September 20, 1903
First mass said at a temporary Church of St. John the Martyr, 249 East 71st Street
The first mass of the parish of St. John the Martyr was actually served in its former rectory at 249 East 71stStreet. In May 1902 Fr. John T. Prout was assigned to St. Monica’s Church to work with the immigrant Bohemian community. He spoke the languages needed to proclaim the faith. In 1903 Archbishop John Cardinal Farley bought a house for $13,000 at 249 East 71st Street as a residence for Fr. Prout. The newly appointed pastor celebrated the parish’s first mass there on September 20, 1903.
A little more than a year later, on September 25, 1904, Fr. Prout celebrated the first mass at the present church on East 72nd Street. The building had formerly housed the Knox Presbyterian Church. After a fire destroyed part of the structure, the Knox community vacated it, putting the building up for sale. The church and an adjoining private house were purchased by Cardinal Farley for the sum of $39,000. On September 24th Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Cusack blessed the new Catholic Church and dedicated the altar. The next day, Fr. Prout delivered his sermon to a standing room congregation at the church’s first mass. The neighborhood continued to receive European immigrants, and St. John’s population swelled. Fr. Prout remained as Pastor until February 1918.
Fr. John Lane appointed Pastor
As World War I entered its final year, Fr. John Lane was appointed the new pastor of St. John the Martyr by Archbishop Patrick Hayes. Due to construction in a building adjacent to the 72nd Street rectory, the parish priests were compelled once again to take up residence on 71st Street, but this time at 259 E. 71st Street in a brownstone acquired by the Archdiocese. In 1964 the house next door at 257 E. 71st Street also came under the care of St. John’s.
Msgr. Larkin named Pastor
When Fr. Lane passed away, Patrick Cardinal Hayes named Msgr. Larkin to lead St. John’s. The parish conducted a vigorous social program, with plays, basketball teams, a gym and formal evening events. New altars were installed and a passageway was constructed to connect the rectory to the sacristy. After World War II, the Bohemian population gradually dispersed and newcomers began to arrive. Tenements were torn down to make room for high-rise luxury apartments. The neighborhood was changing.
Fr. Edward McGrath appointed Pastor
With the death of Msgr. Larkin, Francis Cardinal Spellman named Fr. Edward McGrath as fourth Pastor of St. John’s. During Fr. McGrath’s tenure the building underwent extensive refurbishing. The ushers, the Nocturnal Adoration and Holy Name societies became very active. The Women’s Altar and Rosary Society enjoyed its most productive days, and the stained glass windows they donated are still in place.
Msgr. James Nash appointed to St. John’s
In 1961 Pastor McGrath, now a monsignor, was transferred to St. Philip Neri parish in the Bronx. Msgr. James Nash replaced him as Pastor. Monsignor Nash died March 10, 1964 at age 58.
Msgr. Stanislaus McGovern arrived at St. John’s
During Msgr. McGovern’s administration the facade of the church and interior of the rectory were extensively refurbished, and air conditioning was installed. The parish received official boundaries: its fifteen square blocks extend roughly between Lexington Avenue and the East River from 70th to 74th Streets. As a result of a new ruling from Rome mandating retirement for priests and bishops at age 75, Msgr. McGovern retired as pastor in 1969.
Msgr. Daniel Donovan named Pastor
Soon after Msgr. Donovan’s arrival, work began on the church and rectory, thanks to the generosity of parishioners. The church was updated to fully implement the liturgical changes of Vatican II. The altar was moved from the rear wall of the sanctuary to the main floor so mass could be offered facing the congregation. The Fr. Tom Murphy Golden Age Group and the Legion of Mary were formed, and Irish Night became an annual celebration. On July 1, 1984 Msgr. Donovan retired; he died two years later. The Donovan Center, our church hall, was named in his honor.
Fr. Walter Niebrzydowski appointed to St. John’s
Fr. Walter enlarged the parish ministry to include Marymount College and the St. Mary Residence across 72nd Street. The Donovan Center was remodeled to handle increased activities that included an actors’ workshop, the Lenox Hill Artists Forum and Worktalk, a program for job seekers. The Center was also used for concerts, lectures and art exhibitions. After 12 years at St. John’s during which time he became a monsignor, Pastor Walter was transferred to the Epiphany Parish on 2nd Avenue at 22nd Street.
