A Brief History of St. Ann’s Parish
St. Ann’s was founded as a mission church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Yonkers by Monsignor Ercole Rossi the pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church. Due to an increasing Italian population on the “Nanny-goat Hill” section of Midland Avenue, there was a need for Mass in Italian to serve the needs of the growing community. Fr. Rossi responded to the need and celebrated the first Mass in what came to be St. Ann’s Parish on September 1, 1929.
During the early years of its existence, financial support was nil and it was very difficult for Father Rossi to carry on this task. At this period, Bishop Pernicone, then an assistant at Mt. Carmel, Yonkers, assisted in the struggle to carry on, and devoted the limited time he could spare from his other duties to keep the spiritual spark going in the community, especially with the growing population. St. Ann’s remained a Mission Church of Mt. Carmel until 1937.
The building originally acquired for the first church was formerly a pub. It was entirely of frame and very old, but through the efforts of some good people and the gifts of materials, some improvements were made, but it was a hard struggle and only one Mass was possible until May 1937 when it was placed for 9 years under the jurisdiction of St. John the Baptist Church, and Fr. Farrester, under limited powers, was able to add another Mass every Sunday. Attendance at “The Chapel on the Hill” as it was called was on the increase all the time, until finally, on July 10, 1947 Fr. Francis P. Ferme was appointed as first Pastor of St. Ann’s Parish.
History making days then began and Father Ferme, with his untiring energy, with his pick and shovel, with hammer and nails and help he was able to solicit from the general public, including his friends from out of town, made his parish house which had been four walls and unlivable, into an inviting and gracious home. It is to Fr. Ferme’s credit that he erected the Church Hall when funds were almost impossible.
While continuously forging ahead with Church improvements which made St. Ann’s one of the prettiest and most visited in the county, gradually the spiritual activities of the parish began to increase as well as the attendance to such an extent that the number of Masses on Sunday increased from two to nine.
In the ensuing years of Father Ferme’s tenure, his enthusiasm and concern for the parishioners‘ spiritual needs brought about the reality of a parochial school for the children of Dunwoodie. St. Ann’s School opened its doors in September, 1959. Father Ferme raised money not only for a modern school facility but also a spacious convent for the Sisters of Charity who taught at the school from its foundation until 1971 when they were succeeded by the Sisters of St. Francis.
In 1960, due to the great growth of the parish, St. Ann’s church was no longer large enough to accommodate the crowds coming to Mass, and the school gym was used as the church for Sunday Mass.
After serving as Pastor of St. Ann’s for twenty-five years, Monsignor Ferme, because of ill health, resigned as pastor, and on November 7, 1972, His Eminence, Terence Cardinal Cooke, appointed Father Leonard D. DiFalco as the second Pastor of St. Ann’s Church. Msgr. Ferme passed away on July 4, 1984.
During Fr. DiFalco’s tenure as pastor, St. Ann’s continued to grow, and it was evident that a more permanent and appropriate worship space was needed than the school gym could ever provide, and Fr. Di Falco set to work on building a new parish church adjacent to the original. The cornerstone of the new Church of St. Ann was laid in 1975. The new church was built in 1970’s style, which tended to employ innovative concepts in architecture and church decoration that tended to stray from tradition and reflect contemporary design. Fr. DiFalco employed one of these innovations by placing the altar in a different position in the church. As you entered the church from College Place, the altar was to the right, and the pews faced in that direction as well. The benefit of this arrangement was that all seating was closer to the altar, which attempted to draw the congregation into a more intimate communion with each other and the action of the Mass.
In 1985, once again due to declining health, Fr. DiFalco resigned as pastor, and His Eminence, John Cardinal O’Connor appointed Fr. Anthony M. Napolitano as the third Pastor of St. Ann’s Church. Fr. DiFalco entered his heavenly rest on September 19, 1989.
Fr. Anthony Napolitano saw St. Ann’s enter into a period of further growth. He introduced a great spiritual sense of worth that made St. Ann’s a precious gem in the Archdiocese of New York. He possessed a keen ability to read the feelings of the people and the times. One specific change he sensed was that the spirit of the late 1980’s was different from that of the mid-1970’s, and the trend was returning to more traditional styles of church settings. He therefore remodeled St. Ann’s Church, placing the altar directly in front at the far end of the church nave, restoring the traditional church model. Fr. Anthony shepherded the people of St. Ann’s for fourteen years until his untimely death on September 27, 1999.
Fr. Anthony’s death left a gaping hole in the heart of the people of St. Ann’s Parish. His Eminence, John Cardinal O’Connor, sought to fill that hole by appointing as the fourth pastor a priest for whom Fr. Anthony served as spiritual director: Fr. John DeBellis.
Fr. Debellis saw St. Ann’s into the Third Millennium and served St. Ann’s for six years. It was Fr. DeBellis who began St. Ann’s Festa Italiana, which is still a vibrant part of St. Ann’s parish life. Fr. DeBellis was replaced in 2005 by Fr. Carmine Rita, who served briefly as pastor – only three years – until ill health led him to resign as pastor in the end of August, 2008. On September 1, 2008, His Eminence, Edward Cardinal Egan, appointed Fr. Andrew P. Carrozza as the sixth and current Pastor of St. Ann’s Parish.
Upon arriving at St. Ann’s, Fr. Carrozza found the parish to be in physical and spiritual disrepair. The beautiful chapel, the school, and the church were in need of physical improvements. Every roof was leaking and portions of the buildings were in danger of collapse. Enrollment in the parish and the school had declined sharply, and Fr. Carrozza firmly believed the parish was in need of a new springtime. With the help of the generous parishioners of St. Ann’s, he began a Capital Campaign entitled “Cherishing our Past, Ensuring our Future” to replace the roofs and refurbish the church. In keeping with the vision of Pope Benedict XVI, he chose a more formal and classical appearance for the worship space, including new paintings, vestments, and holy water fonts all provided by donations from parishioners in memory of loved ones. Fr. Carrozza placed the tabernacle in the center of the sanctuary – which reflects the current sentiments both of the Holy Father as well as a substantial portion of the Catholic population – and installed a porcelain tile floor of white travertine marble with porphyry and terra cotta toned inlaid medallions. The color scheme was influenced by St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome and the Basilica of St. John Vianney in Ars, France, which Father visited during the February 2010 pilgrimage for priests led by Archbishop Timothy Dolan as part of the celebration of the Year of the Priest.
Fr. Carrozza has made a special effort to include the youth of St. Ann’s in the life of the parish. He started St. Ann’s Teen Club, revived the altar servers, and has encouraged teen lectors. He has endeavored to make St. Ann’s School a more vibrant and visible presence in the life of St. Ann’s, and he encourages you to be an active part of the future of St. Ann’s Parish.