Book Excerpts


St. Dominic School, Oyster Bay, New York

Published by: RoseDog Books


Reverend Charles Canivan, pastor of St. Dominic's from 1914-1944, was the fourth priest to minister to the Catholics of Oyster Bay in a history that begins in the 1850s. Oyster Bay had no church of its own, so was serviced by Father James McEnroe from Glen Cove. Mass was celebrated at first on Sundays in the home of Matthew Brady. Later a hall on the corner of West Main and South Streets was rented for two dollars a week and provided the place for Catholic worship in Oyster Bay. In 1870 a frame church large enough to seat 250 parishioners was constructed at a cost of $6,000. The first full-time pastor was Reverend Walter J. Power who served zealously from 1900-1914. After his death, Reverend Charles J. Canivan was appointed pastor. Father Charles Canivan was also a native of Scranton, as was Father Richard Kennedy, the pastor of St. Ephrem's in Brooklyn. Father Canivan had actually applied to Mother Casimir for IHM Sisters for his future school several months before Father Kennedy, but he acknowledged that his building plans would not be completed for a year or more. (82)

In making his request, Father Canivan wrote:

The first thing that came to my mind in considering the organization of the school was,
what order of Sisters should be placed in charge of it. Being a native of the Scranton
Diocese and knowing so many of its priests, I have heard many excellent reports of the
work of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart in the schools, and decided long ago that when
the time came for beginning a school here, that I would have the Sisters of that order take
charge of it, if it could possibly be arranged.(83)

By February 28, 1922, Bishop Hoban of Scranton had given approval for this work in the then Brooklyn Diocese. (84) Ground was broken for St. Dominic's elementary school on August 15, 1922, but the school was not in readiness until September 1924. The building, of polished buff brick and Indiana limestone trim, had ten large classrooms, a library, principal's office, health room and gymnasium. It was an ultramodern, well-equipped facility in every respect.

The newly appointed sisters arrived on August 1, 1924, and took up their residence in a large, comfortable dwelling that had been purchased for a convent. The community included Sister Benedicta O'Brien, superior and principal, Sister Eymard Begley, Sister Redempta Doudican, Sister Angelo McNulty, Sister Norberta Streilly, Sister Assunta McCaffrey, and Sister Regina Marie Crane. They were to begin classes on September 8, 1924, with 340 pupils in six grades. The seventh and eighth grades were added in the two succeeding years. The first graduation from St. Dominic’s Elementary School saw thirty-nine pupils receive diplomas in June 1928.

The excellence of the grade school and the reluctance of parents to send their children to a public high school encouraged the undertaking of a high school for September 1928. Under the able leadership of Sister Marcella Gill, who had succeeded Sister Benedicta as principal, St. Dominic's High School became a reality. Its small start, with nine boys and fourteen girls, was soon to be turned around as word of the only co-educational Catholic High School on North Shore Long Island spread and applications from far and near were received. The curriculum of St. Dominic's High School included both a classical track to prepare students to meet college entrance requirements and a commercial track for students whose interests were in the business field.

With the introduction of the high school and the rapid increase of the elementary school enrollment, four additional classrooms were constructed on the ground floor. The library was moved to larger quarters on the second floor; a large laboratory was equipped for the teaching of science, and a cafeteria designed to serve daily lunch to some six hundred students was opened.

After four years as principal, and having gained the recognition of the Department of Education of New York State for St. Dominic's High School, Sister Marcella Gill was called to fill the office of assistant to the superior general of the Congregation. (85)

By 1940 it was evident that the high school would need a building of its own. Excavation was begun in April 1941 and the new building was opened in September 1941. The high school was a two-story structure having ten classrooms, a library, a medical office, administrative offices and a science laboratory. In the basement there was a recreation room that doubled as a 500-person seating capacity auditorium. There were bowling alleys and a projection room also.

This was to be the last of Father Canivan's tremendous labors for St. Dominic's. He died on March 14, 1944, greatly mourned by his parishioners and all the people of Oyster Bay who had grown to respect and love him over his thirty years as pastor. Reverend Vincent Short succeeded him.

In 1955 the twenty-four sisters serving the schools at St. Dominic's were living in two inadequate, tumbling-down houses. In the spring of 1955 the foundation for a new convent was begun. The cornerstone for the new four-story convent was placed a year later on April 11, 1956, and the first Mass was celebrated by the pastor, Father Vincent Short, in the new convent on July 19, 1956.

In the meantime, to illustrate the extent of the demand being experienced for entrance into St. Dominic's High School, over 600 eighth-graders from a long list of schools in the area reported on March 30, 1956, to take the high school's entrance examination. The policy was to accept St. Dominic’s parishioners first--seventy-five in number--hence, only one hundred applicants could be accommodated. Six additional classrooms were constructed from the space occupied by the ground-floor bowling alleys and two old public school buildings at the corner of Weeks and Anstice Streets were purchased as a building expansion loomed in the near future. In 1957-1958 there were 643 elementary and 660 high school students at St. Dominic's. Correspondingly, a faculty of twenty-five sisters and five lay teachers was required. 

Father Short died on July 15, 1964, and was succeeded by Reverend James E. Collins. Another era of building began, as Father Collins constructed a new church and a new elementary school in 1970, and a magnificent high school gymnasium was dedicated on September 10, 1978. (86)

As William F. Shore III, a graduate of the Class of 1973 and chairman of St. Dominic’s Golden Anniversary Committee, wrote:

Apart from St. Dominic's physical plant, accomplished athletic program and distinguished academic achievement, St. Dominic's shall always be remembered by its graduates as a place of love in their hearts. St. Dominic's is imbued with a spirit and dynamism which exists to this day, and we hope for long into the future.( 87)

A long future is certainly assured as St. Dominic's continues its two excellent schools with an enrollment of 269 in the elementary and 550 in the high school in 1985-1986. The religious faculty numbers five full-time and three part-time in the elementary school, with seven full-time and four part-time lay teachers; ten full and one part-time religious together with twenty-six full-time and two part-time lay faculty staff the secondary school. (88)

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