Written by Pete Sheehan Thursday, 13 June 2013 00:00
When Msgr. Ralph Sommer was growing up he found inspiration from the example of his uncle, Father Ralph Besendorfer. “He was a Brooklyn priest,” said Msgr. Sommer, who is known to parishioners as “Father Sommer” or “Father Ralph.”
“My uncle was a most powerful and delightful influence, happy, caring, and helpful,” said Father Sommer, outgoing pastor of St. Brigid’s Church, in Westbury. “I would look at him and say, ‘I could do that.’”
For a number of years, Father Besendorfer would come out to St. Bernard’s in Levittown on weekends to assist.
Now, Father Sommer finds himself about to become pastor of St. Bernard’s on June 26, succeeding Msgr. Gerard Ringenback, pastor of St. Bernard’s since 2001.
He doesn’t know if anyone at St. Bernard’s will remember his uncle, Father Sommer said, but “if I meet people who remember him from that time, it will be a nice thing.”
Born in Flushing, Queens, Father Sommer grew up in Garden City, attending St. Anne’s School. He advanced to St. Pius X Preparatory Seminary, a high school for young men considering the priesthood.
“It was a caring community,” with priest-instructors and students who shared an interest in exploring the priesthood.
For college, he left the seminary system for Adelphi University near his home. “I walked every day. We didn’t have another car.”
Adelphi offered an opportunity to test his vocation. He majored in psychology, “which I thought would help me if I became a priest.”
After Adelphi, he returned to priestly studies at Immaculate Conception Seminary, Huntington. Upon graduation, he was ordained a priest in 1983.
Since ordination, he has served in various assignments, including associate pastor of Our Holy Redeemer, Freeport, and St. Thomas More, Hauppauge.
For several years, he chaired a diocesan evangelization committee, which promoted the idea that ordinary Catholics as well as clergy and Church staff could share their faith and promote the Gospel in the course of their everyday lives and ministries.
He also headed a diocesan effort, Renew 2000, which fostered development of small faith-sharing groups in the individual parishes to help parishioners deepen their faith and draw more people into active involvement in the Church.
In 2001, Father Sommer came to St. Brigid’s, his first pastorate, a marked contrast from his experience in the larger, more homogeneous St. Thomas in Hauppauge.
"At St. Brigid’s we have Masses in four languages — Spanish, Creole, Italian, and English,” Father Sommer said. In addition, there are parishioners of African-American, Philippine, Indian, and other Asian birth or ancestry.
Though it was different, “I felt like I belonged here,” he said. “I learned more about God by learning how other people experience God in their lives.”
He was also impressed by the generosity and graciousness of the people and the staff of the parish, which supports a range of services and ministries for the people of the parish and beyond.
Shortly after his arrival came the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. “It was devastating for us. We had eight funerals” for victims of the attack for which the body could not even be present for the funeral. “In addition, many of the parishioners lost other family and friends in the attack.”
Yet the parish came together and drew support from each other, Father Sommer said. The news of sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church was also shocking, yet the parish dealt with that together as well.
One difficulty he has found as pastor, as opposed to his years as an associate pastor, is the additional responsibilities the pastor has for administering the finances, facilities, and staff of the parish.
“I find that it is more difficult to ‘pastor’ the people, to serve as shepherd of the parish,” Father Sommer said, when he has less time to be with the people.
Though he has been happy as pastor at St. Brigid’s, Father Sommer said that he looks forward to going to St. Bernard’s. St. Brigid’s and St. Bernard’s each have a transition team to help the respective pastors, staff, and parishioners know what to expect.
One constant he has found throughout his parishes, Father Sommer said, “is the ability to celebrate Mass everyday and be with people in the joys and struggles of their lives.”
Friday, 11 July 2014 08:42
As the high school seniors depart on their own adventures, so too, do students finishing fifth and eighth grades, look to the road ahead.
Last June, students in the Levittown Public School District’s six elementary and two middle schools celebrated a new chapter in their academic careers with a host of celebratory speeches and awards from exemplary students in the district. In celebration of Moving Up Day, the Levittown Tribune takes a look at some of the academic accomplishments from students “moving up” out of elementary and middle school.
For more on Levittown’s Moving Up Day ceremonies, see page 28A.
Friday, 11 July 2014 08:42
Sebastian, a two year-old pit mix with chocolate and caramel fur, wags his tail and splashes inside of a kiddie pool outside of the Forgotten Friends of Long Island rescue center in Levittown. The energetic pup is looking for a home, just like the four other dogs housed at this location in the basement of the Animal Hospital at 4 East Village Green.
“He’s good with other dogs and actually likes cats,” said Beth Marzo of Plainview, a dog coordinator at Forgotten Friends of Long Island. Sebastian was rescued from the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter where he lived for one year.
Thursday, 17 July 2014 00:00
Runners and walkers from Levittown and all over Long Island and beyond are invited to join in the fun on one of the most unusual 5 Kilometer courses on Long Island at the Saturday, August 9th Lynn, Gartner, Dunne & Covello Sands Point Sprint.
The Run presents the Long Island running community with an opportunity to traverse a unique combination of paved paths and runner-friendly woodland trails at the Sands Point Preserve.
The leading Nassau County law firm of Lynn, Gartner, Dunne & Covello has signed on to be the new lead sponsor of the event, with partner John Dunne and his wife planning on running the 5K distance. The Lynbrook Runner’s Stop will be back as the presenting sponsor.
Thursday, 17 July 2014 00:00
Four MacArthur High School senior varsity lacrosse players have recently signed National Letters of Intent to continue playing their sport on the collegiate level. Parents and faculty accompanied Mary Kate Butler, Alex Goodelman, Kelly McQuail and Samantha Santeramo as they signed an agreement to play lacrosse at Farmingdale State College, Hartwick College, Dowling College and Bryant University, respectively.
— Submitted by the Levittown Public School District