St. Virgilius Roman Catholic Church and its predecessor missions have been faithfully serving the Gospel on the island of Broad Channel for over 100 years. As the only inhabited island in Jamaica Bay the community of Broad Channel was founded in 1875 and was considered an ideal summer community. It eventually became a year round home for many families, today over 900 families call “The Venice of New York” home.
In its earliest days the residents had to travel to St. Rose of Lima Church in Rockaway to attend Mass. Around 1905 a visiting priest from the Passionist Monastery in Jersey City, Fr. Hilliary, would say Mass in the home of his relatives in Broad Channel, to which the residents were invited. In 1912 the Pastor of St. Rose of Lima, Fr. James Bennett, was able to provide a priest to offer Mass on a regular basis. The first Mass was said in the dining room of Chris Hoob’s hotel. A formal mission was built on the southwest corner of Church and 8 Road and was dedicated on July 4, 1914.
In 1921 Fr. James Bennett was appointed Pastor of the new parish of St. Virgilius and by 1926 a new Church structure was built on Church Road near Noel Road. The original church had its entrance on Church Road. The Church building was eventually turned 90 degrees by a local contractor till it was placed in its current location.
Fr. Joseph Curran was appointed pastor of St. Virgilius in 1926, under his guidance a parochial school was established and staffed by the Sisters of St. Francis. The school served the needs of Broad Channel for over 80 years.
The parish of St. Virgilius continued to grow as did the community of Broad Channel, parish organizations, dramatic societies, a Holy Name society and choir were all created. Additionally a church hall was established to serve the needs of the Parish and School. The original hall was destroyed by a fire; but a new location was found on Crossbay Blvd. at 20th Road.
During the Great Depression the pastor, Fr. George Murphy, worked for the community by assisting in WPA job placements, food distributions and other aid for the hard hit community.
Fr. Murphy’s successor, Fr. George Helfenstein became Administrator of the Parish in 1941 and was very active in working for the young men and women in service during WW ll through letter writing campaigns and servicemen’s “care” packages.
After World War ll, Fr.Jerimiah Davidson oversaw extensive repairs and renovations to the Church and Parish buildings.
The priests of St. Virgilius were involved in the Broad Channel resident’s efforts to purchase the land that their home sat on, from Fr. Helfenstein in 1944 through 1982 with Msgr. Kieran Martin serving on the committee that negotiated the sale from the City of New York.
During the early 1960’s the Parish, under the direction of Fr. Thomas Ford, raised the funds for the construction of a Convent at 210 Noel Road to replace the convent which housed the Sisters of St. Francis on the second and third floor of the School. St. Virgilius Convent has served the parish in various manners: first it was a convent for the Sisters of St. Francis, then briefly for the Sisters of St. Joseph. When the Rectory on 8th Road was sold, 210 Noel Road became the parish office, chapel and meeting space, as well as the home for the pastors – Msgr. Kieran Martin, Fr. Charles White and Fr. John Wtulich, who resided there during their tenure as Pastor of St. Virgilius . It now serves as a home (convent) for The Daughters of Wisdom Order.
The liturgical reforms of Vatican Two affected the Church of St. Virgilius. Under the direction of Fr. John P. Maloney who came to St. Virgilius for his first assignment, the Church on Broad Channel was transformed in accordance with the design of the new liturgy. Fr. Maloney enlisted the skilled labor of the men of the parish to update the Church and make the renovations. Before he retired Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio assigned Fr. Maloney back to the parish of St. Virgilius (2006-2008) as Administrator.
Although St. Virgilius is a small parish, it has been the seed of many vocations over the years: Fr. Martin Rushford was ordained in June 1933 and said his first Mass in St. Virgilius Church. Fr. James Hudson (Fathers of Mercy) offered his first mass in St. Virgilius in 1937. Rev. Ronald Bruckner (1965) was ordained in New Mexico. Fr. James Meehan was ordained for the Order of St. Francis. Presently, three parishioners serve the Diocese of Brooklyn: Fr. Richard Ahlemeyer (1977) – the present pastor; Fr. Peter Gillen (1978); Fr. Thomas Doyle (1984). Fr. Timothy O’Sullivan (1994) was ordained for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Several parishioners have become Religious: Brother Donald Bruckner and Brother Michael William Reis. There are several women from the parish who entered religious communities of Sisters: S. Maureen Meehan, S. Frances Devine, S. Ann Marie Whitty, S. Helen Wilson, S. Kathleen Stagnaro (OFM), S. Lucille Forbes (S.C.), S. Patricia O’ Sullivan (S.C.), S. Margaret Kimmins (OFM) who serves the Sisters of St. Francis as the General Counsel, S. Patricia Curreri (DW) who has returned to live in the parish and S. Maureen Ahlemeyer (PBVM) who now serves the parish as coordinator of Religious Education.
St. Virgilius and its members have been and continue to be a good neighbor to its island community, over the years it has sponsored Boy & Girl Scout and Sea Scout troops, sports teams, has lent its facilities to PAL activities in its Parish Hall. It has supported the local VFW and American Legion Posts, Knights of Columbus and the Broad Channel Volunteer Fire & Ambulance Department. In conjunction with the BCAC, youth participate and have excelled in many Catholic Youth Organization Sports in the Diocese: Baseball, Softball, Basketball, Swimming, Soccer and Track. When the Christ Presbyterian Church facility was damaged by fire and latter by storms their congregation held their services in St. Virgilius. Additionally, in the spirit of cooperation, Ash Wednesday ecumenical services with Christ Presbyterian Church were established during the tenure of Fr. Charles White.
In 2008, the parishes of St. Camillus and St. Virgilius merged. The new parish continues to operate two separate worship sites because the Bishop appreciates the need for a Church on the Island of Broad Channel. Even when severe damage was caused by “Superstorm” Sandy, parishioners came to the rescue to reopen St. Virgilius Church immediately so that Mass could be celebrated the Sunday after the storm and continue to support the people of Broad Channel. Presently plans are being discussed to replace the two school buildings.
St. Virgilius has completed its first 100 years of serving the Gospel in the Island of Broad Channel and is looking forward to its next 100 years of service to God and community.
St. Virgilius R.C. Church - Broad Channel N.Y.
Attended from St. Rose of Lima 1912-1921
James J. Bennet 1921- 1926
Joseph C. Curren 1926-1932
James T. Rogers 1926-1927
George B. Murphy 1932-1941
George F. Helfenstein 1941-1944
Maurice J. Rochford 1944-1948
Jeremiah J. Davidson 1948-1964
Thomas V. Ford 1964-1969
Kieran J. Martin 1969-1994
Charles H. White 1994-2003
John W Wtulich 2003-2006
John “Jack “ Maloney- 2006-2008
Richard J. Ahlemeyer 2008-