Early History of St. Ursula Church
The Parish of St. Ursula was founded while the Church in the United States was still mission territory and at a time that Archbishop, later Cardinal, John A. Farley presided over the Archdiocese of New York.
Father James A. Dooley, the first Pastor, ordained at St. Joseph’s Seminary, on December 20, 1889, was originally assigned to the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, NYC. His war record as chaplain in the Spanish American War suited him well for the task ahead of him. The families of the Chester Hill area in Mount Vernon had petitioned for a parish of their own. Catholics on Chester Hill attended Church at Tuckahoe or Pelham, quite a distance in those days, or “across town” to Our Lady of Victory or Sacred Heart.
By December 1908, the house which served as the Rectory for the first 50 years, had been purchased at 202 East Lincoln Avenue, on the corner of Rich Avenue. An adjacent lot, which at that time was a small orchard, went with it. On December 6th the first Mass was offered for
the residents of Chester Hill in the front room of the Rectory. Father Dooley was able to begin construction of a Church in the Spring of 1909, materially assisted by a substantial gift from one of the families in the parish.
Monsignor Mooney, the Vicar General of the Archdiocese, laid the cornerstone of the Church on July 25, 1909. By November the basement Church was sufficiently completed to permit the administration of the Sacraments. The first Baptism was conferred in St. Ursula’s in that month. On December 5, 1909, the Pastor was able to observe the first anniversary of the Parish by celebrating Mass in the completed lower Church, tangible evidence of the faith and sacrifice of his first parishioners.
Father Dooley and the Parishioners of the “New” St. Ursula’s Church looked forward to the dedication of the Church in the Fall of 1910. The last few years had been hard ones for Father Dooley, whose health had been impaired by his war service in the tropics. He died on October 19th, so it was that the First Mass in the almost finished Upper Church had to be a Requiem Mass for St Ursula’s first Pastor.
Father McCabe arrived at St. Ursula’s in November 1910. He was able to complete the interior of the Church, and put the Parish finances in order. The following year the Church was ready for dedication. The Catholic News of October 21, 1911, carried the notice that the Church of St.
Ursula was to be dedicated on Sunday, October 22nd. Archbishop Farley officiated at the dedication; the Solemn Mass was celebrated by the Right Reverend Patrick J. Hayes, D.D., Chancellor of the Archdiocese.
The next Pastor, Rev. Joseph Foley, was appointed on November 11, 1919 He completed the task of paying off a debt of $67,000 in eight years’ time. It was on his eighth anniversary as Pastor, November 11, 1927, that the Parish had reached a state of solvency. In 1928 Father Foley installed a new pipe organ; in 1929-1930 the interior of the Church was redecorated, new
lighting installed, and the marble Altar, Communion Rail and Statues were erected at a cost of $50,000.
In February 1936, the Rev. Francis M. O’Reilly was appointed Pastor. Father O’Reilly’s interests were many; he served as chaplain of the Mount Vernon Fire Department, and was known to the parishioners and to all the citizens of Mount Vernon as an ardent and eloquent foe of communism. He was a frequent speaker at civic functions. Father O’Reilly retired as Pastor of St. Ursula’s after 17 years of service, in the spring of 1953.