Rev. Ward Meehan
In the early 20th century Queens and Jackson Heights were transformed from farms to housing. As the population increased, Catholics were among those who moved to the newly formed Jackson Heights. Devout and desiring their own church these Catholics petitioned diocesan authorities to form a parish and began a search for a suitable building site began. Executives of the Queensboro Corporation donated several lots, and plans for the new church were put into action.
A founding pastor was chosen, Father Ward G. Meehan, a native of Brooklyn graduated from St. Francis Xavier’s College in Manhattan. At this time Father Meehan had just returned from service in World War I where he had been Chaplain to the 60th Infantry. This soldier-priest had seen action in many battles in France, including the Battle of Verdun.
Statue of St. Joan of Arc
The naming of the new parish can be attributed to Father Meehan and his work as a chaplain in France, with a statue of St. Joan of Arc central to the story.
The statue had stood for four years in a small church in Ban-de-Lavaline, right on the firing line of battles in the Vosges mountains. Shells had damaged the church and struck the statue. During the war years Ban-de-Lavaline had been without a priest, as the pastor had been "carried off by the Germans in 1914."
In 1918 the American 60th Regiment of Infantry "took over the trenches that ran through the village." The Rev. Father Ward G. Meehan, S.T.D., was the regiment chaplain. Finding the Ban-de-Lavaline parish without a pastor, Father Meehan "sought and obtained permission to perform the duties of the village parish in the hours he could spare."
According to a story in the New York Herald, the statue of St. Joan ... "is a record of friendship and mutual esteem marked by a transaction in which the participants, French and American, may well take pride."
Father Meehan also served as Commander of the Chaplains' School in Le Mans and had received a citation for his service at the recommendation of Colonel Bertram P. Johnson, Commanding Officer of the 60th Infantry.
Captain Meehan returned to this country sometime after the Armistice had been signed and served as Assistant Port Chaplain at Hoboken. He resigned his commission in 1919 and was appointed Administrator of Saint Bartholomew Parish in Elmhurst. It was while serving there, that he was named founding pastor of St. Joan of Arc Church.
Father Meehan quickly began organizing his "troops." Committees were formed, and it was decided that a prefabricated portable church would best suit the short term parish needs. The church was used for the first time on August 15, 1920, to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption.
According to a New York Times article of Monday, August 23, 1920, "PRIEST REJOICES;FINDS LOST CHURCH" Father Meehan had addressed the congregation the day prior and announced that the temporary per-fabricated church, that had been purchased for $20,000 from a Chicago builder, had been found.
Father Meehan declared that the church parts had been missing for more than a month. in his search for the wandering church had received telegrams that the parts had passed through Cleveland and Buffalo. On Sunday the 23rd he reported that most of the parts were located in an Elmhurst rail yard.
The church was used for the first time on August 15, 1920, to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption. According to the Times, the parish was organized coincidentally with the beatification of the Maid of Orleans (as Saint Joan is known). This conflicts with the Wikipedia account which has the canonization as the coincident event.
Saint Joan of Arc was officially established on Sunday, June 5, 1920 when a first Mass was celebrated at the Casino. The use of this venue was made possible by Edward A. MacDougall, President of the Queensboro Corporation.
In addition to his work in the military and at St. Joan's, Rev. Meehan also served as chaplain of the Queens County Branch of the American Legion.