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The Millennium Year 2000 was marked world-wide with celebration and awe. It was designated by Pope John Paul II as a Holy Year and a Jubilee Year for the Church. For St. Aidan Parish it meant a year of special events. One important response was our joining with others to share our resources, our time, and our talents. St. Aidan’s outreach to others in need did not begin in the Jubilee Year. In 1965, St. Aidan’s had responded to the request of Fr. Philip Bagnasto to build the St. Aidan Parish Center in Pleebo, Liberia. Unfortunately, Fr. Bagnasto died a few years ago and the Pleebo area had since been devastated by civil war. In 1997, peace was restored to Liberia and the residents of Pleebo returned to find the church roof severely damaged and its interior vandalized by the rebel soldiers. As a result, the parishioners had to bring their own chairs when they attended parish functions at the center or attended school.
As part of the Jubilee 2000 Justice and Peace Activities, the African Mission Society was contacted. The Bishop of the Diocese of Cape Palmes, Liberia wrote requesting help replacing tables, chairs, desks, and bulletin boards. On February 21, 2000, Fr. Hayden accompanied several parishioners to the SMA Fathers Headquarters in New Jersey and presented the Fathers with a check from St. Aidan for $7,500, the total amount of the project. Thirty-five years later, St. Aidan’s once again came to the assistance of our friends in Pleebo, Liberia.
The Jubilee Year also saw the return of the parish festival and a dinner dance at the Cresthollow Country Club with over 300 parishioners in attendance. The Jubilee committee decided that no celebration of the Jubilee Year would be complete without a tribute to the patron saint of our parish, St. Aidan.
In its first year, the festival was held for one day. Following the Saturday five o’clock Mass, the congregation processed across Willis Avenue for the ribbon cutting ceremony and the festivities began. Successive years’ festivals were held for three and four nights and would honor St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Nicholas.
In 2003 the parish began work on the new St. Francis Prayer Garden located in the courtyard between the church and lower school. The beautiful marble statue of St. Francis was sculpted in Italy and transported to Williston Park. The garden provides a quiet respite from the surrounding hubbub of Willis Avenue – very conducive for reflection and prayer.
Other major renovations took place under the leadership of Fr. Hayden. The façade of the church was in critical need of reinforcement, resurfacing of all parking lots and the installation of a much-needed playground for the west campus of St. Aidan School.
In 2009 Monsignor James M. McDonald became the new pastor of the parish.
With the physical plan well established, the following years of our parish witnessed great spiritual growth. Over the years different programs were introduced to help parishioners grow in their faith. One way by which our community as a whole grew in faith was through Renew. Renew was a program introduced into our parish by Msgr Robert Kirwin in 1998 as a way of awakening in each of a real awareness of what it means to be Catholic today. Participation in the program reminded us that a parish is not just buildings but rather a community of people.
The basic foundation of Renew was prayer. This parish-wide program was open to everyone, meeting for six weeks each fall and spring for a period of three years. Parishioners were involved in the program in many ways – through prayer at Mass on Sunday, through small group discussions in homes each week, and through reflection on readings at home. By sharing their faith stories, people got to know and love Jesus better and more clearly understood the things He said and did. Since St. Aidan was the first parish in the diocese to offer Renew, when it ended, many other parishes sought advice on initiating the program in their own parish communities.
St. Aidan’s Human Services Program had begun in the fall of 1977 under the auspices of Catholic Charities and the guiding presence of Fr. John Gilmartin. Sr. Irene Humback, S.C. had launched the program with over 300 volunteers of core and auxiliary workers. They were offered training in the areas of friendly visiting of the isolated and the elderly, visits to new parishioners, homemakers, parish health aides, telephone network, share-a-meal, babysitting and child care, widow’s reach out, transportation, Eucharistic Ministry to the homebound and a chore core of teens assisting the elderly. The core workers were the “core or heart” of Parish Human Services and they were to become witnesses to their people in a very real way.
In 1997 the name was changed to Parish Social Ministry, which continues to meet the needs of our community to this day.
