant that we were able to ignite the spirit of the people and they responded with great generosity. We are very excited as we move into the future.”
The Pastors of St. Anastasia’s
Msgr. Francis Uleau, 1915-16
Father John J. Clark, 1916-22
Father John Bohag, 1922-45
Father George Helfenstein, 1945-67
Father William Smith, 1967-83
Msgr. Michael Cantley, 1983-2004
Msgr. George Ryan, 2004-12
Msgr. Anthony Sherman, 2012-present