Fr. Zachary Kunz, heartsick over the divisions, and concerned about the welfare of the peaceful members of his parish, asked the bishop for permission to establish a new parish. The bishop consented to dividing the parish lines, and Fr. Zachary began his plans for a new parish church on West 31st Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. Details are meager, but the Metropolitan Catholic Almanac for 1845, the forerunner of the Official Catholic Directory, states the name of the church and the pastor. Fr. Zachary chose for his patron the man of peace, Saint Francis of Assisi.
The cornerstone of a new church was blessed and laid on May 9, 1844 by the Coadjutor Bishop of New York, the Most Reverend John McCloskey. In a very short time the church was completed, and on August 1, 1844, the future Cardinal Archbishop of New York, Bishop McCloskey, dedicated Saint Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street.
There were two rooms in the basement of the small church. Fr. Zachary lived in one of the rooms, and in the other he opened his parish school, for among the German immigrants there was an unwritten law that there must be a school wherever there is a church. A document in the original cornerstone shows that Peter Jeny was the first teacher of this new school which eventually grew into a center of primary education for the boys and girls of the parish.
The simple rite of blessing church bells indicates the existence of a vibrant Secular Franciscan presence in the parish as well as the potential growth of the parish since more than 100 children were confirmed by Bishop Hughes the day after he blessed the church bell on September 16, 1847. Saint Francis Church was the third Catholic church in New York City to boast of church bells, and the second to sound the Angelus three times a day.
Fr. Zachary died very suddenly in 1848. A Sunday picnic had been planned for the parish, and when the very prompt Fr. Zachary did not appear for Sunday Mass, some of the people went to his little room where they found him dead, the victim of a stroke. His sudden death deprived the people of a very capable and zealous missionary pastor.
This is the second in a series of articles on the history of our parish which will be published throughout our 175th anniversary year. They are adapted from the writings of Fr. Flavian Walsh, O.F.M., Pastor from 1985-87.