Book Excerpts


Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Elementary School, Forest Hills, New York

Published by: RoseDog Books

A census of the Catholic population of Forest Hills, New York, taken in March 1912, reveals only 78 persons, 60 adults and 18 children. However, in 1915, plans for a future parish in Forest Hills, New York, took an initial step when the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn claimed title to twelve lots on the southwest annex of Ascan Avenue and Hoffman (now Queens) Boulevard. The amazing purchase price was only $14,000. Also, in 1915 a wooden Chapel of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs was built, and in 1917 Reverend Joseph R. McLaughlin was appointed pastor. With the vision and energy of a true spiritual leader, Father McLaughlin had, by 1925, outlined the unified group of parish buildings which now exists, including parish school, church, rectory, convent and additional space for later needs. (113)

On January 5, 1928, ground was broken for the school which was the first of the proposed cluster of buildings. The cornerstone of the school was laid on May 30, 1928, at which time Father McLaughlin announced that he expected the building to be completed for the opening of school in September. No one thought this feat could be accomplished--certainly not Reverend Joseph McClancy, the superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Brooklyn Diocese, for it was not until July 3, 1928, that he wrote to Mother Casimir (as if the date were a year, rather than two months, away) as follows:

. . . We have arranged for your Community to staff Father McLaughlin's school at Forest
Hills next September . . . You will kindly interpret this letter as an official invitation onthe part of the Bishop for your Sisters to accept the Forest Hills school . . . (114)

On September 9, 1928, the day before school opened, desks were placed in the classrooms, general cleaning was done, water and light connections were made, and even into the night, barrels, boxes and rubble from construction were being cleaned up and thrown out of the windows into the schoolyard. This beautiful English gothic-style building with its fourteen classrooms, large auditorium, principal's office, library, music room, health room, and science laboratory stood ready to receive its first pupils in the first five grades. Ninety boys and one hundred twenty-one girls, a total of two hundred eleven pupils enrolled, and perhaps no one on that opening day could envision that an over-capacity enrollment of 859 students would, in 1955-1956, fill this school.

The first sisters assigned to Our Lady Queen of Martyrs School were Sister Maria Assumpta Clifford, superior and principal, Sister Marguerite Murray, Sister Malachy McKernan, Sister Simeon Walker, Sister Benedictus Philpott, and Sister Maria Angela Orr. These six sisters seem to have fulfilled to a high degree Father McLaughlin's three-fold requirements for his teaching staff: "They should be spiritual women, cultured ladies, and qualified teachers." (115)

A picture of a typical classroom in Our Lady Queen of Martyrs School in June 1929, shows a class of 39 students and the traditional Old English printing on the blackboard setting forth some profound maxims for daily living:  “Humility is Truth” and “Idleness is the Strength of Bad Habits.” (116)

In spite of the sobering content of these messages, the atmosphere of this school was one of joy, as related by Sister Benedictus Philpott, one of these first teachers. She was in her first year of teaching and was responsible for grades 1B and 2A, as well as the school music. Sister praised the interest of the pastor in everything being done in the school, the excellence of the faculty of sisters, and the help given to them by a parishioner, Miss Fanning, who was then a public school teacher. She assisted them in the selection of supplementary readers, some of which included fairy tales that could be dramatized by the children. Sister Benedictus' recollections of that year in Forest Hills brought her much joy and, as she expressed it, “I only stayed one year in Forest Hills, being transferred to Marywood, but I loved and enjoyed every day with those children in my first grade.” (117)

Sister Benedictus described the people of Forest Hills as generous, appreciative and highly interested in the school. Parents often stopped in on weekends to view the work of the students that was displayed in the school. In reminiscing, Sister expressed pride in all that was accomplished with children who were only in grades one through five. ''Many opportunities were given to the children to assume responsibility and to take leadership, even though they were very young, " she said.  (118)

When one thinks of the grand scale on which all of these parish buildings were eventually to emerge, it is difficult to imagine the little country-like chapel which served as the parish church until fire destroyed it in 1929 or to picture a three-story duplex house, one half of which served as the convent in those early days. This three-bedroom home accommodated the six sisters with some doubling up, with only a very small space available for a chapel. It is obvious that the sisters' joy at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs had its source in other than material comforts. Their own goodness and dedication brought forth many blessings, as the small original group of six sisters was to become sixteen by 1943 and twenty-one by 1955 as enrollment in the school escalated.

Our Lady Queen of Martyrs School continues as a vibrant ministry, serving a wide variety of ethnic and culturally diverse students, many of whose parents are employed at the United Nations in New York City.

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