History of Saint Augustine School
Saint Augustine Parish originally began as a mission church of Saint Paul's in Congers around 1896 along with Saint Anthony's in Nanuet. In 1901, Saint Anthony's was officially established as its own parish and we became a mission parish of Saint Anthony's. By 1934, the emerging pastoral needs of our growing population were evident. Foresters Hall (our old church building) was purchased and renovated into a church. Visiting priests from Saint Anthony's served the new church.
The rural character of New City faded after World War II and gave way to surbanization. The opening of the Tappan Zee Bridge in 1955 marked a turning point in Rockland County and the hamlet of New City. Many urban families were eager to cross the bridge for a better life and raise their children in the safe, open space that Rockland County provided. The continued rapid development of New City spurred the Archdiocese of New York to raise Saint Augustine's to the status of a parish. In April of 1957, Saint Augustine of Hippo Church was founded.
Francis Cardinal Spellman appointed Monsignor George F. Brennan in 1961, to the pastorate of Saint Augustine's, which was becoming one of the most prominent parishes in Rockland County. Also, during this year, Saint Augustine School opened its doors for the first time in September with Sister Helen Francis Curnan, O.P., as principal. The school had ten full classrooms and was staffed by the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill. Today, parents and teachers alike, quiver at the thought that state laws at that time did not permit more than fifty-five children in a class. In those early days, as educators, the Dominican Sisters had everything under control. The sisters were a strong presence and influence throughout the school in the sixties, seventies and early eighties.
On Saint Augustine School's dedication day, hundreds of parishioners, all the children of the school, ecumenical representatives, parish choirs, and local clergy were present. Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York, gave a stirring talk on what a Catholic education should mean. The parish took on a half-million dollar debt in building the school. By 1963, the small suburban parish in New City had grown to 3,700 people at Sunday Mass from fewer than 900 in 1957. Our parish continues to be generously supportive of our school.
The Archdiocesan Educational Television System was set up in 1964 at Dunwoodie Seminary, and Saint Augustine School was one of the early schools to contribute to the system. Our parish participated in a vast Archdiocesan effort to influence the New York State Constitutional Convention to remove the Blaine Amendment from the new constitution. This one hundred year old legislation was designed to prevent state aid to Catholic Schools. Every parish in the county took part in the campaign. While the issue was not resolved in our favor, it remains alive today in the controversy revolving around tax credits and school vouchers.
Our school flourished throughout the 1960's. As a congregation, we witnessed the changes of Vatican II. Changes in the liturgy appeared and English was introduced into the Mass. We participated in the liturgy and parish life itself. As a community we became socially aware. In this era, the Home School Association was founded. Like their predecessors, today's parents and board members continue to carefully study and address school matters and support our educational efforts.
During the nineteen seventies, the enrollment in the parish school grew to such an extent that overcrowding became a pressing issue. In September 1980, a modular building was purchased and used during the school hours for classes, and after school and weekends for religious education and other parish and community activities.
We wish to thank the following Dominican Sisters of Sparkill who were principals of St. Augustine School for their leadership and guidance: Sr. Helen Francis Curnan O.P., 1961-1966; Sr. Grace Petragli O.P., 1966-1971; Sr. Helen Boyd O.P., 1971-1979; and Sr. Barbara Lenniger O.P., 1979-1982.
The first lay principal of Saint Augustine School was Ms. Mary Cronin. As an experienced teacher in parochial schools and in public school administration, she joined in the great education mission of our parish and school from 1982 through 1988. Mr. Peter Borchetta was principal for the 1988-1989 school year.
