SAINT CHRISTOPHER’S - THE FIRST NINETY YEARS
July 25th, 1915, the Feast of Saint Christopher. In an auditorium over a garage
on the corner of Park Avenue and Merrick Road, a Mass was celebrated by
Father John McGoldrick inaugurating the Parish of Saint Christopher. For the
past ninety years, the parish of Saint Christopher has been the Catholic
presence in the village of Baldwin. We were a small parish back in 1915, but as
Baldwin grew, so did we. For the beginning decades of our existence we served
a the shrine for travelers making their way east to Montauk with Saint
Christopher, the patron of motorists standing guard over the western end of
Merrick Road. With the Second Vatican Council, we adapted to the renewal set
forth by Blessed John XXII and Pope Paul VI and took as our mission “Bearing
Christ to One Another”. As we enter the final decade of our first century as a
parish, we take a moment to reflect and give thanks for all that has been and
pray for God’s blessings for all that is yet to be. The first ninety years have been
blessed by so many men and women; lay people, priests, deacons and sisters.
As we turn toward our centennial, we are confident that there are more blessings
At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, Baldwin was a much smaller town
than the place we call home today. The town received its name from Thomas
Baldwin, a prominent merchant who had built a mansion on Merrick Road. The
town had previously been known as Hick’s Neck, then Bethel (named for the
Methodist Bethel Chapel) around 1810, then Milburn around 1850 from the
railway station here. Due to the presence of Thomas Baldwin’s mansion, the
railroad also called the area “The Baldwins”. The town finally became known as
Baldwin in the mid01800’s. Of the 1,200 residents of this little village, only a few
were Catholic, These residents made their way to Mass at Our Lady of Loretto
in Hempstead, or to St. Agnes in Rockville Centre (1894) or to Our Holy
Redeemer in Freeport (1903). By 1912, the Catholic population in Baldwin grew
to about seventy families. It was these first seventy families who became our
parish’s founding fathers and mothers when they petitioned Bishop Charles
McDonnell, the second Bishop of Brooklyn, for a place to go to Mass. In 1912,
the Bishop established a mission church in Baldwin attached to Our Holy
Redeemer. Land was purchased on the corner of Merrick Road and Gale
Avenue for the sum of five thousand dollars for a future church. Bishop
McDonnell desired that this new mission, since it was situated at the western
end of Merrick Road (thenthe road to Montauk), should be named for
Saint Christopher, the patron of travelers. The automobile was rather new at the
time, and Bishop McDonnell was quite fond of “motoring” across Long Island,
using Merrick Road to take him from Jamaica to Montauk.
The status of Saint Christopher’s as a mission (meaning that we were not
attended by a resident pastor, the priests of Freeport would come to Baldwin for
Mass) would remain for only three years. On July 7, 1915, Bishop McDonnell
appointed Father John McGoldrick as our first pastor and Saint Christopher’s
Parish began. Although we owned the land, we still do not have a church. By
the end of 1915, Father McGoldrick purchased property (now, Fullerton’s
Funeral Home) near the vacant Gale Avenue lot. A house on the property
served as the rectory and a carpenter’s shop behind it served as a small chapel.
In the midst of this, work had begun in earnest to build the church. congressman
(and parishioner) George W. Loft contributed $5,000 to the new building,
providing that it be matched by the congregation.
Construction on the first Saint Christopher’s began in June, 1917. The
building materials were stones taken from the old Milburn Reservoir in Rockville
Centre. That first church, the Shrine Church of Saint Christopher, was gothic in
design with a large rose window over the front entrance. Ten dormer windows
were built into the steep roof for light. A limestone statue of Saint Christopher
and a Cross stood above the window, much like what we have today. From the
center of the roof rose the steeple, surmounted by a limestone cross. The first
mass in the Shrine Church was celebrated on Easter Sunday, march 31, 1918,
and was formally dedicated by Bishop McDonnell on April 28 of that year.
