This weekend the Church of Saint Helena celebrated its 78th anniversary. The church, located at 1315 Olmstead Ave. in Parkchester, was founded May 3, 1942.
In May 1940, Francis Spellman, Archbishop of New York, announced the establishment of a new parish in the Bronx.
The parish was dedicated to St. Helena and its founding pastor was Monsignor Arthur Scanlan, president of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers. It was a post to which he had been appointed in 1930 after serving 20 years on the seminary faculty.
Scanlan named the parish in honor of Archbishop Spellman’s mother Ellen Maria “Nellie” Conway Spellman, who had passed five years previously.
A temporary site was required to fulfill the needs of the infant parish and the old dance hall, tavern and bowling alleys on the property known as Loefflers Picnic Park were chosen. The church’s current green building was the original 1901 tavern building.
In these quarters Scanlan and his two assistants Monsignos Gustave Schultheiss and Henry Vier carried on the spiritual affairs of the church. In September 1940, Sisters of the Order of St. Dominic at Sparkhill, inaugurated the school for 600 children and thus the tavern became a combination church and school.
The ground was broken for the church on Dec. 1, 1940. On Oct. 4, 1941, Scanlan celebrated in the auditorium, the first mass at St. Helena’s and on Christmas morning 1941, mass was offered for the first time in the upper church.
On April 14, 1942, the three limestone altars were finally consecrated when Stephen Donahue, Auxiliary Bishop of New York sealed within the altars the relics of St. Helena and Saints Pia and Amantius.
The rectory is connected to the church and has a kitchen, dining room and administrative offices on the first floor, suites for four priests on the second floor and two priests on the third floor. There are two meeting rooms in the basement.
Archbishop Spellman dedicated the church, and the original program for the dedication of the parish concludes with: “On this third day of May 1942, the work is completed. Today the Vision of St. Helena’s has become a shining reality. May God be praised!”