The Church of the Magdalene: A ‘Hidden Gem’ in Pocantico Hills

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The Church of the Magdalene parish may be just what parish council president David Impastato told CNY: “A hidden gem.”

“It’s a wonderful community of people,” said Impastato, 57, of the parish that just completed its 125th anniversary celebrations. “It’s in Pocantico Hills, which is not a well-known area (of Westchester County). It’s just a beautiful church with stained-glass windows and a painting above the altar. We have people who come from up to 12 communities to attend Mass.

“It’s a wonderful environment, very welcoming.”

The Church of the Magdalene has 550 families registered and a combined weekend attendance of 380 at three Masses—5 p.m. Saturday and 9 and 11 a.m. Sunday. The parish, which has an 8 a.m. Mass Monday through Friday, has grown a bit since Father John Vigilanti was appointed administrator in 2016. There is also potential for additional growth, with more than 1,100 residential units being constructed near the parish along the Hudson River on land that was once a General Motors plant in Sleepy Hollow.

The religious education program enrolls 180 students, with Dorothy Meehan serving as director of religious education. The parish also maintains the records for sacraments administered at Westchester Medical Center and the Westchester County Jail.

Msgr. Joseph Reynolds, a retired priest of the archdiocese, is a weekend assistant, and Father Paul Tolve, director of pastoral care at Westchester County Jail, celebrates a weekend Mass each month.

Father Vigilanti said the liturgy, music and homilies have parishioners exiting weekend Masses with a “good feeling” and a “message.”

Anne Holland, parish director of music, plays the organ at all weekend Masses, and she is accompanied at Sunday Masses by her husband, Jim Hughes, a Broadway musician, on the trumpet.

“I just find people easygoing here,” Father Vigilanti said. “They enjoy coming here. They have a great devotion to the church itself, the building and history here. They relish that. You’re coming into a parish where people embrace the history of the parish and its presence. A number of them grew up in the Tarrytown area. To them, this is home.”

To celebrate its 125th anniversary, the parish held a dinner, anniversary concert, produced a journal, sold a commemorative ornament with Mary Magdalene at the feet of Jesus and welcomed Cardinal Dolan to celebrate Mass Nov. 23.

Since Father Vigilanti became administrator, the parish has established an annual picnic as well as a monthly brunch following 11 a.m. Sunday Mass. The Sunday brunch averages 50 parishioners, and the first two parish picnics drew about 250 each.

“For a parish this size, it’s a great turnout,” said Father Vigilanti of the picnic. “I think we will continue it. We held it in late September on the Hudson River. The weather was still warm and beautiful.”

The church opened in 1893 as a mission of St. Teresa of Avila parish, then in North Tarrytown and now in Sleepy Hollow. The Lyceum building was the site of Masses in those days.

The Church of the Magdalene became a parish in 1894 to serve the residents of Pocantico Hills and Eastview village. Construction began in 1894 for a church, which was dedicated in 1895.

Peggy Slaving, 80, joined the parish about 10 years ago when her husband Brian passed away and she needed spiritual assistance. A friend suggested she contact Father Joseph Dietz, pastor of Magdalene at the time.

“They extended their hand to me when I needed religious help, and provided me with all the spiritual assistance I needed at the time,” she said. “They have a very dedicated group of parishioners and volunteers with a total commitment to the parish. It’s a very beautiful and prayerful place. The entire surroundings are very comfortable. It’s a special place.

“The thing I find great about Father John is he’s very welcoming. He doesn’t turn anybody away. He has a philosophy of even if you haven’t been to church for a while, you can always come home. It’s comforting to a lot of people who haven’t been to church for a while.”

Father Vigilanti, who is planning to retire in 2021, said he’s enjoying his time in Pocantico Hills. “I’ve been very fortunate in my last assignment to have a parish like this,” he said.

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