Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Our Lady Queen of Martyrs To Host Centennial Gala

Rego-Forest Preservation Council is proud to support the preservation and any historically-accurate restoration of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Forest Hills.

Our Lady Queen of Martyrs To Host Centennial Gala
by Michael Perlman of the Forest Hills Times/Queens Ledger

Our Lady Queen of Martyrs photos by Michael Perlman

Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Roman Catholic Church is a sacred and scenic cornerstone in the heart of Forest Hills, and has been for generations. Now parishioners, alumni, and family and friends have the chance to be part of history in the making.

The “100 Years of Gratitude Centennial Dinner Dance Gala” will take place on December 3, at 6 p.m. at Russo’s On The Bay, 162-45 Cross Bay Boulevard in Howard Beach. All proceeds will benefit the church.

This conclusive centennial gala will mark a new chapter, while rejoicing its deeply rooted history of development and the growth of Catholicism since the congregation’s founding in 1912 in Forest Hills.

The gala will follow the glory of the November 18th Centennial Mass of Thanksgiving by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, and the June 3rd Centennial Concert, which featured the Sacred Music Society and honored Reverend Monsignor Joseph Funaro upon his retirement. Rev. Paul R. Sanchez is the new pastor.

As religious buildings age and congregations sometimes dwindle, this church has fared well in both areas, but is in need of funding for restoration and improvements. According to the church’s website, the Centennial Campaign seeks to raise $1,240,000, and $1,440,541 has been pledged by 433 families to date.

Parishioners expressed a bond and recognized the church’s commitment to the community. Parishioner BarbaraAnn Balzaretti Flannery, a member of the Sacred Music Society, will always recall the immediate welcome she and her husband received upon moving to Forest Hills six years ago.

“I have made friends for life, and we are truly part of an amazing family,” she said. “Our Lady Queen of Martyrs is such an important part of Forest Hills history, and I have always favored a magnificent, traditional cathedral. As a musician, the acoustics enable a glorious sound from the organ and orchestra when we have our Christmas concert, a sound that can be heard even from the street.”

Regina Judith Faighes, a parishioner for over 10 years and a lector and choir member, highly anticipates attending the Centennial Gala.

“As this Centennial year draws to a close, I will be a part of the generation that will begin our parish's next century,” she said. “Our church, school, rectory, and convent are architectural gems that are esthetically pleasing even to people who are not members of our Catholic faith. The beauty of these structures augments their sacredness, and I am grateful it did not undergo the modernization that happened to other churches its age following Vatican II.”

Our Lady Queen of Martyrs was modeled after England’s Durham Cathedral, which was erected from 1093 to 1130, and conveyed Medieval ties. The church’s campus is one of the most pristine, stately, and memorable sites in Forest Hills, and spans Queens Boulevard, Ascan Avenue, Austin Street, and 72nd Road.

Its architecturally harmonious buildings of three decades cast a Tudor Neo-Gothic presence within a suburban country setting, which passersby would not typically expect to encounter along the highly civilized Queens Boulevard. Regal architecture is complemented by mature Sycamore and Oak trees, a landscaped perimeter, and inner gardens.

The church’s sanctuary building at 110-06 Queens Boulevard was the recipient of a 1st prize architectural award in the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s annual building competition in December 1939.

Designed by architects Maginnis & Walsh of Boston and erected by the Edmund J. Naughton Building Corp. for a cost of $365,000, it was part of a $2,000,000 building plan. The groundbreaking took place on May 18, 1938, where Reverend Joseph R. McLaughlin told the operator “Now do your stuff.”

After the church was able to acquire a square block, McLaughlin shared his vision of a church and a rectory on December 3, 1936. It came to fruition when the church opened on November 5, 1939. In front of 3,000 attendees, Bishop Molloy led a dedication ceremony on May 30, 1940. The church signified the enthusiastic nature of a small Catholic community in Forest Hills, but with expanding demographics due to the nearby 1939-1940 World’s Fair, the new church became an icon in the eyes of many.

Backtracking, in January 1929, the church’s Parochial School at 72-15 Austin Street won a 1st prize award in the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s Institutional Buildings category. It was also designed by Maginnis & Walsh, and erected by Laurence J. Rice. To the benefit of the 22-year-old Forest Hills community, the sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary opened the school on September 9, 1928, and would later teach its students. Through 1939, the 500-plus seat School Hall hosted church services, and in 1984, it was named McLaughlin Hall in homage to the first pastor.

A three-story convent would rise on 72nd Road in 1953. In December 1954, it was also the recipient of a 1st prize architectural award by the Chamber. It would house 24 sisters of the teaching order, and contain a chapel. Carved in stone, the convent features a life-sized statue of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs.

Our Lady Queen of Martyrs’ 100 years can be traced to November 13, 1912, when permission was granted by Bishop Charles E. McDonnell for a Sunday Mass in Forest Hills. The Bishop was noted for the development of Catholic schools and churches to address Catholic immigrants’ spiritual needs.

Margaret Dealy offered her Forest Hills home for Mass. On May 28, 1916, a humble wood-framed chapel was dedicated by the bishop, but succumbed to fire on April 29, 1929.

The current church’s interior is grand yet warm, with its vaulted ceilings, archways, columns, and abundant stained glass. The perspective from the pulpit area makes it seem more intimate. The church is cruciform in layout, reminiscent of most early churches.

Architectural features are enriching, and offer a lesson in religious history. For example, The Pieta is one of many limestone carvings found over the arched main portal and secondary entrances on Ascan Avenue, as well as the Queens Boulevard portal.

Ornamental carvings include the Scale of Judgment and the Ten Commandments tablets, and the pelican brass gate in front of the altar. Wooden pulpit statues include St. Augustine.

The extensive quantity of multi-sized and shaped stained glass windows of the campus’ Weymouth granite, Indiana limestone, and Deer Island granite trimmed façades offer varying motifs and biblical lessons. A rectangular steeple bears dominance over Queens Boulevard, and a traditional spire adds uniqueness to Austin Street.

“The architecture and stained glass are magnificent, and with its illuminated façade at night, as our Administrator and former pastor Msgr. Funaro so well phrased it,” said Faighes, “it is a beacon of faith on Queens Boulevard.”