St. Helen’s Parish in Howard Beach was officially established by the Diocese of Brooklyn on June 24, 1960, to serve the sacramental needs of the Catholic community that had settled west of Cross Bay Boulevard.
Bishop Bryan J. McEntegart appointed Rev. John W. Dooley as the founding pastor, assisted by Rev. Robert O. Francke. The priests started their ministry in a home purchased on 157th Avenue and 82nd Street, which served as a rectory and as a place to gather for daily Mass.
The Vigliarolo family offered the basement of their home for Sunday Mass and arrangements were then made for Mass to take place in a recreation room in Lindenwood. By October, parishioners had worked with the priests to establish parish organizations such as the Rosary Altar Society, the Holy Name Society, and the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.
In October, 1961, after a successful fund raising campaign, land was purchased on 157th Avenue and 84th Street. It was to be the site of our “all purpose building,” now known as Father Dooley Hall. Construction was completed and Mass was celebrated there on Palm Sunday, April 15, 1962. The official consecration of the building took place on September 16, 1962, with Bishop McEntegart officiating.
St. Helen’s School
While the sacramental life of the parish was flourishing, attention was turned to the academic and spiritual development of our children. On August 22, 1965, construction began on St. Helen’s School; the project cost the parish $700,000. The school would be staffed by Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Newburgh. A house was purchased on 84th Street to serve as a convent. Sister Mary Genevieve, the first principal, opened the school in September, 1967.
Msgr. Edward J. McGinness
Bishop Mugavero appointed Fr. Edward J. McGinness as the second pastor of the parish; he was installed on January 4, 1976. Father quickly became a dynamic force in the parish, leading the effort to build a new Church. Ground-breaking ceremonies for the new Church began in April, 1978, and the work was completed by August of 1979. Father McGinness oversaw the conversion of the old Church into a recreation center, Fr. Dooley Hall, and the construction of the current rectory, which was completed in April, 1983. In 1984, he was awarded Papal honors and named a Monsignor. He remained as pastor until his death in 1987.
Our First Permanent Deacons
St. Helen’s participated in the diocesan initiative to encourage parishioners to consider ordination to the permanent diaconate. We were fortunate to have two of our men trained and ordained as permanent deacons: Robert Garamella (1986) and Anthony Cusumano (1987).
Msgr. Joseph C. Pfeiffer
In January of 1988, Msgr. Joseph C. Pfeiffer became the third pastor of St. Helen’s. Under his leadership, the Alive in Hope Capital Campaign was a great success and an outdoor grotto was built, honoring the Blessed Mother as Our Lady of Lourdes. An extension, known as the Msgr. McGinness Room, was added to the rectory to accommodate the growing needs of the parish. Msgr. Pfeiffer served as pastor for 17 years until his retirement in June, 2005, remaining in residence at the parish until 2018. He currently resides at the Bishop Mugavero Residence in Douglaston.
Msgr. Richard E. Marchese
Msgr. Richard E. Marchese became pastor in July, 2005. He undertook many efforts to revitalize parish life. Under his leadership, the Parish Pastoral Council was formed, which continues to this day. Msgr. Marchese led the effort to renovate the interior of the Church. During his tenure, an outdoor shrine was dedicated to Padre Pio. In 2008, Msgr. Marchese left St. Helen to take up a position at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, DC, where he continues to serve in this position.
Msgr. Alfred LoPinto
Msgr. Alfred LoPinto became pastor in 2008. Through his leadership, numerous improvements were made to parish buildings and outdoor facilities, including new parking lots, sidewalks, and outdoor basketball and soccer fields. Msgr. LoPinto worked tirelessly in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, setting up a Crisis Center in Fr. Dooley Hall for the needs of the community. In 2015, he left the parish to accept the position as Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Charities, while remaining Vicar of Human Services for the Diocese.
Fr. Francis Colamaria
Our current pastor, Fr. Francis Colamaria, arrived at St. Helen in January, 2015. Fr. Colamaria was born and raised in Brooklyn. He attended Xaverian High School, St. John’s University, and Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, NY. He was ordained a priest in 2001. Before arriving at St. Helen, Fr. Colamaria served as Parochial Vicar of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Ozone Park, Parochial Vicar of St. Ephrem Parish in Dyker Heights, and Administrator of Holy Child Jesus Parish in Richmond Hill. In addition to his parish responsibilities, Fr. Colamaria serves as a chaplain for the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the United States Park Police, and is also an NYPD clergy liaison.
No history of our parish would be complete without mentioning four special people: Sister Hannah Marie Cox, of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was one of the pillars of our parish for over thirty years. She served as the Principal of the School and as Pastoral Associate. Sister Hannah retired in 2009.
Three of our former associate pastors went on to be ordained bishops: Bishop Ignatius Catanello, Bishop Gerald Barbarito, and Bishop Raymond Chappetto. Bishop Catanello served as an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn from 1994 until 2010. He passed away in March of 2013. Bishop Barbarito served as an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn from 1994 until 1999. From 1999 until 2003, he was Bishop of Ogdensburg in upstate New York. Since 2003, he has served as Bishop of Palm Beach in Florida. Bishop Chappetto has served as an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn since 2012. He currently serves as Vicar General, Vicar for Clergy and Consecrated Life, and Pastor of St. Kevin Parish in Auburndale.