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Infant Jesus R.C. Church

The Port Jefferson Rotary Club and “Call Brian” Senior Services will sponsor a Friends of the Pantry Food and Personal Care Items Drive at the Open Cupboard Pantry at Infant Jesus Church, 110 Hawkins St., Port Jefferson on Sunday, June 4 from 9 a.m. to noon.

Currently the pantry is in extreme need of juice, pancake mix (complete), pancake syrup, mac & cheese, pasta, pasta sauce, condiments, Maseca flour, cooking oil, cereal, oatmeal, canned fruit, canned mixed vegetables, coffee, tea and healthy snacks.

They are also in need of personal care items such as shampoo, conditioner, feminine products, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, toilet paper, baby wipes, Enfamil formula ad baby lotion. Grocery store gift cards and cash also accepted. For more information, call 631-938-6464.

Kris Kringle and the St. John's Ophan Asylum Band from Brooklyn lead Cheese Club down Port Jefferson's Main Street toward Infant Jesus Roman Catholic Church; charitable organization; gifts for children at St. Charles

The Cheese Club was a charitable organization formed in 1915 and comprised of members of Brooklyn’s Knights of Columbus.

Considered among the leading citizens of Brooklyn, each a “big cheese,” the group’s influential founders self-mockingly referred to themselves as the Cheese Club, though other stories about the name’s origin abound.

The Cheese Club is best known in Port Jefferson for its Christmas pilgrimage to the village, which it made without interruption from 1916-58 despite stormy weather, world wars and the Great Depression.

During each annual holiday visit, the club members gave yuletide gifts to the youngsters at the Brooklyn Home for Blind, Crippled and Defective Children, known today as St. Charles Hospital, and donated money for the year-round comfort of the handicapped boys and girls and their caregivers.

The club members and their entourage typically traveled from Flatbush to Port Jefferson on a specially chartered LIRR train, the Santa Claus Express, made up of coaches and a freight car filled with Christmas presents.

After disembarking at the Port Jefferson railroad station, Kris Kringle and the St. John’s Orphan Asylum Band from Brooklyn led the group as it marched to Infant Jesus R.C. Church at Myrtle and Main to attend Mass.

Christmas postcard. Photo courtesy the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive
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Numbering 400 strong during peak years, the procession then continued to St. Charles Hospital, where the sisters of the Daughters of Wisdom, who operated the hospital and looked after its disabled charges, served a welcoming luncheon.

Following the reception, children at the hospital provided two hours of entertainment, performing as singers, dancers, musicians and actors.

When the talent show ended, Santa Claus and his helpers took the stage and gave each boy and girl a Christmas stocking stuffed with toys, candy, games, clothing and fruit.

The Daughters of Wisdom also received a check to fund various projects at the hospital and on its grounds. Over the years, the money was used to purchase radios, movie projectors and physical therapy equipment for the children, build a sun shelter, defray the costs of a memorial organ, improve the sisters’ living quarters and maintain outdoor Stations of the Cross. 

Following the establishment of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in 1957 out of territory once within the Diocese of Brooklyn, the Cheese Club phased out its holiday visits to Port Jefferson and concentrated on charitable work closer to home.

The Cheese Club was a pioneer in bringing Christmas cheer to the handicapped children hospitalized in Port Jefferson and spurring other religious and nonsectarian organizations to support the disabled youngsters at St. Charles — not just at the holidays but throughout the year.

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of the village.

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Theatre Three will host a food and personal care items drive on Sunday, July 31 from 9 a.m. to noon. Please help those in need during these difficult times. Items will be collected at the Infant Jesus Church food pantry, 110 Hawkins St. (off Myrtle Ave.) in Port Jefferson Village.

At this time, the pantry has an extreme need of the following items: juice, white rice (1 lb and 2 lb bags), coffee, pancake mix (complete), mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, sugar, Maseca corn flour, cooking oil, cereal, oatmeal, canned fruit, black beans and healthy snacks as well as shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, baby wipes and diapers (size 5 & 6). Grocery store gift cards and cash also accepted. 

For more information, please call 631-938-6464.

Just in time for the holidays, Theatre Three in Port Jefferson hosts its 2nd annual Toy and Gift Drive for Open Cupboard at Infant Jesus R.C. Church on Sunday, Dec. 5. Please note new drop off location! They will be collecting unwrapped toys and gifts at the old Infant Jesus Convent Building at 110 Hawkins Street, Port Jefferson from 9 a.m. to noon. Examples of needed items include puzzles, board games, dolls (baby, Barbie, Frozen), soccer balls, basketballs, arts and crafts, Legos, Paw Patrol, LOL Surprise, jewelry making kits and Beyblades. Call 631-938-6464 for further details.

