On May 1, 1911 Reverend Patrick J. Hayes of the Archdiocese of New York granted formal approval for a new parish, to be located on the northernmost tip of Manhattan.
The announcement would change the lives, and test the metal, of the two Paulist fathers assigned to the task.
After being officially appointed Pastor of the new flock, Father Thomas A. Daly and his assistant, Father James Towey, scoured the neighborhood for a land deal, they hoped, would accommodate an ever-growing congregation.
Until a suitable location could be found, the small but steadfast flock of 150 parishioners found a temporary home in a small chapel located on the current site of the Christie Field House at Baker Field.
On January 1, 1912, inside the old Christian Brothers’ chapel, named “Philip’s Villa,” 150 Catholic pioneers held their first Mass along the banks of the Spuyten Duyvil. The Villa would serve as the parish church until a suitable structure could be built.
After and intense search, which included the securing of financing for the project, Father Daly purchased a large plot of land on Broadway and Isham Street for the sum of $115,000.
But his announcement would have to wait.
On September 28, 1912, nearly one thousand New Yorkers gathered on a hilltop just north of Isham Street for another historic announcement—the gift of Isham Park to the City of New York.
The day was a magnificent occasion. It marked the first time in 136 years that private citizens, Mrs. Julia Isham Taylor and Miss Flora E. Isham, had donated any significant parkland to the city.
In the midst of a grand party, held in the former Isham family mansion, the time felt right for the Paulist fathers to share their glorious news—news that that would shape Inwood to this present day.
After a series of folk dances and speeches by Parks Commissioner Charles B. Stover and local dignitaries, including local historian Reginald Pelham Bolton, Reverend John J. Hughes took the podium.
Hughes, the national father superior of the Paulist Fathers, announced that his order, after a careful search, had secured a permanent home a stone’s throw south of the newly formed park.
With much excitement, Hughes described his plan for the construction of a church, school and monastery to serve the growing urban community, which, just years earlier, had been sparsely populated farmland.
Hughes told a spellbound audience that, within weeks, work would commence on a temporary wooden church, capable of seating some one thousand parishioners.
The church, he announced, would be named the Church of the Good Shepherd.
Thus it was, on the same late summer afternoon, the neighborhood gained not only a park, but also a church, which would together bind the landscape and religious fabric of Inwood for generations to come.
Not long after the celebration, work began on the original white A-framed wooden country church that would serve as home until a more permanent structure could be completed.
Nearly two decades later it became clear that Inwood the time for expansion had arrived. Two subway lines had led to the development of apartment buildings to house an ever growing, and ever more urban, population. The church that had served the community so well had become too cramped to contain the growing Catholic, heavily Irish, community that had fled the tenement life of downtown Manhattan.
By the early 1930’s the quaint country church was moved west, across Cooper Street so congregants would have a place to worship as workers broke ground on the church we know today.
Commissioned in 1935 and designed by architect Paul Monaghan the church is Romanesque in style. Spectacular to behold from the outside, with its granite façade, terra cotta tile roof and three large stained glass windows overlooking a stepped porch leading to Broadway, the church the inside is a work of divine inspiration. Good Shepherd’s cavern-like interior is capable of seating some 1,000 people.
According to Good Shepherd’s website, “The walls are constructed of Fordham gneiss, which was most likely quarried to the north of Manhattan in the Bronx. It is accentuated by the use of horizontal bands of a contrasting color. The siting of the new church blocked views the rectory once had to the Harlem River; the large window openings now look out to the back of the church. During the 1930s, an elementary school and convent were constructed adjacent the site. Originally established to minister to Inwood’s Irish community, the Church of the Good Shepherd of today with the aid of the Capuchin Franciscan Friars, Province of St. Mary serve a largely Hispanic congregation. The church demonstrates a phase of growth for northern Manhattan and is a reminder of the physical presence of Inwood’s middle-income Irish Catholic population.”
Good Shepherd Firsts:
First Mass: January 1, 1912
First Baptism: Dorothy Emily Baird, 153 Vermilyea Avenue, born January 1, 1913, Baptized February 2, 1913, by Father Thomas A. Daly.
First Marriage: William Young to Terese Francis Hall, April 20, 1913.
First Spanish Mass: November, 1969.
MORE PHOTOS IN BELOW GALLERY
Major work on the roof in 2015:
Now it’s your turn. I encourage everyone reading to submit their own photographs and memories of Good Shepherd and help flush out its history together.