Homecoming Sunday is a tradition at Union Chapel in the Grove, celebrated on Father’s Day. It begins the summer season in “God’s Summer Cottage,” as Stewart Herman called the Chapel. Approximately 10 years ago, the Homecoming Service was expanded to include the annual celebration of the founding of both Shelter Island Heights and the Chapel in 1872, and to remember Heights residents and North Ferry employees who had passed away since last June.
This year’s schedule has been different because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The June services were canceled and the Homecoming/Memorial Service was postponed to August. The July services have been informal, held outdoors to protect the health of those who gather in the Grove. During August and September, services will remain outdoors, but will return to the traditional format of inviting preachers and speakers from different faiths. Fr. Peter DeSanctis, pastor of Our Lady of the Isle, will lead the Homecoming/Heights Memorial on Aug. 2 at 10:30 a.m. Fr. DeSanctis, also a Heights resident, annually preaches at the Chapel; this is his second time leading this service. Baritone Thomas Milton is the guest musician.
The Chapel’s antique bell will toll for those who passed away during the year. John Kenney, president of the Shelter Island Heights Property Owners Corporation, will read the names as the bell tolls: Tom McGriel • Edna Meade • Dorothy Mundy • Patricia Reilly • Peter Williamson • Bill Winship • Judith Winship.
Fr. DeSanctis has been associated with Our Lady of the Isle in various capacities since the 1970s. He is the son of the late Peter and Gloria DeSanctis of Shelter Island and is related to other Islanders. He holds two master’s degrees. He completed basic Army training at Fort Dix; served in the 8th Medical Brigade of the U.S. Army; trained in Walson Army Hospital, the Veterans Administration and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital. He assisted the New York City Medical Examiner’s office and was appointed liaison to the New York Police Department. He also graduated from the Suffolk County Fire Academy.
He is an attending chaplain at Southampton/Stony Brook and Eastern Long Island Hospitals, and assists at Our Lady of the Hamptons Regional Catholic School.
On the Island, Fr. DeSanctis is an assistant coach for the Shelter Island School’s varsity golf team, a clergy member for the All-Faith Youth Group, and an active member of the Fire Department, American Legion and Lions Foundation.
During the statewide shutdown of churches in March due to COVID-19, he had to be creative to keep his parishioners engaged. He participated in livestream Masses for the first time and became the central focus of a newly created and active Facebook page.
When the church reopened, he performed the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation, all while wearing a mask, as did the children who made their sacraments. He currently celebrates an outdoor Mass at the OLOI cemetery and continues to make home visits to parishioners.
On the hottest summer days, when his pastoral duties are done, Fr. DeSanctis is often golfing at Gardiner’s Bay Country Club or Shelter Island Country Club or swimming at the Heights Beach Club.
Baritone Thomas Milton has been the featured soloist many times at Union Chapel. He is an Island resident and cantor at Our Lady of the Isle. He sang at the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, Shelter Island Community Chorus and the Perlman Music Program. He has performed throughout the East End, including the Choral Society of the Hamptons and the Peconic Bay Masterworks Choir.
Looking ahead: Garden Club Memorial Sunday will take place on Aug. 9. The Reverend Samuel T. Clover, associate minister at The Reformed Church of Bronxville, will preach.
All are welcome to Union Chapel on Sunday, Aug. 2 at 10:30 a.m. for interfaith worship outdoors in the leafy Grove.