Theatre Three in Port Jefferson will hold a Theatre Three Cares Food and Personal Care Items Drive to benefit the Open Cupboard food pantry at Infant Jesus Church on Sunday, August 1. Please note new location: They will be collecting donations at the Infant Jesus Convent Building at 110 Hawkins Street (off Myrtle Avenue) in Port Jefferson from 9 a.m. to noon. Please help those in need. The following items are in low supply and greatly appreciated:

FOOD ITEMS: Juice, Mustard, Mayonnaise, Ketchup, Sugar, All Purpose Flour, Maseca Corn Flour, Cooking Oil, Mac & Cheese, Canned Pasta, Pasta Sauce, Boxed Milk, Tuna, Peanut Butter, Jelly, Coffee, Oatmeal, Pancake Mix, Pancake Syrup, Black Beans, Rice (1# and 2# bags/boxes), Canned Fruit, Healthy Snacks, Fresh Chicken, Fresh Ground Beef & Hot Dogs.

TOILETRIES: Shampoo, Conditioner, Soap, Deodorant, Toothbrushes, Toothpaste, Feminine Pads, Toilet Paper, and Razors

BABY ITEMS: Diapers Size 4 & 5, Pull Ups Size 4T-5T, Baby Shampoo, Baby Wash, Baby Wipes, Baby Powder, Desitin and Lotion

They are also accepting donations of grocery store gift cards and cash to purchase whatever else is needed. If you prefer, you can remain in your vehicle for a contact-free drop off. For more information, call Brian at 631-938-6464.

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Theatre Three Food Drive

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson kicks off the new year with a Theatre Three Cares food and personal care items drive to benefit the Open Cupboard food pantry at Infant Jesus Church on Saturday, Jan. 23 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Food items needed include Mac & cheese, canned pasta, peanut butter, jelly, coffee, sugar, flour, mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, cooking oil, oatmeal, cereal, black and red beans, boxed milk, juice, canned fruit, healthy snacks, fresh chicken and ground beef and hot dogs.

Personal care items needed include shampoo, conditioner, soap, baby shampoo, baby wipes, deoderant, toothbrushes and toothpaste. 

Donations will be collected in the back of the theater on the south side of the building. They are also accepting donations of grocery store gift cards and cash to purchase whatever else is needed. If you prefer, you can remain in your vehicle for a contact-free drop off. For more information, call Brian at 631-938-6464.

Volunteers from Theatre Three gathered food and other assorted items for the Open Cupboard Food Pantry out of the Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson on Dec. 12. by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

It might be the spirit of giving, or perhaps the lingering essense of Scrooge’s final transformation, but Theatre Three’s latest food drive of the year may have been their biggest one yet.

Even with Theatre Three having been effectively shut down because of COVID, its board members, staff and volunteers have continued to work to better the community. The group gathered food and other assorted items for the Open Cupboard Food Pantry out of the Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson Dec. 12. Their efforts stuffed the theater van plus a Toyota 4Runner with food a total of four times in just a few short hours. Well over 100 cars showed up, despite the rain, to offer the theater what they could.

For the holiday season, the group also hosted a toy drive, in which families from all over gave some pretty significant items.

“The toys, they were good quality toys — Star Wars, LEGOs, good stuff,” said Brian Hoerger, a board member and facilities manager for Theatre Three. Hoerger helped start the string of food drives this year after the beginning of the pandemic, when he and other community members donated 15 iPads to local hospitals. Those devices were desperately needed at the pandemic’s height, when patients needed them to communicate with family members no longer allowed inside hospital rooms. 

Though this is the sixth food drive held through Theatre Three, this latest effort ended the year with a bang.

“There was a lot of stuff today — we’re very happy,” said Theatre Three’s Executive Director Jeffrey Sanzel. “This was one of our most successful drives since the first one.”

The drive also gained over $900 in cash donations plus nearly $600 worth of gift cards. The day’s efforts were so successful that Hoerger held a second drive the following day for all the persons who could not come out on Saturday. The Theatre Three facility manager used some of the cash funds to purchase additional food for Open Cupboard.

Updated: The group will host another food drive on Saturday, January 23 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. outside Theatre Three. For more information, call 631-938-6464.

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Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson hosts a food and personal care items drive on Saturday, Aug. 22 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to help stock the pantry at Infant Jesus R.C. Church in the village. Items needed and greatly appreciated include mac & cheese, canned tuna, bags of white rice, coffee, sugar, flour, pancake mix, pancake syrup, oatmeal, mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, cooking oil, boxed milk, fresh chicken and ground beef, hot dogs, juice, healthy snacks, grocery store gift cards, shampoo, conditioner, soap and baby wipes. Please no pasta, peanut butter or cereal. A table will be set up in the back on the south side of the theater for donation drop-offs. Rain date is Aug. 23.

