St. Benedict Joseph Labre Catholic Church
94-40 118th Street
Richmond Hill (Queens), N.Y. 11419
Present building (since 1916):
► II/25 Austin Organs, Inc., Op.
• Unknown Builder (1941)
• unknown – old organ moved?
First building (1893-1916):
|Original Church and Rectory
The Catholic Parish of St. Benedict Joseph Labre was organized in 1892, after Mr. Thomas Lally, a builder and real estate dealer of Morris Park, was chosen to petition the new bishop to establish a parish in the community. The request was granted and on July 12th, 1892, the young Bishop visited the Catholics and "expressed himself as thoroughly pleased with the surroundings and purchased eight lots at an unusually low figure" of $2,300. Three days later the bishop appointed Rev. William J. Maguire to be the first pastor. At the same time the Bishop placed the infant parish under the protection of Saint Benedict Joseph Labre. The original parish boundaries extended from the Rockaway division of the Long Island Railroad to Van Wyck Avenue and from the Jamaica Town line to Jamaica Bay.
Father Maguire went bravely to work, visiting the Catholics of his scattered parish. He rented Fielder's Hall on Jamaica Avenue at the northeast corner of 111th Street in the hamlet of Clarenceville and celebrated the first Mass on July 24, 1892 for a congregation of sixty people, mostly of Irish and German nationality. He offered two masses that day, one at eight o'clock and the second at ten-thirty. The first collection amounted to $29.54.
By July 29, 1892 a number of the congregation felt that the eight lots located in Clarenceville did not suit their needs and bargained for 12 lots on Johnson Avenue (118th Street) in Morris Park. The price was set at $4,300. Many in Clarenceville were against the new site and a petition containing over 70 names was sent to the Bishop but the new site prevailed. Plans were made for a permanent church, and on November 6, 1892, the cornerstone was laid by Bishop McDonnell. The wooden church was designed by the well known architect Raymond F. Almirall. The membership of the new parish was about four hundred parishioners. The completed church was dedicated by Bishop McDonnell on October 8, 1893. When it was ready the local papers gave a glowing account of its beauty. One describing its location said, "The new temple of worship is situated on Johnson Avenue, nearly opposite the Morris Park Station of the Long Island Railroad, and is surrounded on all sides by very neat looking villas, showing much prosperity." It presented a "very cheerful appearance". "The steeple (one hundred and forty feet high) is mounted by a large gilt cross which is visible for many miles."
The next structure to be built was the rectory in 1895. The wooden edifice had a massive front porch with elegant double columns and would rival any of the mansions erected throughout Richmond Hill. Sometime before 1901 a wooden Parish Hall was erected behind the church. It was used for a number of years for many parish events and socials, and also served as the Sunday school building.
Over the ensuing years the parish increased in numbers and the wooden church could no longer accommodate the crowds. Other parishes were formed within its original boundaries as the population of Queens continued to grow. By 1916 the pastor began planning for a larger edifice. As designed by Thomas Henry Poole, the brick edifice is in the Romanesque style on the basilican plan. It features a standing seam copper-roofed dome and a bell tower. In October 1916 Bishop McDonnell laid the cornerstone. Due to a scarcity of materials brought on by the country's involvement in the Great War, progress on the building was slow. Many of the furnishings were moved from the old church. After considerable delays the completed church was dedicated by the bishop on May 4, 1919. The total cost of the new church was $73,000.
To celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the parish in 1942, the church building was refurbished with new furnishings including a new organ.
On October 23, 1971, an accidental fire broke out in the priest's sacristy of the church. In order to clear the smoke from the church, firemen destroyed the stained glass windows in the choir loft, causing water and glass damage to the organ. Masses were moved to the auditorium and repairs were made. The windows that were destroyed were replaced with different panels depicting various musical instruments.