In 1966, Father Porfirio Fernandez purchased the land at 61st Street and 9th Avenue. Ten years later, the present Church with a capacity of 600 was built. In October of 1976, the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe was carried in procession on the shoulders of the parishioners to the new location. Within the next 10 years, the Rectory, the Parish Hall and the CCD Center were also built.
The parish was established in 1884 for the Germans and the Irish of the newly developed neighborhood by the Rev. Joseph A. Byron under the direction of John Cardinal McCloskey, Archbishop of New York at the time, to the east of Third Avenue near the East River. The area had been served by St. Paul’s Church on East 117th Street and by St. Cecilia’s on East 106th Street. Since both older parishes were some distance from the newer settlement along the river, it was inevitable that the rapidly developing area would see the founding of two ethnic churches: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel on 115th St. for the Italians and Our Lady of the Holy Rosary on East 119th St. for the Germans and the Irish.
The new parish was placed under the advocation of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. A 35-year-old New Yorker, the Rev. Joseph A. Byron, was appointed as first pastor with neither a church nor a rectory. He conducted a door-to-door census of his prospective parishioners seeking their support for his plan to create a church of their own. In March 1884, he purchased four lots on East 119th Street, between First and Pleasant Avenues, where the present parish buildings stand.
The year 1898 saw the rise of the present stone church that Archbishop Corrigan dedicated on Feb. 11, 1900. Sports became part of parish life, and the Boys Club was set up in 1903. When Rt. Rev. Msgr. William J. Guinan, DD succeeded Rev. Wall in 1909, he established a training course for CCD teachers. Rev. Thomas F. Kane became pastor in 1916. He got the support of the Pallotine Sisters who had begun in 1908 St. John’s Settlement at 361-371 Pleasant Avenue. Staffed at the time by nine Sisters, it counted 42 girls and 35 boys as its wards.
From 1918 to 1925, two separate parishes existed in the same building. Rev. Kane and his two Irish assistants maintained the regular parish upstairs while Rt. Rev. Msgr. Gaetano Arcese, PA, assisted by several Italian priests, maintained the Italian one downstairs.
The increasing Italian population in East Harlem had made it necessary to provide a priest at Holy Rosary who spoke their language. Rt. Rev. Msgr. Arcese was chosen to minister to them in the lower church. Msgr. Arcese, a native of Alpino, Italy, came to the United States at 17 years of age and studied for the priesthood at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, the famed seminary of the Archdiocese of New York. He was named monsignor in 1937 and as prothonotary apostolic and ecclesiastical superior to the Pallotine nuns in 1943. He arranged for the training of the nuns at Fordham University and for their teaching accreditation. He likewise moved St. John’s Settlement, a children’s home, to smaller quarters. In 1949, he opened the Holy Rosary School to an initial enrollment of 160 pupils with the help of two Sisters.
In 1975, masses were said in English, in Spanish and in Italian. There were evening devotions to Our Lady of Miraculous Medal, Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Anthony. Various organizations flourished, including Senior and Junior Legions of Mary, Holy Name, St. Anne and Sacred Heart societies, Senior and Junior Sodalities of Our Lady, St. Therese and St. Aloysius, Fathers and Mothers Clubs, St. Vincent de Paul, Boys and Girls CYOs, Boy and Girl Scouts, drum and bugle corps, choir, altar boys and ushers. There was a CYO Center next to the rectory. School enrollment rose to 727 and the number of faculty members to 16.
In 1978 the Parish was entrusted by the late Terence Cardinal Cooke to Rev. Nicanor L. Lana, OSA, former rector of the University of San Agustin in Iloilo City, Philippines, administered at the time by Augustinian friars affiliated to the Augustinian Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines.
In 2015 this church was set to close and be merged with St. Paul Church (Spanish Harlem) as part of the Archdiocese of New York’s great closings & mergers of 2015. This combined parish is called St. Paul’s Church – Holy Rosary. Only St. Paul’s was to remain open for regular Masses and other events, however it seems that regular Masses are indeed continuing here during this transitional period.