Article by Christopher Joseph Melito
The history of our church traces back to the 1920s when families of Slovak extraction moved to the rural farming community of Deer Park. The migration was sparked by the 1927 housing development known as Slovak Manor that brought settlers of Slavic derivation from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut amongst other regions of New York. To profess their Catholic faith, the group desired to have a sanctuary in their new community. Yet, given their limited financial resources, they chose to acquire an unused frame schoolhouse in 1930. Upon purchasing the structure, it was adapted for liturgical use and relocated to Central Avenue and Seventh Street. With the church building secured, the Catholic faithful of Deer Park appealed for pastoral care to the Diocese of Brooklyn whose territorial boundaries then included all of Long Island. Bishop Thomas E. Molloy was unable to provide an immediate resolution but in 1934, formed a new parish in neighboring Wyandanch. Father Stephen A. Cuddeback was appointed pastor of this new church, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and jointly served as pastor to the mission church in Deer Park. Saint Cyril (born Constantine) and Saint Methodius who enlightened the Slavic people by preaching the Gospel in their native Slavonic tongue were chosen as patrons of the mission.
After the Second World War, Deer Park as did most areas of Long Island experienced some degree of suburban sprawl providing much-needed homes for returning veterans and their families. With new inhabitants to the hamlet, Ss. Cyril and Methodius quickly outgrew the small schoolhouse. On September 8, 1948, construction began on a new building at the Deer Park Avenue location of the current church. Built in colonial-style architecture, the structure was able to seat 340 parishioners and housed an auditorium in its basement with a capacity of 250. The edifice was the design of Henry V. Murphy of Brooklyn and was built by Leslie R. Marchant of Yaphank. On June 19, 1949, Bishop Molloy came to Deer Park and consecrated the newly erected church. However, the 1950s brought continuous expansion to population of Long Island as families and young couples looked to leave the crowded city and settle down in the suburbs. As a result, Deer Park’s Catholic population had grown to the point that our mission church was formally recognized as its own separate parish on July 6, 1956.
By the 1960s, attendance to Holy Mass exceeded the capacity of the colonial-style church which at the time of construction, was projected to meet the needs of a growing community. Nevertheless, Father James J. Behan who was appointed pastor of Ss. Cyril and Methodius at its formal establishment had to begin holding additional Masses at the local movie theater and VFW hall. Combined attendance of the church, theater and VFW hall exceeded 10,000 people each Sunday. Consequently, an entirely new church complex (including a sanctuary, school, rectory and convent) was proposed and quickly erected. The former sanctuary was sold to the Episcopalian community of St. Patrick and was relocated to Carlls Path after the consecration of our new building. At the time, the construction cost the parish $2.25 million (and would translate to approximately $16.4 million in 2011). It was a tremendous endeavor at the time and transformed this once mission church into one of the largest parishes in the Diocese. The church's new school was opened in September 1962 and was staffed by the Sisters of Saint Joseph from Brentwood under guidance of Sister Jeanne Gertrude, the first principal. The community of Sisters had a long affiliation with the mission of Ss. Cyril and Methodius. In fact, this association dated back to the days when the Sisters instructed catechism on Sundays at the original church on Central Avenue under the direction of Father Cuddeback. The Sisters of St. Joseph assisted our parish into the 1970s and their efforts were aided by other communities: the Sisters of St. Dominic in Amityville and the Sisters of St. Ursula in Blue Point. Exactly seven years from the parish’s formal establishment, the new church and entire complex were dedicated on the morning of July 6, 1963. Bishop Walter P. Kellenberg of the newly formed Diocese of Rockville Centre presided over the celebration of the Solemn Pontifical Mass. Concelebrants included Father Cuddeback (who was then pastor of Cure of Ars Church in Merrick), Father Behan and a homily given by Father Martin J. Healy, pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Glen Cove. The new church was of an excessively modern design under the influence of Father Behan and was inspired by liturgical changes at the time. The sanctuary encompassed some classical elements from Greco-Roman churches such as distinct cross-shaped floor plan yet; it was executed with architectural simplicity and a sense of casualness that pervaded the Second Vatican Council. The layout provided all parishioners a view of the high altar, made of imported Italian blue marble. The new building held approximately 1,200 parishioners at Mass and additional 1,000 in a lower church which could be used also as an auditorium, dining room or recreation area.
Following the end of Second Vatican Council in 1965, drastic changes swept throughout the Western church. As our patrons, Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius did centuries earlier in the Greek Rite church, replacing Greek with the vernacular (Slavonic) in the Divine Liturgy; the Council after rewriting the Holy Mass, replaced Latin with the vernacular throughout the dioceses of the Roman Church. The orientation of the altar was also changed, as was the position of the priest in the celebration of the Church’s once ancient rites. Consequently, many architectural changes took place in the sanctuary to accommodate these innovations. As in our past, Ss. Cyril and Methodius Roman Catholic Church continues to be a center of worship and prayer to Deer Park and the surrounding communities.