St. Elizabeth of Hungary is a parish rich with history. Built upon farmland in the early 1960′s the parish and its facilities have undergone much transformation to adapt to the growing and ever-changing population in the South Huntington and Melville area. Your eyes on this page are evidence that the parish community’s impact now extends beyond its physical borders here in Suffolk County , NY, through the global reach of the internet.
To help provide you with a more complete retrospective, here is the first installment of the history of St. Elizabeth of Hungary parish as excerpted from the 40th Jubilee parish journal, originally published in 2002.
The First Decade – “What will become of this child?”
In 1962, Wolf Hill Road was a “country road” in comparison to what it is now. There was a farm on the southeast corner of Wolf Hill Road and New York Avenue, owned by the Cregg family. Much of the land on the south side of Wolf Hill Road was theirs. John Cregg became one of our first parish trustees (with Frank Schneider,.no relation to our current pastor), and a generous contributor to our newborn parish.
Major department stores evaluated the area’s growth potential and soon construction of the Walt Whitman Mall began. A&S and Macy’s were the big name stores, as well as McCrory’s for discount items. The community also had its own drive-in movie theater, the 110 Drive-In, located just north of the Expressway where the Fleet Bank Building and the Marriott Hotel now stand. An E.J. Korvette’s department store occupied the entire area where Michael’s and Applebee’s are now, with Kresge’s located where the Barnes and Noble and Tower Records stores are. In the Korvette’s parking lot in the summer, there was a carnival that came for a week or so with a Ferris wheel and amusement park rides.
The Public Library was in the basement of the Central Elementary school on the west side of Route 110, just north of Jericho Turnpike. In 1969, the current South Huntington Library was built on the site of an old small schoolhouse known as the Depot Road School . It was complete with a bell no the roof to call students to class.
The Post World-War II Baby Boomer generation was soon attending school. To educate these newcomers, school buildings has to be erected all over suburban Long Island . Soon, even these new schools were bursting at the seams. Across Nassau and western Suffolk , the population was expanding with war veterans and their spouses raising families.
The Creation of St. Elizabeth
By the early 1960′s St. Hugh of Lincoln parish in Huntington Station, established in 1913, had grown too large for its church. In 1962, Bishop Walter P. Kellenberg created five new parishes and ours was one of the group. St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish, a granddaughter of St. Patrick Church in Huntington , emerged from a daughter parish, St. Hugh of Lincoln . The boundaries of the newborn were Jericho Turnpike to the north, Deer Park Avenue to the east, the Long Island Expressway service road to the south and Hartman Hill and Mount Misery Roads to the west. Bishop Kellenberg selected Father Arthur Kane to be our first pastor.
As a result of John Cregg’s purchase of the Cameron sod farm land, the diocese was able to have the fifteen acres needed for our parish buildings and for what was to become Holy Family diocesan high school, now St. Anthony high school.
Our first Mass was celebrated at the International Brotherhood of Electricians’ union hall (where the Swiss Air building now stands). While plans were underway for our church and other buildings, each weekend mass was celebrated at the union hall and later at the Walt Whitman movie theater (and don’t forget the first “drive-in” outdoor Mass at the 110 Drive-In). Daily mass and baptisms too place in the chapel; the converted garage of the original rectory at 215 Pidgeon Hill Road . The permanent rectory would not be built until May 1970.
In the 1960s at St. Elizabeth, nearly fifty percent of the population was under eighteen. Enrolled in what was called Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) in 1965, were 2,400 first through twelfth graders with 400 teachers. With no buildings available, it was an in-home program coordinated by parish volunteers. Soon there were more than 3,000 children and close to 500 teachers. By 1968, 481 second graders received First Communion while 464 sixth graders were confirmed. Thirty years later, in 1998, the child population was radically reduced, public schools have been closed in the 1980s and First Communions and Confirmations numbered 110 and 87 respectively!
The Parish: The Building of the Church
Original building plans, on five acres that had been a sod farm, called for the creation of a church, a two story elementary school with a gym and a cafeteria, a convent for the women religious who would staff the school, a rectory and a parking lot. The church would eventually be built on the land where the rectory is presently located. With the involvement of the diocesan building office, an architectural firm was selected for the design work and an artist rendering and blueprints were drawn with construction soon to follow. Fundraising was moderately successful. A half million dollars had to be borrowed from the diocese to complete the project. In January, 1964, a contractor was selected and construction began that spring, starting with the school auditorium which would be our “temporary church”. The bulletin kept parishioners abreast of building progress. “Our new building may be seen from your car if you go that way.” (Bulletin, April 19, 1964)
On November 19th, the cornerstone was laid and in February, 1965 the first Mass was offered. In September of that year, Bishop Kellenberg gave permission for the erection of a two story, twenty-four classroom school. It was hoped that the school and convent would be opened by September, 1968. In June, 1967 the proposed school and convent were put out to bid. After that summer, Father Kane and his staff consulted more actively with parishioners to determine their interest in the project and their willingness to take on the responsibilities and the funding of a school. The response to the referendum revealed that only a minority were in favor of a school since there were strong ties to St. Hugh of Lincoln school. In addition, the public school system, with numerous Catholics as teachers, was deemed excellent and a new Catholic Elementary school would mean a heavy financial burden. Plans for the school were abandoned and all effort was thrown into the parish religious education program. Due to architects fees already paid, the Center was built solidly enough structurally to have a second floor and the convent a third floor (for the dozen or more Sisters who would teach in the school).
While the buildings were being constructed, beginning with the church, committee meetings were held at the Huntington Town House, the basement of Twin Oaks Beverage, and the homes of many parishioners. The Parish Center would soon become the locus for all parish activities and meeting place for ongoing formation of both adults and children. The Center and the adjacent Convent were completed in the spring of 1969 and dedicated by Bishop Kellenberg in June.
Everything was new, from the parish buildings to the community homes. Even the Mass was taking a new form as the documents of Vatican II were implemented. One Sunday, Father Kane announced, “Next week we are turning the altar around. I don’t know why, but that’s the way it will be next weekend.
By invitation, six Sisters of St. Joseph joined the parish in September, 1967. Their focus was on adult formation, and secondarily, the religious education of children. Through their far-reaching efforts many lay leaders were educated in the faith. Over the next ten years, besides other accomplishments, Josephite Sisters, working closely with parish lay leaders and priests, would inaugurate a diocesan-wide Mini-Congress, a Baptismal Program, Ecumenical Religious Education Classes, “Beginnings”, a Social Justice Committee, and an annual Thanksgiving Food Drive.
The parish was a gathering point for young families, offering many sports programs for the kids, a performing arts group for the adults, social groups, and fashion shows. The South Huntington Knights of Columbus was started too. With so many young families with children, there was much interest in getting away for an evening of fun. Dinner dances, fashion shows, card parties and other social events, helped recreate tired parents and build community. Tickets to most events were on a first come, first served basis. There were dances in the lower church for St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, and New Year’s Eve, each hosting approximately 600 people.
The St. Elizabeth choir was invited to sing at the World’s Fair Vatican Pavilion in 1965, and they were good enough to record their own LP.
In June, 1969 the Parish Council, a lay leadership ministry that grew out of the significant reforms of Vatican II, approved the plans for the building of a rectory on parish grounds. Construction began in October, the rectory on Pigeon Hill was sold, and the new Rectory was ready for occupancy by early 1970.