Our designation as a shrine church was an important one. By the
1920’s, each July 25th, cars would line a much narrower Merrick Road for the
blessing of automobiles. People would make a pilgrimage here from all over to
have their car blessed at Saint Christopher’s Shrine.
In the early years of the parish, there came the need for Catholic education,.
Father McGoldrick set out to begin Saint Christopher’s School. He had already
purchased the property next to the church. A house that stood there became the
rectory when the previous property down Merrick Road was sold. construction of
the school began in 1924 and was completed in 1925. The house which stood
there was moved further down Pershing Boulevard and would become the first
convent for the Sisters of Saint Joseph who would arrive here to staff the new
school. Another parcel of land across Merrick Road from the church, (now our
south parking lot) was purchased, complete with a house on its east side which
became the third rectory. The school was built with the same stones from the
Milburn Reservoir as was the church..
Father McGoldrick worked tirelessly from the day he came to Baldwin in 1915,
building the Shrine Church and the School, establishing three rectories and a
convent. After a well deserved world trip, he celebrated his Silver Jubilee with
the parishioners in August of 1926. On Sunday, September 27, 1926, Father
John McGoldrick’s earthly journey ended suddenly when he dies at the age of
By the end of 1926, Father John Mahon arrived as the second pastor of Saint
Christopher’s. He was a tireless fund-raiser, seeking to work with the well
known actors who made their homes here at the time, to raise funds for the
missions and for the young parish. He purchased the land behind the church
and built the fourth (and present) rectory in 1934. A year later, he was
appointed as pastor of Our Holy Redeemer in Freeport and Father Ulick
O’Sullivan Buckley came to Baldwin as the Fourth pastor of Saint Christopher’s.
Father Buckley’s time saw the parish census rise to 3,500 people. During the
celebration of the parish’s Silver Jubilee (using the 1912 date as the founding
year) he had the marble statue of Saint Christopher unveiled which today stands
in front of the school. Father Buckley left us for Saint Joseph’s in Garden City in
1946, and Father John Gorman became the fifth pastor. His pastorate would
continue until May of 1967.
Like the pastors before him, Father Gorman was a builder. During his twenty
years as pastor, Father Gorman began a building phase that gave Saint
Christopher’s its present appearance. He started in 1950 with the convent. Mrs.
Loft donated land at the corner of Pershing Boulevard for the building. The
former convent across the street was demolished and the lot paved over for
parking. Next came the first addition to the school.
By the time the Diocese of Rockville Centre was established by Pope Pius XII in
1957. Baldwin had outgrown the little Shrine Church of Saint Christopher.
Father Gorman knew that a larger church was needed. The parishioners were
truly saddened to see their beloved building go. With the demolition of the old
church, our designation as a shrine come to an end. Ground was broken for the
new church on December 13, 1959 and construction would last for two and a
half years. During these years, Masses were held in the auditorium. The new
church was dedicated on Sunday, April 29, 1962 by Bishop Walter Kellenberg,
the first Bishop of Rockville Centre..
Father Gorman’s massive building efforts did not yet come to an end. By the
mid 1960’s, the parish population had grown to over 10,000 people and had
2,000 students in Religious Education. While the school was expanded in 1956,
more room was needed. Father Gorman had broken ground for the third
addition to the school as his last major project (completed in 1968, the third wing
of the school added eight new classrooms, a library and a cafeteria). At the age
of seventy-four, Father Gorman retired in January of 1967 and moved to
Westchester. In his later years, he lived at the Maryknoll Infirmary, where he
passed away on May 28, 1982.
From the 1960’s to the present day, our parish met the welcomed challenges
presented by the Second Vatican Council. Msgr. Joseph Lawlor became the fifth
Pastor of Saint Christopher’s in 1967 and remained until 1986. Msgr. Lawlor
would extend our property by purchasing several homes behind the school
building, thus forming our North parking lot and school playground. Msgr.
