St. Clare's Church (Staten Island)

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Saint Clare Church
St. Clare's Church (Staten Island) is located in New York City
St. Clare's Church (Staten Island)
Location within New York City
Coordinates: 40°32′49″N 74°9′0″W / 40.54694°N 74.15000°W / 40.54694; -74.15000
Location110 Nelson Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10308
CountryUnited States
DenominationRoman Catholic
Membership>7,000 families (2019)
FoundedJuly 7, 1918 (1918-07-07) (Mission);
January 5, 1925 (1925-01-05) (Parish)
DedicationClare of Assisi
Architect(s)Eggers & Higgins (1921);
J.S. Shanley (1959)
StyleColonial Revival
Construction cost$15,985 (1921);
>$1 million (1959)
ArchdioceseNew York
Pastor(s)Arthur J. Mastrolia
Saint Clare School
151 Lindenwood Road (K–8)
150 Nelson Avenue (PreK)

Staten Island
EstablishedSeptember 14, 1936 (1936-09-14)
PrincipalDenise C. Olsen
GradesPreK–8 (originally 1–8)
SloganFaith, Service, Excellence
Architect(s)Eggers & Higgins (1936);
J.S. Shanley (1959);
Belfatto & Pavarini (1990);
Businelli & Perrella (2001)

The Church of Saint Clare, located in the Great Kills neighborhood of Staten Island, New York City, is the largest-membership parish under the authority of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. It is dedicated to Clare of Assisi, and it includes a co-educational PreK–8 Catholic school and Religious Education program. It became an independent parish in 1925 and has six principal buildings dating from 1921 to 1979: the church, school, converted convent, parish center, chapel, and rectory. St. Clare's has received national attention for its architecture, its educational programs, its heavy casualties from the September 11 attacks, and its two pastors lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The parish normally celebrates seven Masses each weekend in the church, and three each weekday in the chapel.[1] A typical sacramental year also includes 50 weddings and more than 200 funerals, baptisms, first confessions, first communions, confirmations, and anointings of the sick. The parish has over 7,000 registered families, including hundreds of volunteers providing a wide range of ministries and community service.[2][3]

Parish boundaries[edit]

After Eltingville's Holy Child Church was established in 1966, St. Clare's parish territory has been similar to the Great Kills 10308 ZIP Code.[4] St. Clare's main boundaries are, in clockwise order:[5]
SouthGreat Kills Park, Great Kills Harbor
West – Littlefield, Pacific, Ridgewood Avenues
NorthArthur Kill Road
East – Tanglewood Drive, Ocean View Cemetery, Bay Terrace

Ministries and programs[edit]


St. Clare Parish offers a broad array of spiritual, educational, and social outreach ministries. With priests and nuns no longer in great supply, the parish typically relies on an experienced pastor, three or four additional clergy, and lay ministerial support from dozens of full- and part-time staff members and hundreds of active volunteers.[6] These serve as "teachers, lectors, musicians, ushers, Communion ministers, Parish Council members, and ... [in] counseling fellow parishioners, welcoming new residents, guiding new parents, coaching young students, organizing social activities (often with nearby congregations), protecting the environment, maintaining the parish properties, leading prayer groups, caring for the sick and unborn, advising the unemployed, feeding the hungry, consoling the bereaved".[4]


St. Clare School and other students in the parish, particularly the science enrichment program, have often been recognized for major community projects,[7] and have been strong competitors in international technology tournaments.[8][9] Students are also active participants in extra-curricular sports, scouting, and the arts,[3][6] including a 2016 Northeast division championship for St. Clare Cheerleading.[10] All this is additional to the rigorous academic training for which New York's Catholic schools are known.[11][12]

National recognition[edit]

The National Catholic Educational Association honored St. Clare Parish in 2007 with a "SPICE Award" for ministry-related technologies,[13] and again in 2008 with a "Mustard Seed Award" for family involvement.[14] Today's Catholic Teacher magazine cited the school's community projects, in bestowing a national "Catholic Schools for Tomorrow Award for Innovations in Education" in 2008.[7]

