Pieces of St. Mary’s History…..
Over the many decades, Irish immigrants, dedicated priests, pastoral assistants, Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of St. Joseph and thousands of faithful worshippers have passed through St. Mary’s doors. Today, St. Mary’s continues to be a wonderful parish devoted to meeting community needs. Below is an selection of notable events from its history…
In January, 1833, a group of Catholics purchased an unused Methodist Church (site of the present Convention Center) and began renovating it for the new parish of St. Mary. The first Mass was said in this building in 1834. Rev. Bernard O’Reilly became the first pastor.
In 1851 the school was forced to close due to the inability to find qualified teachers in Rochester.
In 1853, the Bishop officiated at the cornerstone laying ceremony for the new St. Mary’s Church. When completed in 1858, the walls, ceiling, and pillars were all painted with biblical stories and with scenes from lives of the saints. Over 130 gas burning lamps illuminated the building.
On June 9, 1957 the first Sisters of Mercy arrive in Rochester and begin work at St. Mary’s. A new convent is built north of the Church. The sisters begin visitation of the sick and poor.
Later that year, St. Mary’s School opened in the church basement with an enrollment of 200 pupils. The Sisters of Mercy taught the girls. Boys were admitted in 1860 with the arrival of the Christian Brothers from Canada.
In 1858, St. Mary’s founded a soup kitchen and cared for over 40 families. During the recession of the late 1850’s St. Mary’s opened a women’s’ shelter and an employment office.
In 1859 St. Mary’s St. Vincent de Paul Men’s Society raised money for the poor of the city regardless of religious belief.
With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, St. Mary’s pastor, Daniel Moore, obtained State authority to raise a brigade of soldiers. Father Moore resigned as pastor to become chaplain of the over 300 men who enlisted.
In 1864, the Sisters of St. Joseph opened a home for orphaned boys in a new building at Court and South St. (St. Mary’s Place). Eventually St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s orphanages merged in 1942 to become St. Joseph’s Villa.
In the 1870’s, salaries of the teaching nuns at St. Mary’s were paid by the Rochester Board of Education, but were so small that other funding was necessary. The sisters and girls in St. Mary’s industrial school made lace and flowers which were sold in the Bert Fitsimons Department Store.
In 1873, St. Mary’s opened a new school building for 500 students. It ran until 1950.
In 1879, St. Mary’s planned the biggest picnic the city had ever seen. Five locomotives were chartered to haul train loads of picnickers to Charlotte. Over 10,000 people enjoyed roasted oxen, and viewed a barge of fireworks launched from the Genesee River.
St. Mary’s confirmation class numbered 135 boys and girls in 1880. Four girls from the parish entered the sisters of Charity that year.
In 1881, St. Mary’s opened a nursery school for between 30 and 50 children each day. A fee of 5 cents per day was charged to those who could afford it. It operated through 1906.
In 1891, the current Stations of the Cross were installed in St. Mary’s. The church floor was rebuilt with a slant making the rear pews higher than those in the front.
In 1897, the The “Carnival of the Century” was held – a nine day carnival which raised enough money to pay the $1,200 parish assessment and its $5,600 debt.
In 1916, transepts were added to St. Mary’s church giving it its present cruciform shape. The Tiffany rose window was installed behind the organ.
In 1918, with influenza raging in Rochester, Sisters from St. Mary’s worked among the city’s black community ministering to the many victims of the epidemic.
In 1938, the 80th anniversary of the dedication of St. Mary’s church building was celebrated with an Old Home Week. Monsignor Fulton Sheen of Catholic University gave the Sunday sermon.
Outdoor shrine is built to Mary, Protectress of Travelers. Prayers are offered for the safe return of the 145 parishioners fighting in World War II.
From 1943 through 1949, St. Mary’s had a weekly radio broadcast on WHEC.
In 1947, new stained glass windows were installed. St. Mary’s becomes the first church to be air-conditioned.
In 1949, Monsignor James McAniff becomes pastor after the untimely death of Rev. George Kettell, who had been pastor for 15 years.
In 1950, St. Mary’s School closes due to declining enrollment and financial difficulties.
In 1951, a new Italian marble altar is dedicated in memory of Dr. Ketell.
In 1953, the Austin organ was installed at a cost of $50,000.
In 1955, the Rectory was enlarged and the cloister walk was added between church and rectory.
During the 1950’s, over 150 parish homes were demolished to make room for city highways.
During the 1960’s, the transept windows were added and the main church and baptistery were completely redecorated.
In 1978, St. Mary’s celebrated the 125th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone; also, the chimes given by Kilan and Caroline Schmitt were rededicated.
In 1980, Monsignor McAniff retired after 31 years, the longest pastorate of any priest at St. Mary’s. Fr. James Lawlor accepted Bishop Clark’s appointment to be the new pastor at St. Mary’s.
