Restoring the Most Beautiful Church in Westchester

Written By: Peggy Godfrey

Lightning may never strike the same place twice but the parishioners of Blessed Sacrament may feel as devastated as if it had. In the space of a few short years, Blessed Sacrament Church had major repair work: first on the church steeple, and now to redo the front walls. It was only a few years ago that the steeple of the church had to be repaired because if was in “imminent danger of collapse” Parishioners contributed to help finance the nearly half million dollars that were needed to repair this tall and stately steeple that contributed greatly to the architectural beauty of this church. But now only a few years later more work is needed to repair the cracks in the walls of the church facade on Centre Avenue. These cracks caused rain and snow leaks in the church whenever those weather conditions were present.
The Pastor, Msgr William J. Bradley, has informed the parishioners that the cash needed to preserve the “structure and beauty” of the Church is estimated at $970,000. The Archdiocese of New York and Archbishop Dolan have lent the money to “restore the most beautiful Church in Westchester County.” Bradley welcomes donations and recently stated $7,170 had been collected so far. The cost of both these repairs to this historic church have created an enormous financial burden for the parish. A parishioner who is familiar with this type of work noted that extensive work on the walls and peak of the roof is being totally replaced on both sides of the church. The workmen in his view appear to be doing a very good job of restoration and repair.
Blessed Sacrament was always known as the Mother Church of the area. In 1836 it was the first place in the vicinity where the Catholic Mass was celebrated: at George Govers house on Huguenot Street near Memorial Highway. The first church, St. Matthew’s, was completed on Drake’s Lane between Shore Road and St. Joseph’s Street. Subsequently, many Irish immigrants moved into the area and in 1851-2, this church was enlarged.
Serving his parishioners , “Old Father Tom,” had seen the need to have a church for the many German Catholics now living in the “Dutch Hill” section of the area. So he purchased a lot on Centre and Beauchamp Place (now Shea Place). and had a large wooden church structure built there. By 1874 it was dedicated with the name, :”Church of the Blessed Sacrament.” Because of difficulty meeting mortgage payments, the old St. Matthew’s Church and School on Drake Lane between Shore Road and St. Joseph’s Street were closed.
While this area was growing a tragedy occurred. In l890, a bolt of lightning struck the Church of the Blessed Sacrament and it burned to the ground. Only the great bell and cellar remained.
“Old Father Tom” who was now 64 years old, had to begin all over again to collect funds to rebuild the church. Complicating this effort was the increased number of Italian immigrants who now lived in West New Rochelle. The parish had also been divided in 1893 with the creation of St. Gabriel’s Church, In spite of this, the present beautiful, historic church, “Church of the Blessed Sacrament” on Centre Avenue in New Rochelle, was built on the site of the former large wooden church structure and dedicated with the same name the original wood church had in 1874. And the present Blessed Sacrament Church was completed in 1897 before Old Father Tom died and was buried on the site where the bell from the first church had fallen.
The nephew of “Old Father Tom,” was assigned to the church. “Young Father Tom” continued his uncle’s work by completing the church, including placing stained glass windows on the altar, making a new altar of Carrara marble and marble altars for the side chapels.
The enduring legacy of Blessed Sacrament Church is a strong reminder of how this church and congregation have contributed to the City of New Rochelle and its history.. Anyone who wishes to help with the restoration of this 114 year old church can send a donation to Blessed Sacrament Church, 24 Shea Place, New Rochelle, New York l0801.

From the Westchestet Giardian