Lawlor also completed the second extension of the school (begun by Father
Gorman) and modernized our older buildings. His time as Pastor saw the birth
of many new ministries and the expansion and development of our catechetical
ministry. Ministries like the Saint Vincent de Paul Society grew to serve the
needs of the poor among us. Religious Education began to evolve to the system
we know today. Liturgical ministers began to proclaim the Sacred Scripture and
assist with distribution of Holy Communion. A choir began singing (and hasn’t
stopped yet!) Over those early years following the Council, the understanding of
church as the People of God on a pilgrimage of faith together grew as more
ministries developed. A vast amount of activity went on during Msgr. Lawlor’s
nineteen years as pastor. He retired in June 1986 with the tile of Pastor
Emeritus. Due to declining health over the years, his visits here became less
frequent, but the people of Saint Christopher’s were in his prayers each day.
Following Msgr’s retirement party on June 15, 1986, the lower level of the
original school building was named “Lawlor Hall”.
Father Dennis Whelan was appointed sixth pastor in 1986. During his three
years here much work was done. The Religious Education Program grew. In
the School, the first Kindergarten class came through the doors in 1988.
In 1989, Msgr. John Bennett became the seventh pastor. Msgr. Bennett
continued the work put in place before him, working to enhance the school and
religious education programs and further the growth and development of new
ministries. In 1998, our church saw a much needed addition. An elevator was
constructed on the northwest corner of the church, thus eliminating the stair
problem for so many parishioners. And in the year 2000, we said good0bye to
the ghastly summer heat of the church when the new air-conditioning system
was turned on for the first time. But as Msgr. Bennett pointed out that first day
we had it, “Now you have to listen to us preach in the summer."
Our ninetieth year has been one of transition. At the end of the 2004 school
year, Sr. Dolores McLaughlin, CSJ retired as school principal after serving in the
position since 1980 (and as a faculty member since 1969), and began to serve
as Pastoral Associate in pre-Baptism ministry and visits to Mercy Hospital. Miss
Joan Hanlon, who had served as Assistant Principal then became the first lay
principal of Saint Christopher’s School.
On June 26, 2005, we said farewell to Msgr. Bennett when he was appointed pastor at
Saint Patrick’s Parish in Huntington. He did not say “good bye”, only, “thank
In the early hours of New Year’s Day of this year, our Pastor Emeritus, Msgr.
Joseph Lawlor quietly returned to the arms of his loving Savior in the seventieth
year of his priesthood while in the care of the Missionary Sisters of Saint
Benedict in Greenlawn. He was brought “home” to Saint Christopher’s, where
he was waked in the hall named for him. Father Frank Eisele, who served as his
associate pastor, preached at his Mass of Transferal. Msgr. Bennett, who
always kept him abreast of everything going on with Saint Christopher’s,
preached at his funeral Mass which was celebrated by Bishop William
The first ninety years have been filled with growth and development for both
Baldwin and Saint Christopher’s, but above all, they’ve been filled with grace.
From seventy families in 1915 to three thousand families in 2005, the people of
Saint Christopher’s have met the challenges presented by the changing times
that move us forward. There is a great deal more that could be written if space
would permit, but with each of the pastors mentioned, there were people who
worshipped here, who were baptized here, who learned to read and write here,
who were married here, and were buried from here. People who made this
parish live and breath as the visible presence of Christ in Baldwin..
Back in 1990, we celebrated our Diamond Jubilee with the motto, “Bearing Christ
to One Another”. Those words, hung from the choir loft, characterize who we
are as a parish, each individual Christian hearing and responding to the call of
Christ. We celebrate this mystery at every mass as Jesus comes to us in His
Word and His Eucharist, a mystery received so we can have the grace to be
As we enjoy our parish feast, take a moment to look around you. Remember
those first seventy families and Father McGoldrick. Remember the people who
traveled here to have their cars blessed. Remember the many people,
parishioners, sisters, priests and deacons who lived their faith on these grounds
for these first ninety years. We are no longer the wayside shrine that we were at
our foundation, but our mission remains, to bear Christ to one another.
But some things don’t change. People will still stop here to have their cars
Source: The Church of Saint Christopher Diamond Jubilee