A RICH HISTORY
The history of St. Charles Borromeo is integrally bound to the social and cultural changes in the Harlem Community. The anticipated development of the land north of 135th Street motivated Archbishop Michael Corrigan to establish the parish. It began with the offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass by the first pastor, Rev. Dr. Charles O’Keefe, in a storefront at 2660 Eighth Avenue on January 29, 1888. By November 4, the feast of its patron saint, the first church was built on the south side of 141st Street. When the property was later sold, the church building was moved across the street.
The New Era in the History
The present Gothic structure often referred to as “The Cathedral of Harlem”, was completed in 1904. The school staffed by the Sisters of Charity was opened that year in the old church. In 1915, Monsignor Francis H. Wall invited the La Salle Christian Brothers to teach the older boys. In 1926 Harlem witnessed the shift of population from Irish to African Protestants presented a challenge met by the appointment of Rev. Walter McCann, a famed preacher of the Mission Band, as pastor. He selected the New York Apostolate to Harlem. This group of zealous priests included Father Walter L. McCann, Owen J. Scanlon, Bernard F. Russell, Lawrence J Cahill, Joseph M. Walsh and Frank J Dohman. Their convert work is unprecedented: yearly classes resulted in the Baptism to Catholicism of as many as three hundred thirty-nine converts in a year.
Convert classes at St. Charles were initiated by Sister Mary Barbara, S.B.S. In the post World War II era, Monsignor Cornelius Drew led the parish. He had a remarkable political sense, as well as a keen interest in liturgy. His concern for the poor and for social change was outstanding. The first two of the newly constructed housing projects were named in his honor after his death in 1962.
Growth of Catholicism and the Vicariate
A new parish school planned by Monsignor Drew was opened in 1964 while Monsignor Owen J. Scanlon was pastor. Sister Mary Alma was the first principal of the modern sixteen-classroom school. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Second Vatican Council affected the parish in many ways: liturgical changes and more involved participation by parishioners were inaugurated. Monsignor Scanlon volunteered to resign as pastor to promote leadership in the Black community, and the appointment of Rev. Harold Salmon to the pastorate of St. Charles marked the beginning of the Harlem Vicariate, which served to unite the seven churches in the area.
When Rev. Emerson J. Moore succeeded Father Edward Dugan as pastor in 1975, Black leadership in St. Charles parish had reached a culmination. The honor of becoming the first Black Monsignor in the United States was conferred on Father Moore by Pope Paul VI in 1978. In 1982 he was named Auxiliary Bishop of New York by Pope John Paul II. As Auxiliary Bishop he retained his title of Vicar of Harlem and Vicar of Black Community Development. One of the most outstanding days in the life of the parish occurred on the Birthday of its patron saint, St. Charles Borromeo. On October 2, 1979, Pope John Paul II visited St. Charles Parish and addressed the Black Community. His basic message was one of hope, “We are an Easter People; Alleluia is our song.”
A History That Continues To Be Written
Rev. Monsignor Wallace A. Harris
In 1989, the Rev. Monsignor Wallace A. Harris succeeded Bishop Moore as pastor of St. Charles and became the third Regional Vicar of Central Harlem. Under his leadership, St. Charles experienced an explosive increase in the number of parishioners. Msgr. Harris was recognized as a formidable, yet compassionate church leader and is recognized for these characteristics within the Archdiocesan, ecumenical and African American community. The development of a committed, involved and well prepared laity at the church is due to his encouragement. During the tenure of Msgr. Harris the Church of the Resurrection ceased to be an independent parish with its own pastor. The community at Resurrection became members of St. Charles Borromeo Parish and the church building at Resurrection became a chapel of the now larger parish.
In 2008, following Msgr. Harris’ unexpected departure, Rev. Philip Amankwa-Danquah was asked to assume the role of Parish Administrator at St. Charles Borromeo / Resurrection Chapel. During his tenure he sought to continue the rich liturgical tradition at the church begun by Msgr. Harris. The lay leadership of the church in cooperation with Fr. Amankwa-Danquah brought welcome stability to St. Charles during a very turbulent and disturbing period of transition in the local church and in the nation.
Rev. Gregory Chisholm, SJ
Rev. Gregory Chisholm, SJ, was appointed pastor of St. Charles Borromeo / Resurrection Chapel in July, 2011, by Archbishop Dolan. Fr. Chisholm is a native of Harlem, although most of his ministerial service has taken place in African American and Latino communities in Detroit, Los Angeles and Oakland. He is the first member of a Religious Order to lead this Archdiocesan parish. Nevertheless, he brings to our table a broad experience of collaborative ministry in parishes and opens a new chapter in the rich history of the ”Cathedral of Harlem”, St. Charles Borromeo.