When Holy Family parish in New Rochelle was established in 1913, it had neither church nor rectory. Its first pastor, Father Andrew Roche, lived at the College of New Rochelle and celebrated Mass in a former butcher shop almost two miles away that served as a chapel.
Father Roche could have reached the chapel, on Horton Avenue, by taking one of the trolleys that rolled though the city’s streets. Instead, he chose to walk—because, said Msgr. Ferdinando Berardi, Holy Family’s pastor, he wanted to save the few cents’ fare and give it to the parish.
The trolleys are long gone, but the spirit of sacrifice and zeal that made Father Roche travel on foot is still thriving at Holy Family. Msgr. Berardi, pastor since 2002, spoke with CNY about the parish as it neared the conclusion of its 100th anniversary celebration. He describes his parishioners as having “a fantastic spirit.”
“The people here do so many wonderful things,” not only for the parish but also for the community, he said. He offered examples: assisting nearby Hope Community Kitchen, conducting blood drives and clothing collections, and participating in the Interreligious Council of New Rochelle, of which he is a past president.
“There’s a great spirit of fellowship and working together,” the pastor said. He added, “I am so grateful to be a part of this wonderful parish and its great history.”
Holy Family serves about 1,200 families, and the parish community itself is so diverse that it sounds like the universal Church in miniature.
“We are a mixture of many different ethnic and cultural groups,” Msgr. Berardi said, “but everyone blends in very, very well, and they work tremendously well with each other. It’s reflected even in our prayer life—the Rosary, especially,” which is recited Monday through Saturday after the 8 a.m. Mass. “You hear the different accents: Haitian, Filipino, African, Italian, Irish…It’s wonderful.”
The parish celebrates six Masses each weekend and three on weekdays. Assisting Msgr. Berardi are Father George Nedumaruthumchalil and Sister Connie Koch, O.P., of the Dominican Sisters of Hope, pastoral assistant for faith formation. Also serving are Deacons Donald Gray and Raymond Hall, and Sister Christina Dougherty, P.B.V.M., director of religious education.
Sister Connie directs the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and is co-director with Deacon Hall of Youth Ministry, which serves teens in grades 8 through 12.
“I am amazed at the energy of the people and their willingness to take ownership of their parish,” she told CNY. She praised the parish council as the most effective one she’s seen, and said that its members’ dedication “speaks volumes about their love for this parish.”
Sister Connie put together a booklet, “Growing in Faith Together,” that describes in detail the ministries and programs at Holy Family. The listings run for five pages and include Bible study, pro-life work, outreach to the needy, prayer and spiritual growth, and social events.
One of the year’s highlights is the Living Stations of the Cross presented by the Youth Ministry in Lent.
At its founding, Holy Family was split off from St. Gabriel’s to ease overcrowding there and to serve the growing Catholic population in New Rochelle’s North End, then mostly farmland. The original parishioners were predominantly Irish, with some German.
Construction of the church began in April 1915; Mass was celebrated in the basement auditorium in September, and the first Mass in the upper church was Midnight Mass at Christmas. The church was completed in 1916 and dedicated in 1917. It has been expanded and now seats 700.
Holy Family School opened for the first and second grades in 1921 in the church basement. There were no desks at first, so pews were brought in; the children sat on the kneelers and used the benches as desktops. The teachers were the Dominican Sisters of Newburgh, who continued to serve Holy Family for many years.
An eight-classroom school was built above the church in 1922. It was expanded through the years, and then-pastor Msgr. Charles Fitzgerald added 10 classrooms, a kindergarten and a gym in 1963. Enrollment hit nearly 900 in the 1970s, but that number gradually dropped, and the school closed in 2005.
Today the parish enrolls 380 children in religious education from age 4 through seventh grade.
Holy Family closed its centennial year June 1 with the Mass for the feast of Corpus Christi, celebrated by Cardinal Dolan. A spirit of joy filled the packed church. Mass was followed by a Eucharistic procession and Benediction, with the cardinal carrying the monstrance through the church. At the conclusion he told the people, “You’ve been like a monstrance. For 100 years you’ve shown off Jesus.”
The celebration continued at a reception in the gymnasium. Among them was Margaret Adubor, a parishioner for 12 years who came from Nigeria. She and her husband, Christopher, have three children.
“There is a strong sense of community and family here, which ties in with the fact that it’s Holy Family parish,” Mrs. Adubor said.
Also there was Angie Polico of New Rochelle, who is 100. Asked how she likes Holy Family, she smiled and said, “They’re very nice people.”
Taking part in the offertory procession were Erica and Brian Rice. He’s 28 and has lived in the parish nearly all his life. She’s 29 and was baptized at Holy Family after participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. They were married at the parish and are expecting their first child. They’ve been active in Youth Ministry, and Mrs. Rice described Holy Family as “very welcoming and warm.”
Rice said, “A lot of people are active and participate in a lot of ways.” Mrs. Rice added, “Because they want to, not because they have to. They want to contribute.”
Anne Kathy Rice, Brian’s mother, treasures a clipping from the May 19, 1988, issue of CNY with a photo of Cardinal John O’Connor patting the cheek of then-3-year-old Brian at Holy Family’s 75th anniversary celebration. She loves her parish.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s home.”