Beyond West 99th Street: St. Mary’s Church in Manhattanville

St. Mary’s Church – on West 126th Street — was St. Michael’s first “daughter” church.

St. Mary's Manhattanville

Established in 1823 on land donated by Jacob Schiefflin, Manhattanville’s most prominent merchant and civic leader, and patriarch of a family long associated with St. Michael’s, St. Mary’s Church called William Richmond, already St. Michael’s third rector, as its first.  Initially dependent on St. Michael’s for pastoral support, St. Mary’s nonetheless rapidly developed its own identity as a spiritual anchor in its Manhattanville neighborhood; beginning in 1831, St. Mary’s official status as a “free pew” church assured the new young church’s enduring spiritual leadership within the diocese.

Schiefflin Vault at St. Mary's Church

During the whole nineteenth century, the two parishes remained closely associated through extensive family and friendship connections between the two communities and through shared commitments to institutions such as the Sheltering Arms; towards the end of the twentieth century, St. Michael’s and St. Mary’s also worked closely together in AIDS ministries. In recent years, as St. Mary’s has built on its extensive traditions of engagement with social justice issues, it has become informally known as the We Are Not Afraid Church.

St. Mary's Church Banner

St. Mary’s archival materials parallel and interconnect with St. Michael’s for the 1820s through the 1880s: baptismal, confirmation, marriage and burial records reflect the regular presence of William Richmond, James Cook Richmond (William Richmond’s brother; St. Michael’s fourth rector and St. Mary’s second) and Thomas McClure Peters (William Richmond’s son-in-law; St. Michael’s fifth rector and an early assistant at St. Mary’s) at both churches.

At St. Michael’s, a special memorial plaque on a column in the middle of the nave indicates that William Richmond is buried nearby.

William Richmond Memorial at St. Michael's Church

At St. Mary’s, an elegant memorial plaque reminds parishioners of their first rector’s spiritual legacies.

William Richmond Memorial at St. Mary's Church

Both plaques, making reference to William Richmond’s “labors,” identify the key component of William Richmond’s character. Service on behalf of others informed his every waking moment; he was most deeply at prayer when he was most actively engaged in pastoral and evangelical ministries.

Just six years from now, in 2023, St. Mary’s Church will be celebrating its Bicentennial. As St. Michael’s currently celebrates its own 210th Anniversary, the prospect of the historical celebrations at St. Michael’s first “daughter” church is filled with delights!

November 30, 2017