Monsignor Kett Playground
Monsignor Kett Playground
Located on West 204th Street between Tenth and Nagle Avenues, this playground honors Monsignor Francis J. Kett (1895-1969), the beloved pastor of nearby Saint Jude’s Roman Catholic Church. Born July 31, 1895, Kett attended Cathedral College and St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York. A staunch patriot, he took a year leave of absence from seminary to serve in the U.S. military as infantry lieutenant in World War I. Following his ordination on May 26, 1923, Kett spent a summer at St. Peter’s Parish in Liberty, New York, before he was transferred to St. Andrew’s near City Hall, where he served as a priest for nineteen and a half years. Kett spent another five years as an administrator of Old St. Mary’s on Grand Street before moving to Inwood in 1949.
At the time of Monsignor Kett’s arrival, Inwood was growing rapidly. Local schools and churches were becoming overcrowded, and few recreational facilities existed. Monsignor Kett envisioned a church dedicated to the social invigoration of Inwood. In August 1949, Kett sent a letter to 1,500 Catholic families announcing the opening of a new parish: the Church of Saint Jude. Kett held its inaugural mass on August 21 at the Loews’ Dyckman Theatre on Sherman Avenue and 207th Street. The event’s unusual location earned it a centerfold in the Daily News the following day. Despite economic obstacles, St. Jude’s grew under Kett’s leadership. Kett quickly established a rectory over a drugstore on Sherman Avenue. The parishioners continued to worship at the theatre until the opening of the chapel on Tenth Avenue on February 21, 1952.
Monsignor Kett was devoted to the youth of Saint Jude’s parish. Within the parish’s first year, he founded an athletic association and a Catholic Youth Organization. He also began planning the construction of St. Jude’s School. Through numerous social events established under Kett’s leadership, the church continued to bring the neighborhood together. The most notable tradition was the yearly bazaar, which began in 1951. Employing more than 500 neighborhood volunteers, Kett fashioned the bazaars on the premise that he could attract more people by giving them back 65 percent of what they spent through raffles and giveaways. His theory proved successful, and the funds raised by the event covered 90 percent of the construction costs of St. Jude’s School.
Mayor Robert F. Wagner and Auxiliary Bishop of New York, Reverend Stephan A. Donahue, addressed a crowd of 3,000 at the school’s groundbreaking ceremony on December 9, 1951. The school was opened on March 2, 1953. His Eminence Francis Cardinal Spellman presided at the blessing and dedication on Sunday, May 17, 1953. Monsignor Kett died on January 9, 1969, leaving behind a thriving parish and a legacy of devoted service. By this time his bazaars had gained wide acclaim, and they continued to draw crowds until they ceased in 1976.
At its opening in 1949, this park was designated the Dyckman Houses Playground after the housing project whose residents the park was intended to accommodate. The housing project, the nearby street, and the park were named for the colonial Dutch Dyckman family, whose farmhouse still stands at Broadway and 204th Street.
The playground underwent an extensive rehabilitation in 1995, when two full-size basketball courts were renovated with capital funding. City Council Member Stanley E. Michels funded the $343,00 reconstruction project. Among the other new features were benches, drinking fountains, fences, two swing sets, and colorful modular play equipment. The park house, which doubles as a comfort station, was also renovated. An animal play sculpture of a seal was installed, and a piece of Inwood white rock marble excavated from Inwood Park during its construction was permanently placed in the playground as a symbol of the area’s geological past. A year after Parks completed the renovation, Commissioner Stern renamed the playground to commemorate Monsignor Kett.