St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church
1183 Franklin Ave
Bronx, NY 10453
Phone: (718) 893-0072
Fax: (718) 861-3080
Rev. Thomas B. Fenton, Pastor
Other Individuals Familiar with the Collection
Giles Nadler, Director of the Spiritual Life Center
Rodger Repohl, Former Administrative Assistant
Hours Open to the Public
Archives are available by appointment only
History of the Institution
During the nineteenth century, The Bronx was a rural farming community. Unlike the urban metropolis that it is today, The Bronx largely consisted of barns, stables, and cultivated fields. However, due to the construction of the New York Central, Harlem River Railroad and, later, the Third Avenue Elevated Railroad, the population of The Bronx began to increase dramatically.1 A large percentage of this population consisted of Irish and German immigrants, which mostly settled in various neighborhoods of the South Bronx, including Morrisania.
Due to this population increase of German and Irish residents, St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church was established in 1849 and held its first mass in a private residence on Boston Road.2 The following year, the mostly Irish and German parish of St. Augustine’s purchased one acre of land on the northeast corner of Franklin Avenue and Jefferson Street in Morrisania. Shortly after the plot was purchased, a small wooden church was constructed. In 1858, the wooden church was replaced by a brick building that was dedicated by Most Rev. John Hughes, the first Archbishop of New York; however, this brick church was completely destroyed by a fire in 1894. In 1895, the Archbishop of New York dedicated the current church, which is located on 167th Street and Franklin Avenue.3
At the turn of the 20th Century, more Irish, German, and Italian immigrants relocated to The Bronx to escape the crowded tenements of the Lower East Side. As a result, The Bronx became “one of the fasted growing urban areas in the world.”4 The parish of St. Augustine’s also grew significantly during this time period.5 To better serve the needs of the growing parish, the church established a parochialschool in 1906. Originally, the school had a seating capacity of 1200 students. However, shortly after the school was opened, church officials realized a larger school building was needed. Therefore, in 1913, a new schoolhouse was constructed on Fulton Avenue.6 During the 1920s, St. Augustine’s established the Diamond Jubilee Campaign, which aimed to lower the significant debt that accumulated towards the management of the church. While the St. Augustine’s raised significant funds during this campaign, more money was needed by the 1930s and 1940s to cope with the poor structural condition of the church.
After World War II, many of the Irish, German, and Italian immigrant parishioners moved out of The Bronx. At the same time, many African Americans relocated to the South Bronx, in particular Morrisania, to escape the crowded living conditions of Harlem. By the 1950s, the congregation had become predominatly African American. However, the overall size of the parish had declined, due to the relatively small number of African American Catholics, compared to previous groups in the parish. In addition, by the late 1960s, over one-third of the parish left due to increasing crime and druguse in the neighborhood.7
In the early 1970s, a group of parish leaders, which included the newly appointed minister Rev. Robert Jeffers’, met to find ways of better serving the needs of the Morrisania community, which was suffering from massive crime, unemployment, arson, and drug use.8 Shortly after this meeting was held, a small community of Franciscan brothers began to serve the surrounding community of the church by ministering to children, elderly, and anyone else in need. In 1979, the church established St. Augustine’s School of the Arts, whichcontinues to provide an arts-based curriculum to children located in the Morrisania community. In addition to the school, the church also established the Alpha Housing Coalition, which provided assistance to tenants located in the Morrisania community.
By the 1980s, The South Bronx, in particular Morrisania, had become one of the major centers of urban poverty in the United States. In order to serve the needs of the community, the church continued to establish programs that provided social services to the Mauritania community. In the mid-1980s, the church became a member of the SHARE (Self-Help and Resource Exchange) Program. Founded by a deacon from California, SHARE provided food packages to families in exchange for community service.9 In 1987, St. Augustine’s along with other congregations in the South Bronx, established South Bronx Churches (SBC), an organization that has provided housing and other services to residents of the area.
The church continues to hold weekly services and sponsors many community programs, which include a food panty, a men’s society, Alcoholics Anonymous, and youth dances.
Scope and Content
This collection contains newspaper clippings, photographs, videos, sound recordings of sermons, press releases, letters, correspondence, memorandum, minutes of Parish Council meetings, scrapbooks, and financial records. Church membership lists and service bulletins are saved electronically.
The church also has an extensive collection of baptismal and marriage records that date back from when the institution was originally established. These records are in seventeen bound volumes. Please note that race is not mentioned in these documents.
Overall Holdings of Archival Collection:
Approximately 25 cubic feet
Overall Holdings of Archival Material Regarding African Americans in The Bronx: Approximately 15 cubic feet
A finding aid has not been published for this collection.
Associated Collections and Other Research Material:
South Bronx Churches
Survey conducted by Megan A. Hibbitts in 2007.
1 Ultan, Lloyd and Gary Hermalyn, The Birth of The Bronx: 1609-1900 (Bronx: The Bronx County Historical Society, 2000), 68.
2 Our Hundredth Anniversary – St. Augustine’s Parish, 1949.
3 Anniversary Journal of St. Augustine’s, 1974.
4 Gonzalez, Evelyn, The Bronx (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 5
5 Our Hundredth Anniversary – St. Augustine’s Parish, 1949.
7 Peter Honerkamp, “Inner-City Parishes – St Augustine, New York,” Impact! (October-November 1979).
9 Claudia McDonnell, “Hope Comes to the Inner City,” St. Anthony Messenger (1986): 15-20.