By Joe Anuta
Sister Mary Patrick McCarthy never wavered in her commitment to the youth of Jackson Heights even as the neighborhood changed drastically throughout her four-decade tenure as principal of Blessed Sacrament School, friends and family said at a street renaming last weekend.
About 150 gathered Sunday to christen 94th Street at 35th Avenue Sister Mary Patrick McCarthy Way, many of whom were colleagues, former students or families belonging to the Blessed Sacrament Parish, a Catholic church.
“It’s fantastic,” said McCarthy’s brother John, looking up at the sign. “It’s the street we grew up on.”
McCarthy was raised on 94th Street just blocks from Blessed Sacrament, which she also attended before joining the Grey Nuns.
The Jackson Heights native began her teaching career at St. Leo School in Corona before taking the helm as principal at Blessed Sacrament in 1967, and it is here that most in the community remember the effect she had on the neighborhood.
“She was a strong fighter for social justice and immigrants in the community,” said City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights).
In 2002, when she was approaching her 35th anniversary as principal, McCarthy died of cancer on June 17, but her legacy lived on.
Dromm had heard of her before taking office and recalled one instance when she fought to help the immigrant students who attended the school to learn English.
In the 1970s, the federal government gave out funds for students in need of English classes. But Blessed Sacrament, being a religious institution, was not eligible for the cash.
The students who needed the extra instruction would have had to commute to a public school in order to receive it, but McCarthy set up trailers outside of Blessed Sacrament instead so the classes were right at their doorstep.
But what makes McCarthy’s addition to the landscape of Queens so fitting is that she embraced the different waves of immigrants coming to the area while keeping her faith, according to Dromm.
Enclaves of Irish and Italian families gave way to Colombian and Dominican and Mexican families. And now Jackson is home to a large South Asian population as well.
“Our community is becoming more and more diverse and the more open we are to accepting that diversity the better off we will be,” Dromm said.
McCarthy helped start nearby Marguerite’s Pantry at Our Lady of Fatima Church. She was also very active in civic events, having been involved with the precursor to Community Board 3, the Jackson Heights Civic Association.
CB 3 District Manager Giovanna Reid spoke at the unveiling, and several of McCarthy’s fellow Grey Nuns traveled from their headquarters in Pennsylvania to witness the unveiling.
Sister Julia Lanigan recalled McCarthy’s zeal for helping the neighborhood and the lively tales she would tell when she visited the Yardley, Pa. location.
“She had more humorous stories about her encounters because she was able to see everything in the light of good humor and good faith,” she said.
Blessed Sacrament School closed in 2009 and a year later PS 280 opened at the location.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.