The Greek Americans of Mattituck, Long Island: Part 2

Power point slide presentation by speakers. Photo by Stavroula Nicolas Raia
Powerpoint slide presentation by speakers. Photo by Stavroula Nicolas Raia

A power point presentation of the groundbreaking in 1969 inspired the lecture audience to get up and point to persons they knew. The rich iconography was described by Rev. Makrinos. The altar was hand-carved by Konstantinos Pilarinos and donated by the Late Peter Phillips. The platytera (ceiling icons) in the altar sanctuary were drawn by the late Rev. Spilios of Brooklyn. Theodore Filipakis created the iconography in the Cretan style. Icons were donated by parishioners from different Greek monasteries. The original contract of the altar from the papers of the late Cleo P. Tsounis, parish council president from 1986-87 and church secretary who donated her services indicates: September 2, 1988, a woodcarver iconostasis in the Byzantine style will be hand-carved; size 45’x9’ with a height of 13″ for $58,500. At that time, one could buy two houses in Mattituck for that price.

On May 16, 1987, Mrs. Tsounis asked Lilco Chairman William J. Catacosinos for a three-phase service to cool the church. Paul J. Walsh of commercial & Industrial Services Department replied “I regret to advise you that we will be unable to provide the donation you seek. However, I have asked Mr. H.A. Hagemeyer, Eastern Suffolk division Manager, to review your requirements concerning the three-phase line and determine what costs if any are involved in providing service for the additional air conditioning capacity” (Lilco letter, June 22, 1987). Mr. Hagemeryer replied in September 4, 1987 “We are pleased to advise that based on such a three-phase load addition, our tariff provisions would permit the extension of our facilities to provide three-phase, 120/240 volt service at your existing service pole with no contribution required from your church.”

Youth listening. Photo by Stavroula Nicolas Raia
Youth listening. Photo by Stavroula Nicolas Raia

In the Southold archives, dated February 21, 1991, Architect Ahlers uncovered the column replacement work was not followed by the subcontractor. He asked the town of Southold to let the church celebrate Easter. His vigilance, even in the overcharging of a well, helped the church save money. Mr. Andreas Markakis, who was vice-president in 1988, has his signature on numerous Southold rebuilding archives. Stanley Sledjeski worked to help the church get complete documentation.

The Dance journal books shed additional light on the 1984 Fire rebuilding project. In an August 4, 1986, Journal letter, Archbishop Iakovos said “Each day is a test of our faith, our courage and our determination to proceed with what needs to be done…It is time to give first consideration to the spiritual life of the family—as a parish and as individual families so that present and future generations may have a sacred house, a church, and all necessary community facilities to enable the church to reach out to young and old alike.”

Jeff Walden, Director of the Mattituck – Laurel Library, (left to right), Very Rev. Constantine Makrinos, Stavroula Nicolas Raia and Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell.
Jeff Walden, Director of the Mattituck – Laurel Library, (left to right), Very Rev. Constantine Makrinos, Stavroula Nicolas Raia and Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell.

The 1987 Dance Journal highlights interesting facts about the rebuilding project. “Last year, we started our Building Fund Drive,” said Parish Council President Cleo P. Tsounis. “We started with $80,000 insurance money. We now have over $150,000 in the building fund. We have worked hard to collect this money, from people all over the country. Very few of our own people from the North Fork have donated toward the building fund. This is your church and it needs your help. Our church survives because of this volunteer work.” Later, donations started coming in, with the late Peter Phillips donating the costs for the altar and Platytera. The accounting documents show the following information: 1984 a cash balance of 96,814; 1985 an $189,097 balance and $232,082 of 1986.

Director Walden introduced the second speaker. “Since 1961, Catherine Tsounis Siolas has been coming to Mattituck where her parents were among the original founders of the Transfiguration of Christ Greek Orthodox church, which celebrated its first liturgy in 1970,” explained Director Walden. “In the 1970’s, Catherine established a Youth Organization and Sunday school at the church, and was a teacher and coordinator at the church’s Hellenic culture School. Catherine has written a book on the history of the church and numerous articles on Greek culture. She will speak about her rich Greek Orthodox heritage and its ties to the Mattituck community.”

Iconography. Photo by Stavroula Nicolas Raia
Iconography. Photo by Stavroula Nicolas Raia

“I grew up in Astoria, by St. Demetrios Church,” she explained. “My parents were looking for a summer cottage without cliff stairs so we could walk to the beach. They loved the Mattituck jetty. It reminded them of where they came from, Chios and Tsesme on the coast of Western Anatolia. In 1961 we moved to Breakwater Road. It was a summer community of mostly unheated cottages or bungalows with loads of American youth at the beaches, whose parents were Americans who fought in WWII. We all hung on, all nationalities united by our American culture. The beach was the focus of our socializing. I learned how to swim, which has saved my health till the present time. We had backyard church services. I remember my mother taking me with Mrs. Anastasia Kyvernitis to see Mr. Stanley Sledjeski who was going to sell his farmland to the church below market value because of the influence of his very religious wife Mrs. Helen Sledjeski.”

Ms. Tsounis Siolas said “the majority of the Greek families in the late sixties were from St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church. Very Rev. John Poulos performed the groundbreaking. Very Rev. John Antonopoulos chronicles in his history of St. Demetrios Church the close relationship of the Transfiguration Church in Mattituck with St. Demetrios Church in Astoria. The first Greeks were mostly of Cypriot background. My family buying a cottage in Mattituck altered my life. I took Red Cross Swimming lessons with Former Mattituck Principal Bruno Brauner. My swimming instructor gave me a positive image of myself and shaped me into a long-distance swimmer. I have weathered illness and tragedy, with the swimming I learned with Principal Brauner. It made me a stronger person.”

“My parents and their Cypriot immigrant friends encouraged me to write articles about their church-building efforts,” she said. “My first break was with the Long Island Traveler Watchman, then Suffolk Times and Suffolk Life. They published everything I wrote from the age of 16 years old, as a High School sophomore. This inspired me to continue writing and build a career in Greek-American newspapers. My writing helped me find a husband. Dr. John G. Siolas was a Ph.D. student who read everything I wrote for years. When he relocated to New York, he asked me out. We were married shortly after. Marrying Dr. John Siolas was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Teaching Greek in Mattituck led me to secure a Greek Teacher’s License from the Archdiocese of North and South America and a Bilingual Greek ancillary license from the City of New York. It led to a career as a Greek translator. Later, I became an adjunct instructor of Modern Greek in St. John’s University for thirteen years. Communicating in Greek, helped me sell and invest in Mattituck real estate. Through the help of Val, Andrew and Erica Stype of Andrew Stype Real Estate, I have been an associate broker from the mid 1980’s. Finally, I raised my only child, Despina Cleopatra Konstantina Siolas, in Mattituck. She took the same Red Cross swimming lessons, becoming a competent swimmer. The Mattituck-Laurel library inspired a love of reading in her.”

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell with Catherine Tsounis and Dr. John G. Siolas
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell with Catherine Tsounis and Dr. John G. Siolas – photos