The History of St. William the Abbot RC Church
Before this parish was established, there was a true faith, hope and commitment among the dedicated clergy and lay people. The very history of this parish is the people. What has been accomplished has occurred in buildings but the heart of the faith and the parish’s history has always been and still is its people. The original parishioners were people with vision who yearned for a spiritual home.
The spirit of ecumenism was alive in Seaford long before Vatican II made it popular. William Morgan was a Protestant who married a Catholic, Catherine McGlynn. The Morgan children were raised in their mother’s faith. It disturbed Mr. Morgan to see his family traveling to Bellmore every week for Mass. Through his daughter Jennie, he provided use of his store for Sunday Mass. In 1913, Fr. Theodore King offered Mass in Seaford in a converted butcher shop on the corner of Merrick Road and Washington Avenue.
By 1922, the new pastor in Bellmore, Fr. John Glavin, found crowds of people forced to stand outside the butcher shop while Mass was offered. He knew shortly thereafter that a church would be needed. A building committee chaired by Mr. John Murray was formed by Fr. Glavin. Permission was granted by Bishop Molloy to seek funds throughout the diocese and build a church.
While all this was happening, the local board of education offered the use of a school auditorium until the church was built. The butcher shop was closed. The fund raising was successful and in 1926, shortly after Fr. Glavin’s death, the ground was broken for the soon to be built church. The first Mass was offered on a Christmas Eve with about 150 people in attendance. The parish was officially established in 1928 with Fr. Francis X. Debold as the first pastor.
The Early Years
As is the case with any new parish, the early years were marked with many “first events.” On April 1, 1928, Evelyn Alvina Hall converted to Catholicism and was the first person to be baptized in the new parish. The first child baptized was Joseph Dunne, the son of Edward and Anna Dunne.
First Holy Communion was administered to eight girls and two boys by Fr. Debold, our first pastor, on May 27, 1928. On September 15, 1928, Howard Pennell married Victoria Avignon who were the first to marry in the parish. Eugene and Marie Babiak were the first to be married at a Nuptial Mass on July 18, 1933. On June 11, 1933, Bishop Molloy confirmed the first class of 130, 61 of whom were adults.
The second pastor, Fr. Charles Garvey, started to plan the rectory in 1937. The rectory was completed by Fr. Herman Valkenburg in 1940. The $70,000 mortgage was paid off in 1948. An associate, Fr. William Hanlon, was first assigned to the parish in 1944 when the area had grown so much that there were now four Sunday Masses.
Fr. Dermod Flinn became the sixth pastor in June, 1949. The parish originally was large geographically but relatively small in numbers. During the post World War II years, the number of Seaford residents, and thus parishioners, grew at a rapid rate. On Christmas Eve in 1926, St. William’s had 150 people attend. By 1945 there were 3500, and in 1952 there were 8500. Fr. Flinn completed the interior decoration of the church and had a beautiful sanctuary put in, completing the work on the church building. The church remained as is until the early 1980’s when a fire in the sacristy forced some reconstruction of the old country church.
With the parish growing at such a rate, Fr. Flinn realized more would be needed. Just as the early parishioners realized the need for a church, so too these succeeding parishioners realized expansion was inevitable. Fr. Flinn purchased property across from, adjacent to, and behind the church. A convent and a school would be needed in this young and growing parish. Even a ball field that was shared by Seaford little league was installed behind the church.
A School is Born
With the parish growing at such a rapid rate and so many young families moving into the area, it was evident a school would be needed. The first school fund drive was held in 1950. Even before the school became a part of the parish, the Ursuline Sisters were working with us and for us, conducting religious education classes. In September, 1954, the Ursuline Sisters of Blue Point came to St. William the Abbot to open the school. Mother Agnes O’Brien was the first principal assisted by five other Sisters who taught grades 1-5. The children from Seaford public school shared the building that year.
The rapid growth continued and the need for space became evident. To meet these needs of the increasing enrollment, 14 additional classrooms, an auditorium, a library, and a cafeteria were built. During the years 1960 to 1975, Sister Virginia, Sister Bernard, and Sister Jean Redigan served as principals. They were aided by some very competent and dedicated teachers, both religious and lay. No effort was spared to provide our children with the best in education, a policy that remains in effect to this day. The commitment to education that brought the Ursulines to St. William the Abbot was and remains alive to this very day even though the faculty is mostly lay teachers today.