The Our Lady of Wisdom Regional School is closing at the end of this school year, according to the Diocese of Rockville Center. Photo by Kyle Barr

Our Lady of Wisdom Regional School in Port Jefferson will have closed by the end of the school year and will not reopen for fall2020. The coronavirus pandemic has hurt the institution, and Catholic officials said COVID-19 has exacerbated issues of progressively lagging enrollment.

The Our Lady of Wisdom Regional School is closing at the end of this school year, according to the Diocese of Rockville Center. Photo by Kyle Barr

According to a release by the Diocese of Rockville Centre, the school, located on the grounds of the Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jeff, along with two other Catholic schools on Long Island, have suffered from increased competition from public and other secular schools. This has led to more and more financial support needed from local parishes.

“Following much analysis and discussion with stakeholders at both the diocesan and parish levels, the pastors of the parishes that support each school have made the difficult decision to close,” the diocese states in the release.

Parents will need to work with the diocese’s Department of Education and other school officials to enroll their kids in different Catholic schools on Long Island.

“COVID-19 has had a significant financial impact on all of the parishes and schools within the diocese, resulting in the difficult decision to close these three Catholic elementary schools in order to eliminate the unsustainable financial stress on their parishes,” said Sean Dolan, a diocese spokesperson.

The diocese said in the release the school has declined in enrollment by 37 percent to just 66 students in kindergarten through eighthgrade. It is 31 percent, or 79 students, if you consider students from nursery through eighth-grade.

The school was financially supported by four local parishes, including Infant Jesus, St. Gerard Majella in Port Jefferson Station, St. James R.C. Church in Setauket and the St. Louis de Montfort in Sound Beach. The diocese said the four supporting parishes provide around $475,000 in operating support to the school, which accounts for more than 45 percent of the school’s total revenues. 

Our Lady of Wisdom Principal John Piropato and other school leaders did not return requests for comment.

The school was established by the Daughters of Wisdom, an order that has deep ties to Long Island, in 1938, then called the Infant Jesus Parish School. It was renamed to Our Lady of Wisdom in 1991. The sisterhood was largely uninvolved with it once it became a regional school, according to Sr. Cathy Sheehan of the Daughters of Wisdom.

Remembering Infant Jesus School

For the many students who went there over the past 80 years, many remember it as a strict place of learning, whether that fostered a sense of discipline or a harsh atmosphere. Once it transformed into a regional school, many said the place fostered a unique sense of community one couldn’t get from the other expanding school districts on Long Island.

Displants from the Port Jefferson/PJS area, folks who live as far away as New Mexico, chimed in remembering their old school.

Eileen Powers-Benedict said going to the Infant Jesus School engendered a strong sense of order that helped them get ahead in their school careers. The oldest of nine children, five brothers and three sisters, she would enter the school in 1961 while the last of the Powers children would graduate in 1985. Her father, William Powers, a deacon, was a frequent clergy visitor. Her mother, Tatty Powers, was a volunteer who did readings to those in prekindergarten through first grade. Powers-Benedict’s three children also went through the school.

She said while she understands why the school had to close, she is disappointed other parents will never have the choice to send their children there.

“The education for my siblings and me was all business, some of us came out a year ahead in foreign language and mathematics, although individualized instruction was not in style,” she said. “There was a tremendous air of compassion that supported students and their families in times of trouble and strife.” 

Michael Langan, who now lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut, was one of six children of World War II veterans Robert and Elizabeth Langan. He would graduate from the Infant Jesus School in 1968. 

He remembers even before the convent went up next to Infant Jesus church in the late ‘60s, when the nuns lived at a convent at St. Charles Hospital. The nuns would walk to the school or have a station wagon take them in bad weather.

Many of the nuns who taught at the school when he was there, Langan said, originated from Ontario, Canada. Many had marked French accents. Back then, he said behavioral discipline was very much the norm, including some amount of corporal punishment. 

“But in fact that was true of public and parochial schools back in the ’50s and ’60s,” he said,

Back then, he remembers, class sizes were much larger than today, with around 50 students.

One particular nun, Sr. Mary, he said, had “a beautiful soul — emblematic of the dedication of the Daughters of Wisdom who served the people of the Port Jefferson area for so many years.” She passed away this year on April 8.  

Not everyone accepted the nun’s punishment lightly. Deborah Keating, who now lives in Florida, said she graduated eighth-grade from the school in ’69, describing it as “a nightmare,” saying that some nuns could be abusive.

“Sr. Ann Michael, if you saw her coming, you knew you had better pray for your life,” Keating said. 

Though at the same time, her brother, who she said had Down syndrome, attended the Maryhaven facility in Port Jeff, which is also run by the Catholic church. There, she said the staff was very kind to him, and he went on to work as a janitor in the Maryhaven facility, He has since retired after working there 25 years, and lives with Keating at her home in Florida.

