First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

Grateful for First 50 Years of St. Gregory, Garnerville
Chris Sheridan
IN SONG—Choristers of St. Gregory Barbarigo, Garnerville, join their voices at the 50th anniversary closing Mass Cardinal Dolan celebrated at the parish church June 16.

What better place to have Masses on a hot summer day than an unused ice-skating rink? On hot days, parishioners of St. Gregory Barbarigo in Garnerville wished the ice were still there.

So reads a section of St. Gregory’s parish history, circa 1961, in a chronicle of how the founding pastor, Father (later Msgr.) Thomas J. Darby, and those entrusted to his care, resourcefully accommodated a burgeoning attendance at the newly formed parish’s 10 a.m. Sunday Mass.

St. Gregory’s was grateful for the generosity of the Larkin family, who selflessly lent the space that housed a skating rink on Ramapo Road.

But celebrating the parish’s most highly attended Sunday liturgy there proved to be a chore of sorts since it required hauling and setting up chairs before Mass, then removing and returning them after the liturgy. In those days, the concrete floor of the rink was used for summer roller-skating so the chairs couldn’t stay in place.

St. Gregory’s celebrated its 50th anniversary over 18 months, beginning with an opening Mass in January 2012 celebrated by Cardinal Egan and concluding with a closing Mass June 16 celebrated by Cardinal Dolan.

Both underscored the significance of St. Gregory’s contributions to the archdiocese. “Things just get better as time goes on,” said Father Joseph P. LaMorte, who has served as pastor of the 2,600-family parish since 2010.

Father Peter A. Heasley, who was ordained in May, is the parochial vicar. Assisting are Deacon George M. Albin Jr., Deacon Roland F. Dowen and Deacon John A. Kelly.

The north Rockland County parish was founded in 1961 principally through an influx of Catholics from the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn. There were a good number of Catholic-school educated police officers and firefighters who grew up in New York City and wanted a better life for their families, Father LaMorte said. “When word spread around firehouses, ‘We found a house with a backyard in Rockland County,’ that’s kind of what spurred a lot of people to come up and look.”

The parish was founded in June and by December a building was constructed for a church that was meant to be temporary. Although the construction was to be administered in a corrugated fashion, the builder donated cinderblock to make a more permanent structure. “Because of his good generosity, we’re still in that building today,” Father LaMorte said.

The parish school and convent opened in 1964 and were dedicated in 1965.

In the fall, the school ceases to be a parochial school as it becomes part of the St. Dominic Catholic School Region of Rockland; 350 youngsters, kindergarten through eighth grade, are on the roster. The Dominican Sisters of Sparkill opened the parochial school. Four sisters remain on its staff. The school principal is Thomas J. Hamilton.

The parish’s faith formation program catechizes 650 youngsters in kindergarten through eighth grade. The coordinator is Donald A. Ruzzi.

A youth outreach group, Teens Connected by Christ, draws eighth-graders and high school students. The Catholic Youth Organization basketball program consists of 22 teams with 235 players in the third through eighth grades staffed by 44 coaches. In addition, an intramural program consists of 20 teams with 200 players in the first through fifth grades staffed by 40 coaches.

Prayer is the glue in the life of the parish, the pastor said. The perpetual adoration chapel draws approximately 300 faithful weekly. A monthly Family Rosary is held at 6:30 p.m. on the last Sunday of the month. The parish also provides men’s and women’s prayer groups.

Advocacy groups are in place for the unborn, hungry and homeless.

St. Gregory Barbarigo was canonized in 1960, a year before the Garnerville parish was founded. The saint who in 1667 became bishop of Padua has been a source of great consolation for his namesake parish in Garnerville.

“Over the years our parish had to deal with things that were not altogether happy,” Father LaMorte said in reference to a number of challenging clergy reassignments there. “But in the spirit of our patron, St. Gregory Barbarigo, the lay members of the parish, heeding their baptismal call to holiness, provided strong continuity.”

The high regard the Garnerville community has for St. Gregory’s has been apparent since the parish’s founding, Father LaMorte acknowledged in a poignant anecdote.

“When Msgr. Darby was appointed pastor of St. Gregory Barbarigo, he moved into a sparsely furnished house at the end of the property. The local milkman heard that he was in town and, since the new parish was along his route, he stopped by the rectory to see if monsignor would like a milk delivery. Gratefully, he accepted.

“The next day, when the milkman arrived, monsignor told him that he needed something to put the milk into, so the milkman asked him if he wanted a new milk box for the front porch.

“Monsignor said, ‘No, I need something that I can plug into the wall.’ And, the next day, the milkman delivered a used refrigerator for monsignor to put the milk into.”

That, Father LaMorte concluded, was “just another example of how the parishioners have been taking care of the needs of their priests since the beginning of the parish.”


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