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Long Island

Long Island notable religious moments

Notable religious moments in the history of Long Island include the formation of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, the Rev. Billy Graham's crusade at Nassau Coliseum, and the first synagogue, Temple Mischan Israel. Here are 10 such moments, from 1657 to 2015.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre forms

On May 26, 1957, the Rev. Walter P.
Photo Credit: Handout

On May 26, 1957, the Rev. Walter P. Kellenberg became the first bishop of the newly formed Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre. Earlier that year, Pope Pius XII issued an order to create the new diocese by separating Nassau and Suffolk counties from the Brooklyn diocese, due to heavy population shifts of Catholics into those Long Island counties. The Rockville Centre diocese, with nearly 500,000 parishioners in 111 parishes, thus became the sixth largest in the United States. At least 15,000 lined the parade route as Kellenberg made his way to St. Agnes Cathedral to take official possession of the diocese. The procession included three archbishops, 26 bishops, 124 monsignors, 600 priests, 4,000 marchers and 11 bands. Later, Knights of Columbus members escorted Kellenberg, seen here on the steps of the rectory, to the cathedral for a brief prayer. — Compiled by Laura Mann

Long Island's first black church

In 1815, freed black slaves and American Indians
Photo Credit: Amityville Historical Society

In 1815, freed black slaves and American Indians founded Bethel Church in North Amityville. The church, which was later known as the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, was the first predominantly African-American congregation on Long Island. It is seen in an undated file photo. After the building was damaged by fire in 1965, the congregants began to worship at another site in Copiague. In 1989, just as the original vacant building was set to be renovated, it was destroyed by fire. The Rev. Floyd Black, the pastor at that time, called Bethel AME "the first church, the first institution, the first operation operated by blacks on Long Island." Today, the church continues to thrive in Copiague, where in 2012 a street was renamed to honor its nearly 200-year history. — Compiled by Laura Mann and Judy Weinberg

Billy Graham's Nassau Coliseum crusade

The Rev. Billy Graham’s crusade at Nassau Coliseum
Photo Credit: Newsday / Stan Honda

The Rev. Billy Graham’s crusade at Nassau Coliseum from Sept. 19-23, 1990, drew 99,700 people over five days – the largest-ever attendance for an event held there. The 71-year-old evangelist, speaking on the first night of his coliseum crusade, told the audience that Judaism, Christianity and Islam date to ancient Mesopotamia, Assyria and Babylon. "I know you have a Babylon here," he quipped, "but I'm talking about that Babylon." Graham wove his gospel message with references to the Mideast conflict and Iraq, telling a packed coliseum that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (whose troops had invaded Kuwait the month before) represented a “very great incarnation of what could be satanic power.” Graham attributed the crusade's success in part to the commitment of local churches working together – more than 280 churches were involved – and the support of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre. Above, Graham displays the booklet he published that was made available to those who attended the crusade on Sept. 20, 1990. The crowd on the floor is made up of people who answered his invitation to come forward out of the audience, along with counselors trained by Graham’s organization to work with those people. — Compiled by Judy Weinberg

First woman president of a Long Island mosque

In January, Isma Chaudhry, a doctor of internal
Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

In January, Isma Chaudhry, a doctor of internal medicine from Manhasset, became the first woman president of a mosque on Long Island. Chaudhry had served as president-elect of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury for three years. The mosque, opened in 1984, is Long Island’s oldest and one of its largest. The current structure, completed in 1991, is undergoing a $4 million renovation and expansion. Above, Chaudhry poses for a portrait at the mosque on Oct. 3, 2014. — Compiled by Laura Mann

Long Island's first synagogue

In 1896, Nissan Meyerson paid $350 for land

In 1896, Nissan Meyerson paid $350 for land on which Temple Mischan Israel, Long Island’s first synagogue, was built in Sag Harbor. The first services in the new building were held on Rosh Hashanah in 1898; it is said that Theodore Roosevelt gave the congregation its first Torah that same year. Temple members are seen on the steps of the synagogue in this early photograph. The congregation was the predecessor of present-day Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor. — Compiled by Laura Mann

Nassau's first Mass and first Catholic Church

In 1840, four adults and three children attended
Photo Credit: Historical Society of the Westburys

In 1840, four adults and three children attended the first known Catholic Mass in what is now Nassau County. The service was held at the Uniondale home of Barney Powers, with Mass officiated by the Rev. James O'Donnell from St. Paul's in Brooklyn. In 1851, the Brooklyn Diocese bought land on what is now Post Avenue in Westbury for what would become St. Brigid’s Church. Later that year, 600 people attended the first Mass on the site, held in a converted farmhouse. St. Brigid's was built in 1856; it is seen at right in the archival photo above, with the full church building that was built in 1894 seen at left. — Compiled by Laura Mann

Flushing Remonstrance and religious freedom

One of the first steps toward religious freedom
Photo Credit: New York State Archives

One of the first steps toward religious freedom in America was taken in 1657 in Queens when 29 residents of Flushing and two from Jamaica signed a protest to Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch colonial governor, against the persecution and oppression of Quakers. The petition became known as the Flushing Remonstrance, and it predated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by more than 130 years. One of the signatories, Henry Townsend, built the mill for which the village of Mill Neck in present-day Nassau County was named. The document, which is in the New York State Archives, was damaged in a fire. — Compiled by Laura Mann

Dalai Lama honored with doctorate at Stony Brook University

On Sept. 17, 1990, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th
Photo Credit: Newsday / Jim Peppler

On Sept. 17, 1990, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, was given an honorary doctor of humane letters degree by Stony Brook University. The exiled spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people, who was at Stony Brook as part of the school’s Distinguished Lecture Series, told the audience, "If I get negative feeling toward Chinese, that negative feeling will not harm the Chinese, it will harm myself. I will lose sleep. I will ruin my appetite. As a Buddhist practitioner, while I am telling people that forgiveness and compassion are something important, crucial, I must practice this myself or I am a hypocrite." — Compiled by Laura Mann

First Mormon service on Long Island

The first Mormon service on Long Island was
Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

The first Mormon service on Long Island was held in Oceanside in 1837, seven years after the religion was founded in upstate New York. Today, Long Island is home to about 4,600 Mormons. Mark Hardman, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Long Island, is shown at its headquarters in Plainview on Aug. 9, 2012. — Compiled by Laura Mann

First openly gay minister of Protestant congregation on Long Island

In April 1991, the Rev. John A. Geter,
Photo Credit: Newsday / Bill Davis

In April 1991, the Rev. John A. Geter, center, was installed as minister of Sayville Congregational United Church of Christ, becoming the first openly gay minister of a Protestant congregation on Long Island. Geter graduated from Yale Divinity School. The Rev. Robert Jackman, left, and the Rev. Dr. John Blackwell performed the installation. — Compiled by Laura Mann


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