SAINT JOSEPH’S ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
Compiled by Leo J. Crowe, Jr., and originally published in 1976
The Church has bestowed upon St. Joseph many titles of honor—perhaps the most appropriate is that of “The Worker”—and it is to St. Joseph the Worker the Catholics of LaFayette pay particular homage. The pioneer families of LaFayette were for the most part farmers; like pioneers everywhere they experienced hardship and disappointment and made great sacrifices. To have been able to relate their strivings and hardships to a man such as Joseph who had experienced so much before them had to have been a great comfort and source of great strength.
In front of the present parish center on Route #20 in LaFayette, there is a statue of St. Joseph the Worker—a gift of the Maher family and symbolic of well over a hundred years of hard work and dedication by generations of LaFayette Catholics who strove to worship God first in private homes, perhaps even at first under an apple tree, later in rented quarters in a hotel, and then finally in a church of their own, a church which is still in use today and is a reminder that much of the work of its building was done by the parishioners themselves.
The present (and first) parish center, built during the pastorate of The Reverend Edgar Holihan, who planned it and saw it to near completion before his transfer to St. John the Evangelist Church in Syracuse, represents a great deal more than a parish
educational and recreational facility—it serves too as a community resource and as a milestone in the development of the LaFayette church from a mission parish of Pompey and later Jamesville to its present status as an independent parish. But between the apple tree and a modern structure of brick and steel, there have elapsed more than a hundred years of history, filled with the events and people that make any human accomplishment more than just a ‘transport through time’ and translate that achievement into a worthwhile told story of human endeavor and accomplishment.
To tell the story of the LaFayette parish involves in part the story of the early Indian Christians of Onondaga County and to a great degree the story of the Pompey and Jamesville churches, with which LaFayette was associated as a mission parish.
The white settlement of the area surrounding the present town of LaFayette began in the 1790’s. However, there is no account of Catholic families arriving here until the 1850’s. In 1856, the first mass was celebrated on the Lawrence Byrne property, now the site of a house occupied by Mrs. Herbert Rookey on the Jamesville-Apulia Road.
Previously, the first mass offered in New York State had been celebrated on a site called Indian Hill. Situated about five miles northeast of the present Pompey Church of the Immaculate Conception, and a part of the old Military Tract Township of Pompey, from which LaFayette was detached in 1825. The celebrant of that mass had been a French Jesuit, Father Chaumonot. This region was the seat of government of the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy and the territory of the Onondagas, the central nation of the Iroquois. The founder of the Catholic Church in Onondaga County was Father Simon LeMoyne who had been sent from Canada as an envoy of peace to the Iroquois. On July 16, 1654, with his Onondaga Indian guides, Father LeMoyne and his party crossed Lake Ontario in canoes and traveled overland to the village of Onondaga. At a council meeting held August 10, 1654, he was given permission to instruct Indian natives in the Catholic faith. An indication of the honor in which Catholics hold Indian Hill is reflected in the presence of a large boulder in a maple grove alongside the Pompey Church—placed there after having been moved from Indian Hill, sometime during the pastorate of Father George S. Mahon (1903-1913). It had been used by the Indians for sharpening their tomahawks!
Following the first mass celebrated in LaFayette in 1856 on the farm of Lawrence Byrne, whether in the home or under the spreading branches of the apple tree, Mass was said in various homes until 1866 when the old Simmons Hotel, located just east of the present Charles Adsitt residence, was purchased by Steven Ryan. Incidentally, several of the early worshippers who attended mass in the Byrne home were workers constructing the DL&W railroad nearby. Lawrence was one of seven sons of Thomas Byrne and his wife, Margaret Brennan. Lawrence was the first of the family to leave his home in Ireland to migrate to America, where he joined an uncle in 1848. He arrived in Syracuse the following year, and about three years later purchased the farm in LaFayette, through which the railroad was being built. Prior to the celebration of Mass in his home, Lawrence and his recently arrived brother frequently walked to Syracuse to attend St. Mary’s Church! His brother Peter entered the priesthood in the Congregation of Missions, and the son of another brother, John Vincent Byrne, also became a priest. Other members of the family went into law, medicine and teaching.
At this point it might be noted that throughout this chapter, frequent reference is made to the “Mass”. Perhaps a definition and description of the Mass might help some of the readers in understanding why this ceremony is the central theme of Catholic worship. In the Encyclopedia Americana we read: The theological meaning of the Mass has been summed up by the Second Vatican Council fathers in the following words:
At the Last Supper, on the night He was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection; a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.
Christ, when He instituted the Mass as something to be done (Luke 22:19), and to be done in the form of a meal, established at the same time the character of the Mass as a ritual. To understand the true nature of this ritual, one must keep in mind that the Mass has never been taken to be a magical rite, deriving its efficacy from the exactness with which it follows a rigidly fixed formula. The fact that there is no uniformity even among the four reports of the institution of the Eucharist contained in the New Testament shows that from the very beginning a flexibility of form existed in its celebration, and excludes the idea of one original and normative “apostolic liturgy,” which later became diversified.
