by Henry John Steiner
Historian of Sleepy Hollow
I was downtown today, June 9, 2017, and I struck up a conversation with Father Dany Abi-Akar of Saint John Paul II Parish at the Immaculate Conception Church in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Father Dany has been a much appreciated addition to our community here in Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown. He and I were speaking together about his church building’s local history, when Father Dany informed me of the sad passing of the church’s former pastor, Monsignor Louis Mazza. My understanding is that Monsignor Mazza passed away in Yonkers (where he had been living in retirement) last Wednesday, June 7, 2017. [Please note: there has been some conflicting information about the exact location of Monsignor Mazza’s passing. The Riverdale on Hudson Funeral Home noted : “at the Edward Cardinal Egan Pavilion, St. John Vianney Clergy Residence in the Bronx, New York.” Another source suggested that he died at the Cardinal OʻConnor Clergy Residence in Riverdale, the Bronx. According to the funeral home, the monsignor’s remains were to be interred at St. Raymond’s Cemetery in Bronx, New York.]
In observance of Monsignor’s life and service to our community, I thought I would share a glimpse of the man who has left us. I interviewed Monsignor Mazza fifteen years ago, in early 2003, and what follows is a brief look at the man who many of us knew personally by sight and by name…
Expect adventure, goodness, beauty, difficulty, learning, transition, and be sure to bring along an ability to adapt. That is how Monsignor Louis Mazza might have counciled a young man contemplating the priesthood. On May 31st, 2003, Monsignor Mazza and the congregation of Immaculate Conception Church in Sleepy Hollow gathered to reflect, give thanks, and celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.
Monsignor Louis Mazza arrived at Immaculate Conception Church in 1986. He served as the pastor of the parish and, in his day, would celebrate each of the three weekend masses. In 2003 I had an opportunity to speak with him as he reflected on fifty years of service in the Catholic Church and the steady cycle of change that characterized his vocational life.
In 1927, Louis Mazza was born in the South Bronx to parents of Irish and Italian descent. He and his older sister were the children of Fred Mazza and Beatrice McDonald. Louis had his first glimpses of a spiritual calling when he served as an altar boy at St. Dominic’s Church. He recalled his pastor at St. Dominic’s as a strong, early influence. This was during the time of the Great Depression, “but nobody told us kids about it, we had a great time.” When war came (WWII), the family moved upstate to Watervliet (near Troy) where Louis’ father worked as a mechanic.
From the beginning Beatrice Mazza strongly encouraged her son’s interest in the church. When the Mazza family returned to the Bronx, she became ill with cancer. In his early teen years, Louis was admitted to Cathedral College School, which then stood at the corner of 86th Street, and West End Avenue. This was a top religious school for those on a track for the clergy. He graduated in May, 1947.
Monsignor Mazza’s seminary years were spent at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers. Later, he was to study at Iona College and Fordham University. During the summers he worked with boys from Children’s Village at its summer camp in Hastings.
He was ordained on May 31st, 1953 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. As a young priest, Monsignor Mazza was assigned to his first parish, Mount Carmel Church in Poughkeepsie, New York. There Monsignor Mazza worked with the youth of the predominantly Italian-American congregation. In the 1950s there were so many priests that he soon became accustomed to frequent rotations—three different parishes in three years. He was sent next to St. Joseph’s, a small parish in New Rochelle, but he was soon assigned to a big parish, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Located on Fordham Road in the Bronx, this parish was served by nine priests and a bishop.
Nine years later, Monsignor Mazza returned to a small church, St. Ann’s in Yonkers. This appointment was followed by one to Holy Family, a small church located close to the United Nations. Its congregation was diverse, with a large Philippine component. The highlight of his time at Holy Child was a church celebration attended by Pope Paul VI.
Each transition brought its own rewards and challenges. Monsignor Mazza, still a young associate, was next at St. Francis of Assisi; a small parish in Mount Vernon, then he went to St. Bernard’s, a Manhattan parish on 14th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. It was a large church with a predominantly Irish congregation, transitioning to a Hispanic congregation. He remained there nearly six years.
A significant change followed his assignment to St Christopher’s in Buchanan; he was given his first pastorate. This was at a different St. Christopher’s in Red Hook. It was a small parish and school, in a community surrounded by apple orchards.
In 1986, Monsignor Mazza was called to Immaculate Conception Church in Sleepy Hollow. Archdiocesan priests are under the guidance of their bishop. When the call comes, they go. Starting over with each transition has been a personally challenging aspect of his vocation. “Adaptation is the basis of good psychological health. The old tradition of the church is to move on.” There really is no returning to past congregations. “The people move on as well.” Yet many old friends still contact him and among his best friends are other priests.
Monsignor Mazza touched on the challenges of keeping the Catholic schools open—the financial pressures on the Archdiocese and those on parents. He also noted the number of churches—particularly Catholic churches—in our area.
In 2003, after sixteen years in Sleepy Hollow, he remembered seeing many cycles in his own parish, like fluctuations in the number of parishioners and the remodeling of the church building between 1990 and 1994. Initially, Immaculate Conception had a very large proportion of Italian Americans in its congregation; In 2003, this too had begun to change. He noted the mobility of Catholics in the society of the new millennium. He saw people “shop around” for a parish, in contrast to the days when people walked to church.
“The big issue is to create a feeling of community,” he said. At that time Immaculate Conception held monthly communion breakfasts, programs for young people, and an annual church bizarre each August. “We need to see humbly what we can do for the young,” said Monsignor Mazza. “Many children have lost touch with the church. Now that the need is greatest, the number of new priests is not great, only four this year in New York.” But Monsignor Mazza was encouraged by the “quality” of the new priests and the increasing number of church deacons. He added assuringly, “God is in charge.”
The Hudson River waterfront at Pierson Park was a favorite local spot for Monsignor Mazza. The scale of GM redevelopment plans amazed him then. On May 31st, 2003, after giving thanks for the gift of fifty years of priesthood, he planned to continue at Immaculate Conception parish and prepare for the changes and challenges to come.
Pastor of Immaculate Conception Church 1986
Becomes a monsignor 2006
©2017 Henry John Steiner