The Foundations of Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School

The foundations of Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School can be traced back long before the school opened its doors in 1956. McClancy is rooted in the educational traditions of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart who take their motivation from the charism of their founder, Father Andre Coindre.

For nearly 200 years, the Brothers have guided and shaped young people around the world, pushing into new areas where they could help meet the needs of young people. It was this spirit and foresight that drove Brother Martinian, Provincial of the Brothers from 1937-1946, to purchase a swampy tract of land in a sleepy outpost of Queens back in 1946. It was his vision that the Brothers should have a high school that would serve the needs of young men in Queens, and this concept had the full support of Monsignor Joseph V. S. McClancy, Superintendent of Schools of the Diocese of Brooklyn from 1915-1954. Monsignor McClancy gave his support and guidance to Brother Martin Hernandez, who took over as Provincial and would be directly responsible for the planning and construction of the school.

Construction began in 1954, piles were driven deep into the damp earth, and before long the now familiar edifice of our school rose on 31st Avenue between 71st and 73rd streets. In those days, the three buildings, gymnasium, school, and Brother’s residence, would have stood in stark contrast to the empty lots and undeveloped land that spread down to Northern Boulevard and up to Astoria Boulevard. A hands-on leader, Brother Martin could often be found at the construction site, and even signed some of the original faculty’s contracts dressed in his work clothes at McClancy. It was decided that the school should be named for Monsignor McClancy, who passed away in 1954 in recognition of not only his support of the Brothers, but for his contributions to the whole of Catholic education in the United States. Construction buzzed along, and wasn’t totally completed when the doors of McClancy swung open for the first time in September 1956 welcoming the first freshman class under the direction of Brother Clement, the first principal of McClancy.

The early years of McClancy saw the continuing growth and change you would expect in a new school. Construction continued on the building; basketball, the original McClancy sport, began in a gym which did not contain all the bleachers. Students (along with the Brothers) had to bring food from home as the cafeteria was not yet completed that first year. Brother Eric replaced Brother Clement as principal after a year, and worked to solidify the strong educational curriculum put into place by his predecessor. Then as now, it was vital that the school continued to grow to meet the needs of its students, and the first decade of McClancy’s history shows this growth clearly. Athletic programs continued to expand under legendary faculty members such as Brother Arnold and James Murphy, so that track and baseball quickly became central parts of McClancy’s day to day life. In time, these athletic teams would establish themselves as powerhouses within the local area, and go on to win championships too numerous to count.

Arguably one of the most widely known and beloved members of McClancy’s faculty, Brother Robert Connolly, took the helm as principal in 1964. Brother Robert was a no-nonsense figure who balanced compassion and availability with his demand for respect, decorum, and adherence to the dress code. Students of this era have commented on Brother Robert keeping the gym open on weekends for students and neighborhood kids who needed a place to play basketball. Of course, beyond academics and athletics, spiritual life at McClancy was always of paramount importance. Time was given daily to prayer, and clubs like the Confraternity of the Sacred Heart were as essential a part of McClancy’s spiritual life as Campus Ministry is today. Campus Ministry builds upon these early traditions to take the lessons of Christ’s love out of the classroom and into the real world through volunteer opportunities, mission trips, school masses, and various donation drives.

McClancy of the 70s and 80s saw continued evolutions. The outdoor area between the gym and the school was closed off in the mid-70s to build the mall. Today known as the Squeri Student Center, the mall has served a variety of purposes over the years, including as classrooms, a lunchroom, after school hangout, and it is perhaps most fondly recalled as a recreation area, complete with Ping-Pong tables, by the earliest students who were able to enjoy its use. This era also saw an increased focus on the arts under Principal Brother Joseph Rocco, who initiated both Art and Music programs in the school curriculum, filling a void for many students. Dramatics had always been a part of the McClancy’s student life as well, and this legacy is continued today under Ann Smith, building upon the work Mr. Vincent Kane and the continued support of now President Brother Joseph, to stage musicals as the Tyros Drama Society.

