ST. FRANCIS PREP, Fresh Meadows

by Kevin Walsh

Back in 2015 I was wandering around Cunningham Park in Fresh Meadows and somehow found my way onto the dirt bike trail. Understand, that trail wasn’t built as a way to get from one place to another, it was built as a recreational venue. So it meanders around in a convoluted path, and there I was like a rat in a maze trying to find my way out. After about 20-30 minutes I was finally ejected at Francis Lewis Boulevard and Horace Harding (the LIE) in front of St. Francis Prep.

Now, I didn’t attend “The Prep” as its graduates call it ( I was at Cathedral Brooklyn), but I have known quite a number of people who have and it’s almost as if I attended it myself. Cathedral basketball teams played (OK, they lost) to St. Francis basketball and handball teams. (Cathedral didn’t have a football team but The Prep has a longstanding rivalry with Holy Cross.)

As it turns out, St. Francis Prep has a rather interesting infrastructional history. The school was established by two immigrant Irish Franciscan Brothers as St. Francis Academy at #300 Butler Street in what is now called Boerum Hill in Brooklyn in 1858. It didn’t become St. Francis Prep, a preparatory school for college, until 1935, at the same time the academy’s college division separated to become St. Francis College, which is my alma mater. Unfortunately the Municipal Archives does not seem to have a photo of the original buildings on Baltic Street. The site is currently occupied by the School For International Studies at Baltic and Court Streets, a high school.

In 1952 St. Francis Prep moved into this school building at #186 North 6th Street between Bedford and Driggs Avenues. The building had formerly been an academy associated with what had been the St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church just across the street. That building became condominiums several years ago. When the Prep moved out (see below) #186 became home to Boricua College, which in turn moved to #9 Graham Avenue at Broadway in Williamsburg a couple of decades ago; 186 was converted to residences. Thus both buildings formerly associated with St. Vincent’s are still in place, but neither is associated with a church any longer.

In 1974 the decision was made for The Prep to move again, to Fresh Meadows, into the building formerly occupied by Bishop Reilly High School and constructed in 1962 as one of just four coeducational Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn (which includes Queens). (I’m told that at Reilly, boys and girls occupied separate classrooms.) St. Francis Prep purchased the building and absorbed Reilly’s enrollees, thus becoming coeducational itself, in the true sense. A number of Brooklyn Prepsters had their commutes from Brooklyn lengthened considerably, but toughed it out for their senior year.

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5/6/21

9 comments

Joe May 7, 2021 - 12:01 am

I attended there during the transition from N. 6th in Brooklyn (freshman) to Fresh Meadows (soph thru graduation). Great HS experience. Long, daily subway AND bus trip from brooklyn, but when you’re young, it’s no problem. The transition with Bishop Reilly students went smooth and friendly. Everybody got along together. And co-ed sealed the deal! :- ) Fond memories for both locations.

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Patrick May 7, 2021 - 5:50 am

Noteworthy in Cunningham park are the two pedestrian overpasses of the Clearview Expy at 67th Avenue and 82nd Avenue. Nice worn hiking trails but overgrown overpasses.

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George Cassidy May 7, 2021 - 8:23 am

Several of my pals, all now gone, attended in Brooklyn in the late 1950s. One told me the building had been a police station and that the telltale green light was still prominently displayed out front.

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Michael Walker May 7, 2021 - 6:24 pm

Thanks for the Prep update Kevin. I didn’t realize that the old North 6th Street location is now a residence!
Just one tiny quibble–I thought I remember hearing (and I may be mistaken since this was back in 1974) that the original Bishop Reilly was a co-institutional school. That is both boys and girls sat in separate classrooms in separate wings of the building. It wasn’t until St. Francis Prep took over in Sept 1974 that both boys and girls sat gloriously together in the same classrooms becoming a true co-ed institution.

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John Sassone May 11, 2021 - 10:49 pm

That’s correct. I was in the first graduating class of Bishop Reilly.’66. In senior year we were allowed to eat lunch with the girls. Before that the nuns patrolled the line separating each half of the cafeteria. Couples would meet at the garbage cans in the middle pretending to throw out their garbage at the same time so they could say hello .

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Carolyn May 9, 2021 - 8:13 am

Michael – I think Prep started that way too.
East wing for girls and west wing for boys.
When I went in 1978 it was already co-ed.

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George Cassidy May 11, 2021 - 8:23 am

I went door-ro-door nightly for months, raising money to build Bishop Reilly and the three other diocesan high schools. They had the life span of a fruit fly.

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Howie Weber May 22, 2021 - 7:23 pm

I graduated from the Prep in 1968. Great memories of a wonderful school. I had heard 186 was being converted to residential but did not know it was completed .A picture of the Butler
Street facility appears on the current SFP website at https://sfponline.org/aboutus.asp#undefined2 .

‘On for old St.Francis”

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Francis Parente May 29, 2021 - 7:27 pm

The St. Francis basketball team did participate in the NIT tournament in 1963.

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