Humble Beginnings

St. Helen’s Parish in Howard Beach was officially established on June 24, 1960.  The Diocese of Brooklyn had recognized the need to serve the sacramental needs of the Catholic community that had settled west of Cross Bay Boulevard.

Bishop Bryan J. McEntegart asked Rev. John W. Dooley to be the founding pastor. He was assisted by Rev. Robert O. Francke. The priests started their ministry in a home purchased on 157th Avenue and 82nd Street. It 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 meetings. By July, arrangements had been made for Mass to take place in a recreation room in Lindenwood.  We were growing very quickly.

In July, 1960, the first Baptism took place in St. Helen Parish. Karen Jean Pritchard, the daughter of John and Elizabeth Pritchard, was the first to be baptized.

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. Our parish trustees were Thomas Dowd and Frank Vigliarolo.  Quite a bit of progress in less than 4 months!

Building Campaign

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 in April, 1962 and Mass was celebrated there on Palm Sunday, April 15, 1962.  The official consecration of the building took place on September 16, 1962. Bishop McEntegart officiated.

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 St. Helen’s Parish.  Fr. McGinness was installed as pastor on January 4, 1976. He quickly became a dynamic force in the parish.  He spear-headed the effort to build a new church.  After much prayer and hard work, he officiated in April, 1978 in  ground-breaking ceremonies for the new church, which was completed in the summer of 1978.  Fr. McGinness also oversaw the conversion of the old church into Fr. Dooley Hall, a recreation center.  In 1984, he was awarded papal honors and named a Monsignor.

As the parish grew, it became apparent that we needed a larger, more functional rectory. Msgr. McGinness oversaw the construction of the current rectory, which was completed in April 1983.

In addition to overseeing the building of the new Church and rectory, Msgr. McGinness was known for his intense spirituality, his love of the people of St. Helen, and his devotion to the service of the Lord.  Msgr. McGinness died 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 1988, Msgr. Joseph C. Pfeiffer was asked to shepherd St. Helen’s. Under his leadership, an outdoor shrine was erected to our Blessed Mother and an extension was added to the rectory to accommodate the numerous activities held here in the parish.  The rectory extension was named the “Msgr. McGinness Room.” Msgr. Pfeiffer retired as pastor in June, 2005, but remains in residence in the Rectory.  He still ministers to the people of the parish in many ways.

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 Nuntiature  (the Holy See’s Embassy to the US) in Washington, DC.

Msgr. Alfred LoPinto

Msgr. Alfred LoPinto became the pastor of St. Helen in 2008.  Through his leadership, numerous improvements were made to parish facilities, including the installation of an outdoor basketball court and soccer field and the renovation of the kitchen in Father Dooley Hall.  Msgr. LoPinto led the parish with great distinction during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  Msgr. LoPinto departed St. Helen in January, 2015.  He currently  serves as Vicar for Human Services for the Diocese of Brooklyn and Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens.

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 Xavarian 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.

Honorable Mention

No history of our parish would be complete without mentioning four special people:

Sister Hannah 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 Coordinator.  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.