It was the spring of 1940 and the Reverend James J. Ayers was transferred from the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Bridgehampton, NY to begin his assignment as the first pastor of a yet to be built and named Catholic church in the Incorporated Village of Lynbrook, NY.
Fr.Ayers’ first duty was to locate and acquire a suitable piece of land to build a church. After searching a few months, he obtained the former Judge Nieman Estate located on Merrick Road between Nieman and Fowler Avenue. Inspired by the world events of 1941, the pastor-founder of the new church suggested that the new church be dedicated to and named for “Our Lady of Peace”. The church building was designed in a modern adaptation of the Norman style of architecture. It would be 130 feet long by 64 feet wide with a seating capacity for 680 with room for an additional 60 in the balcony. The church was completed at a cost of $125,000.
During construction of the church, Mass was celebrated at the St. Mary’s Council of the Knights of Columbus in Lynbrook, NY from September 1940 until October 5, 1941 when the church was put into use although not yet completed. On July 4, 1943 the church was officially dedicated by Bishop Thomas E. Molloy.
Fr. Ayers was pastor of Our Lady of Peace Church until his death in March 1953. In July 1952, Fr. Daniel Nelson was appointed administrator during the time of Father Ayers’ illness. His first duty as administrator was to sign the contract purchasing the house that would become the rectory. In July 1953, Bishop Molloy appointed Fr. John McGowan as new pastor to succeed the late Fr. Ayers.
During Fr. McGowan’s tenure, a parish school was built with 8 classrooms, several offices, an auditorium, cafeteria, fully equipped kitchen and other miscellaneous rooms. The Sisters of Mercy would be recruited to staff the new school. A residence two doors away from the location of the school was purchased to house the nuns. Our Lady of Peace School was dedicated on September 9, 1957 by Bishop William P. Kellenberg the bishop of the new Diocese of Rockville Centre.
In June of 1959, the Right Reverend Monsignor Ronald B. Macdonald was named the new pastor. The school waiting list was growing and Msgr. Macdonald made plans to expand the school and purchase the house between the convent and the school to house the additional staff.
The parish enjoyed prosperity under Monsignor Macdonald. More property was purchased adjacent to the church and school. Many parish organizations began forming: the Altar and Holy Name Societies, Blessed Virgin Sodality, Choir, Altar Boys, Ushers, and the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine were augmented by other groups. The opening of the school brought the Mothers’ Group, a Men’s Club, Scouts, the Teen Club, and a School Board.
Following Vatican II, many new roles were popular with the Laity which included participation as Lectors, Eucharistc Ministers, the Parish Council, and the weekend Folk Mass. The decades of the 1960s and 1970’s reflected the many changes taking place in the church. Organizations expanded to now include: a Catholic Charismatic Movement, a Right to Life Committee, the Sunshine Senior Club, and the legion of Mary, St. Vincent de Paul Conference, the Antioch Movement, Lay Religious Education Instructors, an Evangelization Committee, and a Thrift Shop was opened.
The many changes taking place, not only affected the practice of our faith, but the physical appearance of the church as well. Under the leadership of our next pastor, the Rev. John B. Hull, the altar railing was removed and the altar was brought forward in the sanctuary so that the celebrant faced the congregation. Mass would no longer be celebrated in Latin, but in English.
During the 1980’s, Our Lady of Peace continued to implement the changes set forth by Vatican II. Faith-based adult education programs with prominent speakers were offered; the Folk Mass gave way to the Family Mass; the Mother’s Group was now known as the Parents’ Association and the Catholic Golden Age Club opened a chapter in Lynbrook.
The Holy Name Society sponsored its first community service organization Mass and a Grotto of Our Lady was built and dedicated in 1987. By the end of the 80’s another new program was instituted – the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) – wherein those interested in becoming Catholic were formally invited “into the church.”
It was in 1988 that Fr. Thomas F. Sinnott succeeded Fr. Hull as pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish. With Fr. Sinnott’s strong support, a Human Service Center was opened. This volunteer-based program, also known as the Parish Outreach, focused on convening advocacy and service to those who were vulnerable and in need. As a tribute to his many involvements in the community, Fr. Sinnott was named Lynbrook’s “Man of the Year” in 1991.
In 1994 following the passing of Fr. Sinnott, Fr. Lawrence Penzes was appointed pastor. Fr. “Larry”, like so many of the pastors before him, brought a new energy to the parish. During his brief eight years as pastor, he was able to reduce the parish debt while many new renovations took place in the church. He commissioned a statue of Our Lady of Peace that graces the right side of the altar designed by his brother and donated by a long-standing member of the parish. In 1997, Fr. Larry was instrumental in securing the stained glass windows that so beautifully adorn the church from the Chapel of St. Joseph’s Villa in Rockville Centre – a gift from the Sisters of the Congregation of the Infant Jesus. New lighting was installed and pews were removed to make way for a Baptismal font that would allow baptism by immersion. A “Saints’ Chapel was built off the main entrance to the church giving parishioners a place to pray and reflect with the saints whose statues adorned the church Pre-Vatican II.
On March 12, 2002, the most unheard of tragedy overtook our loving parish. A man with a rifle hidden under his coat entered the church during the 9:00 AM daily Mass shot and killed Fr. Larry and long-time parishioner, Eileen Tosner. The outpouring of grief was beyond belief! As the community was coming to grips with this senseless act, Bishop William Murphy sent Fr. William Singleton, a retired priest from St. Raymond’s in East Rockaway to help us begin the healing process. In late summer Fr. James Pereda, from the Diocesan Tribunal served as temporary administrator until Bishop William Murphy would select our new pastor.
On November 1, 2002, Fr. William G. Breslawski began his assignment as our next pastor. Fr. Bill came to us after spending 15 years as one of the founding pastors of the Parish of the Holy Cross in Nesconset. He came to us with the knowledge and experience needed to be in a one-priest parish. Fr. Bill’s understanding, warmth, and sensitivity helped the parish community through the loss of Fr. Larry Penzes and guided us to becoming a better and more loving community. Under Fr. Bill, the Ministries and programs have grown in number and strength, thus providing the support he needs to run and pastor the people of this parish community.
The history of Our Lady of Peace Parish is far from being over. It continues to flourish and grow in love and stewardship for the parishioners and the Village of Lynbrook now and for many decades to come.