Things did change, especially as the years went by and the school changed names and leadership. MaryKate Henry, who lives in Babylon village, grew up in a middle-class household in Coram that she said worked hard to provide the Our Lady of Wisdom tuition for her and her siblings. She went there as it transformed into a regional school, and graduated eighth-grade in 2000 with a class of just 19. Her largest class size was in fourth=grade with 36 kids taught by one teacher. To this day, she still has friends that went there in her elementary years.

“That’s what I loved about OLOW — as we called it — everybody knew everybody, who your parents were and what they did and everyone was there for each other,” she said.

Faith was very much a part of the Catholic school, and she said that sense of religiousness has carried over into today. Her kids now attend the Babylon school district, and with a relatively small class size, she said it’s one of the things she hopes to have for her kids, a place that fosters community.

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Rev. Patrick Riegger, pastor at Infant Jesus, says hello to churchgoers Sunday, May 24. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though those of many different faiths and houses of worship readily await the time when congregations can meet again after the pandemic finally slows down, one Port Jefferson church has found a way to give its hundreds of parishioners the sort of connectivity they’ve lacked since the start of the crisis.

Rev. Rolando Ticllasuca gives drivers the blessed sacrement. Photo by Kyle Barr

Volunteers and staff from the Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson directed traffic along Main Street in front of the driveway to the parish. It’s a Sunday morning, May 24, and hundreds of vehicles pull up the ramp into the church’s parking lot. Some Sundays, the line stretches all the way up the road to the PJ Lobster House at the corner of Main Street and North Country Road. It’s a mix of old and young, big SUVs and compacts, but nearly all smile as they say “hello” to their pastors and receive a drive-through version of the Blessed Sacrament from the Rev. Rolando Ticllasuca. 

The scene has largely remained the same every Sunday for the six weeks since Easter. It offers that small bit of community connection for the parishioners living in the area, so many of whom have been cooped up at home, working through the anxieties of the ongoing pandemic.

The Rev. Patrick Riegger, pastor at Infant Jesus, knows nearly every person in each vehicle on sight, even through their face coverings and masks. He said church members, of whom the total families number close to 5,000, find that the event helps them reconnect with their community.

“It shows support for them during these unprecedented times,” Riegger said. “For the last six weeks, this is where the community has been, here at Infant Jesus.”

New Infant Jesus seminarian Jonathan Pham helps direct traffic into Infant Jesus R.C. Church’s drive-through Sunday service. Photo by Kyle Barr

He said the weekly event started when church members Peter and Karen Helfrich suggested they host some kind of event for Easter to allow members to participate in some way on the holiday. Performing the event the following Sunday, parish staff were surprised by just how many continued to come out. Week after week, 300, 400 or even 500 vehicles show up from all over the local area in the three-hour period the service is hosted. It may not be the same people every single week, but many have returned once or twice over the span of the service. With the fact that cars often contain families, members estimated they likely receive over 1,000 people a week.

Michael Dyroff, a commissioner with the Terryville Fire Department and lifelong church member, came to the drive-through service with his wife Debbie and said they are “blessed” to have the religious staff willing to perform the service.

“It’s a way of connecting with folks,” Dyroff said. “It’s a wonderful idea.”

The church relies on staff and volunteers, including from the local Knights of Columbus, to help direct traffic up from Main Street and around through the parking lot. Members in their cars keep a distance from the clergy and receive the Blessed Sacrament from afar. 

Corrine Addiss, the head of religious education for the church, stood outside helping to direct traffic. She said the number of cars coming through really starts to pick up after 9:30 a.m. She thanked the volunteers who “could be in bed, sleeping,” but are instead helping their parish. 

Cars line up the driveway for the Infant Jesus Chruch’s drive through church services. Photo by Kyle Barr

Of course, it will not make up for a real service hosted inside a church, but it may be several more weeks or even months before that can begin. Perhaps most important for Riegger is the act of communion, which hasn’t been hosted since the church was closed to anything but private prayer back in March. 

Even when churches open, it may be very different than what churchgoers are used to. The Archdiocese of New York released a five-phase reopening plan May 21 that included first opening for private prayer and confessions, before moving on to attendee-limited baptisms and marriages, distributing Holy Communion outside of Mass, then hosting limited daily or funeral services before finally allowing Sunday services at a maximum of 25 percent the usual occupancy. 

Riegger said they would be following New York State’s and the Archdiocese of New York’s guidelines. 

Still, Infant Jesus plans to keep the drive-through church service alive as long as the pandemic and shutdown order mandates people keep apart. That might include pews marked with tape to keep people from sitting too close, or communion being done wearing gloves and a mask.

“When you have a crisis like this, where everything’s closed down, how do you give them that sense of community, that sense of assurance that God is with them?” said Dominik Wegiel, a seminarian at Infant Jesus. “This is our sort of our way of connecting them to the parish, connecting them to the community, but more importantly connecting them in that God is with us even in these times.”