By Bill Parry
St. Mary’s Church in Long Island City will mark its 150th anniversary with a special mass celebrated by Bishop Paul Sanchez Sept. 12 followed by a dinner dance at Riccardo’s Under the Bridge on 21st Street in Astoria.
For most of its history, St. Mary’s towered over the skyline made up of brownstones and walk-up apartment buildings, but much has changed in the last 20 years.
“When I took up residence here in 2000, you had Citylights and the Avalon as the neighborhoods only high-rises,” Monsignor Joseph Mulqueen said. “Now you look around and it’s gleaming skyscrapers everywhere with many more on the way. Through all of the growth this church has stood at the heart of the community, providing spiritual comfort to people, from those that attended our parish school and lived here all their lives to all of the young families who have come to live in these towers.”
He said the dinner dance would be a celebration for the newcomers as well as a reunion of all the old-timers.
Giovanna Varlese grew up in the neighborhood and now serves as St. Mary’s director of religious education.
“The neighborhood keeps changing and it’s tougher to find the old folks who have moved on,” she said. “We’re trying everything we can to track them down and let them know about this.”
There has been a series of events leading up to the Sept. 12 anniversary, including a concert with opera stars and another featuring the church’s towering pipe organ, which was installed in 1894. There have also been raffles and cake sales, part of a fund-raising effort for St. Joseph’s Center across the street which is supposed to be completed in time for the anniversary.
“It used to be an old senior center, but it’s been empty for years,” Varlese said. “It needed several years of renovation after all the flooding in Hurricane Sandy. Now it will be a location for our catechism students as well as our parish meetings. The children are really going to like it.”
St. Mary’s, located at 10-08 49th Ave., is a step back in time, according to the monsignor.
“This is actually the third church with the cornerstone saying 1887, but the congregation dates back to 1865,” he said. “The other churches were lost to fire and hurricane.”
Mulqueen believes the 150th anniversary celebration can bring many of the new families into the current congregation.
“This is drawing plenty of attention to the church, I can tell you that,” he said.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr