The Church of the North American Martyrs in Lake Peekskill was founded in 1937 and dedicated to eight French Jesuits whose “sacred memory is honored in the name given to the church.” In 1950, it became a mission of St. Columbanus parish, Cortlandt Manor, when that parish was founded.
“The people who go to Mass here are very attached to it,” Father Francis Samoylo, the pastor of St. Columbanus since 2009, said in a recent interview.
“It has a unique construction. The people feel at home here. It’s very warm; the people just love it. They feel like this is their church.”
Father Samoylo noted that the Stations of the Cross are Indian tom-toms (drums), each with a station image painted on it —and that Jesus and the other figures are depicted with Native American features and clothing.
Frederick Necker, an architect, designed the church, in a project overseen by then-Father Patrick O’Leary, who was pastor of St. Patrick’s parish in Yorktown Heights. Father O’Leary, who was later elevated to monsignor, was said to be “a guiding spirit” in the construction of the Church of the North American Martyrs. When the church was established in 1937, it was originally a mission of St. Patrick’s.
Near the tabernacle, there are vigil candles that rest in a Native American canoe. The church interior features a stockade effect with long poles. As for the martyrs, Father Samoylo said, “They were all French Jesuits; they were missionaries who came from France to evangelize upstate New York and Canada, the Ontario area.”
The eight French Jesuits, all of whom were canonized as saints, were killed by members of the Iroquois Tribes between 1642 and 1649. They were Rene Goupil, Isaac Jogues, John de Lalande, Anthony Daniel, John de Brebeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, Charles Garnier and Noel Chabanel. Oct. 19 is their feast day.
Father Samoylo said his parishioners are mostly of German, Irish and Italian background. Others are Hispanic, Filipino and African-American. Families and individuals are a mix of all age groups.
“The houses here used to be summer cottages; now it’s all permanent,” Father Samoylo said. He said St. Columbanus Church and the North American Martyrs mission have many active volunteers, including members of the Knights of Columbus who have led repair projects over the years.
The Martyrs mission church has a seating capacity of about 200, while St. Columbanus seats about 770. All Masses are in English except for a Sunday afternoon Latin Mass.
The Masses at the Martyrs mission church are Saturday Vigil at 5 p.m., and Sundays, 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Two Masses are also offered on holy days.
Bobby Sellazzo, 69, is a longtime parishioner. “I’ve been the usher at the 5 o’clock Mass for over 30 years,” he said in a phone interview last week. The married father of two and grandfather of one works as a sales manager.
“It’s a smaller church, and people who attend Mass there feel comfortable there. I see the same people week after week, and if they have visitors, they bring them to the church.”
Sellazzo, who is a member of the Knights of Columbus, said he and many others like the Native American effect, as well as the church’s coziness. “It’s a very unique church; it’s such a different kind of church…And people make it special also; the people who come here, they know each other and they build camaraderie. It leads to that kind of social aspect to the church.”
Margaret Roche, a lifelong parishioner, said the parish community has been a special place for her family.
“My mom and dad had nine children, and we all came here; this is a close-knit parish community. My mom is still alive; she’s going to be 94 in September. And she’s still active in the parish,” said Mrs. Roche, 59, a married mother of three who is the administrative assistant at St. Columbanus School. The regional school serves students from pre-K-3 to eighth grade.
As for the mission church, Mrs. Roche said, “It’s a very nice church, very historical. It’s beautiful.”
Tom Flanagan, a longtime active volunteer at the Martyrs mission church, said, “It’s an Iroquois longhouse replica; it’s cozy – has a friendly feel to it. A lot of people like its shape and design.”