Anyone who visits this part of Queens can find a lovely, elegant landmark situated between Parsons Boulevard and Union Turnpike — the Church of St. Nicholas of Tolentine. More than a sanctuary, it provides comfort and beauty to both body and soul. It is where we dream, heal and refresh our spirits when we visit.
The story of this Church is important. It is a story of faith and the meaning of Church’s history in God’s design. It is a story of continuity and of a mission, from the Augustinian Fathers who ran the race for 80 years as beacons of light in a broken world to the Diocesan priests who pass the torches of hope onward.
While it was in 1916 that the Augustinian Fathers founded St. Nicholas of Tolentine Parish, their missionary work began in the Brooklyn Diocese 75 years earlier. In 1836, Jamaica was in a robust mood. The advent of the railroad brought an influx of Irish Catholics and laborers to an already highly populated area. Over time, the Augustinians expanded their missions in Queens to include Williamsburg, Flatbush, Sag Harbor and Long Island. Their efforts produced a small Church in Jamaica dedicated to St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. Their tenure in Jamaica ended temporarily in 1844, only to resume in 1916.
Meanwhile, the Parkway Village, Pomonok and Electchester Housing, and the establishment of St. John’s University in the 1950s, increased population. St. Nicholas of Tolentine School, run by the Sisters of Charity of Halifax since 1929, was an added impetus to the growth of the neighborhood. This served to make the old parish church incapable of serving the spiritual needs of the parishioners. Once, in 1959 as recorded in the Church’s archives, the parish’s Confirmation Class of 418 was so large that parents and well-wishers were barred from the services. It was at this time that the Brooklyn Diocese and the Officials of the Villanova Province of the Augustinian Order undertook a massive Building Fund Drive and constructed a new edifice. On Aug. 1, 1964, the Most Reverend Bishop Bryan J. McEntegart presided at the dedication and blessing of St. Nicholas of Tolentine, a landmark that is our Church today.
While the departure of the Augustinians from St. Nicholas of Tolentine in 1997 marked the end of an era, it also inaugurated a new beginning. In the time of transition, Brooklyn Diocesan priests assumed the challenging tasks of leading the spiritual and ministerial needs for this community of faith. Sweeping changes in the Church building, however, had taken place throughout the years. After enduring the freeze and thaw cycles of decades of harsh winters, segments of the building began to crack, and the paints to blister and peel. Signs of distress here and there followed one after another — deteriorating masonry, clogged drain pipes, water leaks, and so forth.
For anyone in love with this church, to support the idea of a massive beautification and restoration project in 2002 was a golden opportunity. Through the generosity of the SNT staff, Pastoral Council and the parishioners, the Church found a congregation embarked on a $1.5 million capital campaign and restoration project. Finally, on Sept. 28, 2003, the Most Reverend Bishop Thomas V. Daily presided at the rededication of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church!
If our Christian heritage is to be recalled and discovered, we need the support of something tangible: human hands must be able to touch, ears must hear, eyes must see and hearts must praise and sing. The monuments of sacred art inside our Church — whether they be the stained-glass windows, the Altar Table, the Tabernacle or the Baptismal Font — become the living stones that activate memory of our Christian faith. At the very heart of the Liturgy and the Holy Eucharist lies a vivid image, a symbol, a hymn, a prayer leading to another revelation of truth, holiness and beauty. It belongs to all of us and we can lay claim to the manifestation of the Divine Beauty anytime!
Ultimately, the choice to become a steward begins in our minds and hearts. When we take a step, share our gifts and commit ourselves to our parish Church, we don’t just affect our own lives. We have an impact on all those around us. When we give in the name of love, what we get back is harder to define. For while they are intangible, the rewards are far greater that we can ever imagine.
We can’t explain it, but we know it is true. When we give of ourselves, we receive a hundred-fold in return. And that is simply, my friends, God’s abundant supply!