Our earliest records begin in 1890. They indicate that people walked to Saint Catharine’s Church in Blauvelt or to Saint Agatha’s Convent in Nanuet. Some of the early Catholic settlers even traveled to Hackensack in order to attend Mass.
Father John Hughes, pastor of Saint Joseph’s Church in Spring Valley, heard of the Catholics of Pearl River from a conductor on the railroad. To save the people from the long walks for Sunday Mass, Father Hughes began saying Mass in 1893 in the home of Mr. & Mrs. Karl Samuelson on Ridge Street. Two years later Saint Agnes’ Chapel was built on South Main Street on property donated by Mr. William Braunsdorf. It seated fifty people.
Father Hughes died on December 21, 1895 and Father John G. McCormick became pastor of Saint Joseph’s Church in Spring Valley and of the mission church of Saint Agnes in Pearl River. In October 1900, high on a hill west of the town, Father McCormick bought land from Mr. Serven which was to be the site of the new church. The ground was broken for the new church in October and on May 19, 1901 the cornerstone was laid by Monsignor Joseph Mooney, Vicar General of the Archdiocese. Our church was then named Saint Margaret of Antioch. Incidentally, a creek passes through the town in which many pearl mussels had been found. Hence, the town was called Pearl River. Since the name “Margaret” means a “pearl of great beauty”, many people felt that the name “Margaret” would be appropriate for a church in Pearl River.
On July 16, 1905 Father John B. Salter became pastor. He asked the Sisters of Charity, from Saint Agatha’s Convent, to help him educate the children of the parish. He organized charitable committees, made improvements in the church and purchased new windows and vestments. In fact, the field stone wall surrounding the front and side of the church property was built in 1910. By 1900 the Madonna Society was an active group of women who cared for the altar and the needs of the church. Father Salter died on March 26, 1914.
On April 9, 1914 Father John F. Meehan left St. Raymond’s Church in the Bronx to become pastor of Saint Joseph’s and Saint Margaret’s. There were approximately 100 congregants at this time. Father Meehan was pastor for nine years.
In December 1920, Court Regina Filipa of the Catholic Daughters of America was chartered. A few months later Triune Council #2052 of the Knights of Columbus was erected with Father Meehan as its first chaplain. During that time the number of Catholics increased so much that Father Meehan asked Cardinal Hayes, Archbishop of New York, to send a pastor who would be assigned to Saint Margaret’s Parish. In June of 1923, Father Charles M. Woods became the first resident pastor. In 1929, the little wooden Church, with everything in it, was destroyed by fire. For the next two years Mass was celebrated in the Knights of Columbus Hall on Pearl Street.
On November 23, 1930 Father Cornelius V. Hayes became pastor of a parish without a church. It was decided to build the new church where the old one had been. There are two cornerstones at the front of the church. One from 1900 the other Bishop Dunn presided at the laying of on April 12, 1931. The new church, built of brick, is about five times larger than the old one. In October 1931 the church was formally dedicated by His Eminence, Patrick Cardinal Hayes, Archbishop of New York. In fact a cablegram of congratulations was sent on this occasion from His Holiness, Pope Pius XI.
The Holy Name Society continued to be active under its banner dating back to the early twenties. The Rosary Society was also organized at this time. They met monthly and promoted greater love for Jesus through devotion to His Mother.
When Father Michael J. Toner became pastor in 1939 he invited the Sisters of Christian Doctrine (from Marydell in Nyack, New York) to help in the religious education of the children along with the Sisters of Charity. In addition, there was an active program of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine which provided adults, parents, married couples and young single people of the parish the opportunity to learn more about their faith and how to share it with others.
During World War II parishioners formed a group to provide spiritual and material gifts for the 125 men from the parish in the Armed Forces. The Knights of Columbus and Catholic Daughters also furnished the recreation room at Camp Shanks for use of the servicemen.
Saint Margaret’s parish was growing so quickly that in 1953 the Sisters of Saint Dominic of Blauvelt were brought in to begin Saint Margaret’s School. It started with the first four grades and classes were held in temporary quarters. Some classes were in the building which was to be made into a convent while some classes were in the lower church. Sister Blanche was the first principal and the Sisters traveled from Blauvelt every day for the first six months. The new school of eight classrooms was dedicated by Cardinal Spellman in 1954. The first graduates left in 1957. Six years later eight new classrooms were added as well as the cafeteria. The Sisters continued to live in the renovated building which had been built in 1897, until the new convent was ready in 1963. The old building was torn down and the space is now part of the Washington Avenue parking lot.
When Monsignor Toner retired in 1967, Father Michael Bell became pastor. Monsignor Toner continued to live in the rectory until his death on November 7, 1969. He had been a priest for sixty years! Father Bell was the second pastor at Saint Margaret’s to be elevated to the rank of Monsignor. During his pastoral stay a permanent CCD Coordinator was appointed and the Parish Council was originated. Monsignor Bell died on October 25, 1973.
Father John J. McKenna then became our pastor. He came to Saint Margaret’s with a happy combination of a keen mind and a penetrating knowledge of human nature. His humility and statements like “I’m very happy to be here with you” endeared him to our parish.
To be continued...