In June 1990 Msgr. Kirwin retired. We are very fortunate that he has chosen to live here in the St. Aidan’s community. In that same month we welcomed Msgr. James P. Kelly as the seventh pastor of St. Aidan’s.
In 1991 Msgr. Kelly consulted with the Parish Council, the Parish Finance Committee and the Pastoral Staff regarding the needs of the parish. The newest building, the Church, was now 31 years old. Both it and the school buildings were in need of repairs and updating. On Trinity Sunday 1992, Msgr. Kelly announced a major fund raising campaign that would begin in October and be completed in December. Our generous parishioners responded to this need and raised over $1,750,000.
During Phase I of the renovations, 498 windows were replaced in the school, parish center, gymnasium and rectory. The rectory oil burner was replaced and the oil tanks were removed. A new sprinkler system was installed throughout the plant. The bell tower was refurbished and a new public address system for the school was installed. New air conditioning was installed in the church. Phase II witnessed slate roof replacement in the church, the establishment of a chapel in the convent for use by small groups, and the installation of an elevator in Msgr. Kirwin Hall. Phase II work centered on renovations in the church – a new public address system was installed, the church was painted, pews were removed and stained, and all the woodwork in the church was re-stained. New padded kneelers were added. The lighting system was greatly enhanced by the addition of overhead spotlights. A new, computerized Rogers Organ was purchased and installed in time for the Easter season. Liturgical improvements were many. A principal one was the fashioning of a permanent altar from the original high altar of the church and a new pedestal from the same marble for the tabernacle. In addition, the ambo (pulpit) was moved to provide greater visibility from the transepts and the presider’s chair was replaced with one more in keeping with the architecture of the church. All devotional shrines were refurbished and redesigned with kneelers formed from the original altar rail. The baptismal font was related to a privileged place in the middle of the congregation, and a new paschal candle stand was constructed. Finally a special glass enclosed niche was created to house the holy oils.
Monsignor Kelly had a few years to enjoy all these changes before he was transferred in June 1997 to St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre to assume the role of Rector. Rev. Robert L. Hayden became the eighth pastor of St. Aidan on June 25, 1997. Fr. Hayden saw a critical need to serve the youth of the parish and hired a part-time Youth Minister to begin the program. The program to this day is still going strong. The senior youth group is open to teens in the parish between the ages of thirteen and nineteen. They meet in fellowship every Sunday evening and enjoy an environment in which to explore their faith and nurture their relationship with God. The junior youth group serves our youth ages ten to thirteen. Its goal is to build a Church community through fellowship by creating an atmosphere for younger people to grow spiritually and socially. Both groups are under the direction of Mr. Steve Loewenthal, the parish Youth Minister.
In March, 1971 Pope Paul VI granted permission to the bishops to allow the laity to become extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist and to distribute Holy Communion. Invitations were sent to 30 members of the parish asking them to serve in this capacity – 25 answered “yes.” These new ministers attended a Diocesan training session at the Seminary and were commissioned at various Sunday Masses.
St. Aidan was among the pioneering parishes in our diocese to create a Parish Council. Its purpose was to assist the priests in the overall conduct of all parish affairs. Its members – both elected and appointed – served to open the lines of communication between the priests, providing lay insight into the various aspects of parish life and operations.
In 1977, after 16 years as pastor of St. Aidan, Msgr. Charles E. Bermingham retired. Over the years, his accomplishments had been numerous, and his constant pastors concern for the spiritual welfare of the parishioners was paramount. His foresight and creativity contributed greatly to the success of our parish.
In January 1977, Fr. Robert J. Kirwin came home to St. Aidan’s, and on February 16, 1977 Fr. Kirwin was officially installed as the sixth pastor.
Our parish’s 50th Jubilee Year soon followed. Activities for the 50th Jubilee Year Celebration commended on May 12, 1978 with a concert of Sacred Music in the church by the Men and Boys’ Choir.
