Parish: St. Thomas the Apostle Church
Address: 24 Westminster Road, West Hempstead, N.Y. 11552
Sunday Mass schedule: Church: Sat. 5 p.m.; Sunday: 9, 10:30 a.m., noon and 6 p.m.
Chapel: 7:30, 9:30 and 11 a.m.; 12:30 p.m.
Daily Mass schedule: hurch 7:45 a.m. daily; 9 a.m. Tues, Thursday, Saturday
Chapel: 9 a.m. Mon, Wed., Fri. (all 9 a.m. Masses are in the church during winter months)
Registered families: 2,900
Pastor: Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco
St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Hempstead was founded in 1931. Its first pastor, Father Joseph Smith, chose the name to honor the patron of then-Bishop Thomas Molloy. With the Depression on, Father Smith was afraid the parish would not be able to build a permanent church, but by Christmas 1934, the first Mass was celebrated in the stone Tudor-Gothic style structure which still stands at the corner of Westminster and Argyle Roads, near the northern boundary of the parish.
In the 1940s, a Republican club building near the southern boundary of the parish was converted into a chapel to serve the growing congregation. That building was razed to make room for the Southern State Parkway and replaced with a permanent chapel completed in 1955. A school, staffed by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was established in 1950.
Father Smith (later Msgr.) remained pastor until his death in 1966. He was followed by Msgr. Richard A. Walsh from January 1967 to June 1978, then Msgr. William Costello until 1980. Msgr. John Martin served as pastor from 1990 until 1996. He was succeeded by Msgr. James Lisante, who grew up directly across the street from St. Thomas church.
The current pastor, Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, who succeeded Msgr. Lisante in June 2008, said that as a “native son,” Msgr. Lisante was a part of the community in a special way which enhanced the family nature and sense of cohesiveness of the parish. “That spirit remains,” according to Msgr. Manciscalco, who strives to build on it by making sure every family knows they are important to the parish.
Even with two worship spaces located nearly two miles apart, “there is a nice feeling of closeness in the parish,” he said. “It is a family spirit and the people have a good feel for the church and being part of it. Many families have been active here for several generations.”
The chapel seats less than 400, while the church holds 800. “I find it interesting that as pastor of one parish, I have two distinct places. On a weekend when I preach at both it’s a different experience. The chapel is more familiar. At the church, you need to be more of an orator.” But, most importantly, having two buildings is not divisive, he noted. “I always stress that the parish isn’t the buildings; the parish is every Catholic household.”
With that in mind, when he came to St. Thomas, Msgr. Maniscalco hired Cindy Sobiesiak in the newly created position as director of parish growth, and with the help of a group of seminarians, conducted a door-to-door parish census.
Sobiesiak’s job is not about financial growth, he explained, but spreading the faith and helping the people of the parish grow. This involves some traditional ministries such as the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and Come Home for Christmas programs, and new initiatives, such as keeping in contact with college students who live away from the parish.
This past summer, the parish hosted a series of neighborhood Masses at various parishioners’ homes and a parish photo album is currently being produced to help people get to know each other better.
St. Thomas has many volunteers and service organizations including Human Services, St. Vincent de Paul Society, bereavement and consolation ministers, and MOST (Mothers of St. Thomas). There are Padre Pio and Divine Mercy prayer groups. In the church there is a St. Therese Shrine containing a first class relic, and a St. Patrick shrine where prayers for vocations are encouraged.
In recent years there has been a growth in the number of Orthodox Jewish families in the area who have replaced some of the Catholic families, but there are still close to 3,000 registered parishioners. There are currently 455 children enrolled in the parish school and another 567 in religious education