Saint Peter's Church of Alcantara
CNPHS Historic Recognition Program
by Frederick L. Hehn, Jr.,
Trustee, and a St. Peter’s School Graduate Class of 1965
Catholic roots go back to colonial times when Port Washington was known as the Cow Neck Peninsula. During the early 1800s, Catholics had to travel to Flushing to attend Sunday Mass. In 1857 they began to attend Mass at St. Mary’s in Manhasset, which was followed by the establishment of St. Mary’s in Roslyn. In 1886 Father Dolan became pastor of St. Mary’s in Roslyn. He then presided over the first Mass in Port Washington at the Pleasant Avenue home of Thomas Fay, Sr. Father Dolan also arranged for the purchase of land for a chapel from Thomas’ brother, Lawrence Fay. Lawrence was able to provide a home for the first pastor of St. Peter’s, Father Cherry, until the rectory was built on land next to his house in Sandy Hollow.
In 1900 Bishop McDonnell of Brooklyn decided that Catholics in Port Washington would be able to support a church of their own. William B. Cockran, congressman, orator, and chief benefactor, offered to donate land on part of his property, now known as Harbor Acres, along with $50,000 for the building of a church. Work quickly pushed forward and the cornerstone was laid on November 16, 1902. Many of the workers were Italian immigrants, including such names as Bisaccia, DeMeo, Fico, and Frappaolo, some of whose descendants can still be found as parishioners today. The sand was delivered by horse and wagon from the old sand mine on Roslyn’s Shore Road and the rocks used for the foundation were blasted near Bar Beach. The parish was incorporated on March 14, 1902, and the first Mass was celebrated on September 6, 1903.
During the early 1920s the pastor, Father Sylvester Tobin, succeeded in purchasing the property just south of the church known as Kennelworth. The frame residence was converted into both the new school and the convent under the instruction of the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. St. Peter’s School opened in 1925 with 70 pupils. Quickly, the first school became too small and Father Tobin began to raise money for the new and current school. Work proceeded so rapidly that graduation exercises were able to be held in the new auditorium on June 26, 1931.
In the spring of 1942 it was decided that a mission chapel was needed in Manorhaven, partially due to the gas rationing necessary during WWII. On Palm Sunday, April 18, 1943, the first Mass was offered in a hall owned by Morewood Realty Company. Through the earnest cooperation of Mr. and Mrs. Leeds and other parishioners of St. Peter’s living in Manorhaven, the hall was cleaned and decorated in about a week’s time and turned into a neat little chapel. On June 3, 1948, Manorhaven was separated from St. Peter’s and became the new parish of Our Lady of Fatima.
In 1956 the Kennelworth building was razed to make room for a new convent that was completed in November 1957. It was then deemed to be perhaps the most impressive building in the Port Washington area, housing up to twenty-five nuns at its height. Shortly afterwards a new school building was built, located behind the convent, and was dedicated on November 29, 1964.
St. Peter’s School continues to be a vital part in the education of children. The school staff and teachers are now managed by dedicated lay professionals. The convent, now the IHM Spirituality Center, serves as a place for various church functions from prayer groups to parish social and spiritual events. The Parish Outreach Program continues with the addition of the Food Pantry. The parish supports the Bridge for Peace Children’s Village in Uganda. The annual Parish Party in 1966 continues to be the biggest fundraiser and social event, and Sunday Masses are conducted in the original church in English while Mass is conducted in the school church in Spanish.
During the past year the current pastor, Father Pat, celebrated his 50th year in the priesthood. During that time he was elevated to Monsignor. He will be retiring this June and he will be missed, yet will leave a proud legacy. St. Peter’s will now be welcoming Father Robert Clerkin as the new pastor. Father Clerkin not only grew up here in Port Washington, but is a St. Peter’s School graduate. This is the first time a graduate from St. Peter’s School will serve as pastor. History is still in the making as a new and eventful chapter is about to begin.
The Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society was proud to offer an historical designation plaque to St. Peter of Alcantara Church honoring their contribution to the history of the Port Washington Community.
Looking west across Bourke Cockran's farm (present dayHarbor Acres).
St. Peter's Church is visible in the upper left corner.