McClancy of the 90’s and early 2000s was defined by a truly invigorated school spirit. Academically strong and athletically dominant, students were excited to come to school. Mr. James Carey became the school’s first lay principal, and would be a central figure in many changes and happenings that would be on the horizon. Reunion 2000 was the first effort to at hosting a get together for the thousands of McClancy graduates over the previous forty years. Today the Advancement office has built upon these efforts, and works to stay connected with McClancy alumni. Reunions are held yearly to allow various classes the opportunity to reconnect and bond with old friends and teachers.

The first decade of the 21st century can be looked back on as a time of great development at McClancy. A capital campaign was launched in order to raise funds to make improvements to the physical structure of McClancy. For the first fifty years of the school’s existence, the steady drone of airplanes provided inescapable background music for classes and activities. Through a grant from the FAA, soundproofing of the building, replacement of windows, and air-conditioning of the entire facility were among the first improvements made. The only area not air-conditioned was the cafeteria, and this goal was recently accomplished with proceeds from the student Walk-a-thon, resulting in a fully air-conditioned school. Modernization of classrooms to include smart and whiteboards was an early priority, along with the addition of a media center, renovation of the art studio, and three new science labs. Outside of the classroom, new locker rooms were created, along with significant upgrades made to the gymnasium, athletic field and track surface. These many changes brought McClancy’s facility up to date, revitalizing the environment for both faculty and students. These major changes would prove to be only the beginning for the McClancy community.

With the building freshly equipped for an influx of new students, September of 2012 ushered in a new era in McClancy history. The announcement had come the previous June from President, Brother Joseph Holthaus: McClancy would become a co-educational institution. The decision to make this pivotal step came in response to the ever changing needs and realities of the local communities McClancy serves. McClancy could become a home for all youths, no longer limiting the possibilities of an education guided by the traditions of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart to half the potential population. A gradual process of admittance was started that September with the first co-ed freshman class settling into a new routine, extending old traditions, and blazing new trails. Walking down the halls of McClancy today, you will find the transition to a co-educational school has had remarkable results. The McClancy family feels whole now, as we continue to minister to the needs of all young people. The female students have brought great success academically, athletically, and spiritually throughout the building.

A renewed spirit has swept through McClancy in these recent years. Under principal, James Castrataro, work has been continuously done to maintain and improve McClancy’s facilities, in order to keep students comfortable and engaged in the learning process. In thanks to a donation from Mr. Peter McDermott ’61, a new music building was built in 2015 in memory of his wife, Susan. Susan was a lover of the arts and of music in particular. Students are reminded to “Play for Susan”, and McClancy is reminded of the impact a single community member can make on a generation of students.  Most recently, an outdoor seating area and tables have been added using proceeds from the Jim Michelini Memorial Walk-a-thon, allowing for additional free space for students to relax.

As we continue to grow an innovate, McClancy has placed greater emphasis on cross-curricular learning through the introduction of our combined Humanities and STEAM programs under the leadership of Mr. James Olszewski ’07 and Ms. Ann Smith. By combining departments, we hope to increase learning through diverse approaches and hands-on interactions. SAT courses have been put into place with great success, and have raised the average class score to the highest level in McClancy history. We continue to partner with alumni to find guest speakers who would be able to contribute practical knowledge and job experience to our students, as we work to ensure job readiness and preparation for life after McClancy.

Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School today continues to provide a sanctuary for the over six hundred young people. With each passing year, McClancy adapts to meet the diverse needs of the families and community we serve. Each decision made is guided by the educational traditions of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart and the Charism of their founder, Fr. Andre Coindre. Numerous brothers continue to work throughout the building and continue to play in integral part in all aspects of life at McClancy. Our teaching staff is dedicated to offering students diverse learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom through innovative lessons, clubs, and activities. Being available to students is an essential part of life at McClancy, and you will often find teachers coaching, tutoring, or moderating student activities long after dismissal. Regardless of the era, McClancy has been committed to its mission of knowing and valuing each student. The future looks bright as we continue to grow and meet the needs of the community we serve, continuing the educational traditions of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart long into the future.