St. Lawrence O’Toole Parish was established in 1878. Before the church was built in Brewster, Mass was held in a small house on Eastview Avenue. It is noted that the Stations of the Cross were hung in the living room, and the house also hosted baptisms. In 1871, Father McKenna sought property on Prospect Street, and taking a small house that was already present, he remodeled it into a small church building. Additions were made in 1890 with a new tower placed in and the overall building extending eighteen feet closer to the street.
In 1915, a new church was constructed with more decorative large windows in the sanctuary and choir, as well as the lower areas of the building. However in the same year, our stone church began to form, and so the church was temporarily held on Eastview Avenue once again. This location also became the school grounds for children when the public school burned down in 1923, until the new Garden Street school was made. In 1926 Father Barry declared this building a parochial school, and had a new structure built with four classrooms in 1931.
Our Founding Pastor
It is stated that the first pastor of our church was Father Lawrence McKenna, born in Ireland in 1817. Around the age of 19 he came to New York with two brothers, and after working in a dry-goods business in Georgia, applied to Archbishop John Hughes of New York to be approved for the St. John’s diocesan seminary at Fordham. Though he lacked the education required for priesthood, he was held in high esteem by the Archbishop, and was ordained in 1862 for the Archdiocese of New York. Starting off at St. Andrew’s Church in Manhattan, he moved up to Croton Falls to take the place of Father John Orsenigo in December of 1869. Before Father McKenna’s first year at Croton Falls was over, he had decided to build a church in Brewster. A few years later in 1871, the Brewster Standard put out news of a dedication for the first Catholic Church.
Following the temporary classes held in the church building on Eastview Avenue, the parish school was built in 1931, a two-story buildng with four classrooms on the bottom floor, and the convent above. South of the building lay the old wooden church, which was still being used as an auditorium, but eventually became another classroom. The first graduating class consisted of seven girls and four boys, held in 1933.
During the 1950’s, the town of Brewster was expanding, and thanks to the development of Brewster Heights, many new Catholic families were joining our parish. Masses became so crowded that extra services had to be held in the cafeteria of the school. In 1953, after the old church was torn down, it was also decided that the school needed to expand. This resulted in six classrooms on the lower floor, two classrooms above, and a kindergarten center as well.
The rectory on Prospect Street was purchased in 1878 by Father Patrick Healy, the first resident pastor of our area. It is recorded that during the 1890’s Father Henry had it renovated, ad was renovated again in the 1930’s by Father Philbin. The kitchen had been redone by Father Heaney to account for a bedroom for a housekeeper who was living in the rectory at the time. However, once the housekeeper moved out, it became known as the “Lion’s Den” for Father McCabe and Father Nebesky, as well as assistants of other parishes in the area.
Father McCabe decided to build a new rectory in 1970, with paneled walls and plywood floors covered by carpeting. The lower floor consists of a secretarial office space, three conference rooms, a kitchen, lounge and dining room. The upper floor was made of four room suites, while basement became a place for meetings.
The deed of our cemetery was recorder on July 11, 1868. Father McKenna had not net arrived to Brewster, so it is likely that Father Orsenigo was the priest held responsible. In the beginning the land was only visible from Route 22, but later on more acreage was acquired and allowed for a total of six sections, along with more growth to follow in 1956. A man from Carmel named Thomas Maguire became the owner of part of the land, but agreed to allow access to the cemetery, as well as put in a new road and provide water facilities. We were also blessed with the finest in custodians, who not only provided excellent care to the land, but also helped with the acquiring of records of burials.
Our Lady's Statue
Our Lady’s Statue came to us with a discussion to Father McCabe provided by Emily and Joseph Brookshire in 1953. While the conversation did not lead to immediate action, after a few months had gone by Father McCabe received a phone call from Mr. Emond Amateis looking for help with the design of a few statues, including one of Our Lady. Asking for pictures and information, Father McCabe showed him pictures from a statue in the chapel of the Mother house of the Daughters of Charity in Paris. Mr. Amateis used these photos as a guideline for the statue of Our Lady.