Parishioner viewpoints[edit]

In 2013, the Archdiocese surveyed members of all its parishes and collected 399 responses from St. Clare's, most very favorable. This large parish was sometimes perceived as more hectic than peaceful, and the majority of members had relatively low involvement, especially young adults. Still, the parish received an overall rating of 9.2 out of 10, including many appreciative comments and constructive suggestions.[15]


Key events[edit]

On July 7, 1918, St. Clare Church was established as a mission of Richmondtown's Church of St. Patrick, by its pastor, Charles J. Parks. Shortly before his death in 1922, he and the Presentation Sisters of Staten Island established St. Clare's Religious Education program. Bolstered by waves of Catholic immigration to New York, mostly from Ireland and then Italy, St. Clare's became an independent parish on January 5, 1925. The patronal saint was chosen in memory of Clare Parks, a deceased member of the founder's family.[2][4]

The original mission church was a rented hall along then-rural Giffords Lane during 1918–1921, and the hall continued to host church activities until 1953. The first actual church building for St. Clare Parish was dedicated on October 30, 1921, and was physically moved 300 feet (90 m) south along Nelson Avenue in October 1957. It became a chapel when the current octagonal church was completed in 1959 to accommodate Great Kills' surging population, in anticipation of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge from Brooklyn.[2][4]

World Trade Center memorial (2002), with 29 names and an eternal flame

The full-time, co-educational St. Clare School opened on September 14, 1936, during the Great Depression. It was established under the direction of pastor Daniel M. Dougherty, principal Mary Dominic Ward, and her community of Presentation Sisters who continued leading the school through 2004. Located along Lindenwood Road behind the church, St. Clare School originally served Grades 1–8, now PreK–8. The building was enlarged twice, with new wings added in 1959 and 1990.[2][4]

St. Clare Church received widespread media coverage for its support activities after 29 parishioners died suddenly from the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001. The church property now has an eternal flame in their memory.[16][17] The church also provided extensive assistance when Staten Island was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.[18][19] St. Clare was hit hard in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed religious gatherings and claimed the lives of dozens of parish members, including pastor Richard J. Guastella and retired pastor Joseph P. Murphy.[4][20][21]

Charles J. Parks, founding rector


St. Clare's Mission, Parish, and School have been led by the following individuals, from founding to present.[2][4]

Rectors of St. Clare Mission:

  1. Charles J. Parks (1918–1922)
  2. David C. O'Connor (1922–1925)

Pastors of St. Clare Parish:

  1. David C. O'Connor (1925–1931)
  2. Daniel M. Dougherty (1931–1944)
  3. Christopher B. McCann (1944–1948)
  4. William J. Farricker (1948–1954)
  5. John J. Flanagan (1954–1973)
  6. John P. Keogh (1973–1985)
  7. Joseph P. Murphy (1985–2008)
  8. Richard J. Guastella (2008–2020)
  9. Arthur J. Mastrolia (2020– )

Principals of St. Clare School:

  1. Mary Dominic Ward, P.B.V.M. (1936–1943)
  2. Mary John, P.B.V.M. (1943–1951)
  3. Mary Monica Hussey, P.B.V.M. (1951–1964)
  4. Mary Assisium Schaber, P.B.V.M. (1964–1986)
  5. Rosemary H. Ward, P.B.V.M. (1986–2004)
  6. Jo N. Rossicone (2004–2015)
  7. Theresa M. Signorile (2015–2021)
  8. Denise C. Olsen (2021– )

Thomas J. McDonnell, an Assistant Rector of St. Clare Mission, was later consecrated as a Bishop in 1947.[4] Edmund J. Dobbin, O.S.A., who graduated from St. Clare School in 1949, later became the longest-serving President of Villanova University.[22] Eugene J. Hicks, the first black Catholic priest ordained in New York,[23] was St. Clare's Associate Pastor and longest-serving priest, from 1957 until his death in 1986.[4]

