The early beginnings of Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, or St. Mary’s took place during the days before the trolley cars and during the days of the trolley cars. Ladies wore long skirts and men wore high collars. Jamaica Avenue was known as Fulton Street. Parsons Boulevard was Flushing Avenue and 89th Avenue was called Shelton Avenue. The village of Jamaica was a little community of farmers and shopkeepers who drove horse-driven wagons on dirt roads.
With the extension of the steam driven elevated trains, the horse cars and trolley lines, plus the building of the Long Island Railroad, the little village attracted many people from Brooklyn and Manhattan. The village grew and the villagers needed a place to worship God and perform their devotions in their native language.
In 1886 the villagers petitioned Bishop John Loughlin for a second Catholic Church. The request was granted and a new parish was formed. Its first parishioners were German-speaking Catholics who worked hard with Father Ignatius Zeller to build a church. Mr. Joseph Hartmann, a farmer, gave a piece of his land at the corner of Flushing Avenue (Parsons Blvd) and Shelton Avenue (89th Avenue) for the building of a church.
While Father Zeller and the parishioners were busy raising funds, the church was being constructed under the leadership of Carpenter Pederson in “gothic style”. The building stood sixty feet from the ground and its area was thirty-five by fifty-one feet. There were four windows on each side and four corner windows in the roof. The main entrance on Flushing Avenue (Parsons Blvd) was a gothic porch while in the rear of the church were two side entrances. The interior was paneled oak on the sides with a high gothic ceiling exposed in wood. Twenty feet above the roof was a frame canopy supported by four posts which would enclose a gold-leaf cast iron statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
While the church was under construction, Father Zeller offered the first Mass in the parish on May 16, 1886 in an old farmhouse, built in 1767, which was serving as church and rectory. On weekdays Mass was celebrated in a room of the farmhouse and every Saturday evening the altar was carried to the unfinished church where people sat on barrels, boxes, logs and boards. A planning bench served as a vesting table and a sawhorse served as a communion rail.
At last the church was completed and on September 8, 1886, the Feast of the Birth of Mary, it was officially dedicated by Bishop John Loughlin under the title “Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
The following year, 1887, Father Zeller opened a parish school where he employed the help of the Dominican Sisters. He encouraged Mother Superior, Sister Seraphina Staimer, to buy six lots of land adjoining the church. He then built a convent which had an orphanage and two classrooms. The orphanage cared for about fifty parish children and the convent was known as St. Elizabeth’s Convent.
The parish grew so rapidly that its facilities soon had to be expanded. A two-story frame school house was completed and dedicated by October 1, 1893. Upon completion of the parish school, Father Zeller began the construction, which was done by William Kassner and Son, architects and builders. The area of the building was enlarged to 3,000 square feet providing room for four hundred and fifty parishioners. The church had a chime of three bells and a four faced clock.
The church was completed and the dedication took place on October 25, 1894. Bishop Charles E. McDonnell, who succeeded Bishop Loughlin began the dedication ceremonies, at which Vicar General P.J. McNamara gave the English language sermon and Father M. Wagner the German sermon to the many guests and parishioners in attendance.