How did a Long Island church get started by an ex-prostitute?

Who was Celeste Horvath?

Vice Ring in Newspaper

Celeste Horvath (née Esther Vigliatore) was the daughter of an alcoholic Italian immigrant. She wasn’t just a prostitute, she was the madam to the stars! Her brothel had clients that included sports stars, members of congress and well-known names from both Hollywood and Broadway!

What changed her life?

Needing money to survive she ended up working as a prostitute, and realizing that she could make more money if she had other women working for her she became a madam by recruiting her own ladies. Although when she was young her grandmother had helped her find God, by the time she was 26 she had decided she’d rather live a life where money was the driving force.

It took her arrest and a famous trial in 1964 to bring her back to God. Suffering already from depression, while standing in court she tried to commit suicide using sleeping capsules. Soon after, while in the hospital, she prayed for God to take her home (let her die), but instead of answering that prayer God went one better and showed Himself to her, telling her “I have come to bring you life!”

This was the moment that changed her life.

How did she start a church in Long Island?

With 27 felony and 10 misdemeanor indictments Celeste was expecting to spend the rest of the life God had given her in prison, but when the case finally made it to the supreme court no former client (john) or worker (prostitute) would testify against her. She ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to a shorter time than expected in prison. She was sure that as she walked out of the court she heard the voice of God saying the same thing to her that Jesus had said to the woman caught in adultery “Woman, where are thine accusers?” (John 8:1-11)

Preaching in Times SquareDuring the next eighteen months while she was in prison she started to live in a new way that surprised all who knew her. Instead of inviting women to work in her brothel she was inviting them to come and hear how Jesus could change their lives for the better. Many inmates became Christians as a result of her work at this time.

After coming out of prison the money she had left after paying the lawyers was enough to put a down payment on a house in Islip, Long Island which she turned into a private nursing home for assistant living. The money from the home allowed her to start a short lived ministry to local alcoholics but more importantly to her, to spend many years taking the love of God back into prisons in the New York state area. As that time came to an end she started preaching on the street in New Jersey and eventually preaching in Times Square from the roof of her car. Not wanting to just talk about God, she showed Him in action after preaching by praying with people and regularly saw God answer her prayers which often included seeing people healed.

In the late 1970s her brother became a Christian and to give him somewhere to meet other born again Christians she started a small group that grew into a church meeting on Main Street in Bay Shore. The surprising thing was that although the church she started for her brother thrived and outgrew several buildings, her brother never attended the church.

After her death in 1995 the church continued to grow and was able to buy their own building on Union Boulevard also in Bay Shore where they still meet today.

So what has happened to the church today?

Deborah Mitchell worked as an assistant to Celeste for many years, and after she died in 1995 God called Deborah to step up to the plate and take over running the church. She is now Pastor Deborah Mitchell and opens up the church for all to attend on Sundays at 11:30.

The same God that changed the life of Celeste Horvath still moves every Sunday during the service, and Pastor Deborah Mitchell invites you to join her and find out how God can make a radical change for the better in your life!