Architectural highlights[edit]

"St. Clare's now has six principal buildings dating from 1921 to 1979: the church, school, converted convent, parish center, chapel, and rectory. In counter-clockwise order, they surround the perpetually busy central parking lot, and in turn are surrounded by the suburban neighborhood's detached one- and two-family homes. The church property occupies 2.5 acres (1.0 ha) between Lindenwood Road and Nelson Avenue, within the long block to the north of Edgewood Road in the heart of Great Kills."[24][25]

Chapel (old church) and rectory[edit]

Rectory (1927) and old church (1921), in their original position along Nelson Avenue

The Mission of St. Clare met in a rented hall until 1921, when its own church building was dedicated on the hilltop of Nelson Avenue. This wooden building accommodated 250 people, and was commended as the first Catholic church in the United States designed in simple Colonial style, by young architects Otto R. Eggers and Daniel P. Higgins. (Higgins was a member of St. Clare's congregation.) To make way for a larger church, in 1957 the building was rolled to a new site on Nelson Avenue, where it remains in use as a chapel for weekday Masses and Eucharistic Adoration. When a deteriorated foundation required major reconstruction in 2003, the parish added a finished basement, for a large and flexible meeting space (including a lending library) named the Faith Formation Center.[24][26]

St. Clare's present rectory is little changed since it was built in 1927, for priests' living quarters and the parish office. The 2.5-story house blended into the residential neighborhood, and all of St. Clare's later buildings were designed in red brick, harmonizing with the rectory's exterior.[24]

Baltimore Basilica's interior (1821),
an inspiration for St. Clare's (1959)

Church and school[edit]

In 1959, fast-growing St. Clare's completed the largest building project ever undertaken by a Staten Island parish: A new church accommodated 700 people, and a new wing more-than-doubled the school's capacity. (The original 1936 portion of St. Clare School had been designed by parishioner Higgins, on Lindenwood Road behind his 1921 church building.) The 1959 church and school wing, connected by two indoor passageways, were designed by Joseph Sanford Shanley, a leading specialist for Catholic churches on the East Coast. The octagon-shaped, red-brick church exterior in Colonial Revival style was patterned after Shanley's pioneering Church of St. Charles Borromeo (Newark 1937). St. Clare's open, brightly domed interior drew inspiration from the first Catholic cathedral built in the United States (Baltimore 1821). St. Clare's 1959 building included air-conditioning, a first for a Staten Island church (later extended to the entire school); stained-glass windows by Michael A. Zappalorti (completed in 1969), portraying the Life of Clare in 13th-century Italy; and a pipe organ from M. P. Möller, Inc., with exposed geometric pipework in the rear gallery. The school was expanded with another new wing in 1990 by architects Belfatto & Pavarini, and the church organ was expanded in 2002 by Peragallo Pipe Organ Company and Schulmerich Bells.[24][27][28][29][30]


Presentation Convent (1963),
then Presentation Center (1999)

Soon after the school's 1959 expansion, St. Clare's bought an adjacent house for the faculty of Presentation Sisters, who had been commuting daily for 25 years. Parish member Kenneth W. Milnes designed the conversion and expansion of the 1931 house into a 16-bedroom convent with its own chapel. Construction finished in 1963, and the Chamber of Commerce cited it as one of the best building projects on Staten Island that year. In 1999, St. Clare's Presentation Convent was re-dedicated as the Presentation Center, providing office space and meeting rooms for the lay ministers carrying forth the retired Sisters' legacy of service.[24]

Parish center[edit]

Cardinal Cooke Center (1979),
with St. Clare statue

St. Clare's Cardinal Cooke Center (1979) is a social facility that includes a large pre-kindergarten and a heavily used gym. The main Nelson Avenue entrance is highlighted by a contemporary 16-foot (5 m) statue of St. Clare, one of her tallest in the world, sculpted by parishioner Hans Karl. The building was actually designed before St. Clare's had a pre-kindergarten program, which prompted a major interior re-design in 2001 by parishioner David L. Businelli and professor Stephen Perrella. Their playfully modern colors and shapes earned an Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects and received national attention. Businelli also designed St. Clare's landscaped Pathway of Prayer (2000, Chamber of Commerce award), the adjacent World Trade Center memorial (2002), and the chapel basement Faith Formation Center (2003).[24][31][32]