Msgr. John Woolsey appointed Pastor
Msgr. Woolsey had been a parish priest, a teacher and head of the Archdiocese’s Family Life/Pro Life Office before being appointed to St. John the Martyr in 1996. In 2004, due to fiscal irregularities, he was removed from the parish by the Archdiocese. Fr. Joseph Baker, who had been Parochial Vicar, was appointed administrator.
Order of Carmelites appointed to run the parish
Fr. Sean Harlow, O.Carm., was named Pastor and Fr. Sunny John, O.Carm., was named Parochial Vicar of St. John’s. Parish committees and ministries were created and began work.
Celebration of the 105th Anniversary as a parish
In April parishioners got to see Pope Benedict at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers or at the celebration of Mass at Yankee Stadium. The 105th Anniversary as a parish was celebrated on November 16. Under the theme, Refounding Our Parish, we held a special Anniversary Mass that called forth a procession of items which were a great tribute to our past and an inspiration for the future. A brunch in the church hall followed the Mass. In December the first night of Pizza, Soda and A Movie began. After a light dinner and the showing of a film, a discussion exploring the dimensions of moral struggle in the film was led by Fr. Michael Tueth, S.J., Associate Professor of the Communication & Media Studies Department at Fordham University.
Carmelite Order continues to lead the parish
Fr. Sean Harlow, Pastor and Fr. Sunny John, Parochial Vicar were joined by three other Carmelite friars in residence: Fr. Paul Feeley, Fr. Raymond Maher and Fr. Sunny Mathew. Four days of special Masses, lectures, benedictions and presentations were held in July to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Her statue became a permanent addition to the church, and the Carmelite tradition of reciting aloud the prayer, Salve Regina, at the end of the Mass was inaugurated.
Despite construction of the 2nd Avenue subway, St. John the Martyr continues to thrive
Underground blasting, intrusive barricades and street trenches were a daily reminder that the Second Avenue subway is in the works, but parishioners for the most part ignored the distractions. The parish re-asserted itself as a center of community life for the faithful with lectures, presentations, booklets, films, feast day celebrations and fundraising, culminating in the repainting of the church.
Fostering Parish Community
St. John the Martyr continued to build parish community in 2011 through a series of liturgical, social and cultural events, as well as a registration drive and an increased offertory campaign.
A Time of Change for St. John the Martyr
The year 2012 brought several changes to St. John the Martyr that reflected the reality that our church, like many others in New York, must confront declining church attendance, fewer priests entering the seminary and higher operating costs. On the other hand, parishioners have remarked that several young families have found a home at St. John the Martyr. The sounds of young children at Mass is a welcome accompaniment to the music supplied by our superb organist/singer, Anne Holland, and our choir.
In April, due to staffing availability, the number of daily masses and Sunday Masses was reduced and the hours that the church is open were curtailed.
In June it was announced that the Carmelite Friars would no longer be at St. John’s. We bid farewell to Fr. Sean Harlow, Fr. Paul Feeley and Fr. Sunny Mathew in August, who had served our parish so faithfully for five years. The priests have variously been assigned to other responsibilities by their order.
Msgr. Ed Weber and Msgr. Michael Hull celebrated masses until October when we welcomed Msgr. Lawrence Connaughton and Fr. Stefan Chanas.
Msgr. Connaughton was the Administrator of St. John the Martyr and Pastor of St. John Nepomucene on First Avenue and 66th Street. The tradition of allowing a priest to serve officially as Pastor of only one parish means that Msgr. Connaughton had to adopt the title of Administrator at Saint John the Martyr although he will effectively serve as our Pastor. Msgr. Connaughton has much experience splitting his time between two locations. He came to St. John’s from serving as Pastor at the Church of St. Stephen/Our Lady of the Scapular on East 28th Street and as Administrator of the Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary on East 33rd Street. Msgr. Connaughton was previously Pastor at St. Joseph’s, Yorkville for 12 years.
Fr. Stefan Chanas was appointed Parochial Vicar at St. John’s. Fr. Chanas was born in Kosice, Slovakia and was ordained in 1996. He served in four parishes in Slovakia before coming to the United States in 2003. Fr. Stefan was Parochial Vicar at St. John Nepomucene until his August appointment to St. Charles Borromeo on Staten Island. He continues to periodically serve the mostly Slovak-speaking parishioners who come from all over the New York metropolitan area to attend liturgies in their native language.