It has been and always will be the hallmark of St. William the Abbot School, in the spirit of the Sisters of St. Ursula, that as new needs arise and our young seek to grow in their understanding of the faith, dedicated individuals will arise to meet these needs. Through the keen sense of listening and pastoral leadership, the school established in this Ursuline tradition will always flourish and grow. The school and the Ursuline Sisters are very much a part of our history and they will be an essential part of our future.
Growth and Changes
With World War II now over, there were others signs of growth. The first baseball team in the parish became a youth activity in 1950. The CYO began activities in 1958. A center of the Nocturnal Adoration Society was formed at St. William’s in 1953. The people of the society came from St. William and the surrounding areas. From this one group, five other centers were eventually formed.
In 1958, St. William was designated a center for the League of the Sacred. Religious instruction was carried on by the Ursuline Sisters who commuted from Blue Point, only now the sisters were assisted by parishioners. For many years, Mrs. Henry Reisert assisted Fr. Flinn by caring for the needy parishioners. In 1961, the St. Vincent de Paul Society was formed under the direction of Fr. William Fitzpatrick. The society continues its charitable work until this day assisting Sr. Elizabeth who now runs our Parish Outreach Office.
A New Diocese
In 1957 we find a major change. The Diocese of Brooklyn had itself grown considerably and so a new diocese was formed. The priests and people of St. William joined with other Catholics to welcome Bishop Walter Kellenberg as the new Diocese of Rockville Centre was established. One of the first priorities of the new diocese was to build high schools. Members of the parish worked hard to collect funds for this program. Goals were set, schools were built, and again St. William had done its work well. In fact, there was even once plans for a high school on St. William’s property, but as the need lessened, the plans were put aside.
During the 1960’s, Fr. Flinn was raised to the rank of monsignor. Fr. Flinn was informed in December of 1962 and the formal investiture took place on January 27, 1963 at St. Agnes Cathedral. Monsignor Flinn retired in 1971 and was replaced by a young, eager first time pastor named Fr. Thomas G. Leavey.
Patron Saint William the Abbot
St. William the Abbot is an Italian Saint whose feast is celebrated on June 25.
St. William was born in the year 1085 A.D. in Vercelli, Italy, of noble parents. He was orphaned while an infant and was raised by relatives. At 14, he made a pilgrimage to Compostela, in Galicia Spain, a pilgrimage he made barefoot. He was at Mefi in 1106 and spent two years as a hermit on Monte Solicoli. After abandoning a pilgrimage to Jerusalem when he was attacked by robbers, he decided to become a hermit on Monte Virgiliano (Vergine).
One source notes that, shortly after his decision, he healed a blind man, a miracle that brought him instant notoriety. Because of his humility, he did not want to accept the people’s praise and admiration, so he decided that he would he would live as a hermit on this high mountain. Even there, however, people gathered around him and so he decided to organize them into a community and build a monastery dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. People gave the mountain a new name — Monte Vergine — or Mount of the Virgin. It was in the year 1119 that the group became know as the Hermits of Monte Vergine.
Objections soon arose against the strictness of his rule. It is unclear if the objections were internal or external to his community, but he and his good friend, St. John of Matera, founded another community on Monte Laceno in Apulia. The hermitages were destroyed by fire so they moved to Monte Cognato in Basilicata. Some time later, he founded monasteries at Conza, Guglietto and Salerno opposite the palace of King Roger I of Naples.
While at this location, St. William became advisor to King Roger. Some were upset by his good standing with the king, so they tried to create a negative image of him as an evil man hiding behind a holy habit. They sent a woman to tempt him to sin, but as soon as he realized what kind of woman she was, he supposedly worked a miracle and the woman ran away frightened.
While some of these stories may well be legendary, it can be confirmed that he founded several monasteries in Italy, the most famous being the first on Mount Virgiliano. The mountain was later named Monte Vergine after his monastery of cenobites that he established under the rule of St. Benedict.
St. William died at the monastery in Guglietto on June 25, 1142.