St. Cornelius the Centurion

February 7 is the feast day of Cornelius the Centurion in the Episcopal calendar. In honor of his feast, here's a little background on the Chapel of St. Cornelius the Centurion, one of the two remaining chapels of Trinity Parish. 

Original St. Cornelius Chapel
From the Archives of Trinity Church Wall Street

The original Chapel of St. Cornelius the Centurion

The Chapel of St. Cornelius the Centurion was built on Governors Island, a military outpost in New York Harbor, in 1846 through the efforts of the army chaplain, the Rev. John McVickar. Trinity Church provided McVickar and his successors with continuous support. By 1866, the War Department stopped providing chaplains to Governor’s Island. Trinity Church offered to maintain a chaplain at her own cost if the army would agree to place the chapel under the parish’s control. St. Cornelius became a part of Trinity Parish as a free chapel in 1868.

Consecration of the 2nd St. Cornelius Chapel
From the Archives of Trinity Church Wall Street

The consecration of the second Chapel of St. Cornelius the Centurion

The Parish replaced the small wooden church with a new chapel designed by Charles C. Haight in 1906. In 1924, the agreement between the Army and Trinity was modified so that the Army paid the chaplain’s salary while Trinity maintained the building. St. Cornelius’ chaplains were honorary vicars and part of parish clergy. A 1954 agreement allowed chaplains from other Protestant denominations to use St. Cornelius to conduct services. This arrangement lasted until 1966, when the army turned over control of Governor’s Island to the U.S. Coast Guard. Under the Coast Guard, the Navy Chaplain Corps had the responsibility of assigning chaplains.

In the early 1970s, Trinity parish discontinued ordinary maintenance and janitorial services for St. Cornelius, but it continued to assist with major maintenance and provide insurance coverage

In 1980, the parish and St. Cornelius reached an agreement by which Trinity would lease the chapel to the U.S. Government for $1 per year. Then in 1986, Trinity donated the chapel to the U.S. Government, under the stipulation that it would revert to the parish if the government ceased to own the land underlying the chapel or to use the building as a military chapel. The Coast Guard vacated Governor’s Island in 1996, and Trinity regained ownership of the chapel, which is no longer in use.

Flags at St. Cornelius
From the Archives of Trinity Church Wall Street

In the 1920s, flags displayed at St. Cornelius were restored. We loved this photo and are researching the flags and the restoration process. We'll report back soon!