History of St. Thomas'
The St. Thomas’ Community of Faith began in 1875 with services conducted by the Rev. Thomas Cook of Riverhead in the homes of Judge Cogswell, Mr. Hammond and others. Two years later Bishop Littlejohn, first bishop of Long Island, laid the cornerstone for a church building on a lot on Conklin Street given by John and Mary Noon. On May 11, 1878 the completed church, 23 feet by 50 feet, was opened or worship.
The following year horse sheds were constructed to accommodate the teams of horses of those who came to worship. By its tenth anniversary in 1885 St. Thomas’ had a resident Priest-in-Charge, the Rev. Dr. John A. Morgan: the Sunday School had 100 students and all debts had been paid.
In 1885 St. Thomas’ Church was totally lost in a fire. Sadly, the insurance had lapsed. Dr. Morgan left and services were conducted by the Rev. James. O.S. Huntington OHC who had founded the Order of the Holy Cross in the previous year. The St. Thomas congregation tackled the loss of their church by converting the horse sheds into “a very pretty chapel”.
In that year the newly built Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City was dedicated as the mother church of the Diocese. It’s first Dean, the Very Rev. Samuel Cox was charged with the oversight of St. Thomas and other Missions. A building fund was started in 1892 though prospects for the future of St. Thomas were not hopeful. The Rev. Samuel Cox complained of the difficulties of his assisting Canons Missioner having to travel along the Hempstead Turnpike especially in winter to service this mission. He described the congregation as “small and financially and spiritually feeble.”
In 1905 the cornerstone was laid for a new church building and the following year it was completed and consecrated by the Rt. Rev. Frederick Burgess, second Bishop of Long Island. A rectory was purchased. It is surmised that this first Rectory was the little house at 293 Conklin Street.
Foundations were prepared, and bricks and lumber form the former Convent used by the Sisters of St. John the Baptist were transported to the site from Route 110 by the men of the parish and used to build the Parish Hall. This was opened on October 22, 1922 with a weeklong celebration.
Two Priests-in-charge of St. Thomas became Bishops. Rev. Vedder VanDyke became Bishop of Vermont and Rev. Jonathan G. Sherman became Bishop Suffragan and then Bishop of Long Island.
In 1923 the present Rectory 290 Conklin Street was acquired.
On December 21, 1941 the mortgages on the property were paid off and symbolically burned at a special service conducted by the Rt. Rev. Ernest M. Stires, third Bishop of Long Island. The next year the first Rector of St. Thomas’ the Rev. Sidney R, Peters, was instituted by Bishop James DeWolfe, fourth Bishop of Long Island. Canon Peters added the undercroft to the church and a kitchen.
The second Rector, Father W. Robert Hampshire was instituted in 1944. He began daily Masses. The year 1951 brought the addition of the Our Lady of Walsingham window. 1953 saw a new Altar and sanctuary furniture and the following year a memorial Altar Rail was added. Then followed the renovation of the Parish Hall and addition of a new kitchen. This era of growth continued with extension of the Church in 1958 and building of a new steeple.
In 1958 the St. Francis Garden was blessed and the next year new pews installed. A fund started in 1962 to purchase a pipe organ was fully subscribed by members. (This organ was replaced after the fire of 1996 with a new pipe organ built by Schantz in 1998.) Father Hampshire resigned in 1964 after serving as Rector for 20 years. It was a notable period, not least for Fr. Hampshire’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.
On November 5, 1965 Father Albert H. Palmer was instituted as third Rector by Bishop Sherman. Many projects were completed during his ministry including the installation of the Carillon in the steeple, refurbishing of the Rectory, dedication of a chapel in honor of Our Lady of Walsingham, and renovation and naming of the Centennial Room. In addition to his work as Rector Fr. Palmer served as Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Long Island and an Honorary Canon of the Cathedral of the Incarnation. Fr. Palmer retired in 1992 and was designated Rector Emeritus.
The Vestry called Father David Bryan Hoopes OHC as Rector marking an interesting succession to an early priest Rev. James Otis Sergeant Huntington the founder of the Order of which Fr. Hoopes is now Superior. Several of the OHC Brothers lived in the Rectory and assisted the Rector in his ministry.
A renovated Parish Hall, and a restored and beautified Rectory were two accomplishments of the members of St. Thomas during Fr. Hoopes incumbency. Then in 1996 tragedy struck in the form of a fire that destroyed the roof and interior of beloved St. Thomas’ Church. Later on the morning of the fire Fr. Hoopes declared “We will rebuild.” With the help of so many community groups and insurance money, and with the determination of the Rector and Vestry, the Church was rebuilt in a year! The simple beauty St. Thomas, with its atmosphere of prayer and loving worship, impresses all who enter.
In July 1999, Father Hoopes was elected Superior of the Order of The Holy Cross and the Vestry reluctantly accepted his resignation effective from September 15. Canon F. Anthony Cayless, former Provost of the Cathedral of the Incarnation and a trained Interim left the Deanery in July 1999 to make way for the new Dean. Fr. Hoopes invited him and his wife to move in to St. Thomas’ Rectory as his quest. When Fr. Hoopes took up his appointment at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York Canon Cayless became Priest in Residence. He conducted services and performed other pastoral ministries at no charge to the parish. On December 31, 19999 his resignation as Canon Residentiary took effect and he was contracted as Interim Priest by the Vestry from January 1, 2000 through June 30, 2001. Canon Cayless and his wife Suzette has exercised a meaningful ministry during this period of transition.
Fr. Bean was the priest in 2001 at St. Thomas’ Church and was here for four years until the Bishop called him to the Cathedral in October 2005.
Mother Christine as appointed by the Bishop as our Interim Priest in 2006 for three years after which time the Vestry called for her to be our permanent Priest. In February 2011 the Café’ was started as a Girl Scout Gold award project. We installed an labyrinth thin space with benches and a memorial brick path. In August 2018, she retired and moved to Arizona with her husband Dan and Father in law Fr. Eric.
Mother van Liew was appointed Interim Priest in 2018 and started being Interim Priest at St. Thomas on January 1, 2019 to present.
St. Thomas received a Creation Grant for holy walks and labyrinth walks. There are benches on either side for those who would like to just sit and reflect and pray if they do not want to do a labyrinth walk. In 2020 pledges increased by 20% in spite of the pandemic and increase by those who were able to pledge in 2021 despite covid. Our stewardship brochures have summarized the many good ministries and strong responses in pledges. January 2021, we started our 10th year for the fellowship café, which is held on the last Saturday of each month. We prepare and serve a hot meal and at the end we have meals to go. We usually serve 80-100 meals. During the pandemic when we could not serve indoors, we have prepared meals to go. We set up a table outside and serve about 60 meals. We have started a meal on wheels type of program, where we bring meals to out shut ins. We have also been holding daily office worship services including compline.