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The History of Saint Rose of Lima School

When Saint Rose of Lima church was dedicated on Sunday, December 10, 1905 by Archbishop Farley the parishioners rejoiced in their completed church. However, another great work yet remained, the erection of a school for their children. The task would be difficult but with the intercession of their patron Saint Rose they knew they would succeed. The years rolled on, the First World War broke out and the school remained a dream. Finally, on January 5, 1922, the third pastor of the parish, Rev. Msgr. John R. Mahoney, D.D., announced the building of the first parish school. For many years Sunday School classes had been held by Sisters of Charity. The first school was located at 1090 St. Nicholas Avenue and later on in the Triangle Building on 163rd Street and Amsterdam. These early classes were conducted by Ursulines of the Blessed Virgin from the neighboring parish of our Lady of Lourdes. The Ursuline community could not staff the new school with a sufficient number of teachers, so Monsignor John ‘Doc’ Mahoney, the pastor of Saint Rose of Lima selected the Sisters of St. Dominic, whose Motherhouse is in Sparkill, New York, as the teaching staff of the new school. In 1923 four sisters of the Dominican order left their motherhouse in rural Sparkill, New York for the big city. Their destination was the new school opening at Saint Rose of Lima parish in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. Sister M. Evangelista, O.P. was selected as the first principal of the parish school. When the sisters arrived at their new home, they found it lacking some necessities. The furniture was not adequate and there were no basic household items such as cups and plates. The one cup that was found was accidently broken by one of the sisters shortly after their arrival. After some time to rest and a good meal, the Pastor told them the really bad news: the new school was not ready yet. The Sisters, not to be deterred by minor setbacks, began teaching anyway. They held classes in hallways, storerooms and the vestibule of Saint Rose of Lima’s lower church. This fierce and determined beginning marks the start of a tradition in the history of Saint Rose of Lima School: commitment to education and dedication to the children of Washington Heights. The new school turned out to be well worth the wait and inconvenience. Monsignor Mahoney, known by his parishioners to ‘never do things by halves, planned a modern school, considered at the time to be the best equipped grammar school in New York City. The cornerstone of the school was laid on July 13, 1924, the building was completed the following year and was blessed by Cardinal Hayes on November 15, 1925. The first graduating class of twenty-four boys and twenty-three girls celebrated their commencement in 1928. Before this first graduation, the children were escorted by the pastor and Father Nestor to our nation’s capital for a tour of the sights and sounds of Washington, D.C. Over the next five decades, the school continued to grow and prosper, providing a solid education for the children of the parish. Year after year, student after student graduated from St. Rose armed with the fundamental knowledge in reading, writing and arithmetic and most importantly the Catholic Faith. On the occasion of the school’s fiftieth anniversary in 1974, His Eminence Terrance Cardinal Cooke, Archbishop of New York wrote the following:

"The history of the Archdiocese has been affected by the many vocations to the priesthood and religious life which were nurtured in the home and in the school of St. Rose of Lima. It is fitting in the Jubilee Year that the principal of the school, Sister James David, O.P., is a former student. For all that has been accomplished in forming loyal sons and daughters of the Church, in preparing men and women to take their place in society we are grateful."

Saint Rose of Lima will soon celebrate its seventy-fifth anniversary. Many things have changed since its establishment, changes consistent with that original commitment to education and dedication to students. One thing that has remained constant over the years is the dedication of the staff. There are curently two Dominican Sisters of Sparkill on staff at Saint Rose of Lima. One of those sisters, Sr. Joan Frances Munsch, O.P. has served at the school for 32 years. The other sister, Sr. Joan Hearns, O.P. came to our school in 1982 and has dedicated her time to organizing and updating the library facilities for the children. As we approach the Diamond Jubilee of the school it is significant to note that the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill have remained on duty all these years. The current lay faculty is certainly no less dedicated than the religious that have ministered for these seventy-five years. There are lay teachers on staff that have served for sixteen, eleven and ten years. The average length of service of the lay staff is 8.4 years. The current principal, the school’s first lay principal, Joseph P. López, has served at Saint Rose of Lima for a total of twenty-six years: twelve as a teacher and fourteen as its principal. Those first four Dominican Sisters set a precedent with their improvised classrooms and dedication to education. It marked the start of a tradition of creativity, perseverance and excellence. This tradition sustains us today as we strive to face the challenges of the new millennium.

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