A Brief History of the Franciscan Brothers

The Boys’ Graduation Class of 1903

The Brothers arrived from Ireland in 1858, responding to the invitation of Bishop Loughlin. They began serving the Diocese of Brooklyn in child care, primarily as educators, opening high schools and a college, and staffing local parish grammar schools.

The Brothers traveled all over Brooklyn from St. Francis Monastery on Butler Street, which served as the brother’s motherhouse for a century. As the congregation grew, the Brothers took on assignments throughout Brooklyn and Long Island. Over the past 25 years the Brothers began serving the church in pastoral ministries other than education and the congregation began ministering in areas outside New York, including Missouri and North Carolina.

In 1982 the Brothers celebrated with Franciscans all over the world as the Holy Father approved the new Rule and Life for members of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis. In 1989 Pope John Paul II promulgated the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn an Institute of Pontifical Right with a decree of praise. The Brothers very happily celebrated 140 years in the United States on Pentecost Sunday of 1998.

A History of Saint Anthony’s High School to 1984 Sister Lorna Strachan, CSJ

When the ground was broken for Saint Anthony’s Juniorate on August 31, 1933, the Franciscan Brothers had already been a presence in Smithtown for four years, since the establishment of Mount St. Francis Novitiate and Normal School, in 1929.

At that time, Smithtown was not suburban, but rural. Fields of corn extended from the firehouse in Kings Park (then, as now, located at the corner of 25A and Indian Head Road) to a point well past the Franciscan property. The eastern boundary of the property was, at that time, located approximately along the edge of the present outdoor basketball courts. Only a few houses were scattered through the area, and there was no electricity.

The Purchase of Mills House

It was the Brothers who quite literally, brought light to this section of the town. Lilco charged for the stringing of wires, not by the yard, but for each pole that had to be erected, and the Brothers defrayed the cost of the 72 poles required to bring the wires up 25A and along St. Johnland Road to what had been known as the Mills house. Obviously, it was then necessary to install electric fixtures in the Novitiate, for the Mills house dated to 1840, at the latest, and perhaps to 1826.

The entire property was part of the original patent obtained by Richard “Bull” Smith, and the house had been built by his great-great-grandson, Sam “Stevens” Smith, sheriff of Suffolk County. When his line of the family died out, the house and land passed into the hands of other descendants of Richard Smith, including the Mills family, who finally sold the house in 1926.

Of further historic interest is the fact that the Mills family had made its fortune during the Civil War, by the sale of buttonwood and walnut wood for ships masts and for gunstock, respectively. In 1933, some of these trees still grew on the property, in addition to the apple orchard that was cut down to make room for the Juniorate building.

Mills House, built by Sam "Stevens" Smith, sheriff of Suffolk County

The Franciscan Brothers purchased the land on October 13, 1928. While the records of Suffolk County name the Brothers as owners, there is no record of the sale of the land to them. A probable reason is not far to seek: As manifested by Al Smiths disastrous presidential campaign in 1928, anti-Catholic feeling was strong in America, especially rural America, during the 20s and discretion dictated that little public attention be drawn to the purchase. Only four or five years earlier, the Ku Klux Klan had burned a cross at Camp Alvernia in Centerport.