Parish: St. Bernard’s Catholic Church
Address: 3100 Hempstead Turnpike, Levittown, NY 11756
Sunday Mass schedule: Sat.: 5 p.m.; Sun.: 7:30, 9, and 10:30 a.m., noon, and 5:30 p.m.
Daily Mass schedule: Mon.-Fri.: 7 and 9 a.m.; Sat.: 9 a.m.
Registered families: 5,100
Pastor: Father Gerard A. Ringenback
The tall, glass-bricked tower in the front of St. Bernard’s Church is an easily recognizable landmark on Hempstead Turnpike, its twin giant crosses visible to travelers in either direction. The parish itself was built to serve a community that is a landmark of suburban history — Levittown. Soon after Levitt and Sons began building their planned housing community for World War II veterans and their families in 1947, Brooklyn Bishop Thomas Molloy appointed Father Thomas O’Brien to serve the fast-growing community. When Father O’Brien celebrated the first two parish Masses on November 2, 1948, an overflow crowd of more than 1,200 showed up.
By 1950 the parish had already outgrown its original location and the church and rectory were moved east to a larger piece of land, the church’s present location. A farmhouse and barn were acquired and transformed into the first Center of Religious Education and a convent for the Dominican Sisters from Columbus, Ohio who came to teach the parish children. By the late ’50s, the parish began to raise funds for a school. The building was completed in 1963 and was staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph.
The church, which was originally a converted airplane hangar, had been enlarged and renovated many times over the years, but in May, 1970, a fire severely damaged most of the building. Then-pastor Msgr. Lawrence Ballweg converted the school auditorium into a temporary worship space while the church was being restored. It was rededicated Jan. 21, 1971.
During the pastorate of Msgr. George P. Graham (1981-2001) the church building was declared unsafe and a fundraising campaign was started for a new church — the current building which was dedicated on June 30, 1985.
“The design of the church works well with contemporary liturgy,” said Father Gerard Ringenback, who has been pastor since 2001. Even though the church seats between 700 and 800 people, everyone is close to the altar because of the rounded layout of the pews.
“One of the main focuses of our parish is enabling people to realize their God-given strengths and live them in service to the parish and community,” he said. The parish recently introduced the Spirit of St. Bernard award given at the annual volunteer appreciation party to a person, nominated by fellow parishioners, who embodies the parish spirit of hospitality and generosity.
The parish was founded to serve young families moving into Levitt homes. Today, there are strong efforts to reach and retain young families by providing spiritual, educational and social opportunities for them to be part of St. Bernard. “As the pioneers are aging, we have to make an effort to reach younger generations who have a different experience of Church,” Father Ringenback said.
The parish school was closed in 2005 but the religious education program has over 1,150 students. Charitable KIDZ, an outgrowth of the parish’s strong social ministry program, is made up of young people who volunteer for various fundraising and service events.
Prayer groups, Bible study classes and small faith-sharing communities are part of the parish’s spiritual life and many organizations provide social, recreational and spiritual opportunities for the people of St. Bernard’s.
In January the parish held a “Eucharistic Convocation,” with various workshops to provide long-range preparation for the introduction of the newly revised Roman Missal in November. Over 200 liturgical ministers and other parishioners attended. This was followed up with a six–week homily series on the various elements of the Mass. “We wanted to take advantage of the anticipated changes by enabling parishioners to come to a deeper appreciation of the Eucharist,” Father Ringenback said.