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Street Named After Nun Who Helped Immigrants

QUEENS — A beloved nun and principal from the former Blessed Sacrament school, known for reaching out to Jackson Heights' burgeoning immigrant population in the 1970's, was honored with a street co-naming Sunday, 10 years after dying of breast cancer.

As the sound of bagpipes filled the air, residents looked on as Councilman Daniel Dromm and Rev. Patrick Burns of Blessed Sacrament Parish unveiled Sister Mary Patrick McCarthy Way, on 94th Street between 34th and 35th avenues, where the nun lived and worked.

"People will look up at the sign and say, 'Who was Sister Mary Patrick McCarthy?'" Dromm said. "Then, we can continue to tell [her] story." 

The co-naming was co-sponsored by Dromm and was signed into law by Mayor Bloomberg on Oct. 2.

More than 100 supporters turned out Sunday to honor the Irish-born McCarthy.

John McCarthy, the nun's brother, recalled the shift in the neighborhood's demographics from an Irish enclave to a more diverse neighborhood in the 1970's, as more and more immigrants from South and Central America moved in.

McCarthy proudly remembered his sister's outreach to the new communities as the principal for 34 years of Blessed Sacrament, now P.S. 280, and her attempts to help the children of immigrants adjust to a new country.

"She adapted to it completely," McCarthy said of his sister's efforts. "Because of the fact that our parents were immigrants, she knew what was involved in coming to a new community."

Sister McCarthy was also active in Jackson Heights Civic Association, where she helped fight for English as a second language resources, according to speakers at Sunday's ceremony.

The late principal worked with local politicians to set up ESL trailers outside of Blessed Sacrament, so children could study English without missing class time, according to longtime Queens Community Board 3 member Mary Vavruska, who served in the civic association with Sister McCarthy.

"That's an extraordinary thing to do," Vavruska said. "She's running a whole school, and she takes the time to do that."

Many in attendance had never met Sister McCarthy, but nonetheless celebrated her life. Community Board 3 District Manager Giovanna Reid called Sister McCarthy a visionary, and Dromm, who introduced the legislation upon request from Sister McCarthy's family last year, said he'd heard stories about Sister McCarthy even before being elected to the city council in 2010

On Sunday, Dromm, who chairs the city council's immigration committee, credited the nun as a visionary in her support of the immigrant community.

"She fought for social justice," Dromm said. "She fought for change."