The discussion that follows is limited to the Roman Rite, the form of liturgy that developed in the city of Rome and became the official form of celebrating the Eucharist for the great majority of Roman Catholic Christians. It is only since the Second Vatican Council that the strict uniformity of language and ceremonial has been changed, and place has been given for use of the vernacular and for adaptation to the spirit of various races and peoples.
The sources of knowledge of the Last Supper are the four short accounts, (found in the New Testament) all of which reflect the existing liturgical practice. The setting is a Jewish festive meal, probably the paschal meal, which Jesus celebrated with His disciples. According to Matthew and Mark, the consecration of bread and wine took place together at the end of the meal; according to Luke and Paul they were separated by the meal. The injunction “Do this in memory of Me,” which Christ gave to the apostles at the end of the meal, has been interpreted by the Church to mean that Christ has replaced the old Pasch (Passover) offered by the assembly of the children of Israel in memory of the passage from Egypt. In the new Passover He was to be the Lamb offered by the Church in memory of His Own passing from this world to the Father. It was by the shedding of His blood that Christ redeemed man once and for all from the power of darkness and transferred him into His kingdom. It is evident that the sacrifice that the Church offers in obedience to Christ’s command cannot be some new sacrifice added to the one offered by Christ on the cross, but is its memorial. It is also evident that this memorial is more than an act of thinking of the death of Christ while one eats a piece of bread and drinks a cup of wine. The memorial sacrifice must be real, just as the meal is a real participation in the one body and the one blood of Christ. It is its sacramental re-presentation, which means the rendering present again, under the sacramental sign, of the one sacrifice that Christ offered, in historical reality by the physical shedding of His blood on the cross. The fact that this sacrifice was instituted in the form of a meal shows that it is not only the death of Christ that is made present in this rite, but the resurrection as well. By sharing in the body of Christ and in the “blood of the new and everlasting covenant,” the participants in the Eucharistic meal are filled with the life of the risen Christ, and therefore participate already in the joy of future’s eschatological glory.
Now to return to our narrative—for a period of about seventeen years, from 1866 until l883, this Simmons Hotel, referred to in a previous paragraph, served as the site of Catholic worship. Records indicate that a mortgage on the building was foreclosed in 1883, the hotel was torn down, and the small Catholic population moved into the ballroom of the LaFayette Hotel, located on the southeast corner of routes 11 and 20. A Tully Times article of November 10, 1883, records that “Luther Baker is demolishing the building which he recently bought at a sheriffs sale and which was used by the Catholics as a house of worship. We understand that two tasty dwellings are to be built on the spot to greatly improve the appearance of the vicinity.” The owner of the LaFayette Hotel at that time was George McIntyre and the ballroom was to remain in constant use for Mass until the dedication of the first permanent church in 1889.
The Church of St. Joseph must have been the culmination of many dreams and of many sacrifices and hard work. The postmaster of that time, John Carey, had purchased land for the church from Robert Gates for $400. The new church property, an acre in dimensions, was a part of the Robert Gates farm.
Under the direction of the pastor in Pompey, The Reverend Michael O’Reilly, the foundation was completed in one week at a cost of twelve dollars. In a July 11, 1963, edition of The Tully Independent, Mrs. Ruth Werder wrote that “men of the parish hauled the stone from a quarry just south of Nedrow with horses and wagons, two teams to a rig, because of the ruts and hills in the road. James Lane, a stonemason, was hired at two dollars a day to supervise the laying of the walls, but most of the work was done by men of the church. The stonemason’s reputation as a quick, hard-driving Irishman lives on in the many stories of the men laboring from dawn to dusk, and his saying to one Mr. Hanrahan, his helper, who rarely moved fast enough to suit him, ‘Now, Mr. Hanrahan, if you will just move . . gradually out . . of . . my . . way ..’ ”
“(The late) Mr. John McConnell of Meaker Hill Road, recalls that his father had helped haul the logs out of the woods up near Conklin Falls, and down to Palmer’s sawmill, where they were cut into rough lumber. One can still see this lumber in the sills of the basement today. The fine lumber was brought to LaFayette by horse and wagon on sleds from the Matt and Hunter Lumber Yard on South Salina Street.”
In the Tully Times of October 18, 1888, reference was made to “the timber and lumber of St. Joseph’s church being shipped from Pennsylvania to the builders who will begin the frame work at once. Vene Bishop is building the cellar.” And another Times article mentions that Mr. P.J. Walsh of Pompey was to work on the Catholic church beginning Monday, July 1, 1888. Again in an October 13, 1888, issue of the Tully Times, there was this: “A fair will be held at LaFayette as soon as the new church building is enclosed. The fair will be for the purpose of aiding in the erection of St. Joseph’s Church in that village. Four contests will take place on the occasion: one on a gold-headed cane, between two of LaFayette’s most popular citizens, viz., The Honorable Frank Farrington and Dennis Donovan; the second on a lady’s gold watch, between Mrs. Bridget Lane of LaFayette and Miss Mary McDermott of Pompey; the third on a winter overcoat between Messrs. James Crowe and Michael Ready, both of LaFayette, and the fourth for a porcelain dinner set between Mrs. Timothy O’Gorman and Mrs. Pierce Grace of LaFayette.”
