By Ivan Pereira
For the parishioners of Holy Child Jesus Church in Richmond Hill, the Roman Catholic institution is more than just a place where they said their Our Fathers and Hail Marys.
It is also a place where they can come together as a neighborhood family.
That family came out and filled the streets around the church at 111-11 86th Ave. all day Saturday to celebrate a major milestone in its history.
Regina Santoro, a lifelong member of the church who helped to organize the church’s 100-year party, said the landmark year was important to not only the parishioners but also the non-Catholic members of the community. The church’s services, such as its grammar school, have helped thousands of families of different backgrounds, according to Santoro.
“It’s all-inclusive. They exclude no one,” she said.
Families celebrated the anniversary in a variety of ways, which included a barbecue, live music, face painting and other games. Outside of the fun, many churchgoers reflected back on the longevity of the parish.
The church, noted for its massive brick structure and looming tower, was created in 1910 after the congregation at a nearby church, St. Benedict Joseph, grew so big that the diocese had to create a new parish. The growth continued and within six years the congregation grew from 100 families to 500.
The parish went on to purchase six more buildings in the area to house its school, rectory and other services, according to Santoro. The church was so popular that at one point, the church had to hold its masses within the school in order to handle the large crowd, according to Santoro.
Santoro said the secret to Holy Child’s ï»¿popularity today is the way its ministers treat the congregants.
“They always tell us it’s our church, not their church,” Santoro said.
Among the services and activities offered to the community are the church’s grammar schoolï»¿, sports programs and after-school activities, all of which are open to residents of all faiths. The school, which teaches pre-K to eighth-grade, has nearly 500 students and many of the young learners have gone on to some of the top high schools in the city.
The Rev. Francis Colamaria, who has been at the parish for two years, said he is always amazed by the cultural diversity of the congregation. The church offers masses in English, Spanish and Filipino.
“This is New York City right here,” the Brooklyn native said.
The priest added that the congregation is active in the church’s programs and activities, with many volunteering their free time to help. He said he thinks the parish family will continue to grow and thrive in the neighborhood.
“When you have a parish that is so strong, the prospect of another 100 years is not impossible,” Colamaria said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.