On a glorious day in June, over 3,000 parishioners gathered together at a picnic in Eisenhower Park for fun, food, and friendship to celebrate the parish’s 50th Jubilee. The children enjoyed games and the highlight of the day was the drawing of the winners of the three cars that were raffled off that afternoon.
On November 17th, a capacity crowd of 1,500 people rocked the Huntington Town House. Elbow to elbow, priests and laity danced the night away in celebration of 50 wonderful years. On November 19th, Bishop John McGann came to St. Aidan and joined concelebrating priests to close the Jubilee year with a Mass and prayers of thanksgiving. A reception followed in the auditorium of the lower school.
Rev. Monsignor Charles Bermingham was appointed the fifth pastor of St. Aidan’s in June of 1960. The church building proceeded throughout the summer of 1960, and on September 22, 1960 the cornerstone was laid. On May 6, 1961, a beautiful new church was dedicated. A few hours following the dedication, Confirmation was celebrated for the first time in the new church.
Now in Rome, Pope John XXIII, prior to his death in 1964, decided that the Church of St. Peter should “open the windows to let in some fresh air.” A Council of all the bishops convened in Rome to review every aspect of what the Church was doing in the world and to see how it could more effectively help people everywhere to come to the Father. Vatican Council II studies and discussed many subjects of concern to the Church, and many changes were brought about. The priest would now face the congregation for Mass, and Latin would be replaced with the language of the people. There would be more participation by the laity, and the exchange of the sign of peace would be added. Some Catholics felt uncomfortable dealing with these changes.
In the spirit of Vatican II, a parish “little council” was formed at St. Aidan’s by Msgr. Bermingham, in an attempt to give the parish an opportunity to improve the spiritual and pastoral functions of our parish. The first Council was called to order in February of 1966. The Council Commissions were comprised of 50 people including the pastor, clergy, religious, and laity. Topics included the Mass and other Public Devotions, the Sacraments, Sacramentals and Priestly Ministration, parish schools and societies, Religious Education, and youth activities. Hundreds of parishioners attended the Council, and became educated in the teachings of Vatican II. The life of the Church at St. Aidan’s was tremendously affected by the “Little Council,” just as the entire Church was affected by Vatican Council II.
The Parish Outreach was one of the local results of Vatican II. Father Gerard Kennedy, a Maryknoller, was visiting his parents in Albertson and shared with Msgr. Bermingham his dream of a Church in Che Chon, Korea. Msgr. Bermingham agreed to assist him in this task under one condition – that the church be named St. Aidan’s. Over the next few years $15,000 was raised, which represented half the cost of building the church. On July 7, 1965 Fr. Robert Kirwin, representing the people of St. Aidan of Williston Park, blessed our “twin parish” in Korea – the Church of Che Chon – on the day of its dedication.
We next turned to Africa. Father Phillip Bagnasto, a former parishioner and a member of the Society of African Missions, asked for help. It was agreed that the parish would pay half the cost of building a mission center in Liberia. Three years later, the St. Aidan Mission Center in Pleebo, Liberia was built.
St. Aidan parishioners can certainly bow their heads in prayer and gratitude for having the opportunity to share, to be concerned, to love and to appreciate what we have, and sometimes take for granted. The opportunity to help our fellow man in need is truly a Gift from God.
The decrees and doctrines of Vatican II greatly affected liturgy and parish worship at St. Aidan. During this time, changes occurred in rapid succession. Some were innovative, while others were restorations of ancient practices.
In 1966 the sacrament previously called “Extreme Unction” became more appropriate knows as the “Anointing of the Sick” because it is not a Sacrament only for those at the point of death, but rather for any person with a serious illness or injury. When Christ touches the soul through this Sacrament, pain become more tolerable and fear subsides.
Unfortunately, our hard-working Fr. Clark passed away suddenly, just one week short of the schools scheduled opening in September of 1950.
Fr. Alfred A. Loewe was appointed the fourth pastor of St. Aidan’s in October of 1950. Under his pastorship, the school flourished. Staffed by the Sisters of Charity, the parish witnessed the enrollment grow to 1100 pupils in a few short years.
