Park Historybutterfly

park sign The land for St. Catherine's Park was purchased by New York City in February, 1907 for use as a public playground. In 1914, the park came under the jurisdiction of the NYC Parks Department and was named by the Board of Aldermen in 1918 in honor of Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) and the eponymously-named church on East 68th Street between First and York Avenues. St. Catherine, the 25th child of a wool dyer in Northern Italy, is the patron saint of those who heal the sick. She is also remembered for her devotion to the poor, her zealous labor, and her visions of Christ, Mary and the saints. She was one of the most brilliant theological minds of her day, and persuaded the pope to return the papacy to Rome from Avignon, France, in 1377. Her letters and a treatise are considered among the most brilliant writings in the history of the Catholic Church.

In 1996, capital funds were appropriated by Council Member Charles Millard for the reconstruction of St. Catherine's park; and additional funds were secured by his successor Council Member Gifford Miller. The Parks Department Landscape Architect Chris Crowley created a vibrant design, largely modeled after the Florentine arrangement of Santa Maria sopre Minerva in Rome, where the body of St. Catherine rests. A middle area containing two elephant spray showers represents the church's center aisle. The elephant motif is taken from the Bernini fountain just outside the church. Play areas on either side represent the pews and the paving pattern throughout the park resembles the church flooring. As part of the million dollar overhaul, the park also received new playground equipment with safety surfacing, a sandbox, benches and tables, and a sculptural sundial and weathervane. Because St. Catherine was often depicted holding a lily, a symbol of new life, lilies were planted throughout, symbolizing the rejuvenation of the park. The beautifully renovated playground re-opened in July, 1997, following the extensive one-year construction project.

The Friends of St. Catherine's Park (FSCP), a volunteer neighborhood organization dedicated to the maintenance and beautification of the park, was incorporated in November, 1997. Following the playground renovation, FSCP initiated the development and planting of a master landscaping plan by the Parks Department's horticulturist, Thomas Ching, incorporating butterfly-friendly plants around the entire park. Featured plants include oak leaf hydrangeas, red-twig dogwood, roses, iteas, anemones, bleeding hearts, daffodils and woodland ferns.

Realizing that the planting beds required a great deal of water and would benefit greatly from a labor-conserving irrigation system, FSCP embarked on a fund-raising campaign in 2001. Through a generous grant from the J.M. Kaplan Fund and donations from concerned neighbors - the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Wang Foundation Family Trust, and Dr. Harold Varmus and Ms. Constance Casey - an automatic irrigation system was installed. The festive ribbon cutting ceremony and demonstration took place on December 6, 2001.

In 2005 Speaker Gifford Miller once again generously appropriated funds necessary to redo the ball field with new safety surfacing, a running track, benches, bicycle racks and climbing equipment for older children.

St. Catherine's Park continues to be a verdant oasis, enjoyed by everyone - from babies and children to the elderly, and from community residents to hospital workers and patients' families. FSCP remains committed to maintaining and enhancing St. Catherine's Park as a green sanctuary in this bustling upper eastside neighborhood.