St. Mary’s Parish of the Deaf was located in the lower church with Father Thomas Erdle as pastor. Fr. Ray Fleming succeeded Father Erdle and guided the community until they moved to Good Counsel parish in 1992.
In 1983, a lift was installed to assist people in wheelchairs or those who find the steps difficult.
In 1984, St. Mary’s began a year-long celebration of its 150th year with a Mass of Thanksgiving on New Year’s Eve. South Street became St. Mary’s Place. Parishioners wrote letters to the people of 2034 A.D. for our time capsule.
In 1984, St. Mary’s Community Forum was inaugurated. It was renamed Downtown Community Forum in 1986 by Sister Joan Sobala and P. David Finks.
In 1985, planning for the renovation of St. Mary’s Worship Space began.
On August 6, 1985, St. Mary’s parish participated in a retreat commemorating Hiroshima.
In 1985, the first annual Lenten project for Fr. Damian Milliken’s mission in Tanzania begins. Fr. Ray Fleming becomes pastor of St. Mary’s Church of the Deaf.
In 1987, fundraisers for the renovation of the church began. Task forces met for fine arts & crafts, furniture and liturgical environment. The renovation process began.
In 1988, Fr. Joe Brennan came to St. Mary’s.
In 1990, “Operation St. Mary’s” Lenten project now included support of four native Tanzanian sisters studying at Nazareth College. Mary Lu Coffey began as parish liturgist and minister to seniors.
In 1991, “St. Mary’s Connection for Gay & Lesbian People, Family & Friends” was formed. Its goal was to work to end social & church injustice toward gay and lesbian people and to be a source of reconciliation between church and families and friends of gay and lesbian people.
In 1991, St. Mary’s was one of four parishes in the country featured in the national publication Church citing DCF for its creative approach to social ministry.
Some of the other Social Ministries at St. Mary’s include:
• Bethany House
• Unemployment Support Group & Welfare Reform
• Melita House
• Catholic Action Network
• Habitat for Humanity
In 1992, the Rectory was refurbished – living quarters, meeting rooms, offices and library.
In 1993, names for lower level church space and the new library were decided: The Dugan Center and Maria Lowry Library.
*The Dugan Center was named after Ray Dugan, parishioner and usher at St. Mary’s for over 60 years.
*Maria’s Library was named after Maria Lowry, parishioner from the mid 1950’s when she came from Austria. After her death in 1992 the parish received her collection of Thomas Merton’s writings and the furniture in the library.
Deacon Bill Coffey became St. Mary’s staff person for social ministry. Diane Kannell became Director of Religious Education.
Four young people from St. Mary’s participated in World Youth Day, a four day spiritual & educational forum. Wendy Brundage, Mark Carpenter, Cora Kannel and Heidi Leibert.
In 1994, St. Mary’s hand bell choir and vocal choir ensemble performed at the White House.
In 1995, St. Mary’s rectory was made handicapped accessible. “Words on the Wall” was begun whereby we project our songs for weekend Masses on the wall instead of using hymnals. Communion is administered under both forms.
1996: Some of St. Mary’s Long Range Plan:
• A Diverse Community
• Recognize the need for life-long spiritual development
• Welcome priests from other nations
• Educate parishioners for pastoral administrative transition & the meaning of Church
• Enhance the role of women in the Church
• Promote well qualified, caring staff and volunteers
• Offer enrichment to the wider community
1997, Fr. Jim Lawlor departed as Pastor of St. Mary’s. After his Sabbatical he was assigned to St. Catherine’s in Mendon. Fr. Bill Donnelly was appointed as Pastor of St. Mary’s.
In June of 1998, Catholic Family Center recognized St. Mary’s for outstanding support, partnership and collaboration.
Sr. Joan Sobala, SSJ, left St. Mary’s in June, 1998. Sister Kay Heverin, SSJ, joined St. Mary’s as Pastoral Associate in July.
In 2000, Sister Brian Madigan arrives and becomes Director of Faith Formation. Diane Kannel becomes Director of Pre-School and Sacramental Ministry.
In 2002, Richard Wolf is assigned as Pastoral Associate and oversees R.C.I.A. and Liturgy.
In 2006, The Parish Cluster Five Year Plan was formed. This includes St. Mary’s, Blessed Sacrament and St. Bonifice. Helen Halligan retires and Daniel Aune becomes new Director of Music.
In 2007, Fr. Bill Donnelly’s work is re-assigned to become St. Mary’s Sacramental Minister. Anne-Marie Brogan becomes our new Pastoral Administrator. She comes to us with a wealth of experience. The Women’s Spirituality Group forms in December. The Center for Interfaith Studies & Dialogue gave Father Joe the First Annual Interfaith Leadership Award for service to the interfaith community.
On September 22, 2008 Fr. Joseph Brennan passed away. He is sadly missed.
In 2009, St. Mary’s celebrated its 175th Anniversary with a year-long celebration of events.