St. Benedict’s parish is heading into its 90th anniversary with the winds of change blowing through both the church and the community.
But as the adage goes, the more things change...
Pastor Father Stephen Norton welcomed back priests who had served the parish in the past as they celebrated the 90th anniversary with a special mass followed by a celebration in Father Albert Hall on Saturday, Sept. 21.
Several former priests returned, including Bishop Robert Brucato, a former pastor and current Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of New York, who celebrated the mass.
“We were just trying to celebrate the incorporation of the parish of the church on Sept. 23, 1923 [with an official 90th anniversary mass] that was like a family celebration instead of a big elaborate celebration,” he said.
In an interview, the pastor opened up about what is going on at the parish level, and noted some of the changes affecting St. Benedict’s parish and the larger Archdiocese of New York.
“It is interesting that in our 90th year, the diocese itself is beginning to look forward and seeing how we can remain relevant into the 21st century,” he said.
Some changes are affecting the parish school, which like all schools run by the Archdiocese of New York, is now in part of a regional board.
Norton has taken on the role of chairman of the East Bronx and Northeast Bronx regional board for Archdiocese of New York schools.
He also noted how the changing demographics of the surrounding community have added to the diversity of the parish community, with St. Benedict’s seeing an increase in its Spanish-speaking population which continues to join together nicely with the Irish and Italians who built the parish and sustained it through the decades.
“If you look at St. Benedict’s parish, and we are still a very strong and strongly held Irish and Italian-American family, but like most of the Bronx, there is an Hispanic population moving in,” said Norton,
The pastor said that he is also assisting with an Archdiocesan initiative called “Making All Things New,” which analyzes church operations with an eye towards improving efficiency.
St. Benedict’s parish has a storied and somewhat tumultuous history.
Founded, in part so that families in Throggs Neck did not have to travel to St. Raymonds in Castle Hill for mass, the parish was originally housed in two pre-fab army barrack buildings facing what is today Bruckner Blvd.
The parish school was founded five years after the church, but the Great Depression plunged church finances into disarray, and it took until the the 1950s for all debts to be cleared, according to the church’s website history.
The current church was built in the booming post-War years.
In addition to Brucato, past priests who also returned to St. Benedict’s for the 90th anniversary celebration included former pastors Father Anthony Sorgie and Monsignor Edmund Whelan, as well as priests Father Eric Rasser and Father Andrew Belaik.