754 Montauk Highway, Islip, NY 11751-3696
St. Mark's was organized in 1847 as a mission of St. John's Church, which still stands on Montauk Highway in Oakdale. The first cornerstone is dated July 4, 1847. It was a popular and successful parish from the beginning and over the years founded five other churches in the area: Christ Church, Babylon; St. Peter's Church, Bay Shore; Emmanuel Church, Great River; The Church of the Messiah, Central Islip; and Christ Church, Brentwood.
The original church building was white clapboard with a square steeple at the front and was sold to St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in East Islip in 1879 for use as a meeting hall. We have only a partial picture of that building, showing the steeple between other buildings, on a circa 1912 post card of East Islip village. The Vestry minutes of the early years were very short and to the point. In 1879 they state that William K. Vanderbilt was appointed as a committee of one to erect a new church building. The next mention of the church is in a newspaper clipping in our archives telling of the 1880 consecration of the present building by Bishop Littlejohn at a gala ceremony. Richard Morris Hunt was the architect for the church and rectory. Ten years later there is a handwritten letter from William K. Vanderbilt, in its original envelope with a one cent stamp, offering to enlarge the building if the Vestry would agree that the new pews would be "forever free". In 1890 the church was enlarged, doubling the seating. Also, in 1890, the parish house was designed by Isaac H. Green of Sayville, a noted Long Island Beaux-Arts architect. In addition to the generosity of W. K. Vanderbilt, gifts were received from many people, including Harry B. Hollins, H. Duncan Wood, R. F. Cutting, William Bayard Cutting, and the employees of W. K. Vanderbilt.
Our archives are full of interesting information about the parish, its early membership and history.
The minutes of the early Vestry meetings indicate that there was much more activity during the summer months than in the winter because many of the parishioners were members of New York Society who had summer estates on the south shore of Long Island. They were members of the Vestry and the main supporters of the parish. Money was raised in those days by pew rentals rather than pledges and the shortfall was made up by Vestry members at the end of the year. The building was divided in two by a large hanging during the winter months to keep the smaller congregation warm at the front of the church.
The Crusaders Cross used in processions dates from the 14th century. The beautiful stained glass windows in the church have been given as memorials over the years. They represent the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany, NY; Hardman Studio, England; Connick Studio, Boston; Willet Studios, Philadelphia; Heaton, Butter and Bayne, London; and Mayer and Company, Munich. When the church was built only the windows toward the front of the building had been contributed as memorials so simple stained glass windows of rondeles were installed, to be replaced, according to Richard Morris Hunt's plan, as new memorials where contributed. The final memorial window, designed by Cushen Studio, East Marion, Long Island, was dedicated on May 16, 1993, in memory of Marion Wharton Hallock, who had lived her entire life on St. Mark's Lane and was an active member of St. Mark's parish.
In 1978 The Reverend Jerome J. Nedelka was called to St. Mark's as its eleventh rector. Shortly after their arrival, Mrs. Nedelka organized a preschool at St. Mark's which is open to all the community, and is still in operation. Other outreach programs supported by the parish include the Thrift Shop, a Casserole Ministry for the sick, and Holiday Food Baskets for the needy. Troop 151 of the Boy Scouts of America ha5 been Sponsored by St. Mark's since early in the century. The Babylon Choral, Defensive Driver Education, East Islip Anglers, and the U.S. Power squadron also meet at St. Mark's. The Sons of Norway hold their annual memorial service in the church each May.
In June, 1980, the l00th anniversary of the Church building and rectory was celebrated. On December 5, 1989, the church building was extensively damaged by an arson fire. Father Nedelka and the Vestry immediately organized committees and began working toward rebuilding. Not only did we learn a lot about construction, we also learned about ourselves as a parish, so that out of a devastating experience came renewed closeness, new friendships, and unity. The congregation and surrounding community were quick to come to the aid of the parish. For example, the Sunday following the fire the offering plate was passed at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in East Islip and more than $9,000.00 was donated to help us rebuild. This was only one of many contributions by area churches, temples, businesses, and members of the community, from next door to California and England. The first service was held in the rebuilt church on Thursday, February 27, 1992. The Bishop of Long Island, The Rt. Rev. Orris G. Walker, Jr., presided at a Celebration of Dedication on May 10, 1992. Church construction in 1880 cost William K. Vanderbilt $15,900.00. It cost more than $2,000,000.00 to restore the building following the arson fire in 1989.
The world famous stained glass windows were heavily damaged by the fire but, due to the care taken by the members of the Islip Fire Department, the pieces of each window were kept together. Members of the congregation, using kitchen strainers, sifted through the wet ashes to find all the pieces. Under the leadership of Jack Cushen Studios, of East Marion, Long Island, the windows were restored and are ninety-five percent original. During the 1960’s Hathaway Scully organized a group to create a needlepoint frontal for the altar and kneelers for the sanctuary. The needlepoint, except for the frontal, was damaged by varnish melting from the ceiling during the fire. Willoughby Royce organized a group to replace the needlepoint and donated all the materials. She secured designs, organized classes, and kept track of the work. When her project was completed the sanctuary and nave needlepoint had been replaced and kneelers had been created for every pew, 264 kneelers. The electronic organ, which had been installed in 1967, and the chimes given by Veterans of the parish in memory of those who gave their lives in World War II, was also destroyed by the fire. The organ was replaced with a Wicks Pipe Organ. The six ton church bell which was used by the Islip Fired Department in the 1880's to notify townspeople of a fire was not damaged by the church fire. It can be seen over the church entrance on St. Mark's Lane.
The parish celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1997 with yearlong events, culminating with a Gala Dinner Dance on Saturday, October 4th, and a Festival Eucharist on Saturday, November 16th. Appropriately, the Gala Dinner Dance was held at Dowling College, Oakdale, the former home of William K. Vanderbilt. In 1998 another well attended Dinner Dance was held at Timber Point Country Club to celebrate Father Nedelka's twentieth anniversary as Rector. In 1980 Father Nedelka was appointed Dean of the Atlantic Deanery, and in 1998 he was appointed Archdeacon of Suffolk County.
We give thanks to all the stewards throughout our history, from the original organizers, down through the years to those who helped us rebuild, for their care and love of St. Mark's.
Nancy A. Heine,