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About St. Martin of Tours Parish

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In 1917, a group of Catholic men petitioned Bishop McDonnell to establish a parish here in Bethpage because they had to travel to St. Kilian's in Farmingdale or to St. Ignatius in Hicksville to attend Mass. Among these men were Joseph Walsh, Sr., Frank A. Nolan, Harry A. Stolz, and William J. Ahern.

The bishop, however, turned down the petition because he felt that such a small farm community could not support a third parish in the area. Nonetheless, the bishop was so impressed with the fervor of these earlier Bethpage Catholics, that he did purchase the land which is the site of our church and school today. Undaunted in their efforts, this small group of men, some three years later, conducted a pledge campaign with great success. Their zeal produced pledges of $10,000, an amazing sum for such a sparsely populated community. More amazingly, one of the largest single donations was made by a local storekeeper who was not of our faith. Armed with these pledges, another petition was presented to the new bishop, Right Reverend Thomas E. Molloy. The time was now ripe for a new parish.

Bishop Molloy appointed the Reverend Daniel A. Dwyer as the founding pastor. Father Dwyer arrived in Central Park (as Bethpage was formerly known) on Friday, October 12, 1923. On Sunday, October 14, 1923, Father offered the first mass in the Roosevelt Republican club house on Broadway, one block north of the Long Island railroad tracks. A small group of Catholics, many of them young children, attended this inauspicious beginning.

Father Dwyer set up residence in a house at 188 Herman Avenue, while the Republican club continued to serve as our first Church in those early months. On November 18, 1923, in his house on Herman Avenue, he officiated at the first wedding to be held in this newly established parish. On that day Antonio Finamore and Stella Ruggiero were joined in Holy Matrimony.

Father Dwyer was able to rent the house that is now the St. Vincent de Paul building. Several months later, the building was bought by the parish and served as church and pastor's residence until November, 1924, when the present St. Martin of Tours Church was solemnly dedicated.

On March 21, 1924, ground was broken for the church building. Not only did contractors work on the building, but much of the labor was done by the parishioners themselves. The new church building was dedicated on November 9, 1924.

Yet, all this might not have been accomplished so quickly were it not for the generous benefactions of philanthropist A. Metzner of Lake Ronkonkoma. This beloved philanthropist approached Bishop Molloy with an offer to assist the efforts of any parish in great need. Bishop Molloy introduced Mr. Metzner to Father Dwyer. Shortly after the ground breaking, Mr. Metzner contributed twenty-five thousand dollars to the church building fund. God works in strange ways. Just when the small congregation under Father Dwyer's lead was most in need, Mr. Metzner fortuitously happened on the scene. How proper and fitting that our church is named after this benefactor's patron saint. Shortly after the completion of the church, an apparition of the Blessed Mother holding her infant son appeared etched in the wall under the stained-glass window of St. Joseph. Most early parishioners attributed this to the leakage inside the terra cotta wall. Yet it was there and the word spread throughout the county, the diocese, the entire Eastern seaboard. Pilgrims by the thousands flocked to this little country hamlet to see "the miracle." Special "Pilgrim Trains" were added to the Long Island Railroad's regular runs to accommodate this vast outpouring of religious belief. After several months, the virgin and child faded from the wall only to be replaced by what seemed to be a ciborium with a host above it, and the crowds continued to come. So, our little microcosm of Catholicism here in Central Park had become known to many thousands of Catholics throughout the East. For the first few days of the apparition our pastor and his small flock were stunned. But not for long. Hundreds of cartons of candles were purchased, and many candle holders placed in appropriate positions. The ladies of the newly formed Women's guild rose to the occasion and spent hours every day scraping out the burnt candles and replacing them with new ones. Each day the church floor had to be scrubbed and made clean for the new rush of pilgrims. In a period of three to four months, thousands of dollars poured into the parish coffers. This timely event enabled Fr. Dwyer to have the sidewalks paved, the property cleared and graded and the finishing touches added to our now famous church. The event was duly noted in the Central Park Courier of Thursday, October 15, 1925, as follows: "Large numbers of persons from Brooklyn and Manhattan and Long Island are making special trips to view the miracle with which the Catholics of St. Martin of Tours have been blessed. An apparition or reproduction of the Blessed Virgin and the Infant appeared on the walls of the church."

Each Sunday Father Dwyer celebrated two Masses; one at 8 A.M., and the other at 10 A.M. The back half of the church was cordoned off so that the faithful would all sit in the front. After the 8 o'clock Mass, two sisters from St. Ignatius in Hicksville would take the children aside for religious instruction. The men of the parish at the very outset formed the Holy Name Society, and the women banded together to form St. Martin's Guild. Mr. Harry Stolz, the first trustee of the parish, was also the first president of the Holy Name Society, and his wife was the first president of St. Martin's Guild. The two groups ran card parties, dances, picnics, and many other affairs whose proceeds helped, in a great measure, to defray the expenses of the parish. Another group formed jointly by the men and women was the St. Martin Players. Their first major production was "Buddies" staged in the St. Martin of Tours auditorium in Amityville. Clifford Alexander directed the show which was performed on April 22, 1927. Thereafter, many shows were produced and performances were given at the Jones Institute, a home for the elderly in Hicksville and the Sanitarium in Farmingdale.

Nearly thirty years after the dedication of St. Martin of Tours Church, it became evident that a school was needed to educate our children. Early in 1952, the building fund drive got underway. The goal was $200,000. One hundred and fifty diligent men split themselves into twelve work teams and started out soliciting pledges. In approximately three months, their pledge total had eclipsed the goal. The school ground breaking ceremony took place in May, 1954, with the Most Reverend John J. Boardman, D.D., opened in September, 1955, and was dedicated on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1957.

The parish of St. Martin's was faithfully served by priests of the diocese of Rockville Centre from its roots. In July 1986, The Bishop of Rockville Centre requested the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, known as the Redemptorists, to care for the parish. The first Redemptorists here Fr. George Keaveney, Fr. John Radley, Fr. James Small and Fr. Richard Furey.

Seventy years after the groundbreaking for our original church and thirty-six years after the groundbreaking for our school, the parishioners of St. Martins embarked on a new beginning. We decided to spread our wings and enlarge our beautiful, but very old, church building. The goal to obtain over one and one half million dollars in pledges seemed almost impossible. A tenacious group of development fund volunteers gave generously of their time and talents. In only a few months of our goal had been reached. Our church was going to have a new beginning.

On July 2, 1995, the parish began spreading its wings by ceremoniously closing the doors of the church. Father Raymond Collins, C.Ss.R., reminded us of the almost 71 years of service that had taken place in the church. The procession at the 12:30 Mass on Sunday was awe-inspiring. The tears that could be seen, and the hopefulness that was expressed was the message for our church and its people. During the extraordinary harsh winter of 1995/1996, the construction slowly progressed. Once spring arrived, however, progress was very swift. To the amazement of all, our church was dedicated on September 15, 1996, as planned. To this day, the doors of St. Martin's remain open and welcoming for all the faithful to find within the love and presence of God.

St. Martin of Tours
220 Central Avenue · Bethpage, NY 11714 · 516-931-0818