St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Flushing is celebrating its 175th anniversary with a year long series of events beginning with an opening Mass on Saturday, Sept. 29.
“Since 1833, Mass has been celebrated every Sunday in our community,” Monsignor Edward Wetterer said.
Originally part of the Diocese of New York, St. Michael’s has been part of the Diocese of Brooklyn since 1853.
Before the establishment of the parish, which originally stretched all the way to Nassau County, the Catholic faithful of Flushing were served by a Brooklyn priest, who would arrive on a ferry from Flushing Bay. “He came over whenever he could,” Wetterer said.
As the population of Irish immigrants grew, the then bishop of New York, John Hughes, dedicated the church. “This was the time of famine in Ireland and he was a great protector of the Irish,” Wetterer said.
“One of the women who will bring up a gift during this Saturday’s anniversary Mass was baptized by Monsignor Eugene Donnelly, who was pastor from 1877 until 1930,” said Wetterer, who has been a pastor since 1994.
The ethnic mix in Flushing has changed dramatically since then. “This has always been an area for newcomers,” the monsignor said.
The parish is now predominantly Hispanic, with every country in South and Central America represented, especially Colombia and El Salvador.
As Flushing has begun to rival Manhattan’s Chinatown, the community of Asian Catholics has grown, too. There is a strong Filipino community, a Chinese Choir and a Chinese prayer group.
The parish has supported a parochial school since 1851, when between 200 and 300 students enrolled the first year.
Today, approximately 2,300 people attend Mass on any given Sunday, and 250 to 300 baptisms are performed each year.
“For us celebrating 175 years is an opportunity for renewal, looking back, looking inside at what we’re doing and what more we can do,” Wetterer said.
The parish plans to reach out to other faiths in the community and has approached the local Muslim community and the Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“We hope to establish a dialogue with them, perhaps start a conversation about our shared concerns such as young people,” he said.
The parish provides services to the community and acts as a sort of clearing house, helping immigrant parishioners fill out government forms, procuring services and directing them to the appropriate agencies. It also runs ESL classes.
“This anniversary represents a celebration of 175 years of faith and service,” said Joan Dames, who works at the parish.
She and fellow parish employees Luz May and Marie Patarcity are organizing a fashion show in November, a Chinese New Year celebration in late January, an international bites night, sampling the various local cuisines in April, a walkathon, an Hispanic night in July and they hope to get a group of young people to enter the dragon boat races next summer.
The anniversary celebration will close on Oct. 10, 2008 with a dinner dance. St. Michael’s hopes to attract ex-parishioners who have moved out of the area for the celebration. For information, call (718) 961-0295 or e-mail Stmichael1833@aol.com.