Other photo highlights[edit]

These images are in chronological order, clickable for more detail:

Other St. Clare facilities in New York City[edit]

Established in the 1920s like their Staten Island counterpart, other active churches in New York City dedicated to the same patroness are St. Clare of Assisi's Church (Bronx) and St. Clare Church (Rosedale, Queens). The early 1900s also included St. Clare Church (Manhattan), from 1903 until it was closed in 1937 and razed for the Lincoln Tunnel. All of these Catholic churches established St. Clare parochial schools.[33][34][35][36]

Saint Clare's Hospital (Manhattan) was founded by the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany and provided service from 1934 to 2007, notably including New York's first specialized care for HIV/AIDS patients.[37][38] In addition, nuns of the contemplative Order of St. Clare maintained a large Monastery of St. Clare from 1933 to 1999 in the Bronx, after 18 years in upper Manhattan.[39][40]


  1. ^ "Mass Schedule". Church of St. Clare. Retrieved September 12, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e Benanti, Carol Ann (September 19, 2012). "Staten Island's St. Clare's School plans 75th anniversary celebration". Staten Island Advance. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
  3. ^ a b "2018–2019 Annual Parish Report" (PDF). Church of St. Clare. October 20, 2019. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "History of Saint Clare Parish". Church of St. Clare. Retrieved June 22, 2021. Most of this Parish History was taken from the commemorative journal Saint Clare's School: Golden Jubilee 1936–1986. The original 1986 version was researched by Angela Ryan with archival assistance from Monsignor Florence Daniel Cohalan and Sister Marguerita Smith, and written by Thomas Reilly.
  5. ^ "St. Clare Parish Boundary". Archdiocese of New York. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  6. ^ a b "Ministries and Services Directory" (PDF). Church of St. Clare. April 21, 2019. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  7. ^ a b c "Catholic Schools for Tomorrow Award" (PDF). Today's Catholic Teacher. March 2008. Retrieved December 17, 2018.
  8. ^ Lore, Diane C. (May 26, 2011). "Team from St. Clare's School and its robotic dragon score big in St. Louis competition". Staten Island Advance. Retrieved December 17, 2018.
  9. ^ Brogle, Courtney (June 14, 2018). "Innovative St. Clare's Transformers closer to global LEGO domination". Staten Island Advance. Retrieved December 17, 2018.
  10. ^ "2016 UCA Northeast Championship: Results" (PDF). Universal Cheerleaders Association. November 12, 2016. Retrieved March 20, 2019.
  11. ^ Goodwin, Michael (June 20, 2012). "Schools done right". New York Post. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
  12. ^ Tierney, John (January 19, 2001). "Catholic Schools' Success Teaches Lessons Money Can't Buy". The New York Times. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
  13. ^ "St. Clare's cited for its embrace of technology" (PDF). Staten Island Advance. April 28, 2007. Retrieved May 29, 2019.
  14. ^ a b DosSantos, Juliann (March 13, 2008). "National Catechetical, School Honorees Named in Archdiocese" (PDF). Catholic New York. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  15. ^ "Survey Results". Church of St. Clare. Retrieved January 23, 2019. overall rating of 9.2... model parish... outstanding parish... too many distractions... struggle to find peace... try to reach the young adult population... many members still have little or no involvement...
  16. ^ Marbella, Jean (September 11, 2003). "Hit hard, a borough heals". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved September 13, 2018.
  17. ^ Golway, Terry (December 3, 2001). "An Advent of Mourning". America. Retrieved March 28, 2021.
  18. ^ "Hurricane Sandy". Church of St. Clare. 2012–2013. Retrieved September 13, 2018.
