The American Church historian, John Gilmary Shea, comments on the significance of Fr. Alexander Martin’s enlarging of St. Francis Church: “By this enlargement he gained much space for the accommodation of his parishioners, who, as the buildings increased in that part of New York, began to fill the church beyond its means: the devotion of many English-speaking Catholics to the great Saint Francis of Assisi and his Order, leading them to make this church their special resort.” Until this time all sermons had been preached in German but the increasing number of English-speaking communicants at Saint Francis required the newly initiated English service.
Fr. Alexander completed his term as pastor in 1858 and was ordered by his superiors to join the newly erected Franciscan Custody in Cincinnati. He decided to leave the Order, became a diocesan priest, and died in 1865.
There was no friar to succeed Fr. Alexander as pastor, so his assistant, Fr. Charles Frederick Rudolph, a diocesan priest from Mainz, Germany, was appointed to shepherd Saint Francis Parish. Fr. Rudolph is credited with doubling the parish school enrollment and was known to be a kind and compassionate priest. He died on June 15, 1864.
As early as 1848, the Archdiocese of New York had considered entrusting Saint Francis Church to the Franciscans in order to provide future stability. In 1861, the Custody of the Immaculate Conception had been formally established in Allegany, New York. When Fr. Rudolph died, Archbishop McCloskey contacted Fr. Pamfilo da Magliano in Allegany, and asked the Custody of the Immaculate Conception to assume the permanent responsibility of Saint Francis Church in New York City. Fr. Pamfilo (pictured here) agreed and appointed the well seasoned and multitalented Fr. Andrew Pfeiffer as pastor in 1864.
This is the fourth 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.