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St. Mary's Episcopal Church
St. Mary’s Church, 315 Lake Shore Road, Lake Ronkonkoma 11779. Organized as a mission on June 1, 1867; admitted as a parish in 1972.
Institutional and Clerical Summary:
Although founded in 1867, just after the Civil War, St. Mary’s only became a parish in 1972. After an auspicious beginning, underwritten by wealthy parishioners (at least -- but perhaps only – the families of John Henry Puleston and his brother-in-law John Bruce Ford), the church declined in 1873; this after an unnamed supporter (who may have been Puleston) left St. Mary’s. In subsequent years, the church nearly died. When it revived it did so weakly, in effect becoming a summer chapel. It finally began to flourish in the 1920s, and did so especially under the founding rector, the Rev. Edward A. Wisbauer, who served from 1958 to 1996. The church reached its peak number of communicants to date in the 1990s, much after most other Episcopal churches in the diocese had started to show declining numbers. The church will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2017.
Property and Buildings Summary:
The property on which the church sits has been altered (chiefly expanded) since the church began. The core property is Suffolk, Book 162, Page 228, Grantee Section. The 1867 church was destroyed in 1972, before the present church was erected. The 1867 church had in it a bishop’s chair given by Puleston, and this chair may still be in existence.
There is a 1984 history of St. Mary’s Church by then rector the Rev. Edward A. Wisbauer, in which he speaks of himself in the third person (www.stmarysonthelke.org/HTML/StMarysCompleteHistory.org ). I have used it extensively in this history, and when I cite from it, I will refer to it as Wibauer’s history. Wisbauer’s history gives the origins of the church, basing it on the records of Fr. John Tilley, who served the church from 1917 to June 1941:
For a short time prior to 1867 in the wake of the Civil War, Episcopalians in the rural Lake area worshipped in the Lake Ronkonkoma Schoolhouse at Five Corners. … According to records of Father John Tilley, in June of 1867 a meeting was held by the congregation and plans were made to build a Church. … Father Tilley records that the mission Church was completed and the first Service held on the last Sunday of 1867.
In the parochial report for St. James’ Church, Smithtown, in the journal of the September 1867 convention of the Diocese of New York, I find the first mention of Episcopal worship at Lake Ronkonkoma in a diocesan journal. The Rev. Charles S. Williams says of it only “the Rector has charge of St. Mary’s Parish, Ronkonkoma,recently organized. A Church has been erected” (p. 252). According to a clipping in the Diocesan Archives for the church, Episcopal work in the area began in 1865, and the first service in the church was held on Christmas Eve, 1867.