Port Washington was known in its early colonial days as “Cow Neck Peninsula” and later as “Cow Bay Village”. In the mid-nineteenth century, resident Catholics traveled to Flushing to attend Mass.
In 1871, St. Mary’s of Roslyn was established giving Port Washington Catholics another church to attend. The pastor of St. Mary’s would come to Port Washington twice a year, at Christmas and Easter to administer the Sacraments. In 1886 Father Nicholas Doran became pastor of St. Mary’s. He came to Port and celebrated Mass at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Fay on Pleasant Avenue.
In the 1890’s Port Washington had about 800 inhabitants, with fewer than 100 Catholics. Mass was often celebrated in Liberty Hall on Carlton Avenue. In 1897 St. Peter’s became a mission of St. Mary’s in Roslyn. In 1898 a small chapel was built in Port Washington on Sandy Hollow Road . In 1900, Bishop McDonald of Brooklyn, convinced the Catholics in the area could support a parish of their own, instituted the Parish of St. Peter of Alcantra. In July 1901, Fr. Patrick Cherry became the first pastor.
William Bourke Cockran, a wealthy Irish born attorney and U. S. Representative donated the present site and $50,000 toward building the church on one condition, as legend has it. He wanted the church to be a replica of the castle he could see from his boyhood home in Ireland.
The parish was incorporated on March 14, 1902. The name, St. Peter of Alcantara, was chosen to honor a benefactor, Peter C. Gallagher. St. Peter’s feast day was the closest feast to his birthday.
St. Peter’s School opened in 1925 with 70 pupils under instruction of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from Scranton Pennsylvania who continue to serve the school and parish. The school and convent was housed in a newly acquired adjacent property, Kennelworth. On February 22, 1930 ground was broken for a new school. The building was completed so rapidly that graduation exercises were able to be held in the new auditorium on June 26, 1931.
The Kennelworth building was razed and a new convent was completed in November 1957
To meet growing demands, additional space was needed. A new school and auxiliary church building was constructed which had 16 classrooms and a church with a capacity of 700 persons. The building was dedicated November 29,1964.
The shrine to Our Lady was donated in 1939 by Mrs. Peter C Gallagher. On May 31, 1942 it was dedicated as a World War II Memorial to those in the parish who had given their lives in the service of their country.