Sister Helen Doychak, O.P., became the new principal of the school in 1989. Under her supervision, the school was the recipient of a Title IV Grant for government funding of computer education in Saint Augustine School. The modular building now housed a computer lab equipped with Apple Computers. Grants were also received for science equipment for our science lab. Another of Sister's goals was to automate our school library; she firmly believed the library program was an integral part of the curriculum. With the financial support and the hands-on help of the Home School Association, Saint Augustine School became one of the first parochial schools in Rockland County to have a computerized library in 1997. The children of Saint Augustine were and are fortunate to have the same technologies available to them as their public school counterparts. During Sister Helen's tenure as principal, Saint Augustine achieved the honor of Middle States Accreditation. Our parish school has maintained this recognition and we continue to strive for excellence in the twenty-first century. Sister Helen served Saint Augustine's from 1989-2000 and became the District Superintendent for Archdiocesan schools in Dutchess, Orange, Rockland, Sullivan and Ulster Counties. Sister Helen retired in 2008.
In 1996, under the spiritual leadership of our pastor, Monsignor William J. Foley, the parish began working on plans building our new church. A new parish center replaced the modular building in 1999 and served as a temporary chapel for daily worship and housed offices. Bishop Patrick Sheridan, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of New York dedicated the building. Today, the parish center houses meeting rooms, Religious Education offices and a computer lab that is so far removed from its Apple Computer roots.
We shared together in a rare liturgical event on March 26, 2000. Tearfully, we watched as a community of faith, as we closed our old church building after a "last Mass."
Our parish was blessed in May 2001, when Edward Cardinal Egan ordained a parishioner, Robert Repenning in Saint Patrick's Cathedral. Although the new church was still in the midst of construction, Father Repenning was able to celebrate his First Mass in his home parish. Father, is a former Saint Augustine School student. He celebrated mass in the school gym where he played as a child, and that had served as the parish worship place for fourteen months.
Sadly, the first celebrated mass in our long awaited church, was a memorial for a fellow parishioner. Brian Novotny, a bond trader, lost his life in the tragic destruction of the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001. Saturday, October 13th, nearly 900 family members, friends, county officials and parishioners celebrated the life of Brian Novotny. Mr. Novotny was a graduate of Saint Augustine School and Albertus Magnus High School. In his memory, each year, our Home School Association awards a scholarship to the member of the graduating class who has achieved the honor of General Excellence.
Edward Cardinal Egan formally dedicated our church on November 25, 2001, the Feast of Christ the King. A true relic of Saint Augustine of Hippo was brought to the new church. In our paved plaza, a cold cast bronze statue of the patron saint of our parish, Saint Augustine, beckons us to sit, think and pray with him. Our new Saint Augustine Church is now a part of the landscape of Rockland County and is a beacon of hope for more than 2,700 families who seek their spiritual home here.
As the century ended with changes in the world as we once knew it, and we found peace in worshipping in our new church, there were changes in our parish school, as well. There was a feeling of newness as the parish and school community prepared to enter a new period of history. Mrs. Katharine Murphy joined the parish staff as school principal in September of 2000 to lead us into the new century as a community of "Faith+Family+Future.". Under Mrs. Murphy's direction, our students learn and grow in classes and activities led by dedicated lay teachers - many of whom have been shaped and molded by Catholic Schools, themselves. Our students consistently meet and exceed the state standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics at a higher percentage than do students across New York State. The evidence of learning from standardized tests (I.T.B.S.), teacher made assessments and classroom observations is used to develop instructional programs that will provide students with the skills and knowledge they will need for the 21st Century.
We, the Saint Augustine School family, hope that our parish and school ancestors look upon our intellectual, social and spiritual growth with pride and know how much we appreciate their selfless efforts of years ago. Throughout our school's history, Catholic education has provided a solid foundation for lifelong learning and fostered a desire for it. Socially, it has reinforced our expectations as parents, for our children to always be respectful of others. Spiritually, Catholic education has nourished our faith and love of God and His Church. Our earliest graduates are now making their mark on the world as parents, community and spiritual leaders, business men and women. Some are now sending their children here. For us, there is no greater compliment.
Nearly a half century ago, Cardinal Spellman spoke of the meaning of Catholic education. As much as the world changes, some things must remain the same. Today, more than ever, we must heed his words. As a community of "Faith+Family+Future", we must appreciate the great gift of catholic education and work together so Saint Augustine School remains viable for generations to come.
May God continue to bless us all in our endeavors.