St. George

Staten Island,
New York

Facts About The History Of St. Peter's R.C. Church On Staten Island

information from The Parish's 140th Anniversary Celebration (1979) & The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission's St. George Historic District Designation Report (1994)

St. Peters from Carroll PlaceThe The nucleus of the present St. Peter's Church met in a gun factory in New Brighton on the southeast corner of Lafayette St. and Richmond Terrace, where weekly Mass was celebrated for the first time in April of 1839

An exiled Spaniard -- the Rev. Ildefonso Madrano -- was the first pastor, arriving on March 28, 1839, to minister to the congregation of about 100 Catholics. Father Madrano was reported to have spoken perfect English, which was allegedly the result of his having served as chaplain to the Irish troops in the Army of the Duke of Wellington in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars. The new pastor's assignment covered all of Staten Island plus New Brunswick and South Amboy, with instructions to "keep an eye on Princeton," which probably had no resident priest and consequently the pastor, who traveled on horseback, visited there on occasion

St. Peters from Carroll PlaceThe gun factory soon became unsuited for church services, and on April 1, the organization of a church occurred, honoring in its name St. Peter. Ground on Carroll Place in New Brighton was donated for the new church by the New Brighton Association.

Work on the new church was slow, and the gun factory was used until the church was opened on March 25, 1844, and dedicated by Bishop John Hughes on September 7, 1844. The building, a small, sturdy brick edifice, was nestled into a hill that descended from the street now known as St. Mark's Place, and faced the harbor. The front door of the structure was reached by precipitous steps leading the steer incline on Carroll Place.

The second pastor, the Rev. John Shanahan (1845), "like the roving missionaries" was instructed to "take care of Staten Island and the Hudson Valley towns." He stayed only a year or two, and then went to serve those who joined the Gold Rush to California, and subsequently became blind.

Succeeding Father Shanahan was the Rev. James Roosevelt Bayley, a nephew of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (founder of the Sisters of Charity), and a convert to Roman Catholicism. Father Bayley subsequently became the first Bishop of Newark, and later the Archbishop of Baltimore.

In August of 1853, the Sisters of Charity came to St. Peter s and established the first parish school in the church basement.

The convent was a frame building which occupied the now empty deep vacant lot on the west side of the present church, and in 1855 accommodated the first students of St. Peter's Academy. The private school educated younger boys, as well as girls through high school. (Parish boys seeking a Catholic high school education attended LaSalle or Xavier high schools in Manhattan.)

From 1862 to 1878. the pastor was the Rev. James L. Conran. When Father Conran's assistant, Father John Farrelly, became secretary to Archbishop McCloskey in 1871, he changed the spelling of his name to Farley. In 1902 he was named Archbishop of New York, and the night he received notice of his elevation, he returned to St. Peter's. There he prayed and meditated in the humble room he occupied when he began his priestly career in 1870 as a curate. In 1911, he was designated a Prince of the Church, the only Cardinal to have served a parish on Staten Island.)

From 1878 to 1890, Father John Barry was pastor. He built the first building designed expressly for the elementary school, which was located at the site of the present building on Richmond Terrace.

St. Peters Church & Rectory In May of 1891, the Rev. Terrence J. Early became pastor, a position which he held for 11 years, until August of 1902. Father Early was by nature a great builder, and it was he who decided the parish needed a new and larger church, which should be longer and bigger, and reversed in lay--out, wherein the balcony of the old church would become the first floor of the present church and the entrance would be on St. Mark's Place.

A fire destroyed the first St. Peter's church building during the 1890's. The present neo-Romanesque structure was designed in 1900 by the architectural firm of Harding & Gooch under the direction of the Reverend Terrence Early. In 1901, the cornerstone of the brick church edifice was laid, and in 1902, work was started on the upper portion. At the conclusion of Father Early's pastorate at St. Peter's in 1902, the church had walls and roof, but no windows, altar or pews.

When Father Charles A. Cassidy assumed the pastorship in 1902, the congregation worshipped in the basement of the edifice under construction. The rectory was an antiquated building from the pre-Civil War era.

St. Peters ChurchOn Thanksgiving Day in 1903, the church was dedicated by Archbishop Farley, and is still today possibly the most magnificent and largest edifice on Staten Island.

French Gothic in style, the church's vaulted ceiling that towers high above the worshippers is so ingeniously constructed that no interior pillars are necessary, and consequently the view from every corner of the church is unobstructed.

Many of the stained-glass windows, which add a colorful touch to the cathedral-like effect, were fashioned of Munich glass from Germany. The onyx altar rail was imported from Italy, and the Stations of the Cross came from France. The main altar was contributed by the Benziger family.

Rectory DoorThe rectory, a five-bay wide main block with a three-bay-wide slightly-recessed wing on the west, and a porch that extends along the east and north sides of the structure is connected to the church by an arcade. Architect George H. Streton's design structure draws on the form of a Renaissance palazzo and neo-Renaissance/neo-Romanesque ornament. (Streeton had other commissions from Roman Catholic dioceses in New York City, including alterations to the Cathedral of Saint James and its new rectory in Brooklyn.) Clad with blended shades of tan brick, the building is enriched by square terra-cotta plaques with various religious symbols at such places as the balustrades of the porches, the frieze below the main roof, and the chimneys. Arched dormer windows project from the north and south sides of the low tripped roof. An open porch with a low balustrade fronts the main block of the house and lamps flank the stone steps; the central entrance has paired twisted columns with foliate capitals supporting the portal with a Virgin Mary and child, flanked by angels, bas-relief sculptural group above. The round-arched window openings with double-hung sash are accented by brick moldings. The arcade-like porch along the east and north sides is articulated with large posts with capitals and secondary square posts; the three western bays of the north wing of the porch have been enclosed with glass at the openings and a brick wall that separates the room from the rest of the porch The basement levels of the house, which are exposed on the north and east sides, have walls of painted concrete; in the east wall at the level below the porch there are round-arched windows and an entrance.

The rectory is connected to the church building by a three-story arcade; the lower level, of concrete and exposed on the north side, is an open walkway. At the upper level (visible from both streets) the brick-faced walls are pierced by round arches supported by twisted columns and filled with multi-paned sash. The yard on the St. Marks Place side of the rectory is edged by a stone retaining wall and enclosed by a fence of brick piers and iron pickets. A concrete walk leads to the porch. Along the east side of the retaining wall is a concrete walk that incorporates several sets of stairs and that provides access to the lower entrance; an iron fence borders the walk along St. Marks Place along the yard east of the rectory.

Return to St. George Home Page

rev. 10/24/96
by David Goldfarb