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Cedarhurst church marks 125 years

St. Joachim's has created a lifetime of memories for its parishioners

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For 125 years, under the leadership of eight pastors, the Catholic parish of St. Joachim’s Church in Cedarhurst has served parishioners in its home community and in the surrounding hamlets and villages of the Five Towns.

The church, at 614 Central Ave., will celebrate its quasquicentennial at its annual Diamond Ball at the Seawane Country Club in Hewlett Harbor on May 18. Congregants who have been honored through the years for their longtime involvement in the church will be recognized at the gala.

The church has been a fixture in the lives of many of those honorees. Ron Lanzilotta, Cedarhurst’s deputy mayor, noted that he had had more than one memorable celebration at St. Joachim’s. “I was baptized at St. Joachim’s, I also got married and had my 50th anniversary there,” he said. “This church has always been a staple in my life.” Lanzilotta added that he was married on June 30, 1957, and was the Diamond Ball honoree in 2008.

In 1872, John Loughlin, of the Brooklyn Diocese, sent the Rev. Arthur Dorris to establish a parish in Hewlett, which became St. Joseph’s parish. The Rev. Patrick McKenna received permission 21 years later to establish a parish church in Cedarhurst, which became St. Joachim. McKenna was the church’s first pastor, from 1894 to 1916 (see box, Page 3).

There was also a parish school — St. Joachim’s School — at 620 Central Ave., built in 1913. The Sisters of St. Joseph, from Brentwood, were brought in to run the school, and served as teachers, but declining enrollment forced the Diocese of Rockville Centre to close the school in 2005. The diocese cited a 53 percent drop in enrollment from 1995 to 2005, and in its final year, the school had 123 students, less than 25 percent of whom were Catholic and only four of whom lived in the Five Towns, according to officials. The building now houses the Kulanu Academy for children and young adults with special needs.

In 1928, the Rev. Henry C. Jordan acquired what is now the Convent Building from Mrs. Thomas White.

Former parishioner Fran Galante and her husband, John, were honored at the Diamond Ball in 2012 for their civic-mindedness in the church. John was an usher at Sunday Mass, while Fran was the church lector coordinator. They worshipped at St. Joachim’s for 43 years until their recent move to Rockville Centre. Fran noted that St. Agnes Cathedral, which she now attends, does not have the same ambience as St. Joachim’s.

“We now go to a church that is much bigger than St. Joachim, and doesn’t have the same homey feel that St. Joachim had,” she said. “St. Joachim was a small church that allowed us to easily get to know the fellow parishioners and pastors well, and I miss that.”

Since its founding, there have been eight pastors at St. Joachim, with the longest-tenured being Monsignor Francis P. Flanagan, who served from 1931 to 1969. The current pastor is the Rev. Tom Moriarty, who has been with the church since 2015, having succeeded Monsignor Paul Rahilly, who served from 1994 to 2015. Moriarty, an East Rockaway native, is also the main pastor at St. Joseph’s R.C. Church in Hewlett and Our Lady of Good Counsel in Inwood.

Along with changes in leadership, the church building has been renovated twice. During the Rev. John McGeever’s tenure as pastor, from 1988 to 1993, the rectory and sanctuary were refurbished. (McGeever’s legacy was tarnished by the discovery that he sexually abused two boys during his years at St. Agnes.)

The most recent work took place in 2016, and it included refinished pews, a new altar and a new pipe organ. The church was rededicated in January 2017. “The sounds of the horns heralded a mass of pomp and circumstance,” Polly Van Raalte wrote in her “Seeing Stars” column in the South Shore Record. “I couldn’t believe that Bishop William F. Murphy was officiating. I loved meeting him as well as all of those who conducted the service. And what a magnificent service it was. The music, the prayers, the singing, the ceremonies and the blessings all created a feeling of greatness that I haven’t seen in a long time. I actually felt I was at the Vatican.”

Lawrence residents Tony and Ella Cascardi, both 92, have been parishioners since 1962, when they moved to Lawrence from Inwood. The church honored them in 2006 for their longtime involvement. Tony once served as a lector, and Ella sang in the choir at Sunday Mass.

She noted the impact that St. Joachim’s has had on her life. “We’ve met so many of our friends in the community at the church, even though some have since passed away,” she said. “I’ll always have fond memories of the times we’ve had with them at church.” She and her husband still attend mass every Sunday, she said. They will also be at the anniversary celebration. “We’re very excited, and looking forward to seeing all the fellow past honorees there,” she said.

Reservations for the May 18 anniversary celebration can be made by calling the church’s rectory at (516) 982-2283. The Seawane Country Club is at 1300 Club Drive in Hewlett Harbor.

Julia Grossman contributed to this story.