St. Simon Stock parish in the Bronx, on Valentine Avenue at 182nd Street, is celebrating 100 years of dedicated clergy, laity and volunteers helping with the spiritual growth of the faithful, mostly Hispanics over the past several decades, and before that the Irish.
Founded in 1920, the parish has been operated from the beginning by the Carmelite Friars. The closing Mass of the centennial anniversary occurred the evening of March 20, celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Peter Byrne.
There was no opening anniversary Mass last year due to the pandemic.
“The Carmelites came to the parish in order to serve the Irish immigrants that were coming into this area of the Bronx; and the Carmelites were all from Ireland,” Father Michael Kissane, O. Carm., told Catholic New York in a phone interview. “So the parishioners were familiar with the order. And in the 1960s Hispanics, mainly Puerto Ricans, began moving into the parish.”
Father Kissane noted that the Carmelite Fathers then began to learn Spanish and more about Latino cultures, and liturgies in Spanish were added to the Mass schedule in the late 1960s, early 1970s.
The parish is now called St. Simon Stock and St. Joseph parish because of a 2015 merger under the archdiocese’s Making All Things New pastoral planning process.
The arrival of Puerto Ricans was followed by immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Central America and Mexico. Over the decades, many parish Mass celebrations and social gatherings have reflected the cultural traditions of the parishioners’ native lands.
“We are called to welcome the immigrants and to try to meet their needs,” Father Kissane said. “We have a lot of parish groups. It’s a very active parish; and the various groups continue to function through Zoom” because of the Covid-19 pandemic. With pandemic hardships, he noted, came an extra-active food pantry operated by dedicated staff and volunteers.
The pastor also said that “we do a lot of evangelization in the neighborhood; we have parish groups that meet with families in apartment buildings.”
Father Kissane has been pastor since 2019, but he also served two previous tenures as pastor, 1998-2003 and 1988-1992. (Father Nelson Belizario, O. Carm., was pastor from 2003 to 2019.)
Father Paul Richmond, O. Carm., serves as parochial vicar.
According to parish written material about the history “of our wonderful parish,” the story goes:
In early 1918, Cardinal John Murphy Farley promised the Carmelite Fathers a new parish in the Bronx which was then the fastest growing section of New York City. Since World War I was still being fought, the offer of a new parish remained only an offer for two reasons. First, building materials were scarce. Second, German submarines continued to prowl the North Atlantic preventing additional Irish Carmelites from coming to America.
A month before the Armistice on Nov. 11, 1918, Cardinal Farley died. The Carmelites feared the promise of a new parish might have died with the cardinal. However, in April 1919, Father John Cogan, O. Carm., who was the Irish provincial, made a visit to the new archbishop, Cardinal Patrick Hayes, who assured him the promise of a parish was still alive. This promise became a reality in March 1920.
The first Mass in the new parish was celebrated in “a house on the hill” which was located on the southwest corner of 182nd Street and Valentine Avenue where the school building now sits.
Father William G. O'Farrell, a Carmelite from Ireland, who had only been ordained for about three years, was appointed the first pastor of the new parish. The first Mass was celebrated in the house on Palm Sunday, March 28, 1920. The church building was constructed in 1921. St. Simon Stock School opened in 1926.
Nuns from the Sisters of Mercy taught at the school from soon after the opening until the 1970s. Tara Braswell is principal of the K-8 elementary school, which has 200 students, most learning remotely this year.
(A parish high school, which opened in 1929, closed in the early 1970s.)
Lourdes Victor is director of parish religious education, where about 170 youths are registered.
Jose Rosario, 71, has been a St. Simon Stock parishioner for 35 years; he is involved with the parish’s Cursillo group and often helps to take up the collection during Mass. A maintenance worker, he is New York-born of Puerto Rican ancestry. He and wife Hilda have been married 43 years.
“This is a blessing; this celebration is very important, 100 years,” Rosario, a father of two and grandfather of four, told CNY last week. Parishioners are “very thankful” to Bishop Byrne for celebrating the anniversary Mass, he said.