In 1906, the parish of Our Lady of Grace, Howard Beach, New York, was founded and staffed by the Monfort Fathers.
At the turn of the last century, residents of Howard Beach would have to travel to Ozone Park in order to attend Mass at Our Lady Gate of Heaven Church. Due to a lack of better train schedules, they would often arrive late and leave early. The sympathetic pastor of Our Lady Gate of Heaven finally arranged for the first Mass to be celebrated in Howard Beach by forty people in a small bungalow donated by Frank Von Der Linn of Ramblerville in 1906. As the number of summer residents in Howard Beach steadily increased, the bungalow soon became too small to hold services.
In 1909 the residents of the region raised money for a chapel dedicated to Saint Louis Marie de Monfort, the holy founder of the Monfort Fathers, to be built on the property donated by Frank Von Der Linn. Despite being erected on high stilts with a boardwalk, the high tides could still rise over the boardwalk of the chapel, requiring the parishioners to arrive by boat.
When sand was dredged from Jamaica Bay onto nearby marshes in 1912, the marsh land was raised above the tidal level and channels and canals deepened. This caught the attention of real estate developers and home construction began in earnest around the area.
The residents of Howard Beach desired a church that would be safe from flooding. In 1921 the present church was built and Fr. Gerald Goulette, a Monfort Father, celebrated the first mass on Christmas Eve.
In 1924 Our Lady of Grace Mission was established as a Diocesan parish and Fr. Edward McGrath was appointed as the first pastor. The following year a frame school, the Grace Annex, was completed and staffed by three Ursuline nuns.
During the depression years, Monsignor Thomas A. Nummey converted the Grace Annex into a cafeteria where children were fed and clothed, regardless of their religious beliefs, and food tickets were distributed.
In 1950 Reverend Joseph J. Heuther became pastor and set about having the church completely refurbished. In addition, repainting and much-needed repairs were done to the building.
Fr. Peter A. Harrington began the process of adapting Our Lady of Grace to the liturgical renewal of Vatican II. He provided an altar to allow for mass facing the people, changed the center altar back piece to solid, dramatic red, and later removed the altar rail and made the baptismal font portable. The transformation was completed after his death in 1976 by Pastor Francis J. Evans in 1979.
In addition, Our Lady of Grace was given a vestibule featuring four original stained glass windows depicting American saints, and the inside was completely redesigned with original sanctuary furnishings: an altar, lectern, tabernacle, baptismal font, Stations of the Cross and sculptures of the Risen Saviour,
St. Joseph and Mary.
Life size statues of Sts. Cosmas and Damien, given as a gift from Joseph de Candia, sparked the idea for an annual festival which would honor the saints and be hosted by Our Lady of Grace and St. Helen’s of Howard Beach. The first festival was held over Labor Day weekend in 1978.
Monsignor William Flood and Fr. Joseph Gibino both served as pastors at Our Lady of Grace during a quiet but vibrant time in the history of the parish. Over the last 100 years, Our Lady of Grace has had numerous clubs and activities to benefit its members and community.
Fr. Anthony Rucando was pastor during the great flood of 2012. On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the New York metropolitan area. The storm surge swelled the tide to 13-plus feet above sea level and devastated the neighborhood of Howard Beach. The church, school and convent had to be refurbished after the storm. Sunday Mass was celebrated in the school auditorium during the months of restoration. The parish was able to celebrate Palm Sunday 2013 in the refurbished church building.
Our Lady of Grace is a faith-filled community, spanning many generations. Nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, we accept Jesus’ invitation to “Come, follow Me.” As Christ’s presence in the world, we continue to build our relationship with God through loving service to others. We strive to bring forth the unique gifts of our parish family and to spread the Gospel for the greater glory of God.