In 1955, Fr. Loewe broke ground for a second school building in order to alleviate the overcrowding. The Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn agreed to staff the new school. The opening of the school in the Fall of 1956 saw the school’s enrollment reaching 1600 pupils.
The late 1950’s also saw the further growth of the parish. Fr. Lowe requested permission from the Diocese to build a new church Permission was granted, and groundbreaking occurred in October of 1959. Sadly Fr. Lowe would not see its completion – after a brief illness Fr. Lowe passed to his eternal reward on March of 1960.
March 10, 1944 marked the end of the first chapter of the parish. On this date, Fr. O’Kane, our first pastor, was called to give the final account of his stewardship. His work was over – he had laid a strong foundation for the parish. His work was done and the heart of the faithful pastor stopped beating.
Fr. O’Kane was succeeded as pastor by Fr. Leo T. Ennis. Fr. Ennis’s first task was to fulfill the hopes of the parishioners for a parish school. Property was purchased on Willis Avenue and Winthrop Street for parking and playground space, but because of World War II post-war inflation, permission could not be secured for the school project.
Fr. Ennis passed away in 1947 and was succeeded by Fr. Raymond A. Clark in May of 1947. In 1949, the persistent Fr. Clark obtained the necessary permission to build the school.
The school’s groundbreaking took place on June 5, 1949. A building drive in November of 1949 was organized, with a goal to raise $150,000 – the estimated cost of the new school and convent buildings. Our parishioners, with a long history of generosity, raised over $165,000.
St. Aidan’s Parish encompasses an area of two and one-half miles wide by three miles long – including the communities of Williston Park, East Williston, Albertson and parts of Roslyn Heights and Williston Park. In its early days, this area was considered hunting grounds for the Matinecock and Netop Indians. Open farmlands, tree-lined paths, and the rural atmosphere attracted city dwellers to these suburbs in the early 1900’s.
In 1926 William Chatlos, a prominent New York City builder, bought 195 acres of land in Williston Park. His plans for the area called for the erection of 1000 “Happiness Homes” of Chatlos Colonials. Hundreds came by charted buses in June of 1926 from the city to view and purchase these new homes – further populating our area.
This rapid influx of people worried the Reverend James Burke, pastor of Corpus Christi Church in Williston Park. Until that time, Fr. Burke had addressed the spiritual needs of the few Catholic families living in Williston Park, East Williston and Albertson as well as those in Williston Park. With the sudden influx of so many Catholic families, he became overwhelmed with the expanse of his ministry – visiting parishioners, caring for the sick, attending to the religious training of the children of this growing parish.
Aware of this growing community, Bishop Thomas E. Molloy decided to establish a new parish in Williston Park. The Reverend John F. O’Kane was appointed pastor in November 1928. Fr. O’Kane immediately set out to find a temporary place where Mass could be celebrated. On the west side of Willis Avenue, in the sixth store south of Lafayette St., the Church of St. Aidan was established. The store was offered for use of the church through the generosity of the Williston Democratic Club, which occupied it at the time. Mass was celebrated for the first time at St. Aidan parish on Sunday, November 18, 1928. Approximately 225 persons attended the 8 a.m. mass, and there were 250 attendees at the 10 a.m. mass.
This makeshift church was soon outgrown, and on May 5, 1929, ground was broken for the new church on property purchased from the Chatlos Corporation on Willis Avenue from Lafayette to Pembroke Street. Mass was celebrated for the first time in the new church on Sunday, June 30, 1929.
The parish grew rapidly, and Fr. O’Kane enlisted the services of the Dominican Sisters from Corpus Christi to assist with religious formation. In 1929, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary from the St. Francis Sanatorium in Roslyn assumed charge of religious instruction and the children’s mass was inaugurated on February 2, 1929. On November 5, 1929, 28 children received their First Holy Communion. The Sacrament of Confirmation was administered for the first time in the parish by His Excellency, Most Reverend Thomas E. Molloy on Sunday, April 17, 1932 to a class of 130 children.
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