  19. ^ "Robin Hood Announces $9.59 million in latest round of Hurricane Sandy Relief Grants" (Press release). PR Newswire. January 25, 2013. Retrieved September 13, 2018.
  20. ^ Blair, Leonardo (May 18, 2020). "Coronavirus claims retired NY priest weeks after killing his successor". The Christian Post. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  21. ^ Moakley, Paul (April 12, 2020). "On Easter, One New York City Church Mourns the Loss of Its Leader as Its Priests Recover From COVID-19". TIME. Retrieved March 14, 2021.
  22. ^ "In Memoriam: Edmund J. Dobbin, O.S.A., 31st President of Villanova University". The Augustinians: Province of Saint Thomas of Villanova. March 9, 2015. Retrieved September 13, 2018.
  23. ^ "Of Men and Maids". New York Age. May 24, 1952. Retrieved April 13, 2019. The first Negro priest to be ordained in St. Patrick's, Father Hicks will be assigned to Hyde Park. Jackie Robinson, another 'first,' wired congratulations to his counterpart in the field of religion.
  24. ^ a b c d e f "Architectural Highlights". Church of St. Clare. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  25. ^ "Property valuation of Nelson Avenue, Staten Island, NY". Retrieved January 7, 2019. 110 Nelson Avenue... Church of St Clare... fiscal year: 2014/2015... Land size: 109,000 square feet [ = 2.5 acres = 1.0 ha]
  26. ^ "Roman Catholic Church of St. Clare" (PDF). The American Architect. 119 (2351): 40–41, 51. January 12, 1921. Retrieved December 22, 2018. The promoters of this undertaking contemplate the adoption of a Georgian Colonial type of architecture and further propose to include in the group replicas of many of the structures that are today landmarks of our Colonial history... We do not recall, and we doubt if ever before there has been built in this country a Roman Catholic church of any size that took for its architectural expression a style so purely American.
  27. ^ "Saint Clare's Church and School Are Dedicated". The Catholic News. May 28, 1960.
  28. ^ "Joseph S. Shanley Is Dead at 75; Architect for Many Churches" (PDF). The New York Times. December 9, 1969. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  29. ^ "St. Charles Borromeo (Greater Friendship Baptist Church), Newark, NJ". International Hildreth Meière Association. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
  30. ^ Zappalorti, Michael A.; Enoch, Elizabeth M.; Daniti, Frank; Daniti, Theresa (1994). Stained Glass Windows (PDF). Church of St. Clare. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  31. ^ "Honor Award – Interior Architecture: St. Clare's Parish Center". Staten Island A.I.A. Chapter Award Journal. American Institute of Architects. May 22, 2002.
  32. ^ Busch, Jennifer Thiele (February 2003). "Active Design" (PDF). Contract Magazine. Retrieved December 22, 2018.
  33. ^ Falco, Nicholas (October 11, 2004). "An Historical Sketch of the Parish of Saint Clare of Assisi". St. Clare of Assisi Parish, Bronx, New York. Archived from the original on March 7, 2012.
  34. ^ "St. Clare: Rosedale, Queens NY". Retrieved January 9, 2019.
  35. ^ "Parish Status and Record Location" (PDF). Archdiocese of New York. January 19, 2017. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  36. ^ Dunlap, David W. (2004). From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan's Houses of Worship. Columbia University Press. p. 198.
  37. ^ Martin, Julia (April 23, 1998). "A Phoenix: St. Clare's Hospital launches $45 million modernization as it plans for future". Catholic New York. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
  38. ^ Iannucelli, Jane (August 31, 2007). "Dear Visitor". St. Vincent's Midtown Hospital. Archived from the original on February 16, 2013.
  39. ^ "Cardinal Dedicates Monastery in Bronx" (PDF). The New York Times. May 5, 1933. Retrieved January 9, 2019.
  40. ^ "The History of Poor Clares in New York". Poor Clares of New York. Retrieved January 9, 2019.

External links[edit]