Then in the October 20, 1888, issue, “A grand fair will be held at the new St. Joseph’s Church in this place about the last of October” and “The Catholic Fair will be held November 27, 28 and 29. George L. Hoyt has presented to the Catholic Church a very elegant spoon holder, silver-mounted and with national colors on the base. Mrs. James Crowe and Mrs. Michael Ready are the ones selected for us to choose between.”
In the July 25, 1888, Tully Times: “The walls of the new Catholic church are completed. The sills and first floor will be installed so that the cornerstone may be laid with appropriate exercises Sunday, August 5, 1888.”
The cornerstone was laid, and following a fall and winter and spring of what must have been feverish activity under sometimes adverse conditions, given the climatic conditions of this region, the day so ardently wished for was at hand—and the church doors opened triumphantly in time for the Easter celebration.
In the May 18, 1889, edition of the Tully Times, we read that “right after the dedication, a solemn High Mass was celebrated. The Reverend (Michael) O’Reilly of Pompey was celebrant. The Reverend P.F. McEvoy, deacon, and The Reverend H.S. O’Reilly subdeacon. The discourse was most picturesque and flowery; of profound theological depth, replete with beauty and diction; a masterpiece of English and worthy of Cardinal Newman. At the close of the ceremonies, the Right Reverend Bishop, in eloquent words, congratulated the pastor, Reverend M. O’Reilly and his people at LaFayette on their zeal, labors, and generosity in erecting such a pretty temple to The Most High, reminding them that good citizens ought to love their homes, their altars and their country.”
At this point, tribute should be paid to all those priests who had served the Catholics of LaFayette for so many years from their Pompey station, and to those priests in Jamesville who also served following the transfer of the mission of St. Joseph from the one parish to the other in the year 1919.
Sometime after 1873, LaFayette was added to the Pompey parish as a mission church. The pastor at that time was The Reverend John Fitzpatrick. The other mission churches associated with Pompey at that time were those in Fabius and Otisco. Father Brady of Cazenovia succeeded Father Fitzpatrick, and he in tum was followed by Father Michael O’Reilly—builder of St. Joseph’s. The arduous trips back and forth to his mission churches, and the difficulties of managing his growing parishes, undermined Father O’Reilly’s health; consequently The Most Reverend Patrick A. Ludden, bishop of Syracuse, sent him as an assistant Father James Green. (At the same time that he was supervising the building of St. Joseph’s, Father O’Reilly was also involved with the construction of St. Patrick’s in Otisco.)
In July 1891, after nineteen years in Pompey and its missions, Father O’Reilly was transferred to the Church of St. Agnes in Utica. He died there in November, 1895. The Reverend John Simmons, who had been Father O’Reilly’s assistant for three years, was appointed the new pastor of Pompey in 1891. It was Father Simmons who was noted for his talents as a financier. He greatly reduced the debts on all three churches -Immaculate Conception in Pompey, St. Paul’s in Fabius and St. Joseph’s in LaFayette. Father Simmons, called the “builder of churches,” moved from Pompey in June 1896 to St. Paul’s in Binghamton, where he built yet another church! He died there in October, 1917.
Father Simmon’s successor was The Reverend Albert J. Hayes, who moved to Pompey June 15, 1896. While on a trip to Europe sometime later, Father Hayes was temporarily replaced by The Reverend Thomas Flynn, who became the acting pastor. Father Hayes was transferred from Pompey on January 20, 1903, and later was appointed Vicar General of the Syracuse diocese. For several years after that, he made frequent visits back to his former parishes.
The Reverend George S. Mahon was appointed to succeed Father Hayes in January, 1903. Father Mahon had been ordained in December of 1886. It was the new pastor’s job to make extensive renovations on the LaFayette church, then about fifteen years old. In the intervening years, such fund-raising activities as dances, card parties and suppers were sponsored, possibly in part at least with an eye toward the approaching renovation. These social events were held in the LaFayette Hotel ballroom and also in the brick building next to it later occupied by Mr. James K. Millette.
“In an unusual ceremony, Father Mahon, with the permission of the Bishop, removed the dedication from the church. In a symbolic act, a trowel was struck into the plaster wall, the sanctuary was curtained off, and the pews were taken up and placed around the nave. The building was then used as a hall for a series of fund-raising social events until a sufficient amount of the renovation was realized. It was at that time that the ceilings were lined with the stamped, curved sheets of steel that are there now. The three sheet metal workers who installed the panels boarded with the James Crowe family. This recollection is part of the store of memories of (the late) Leo J. Crowe Sr., a lifelong resident of the village of LaFayette. His parents were the first couple to have been married in the church.
When the interior was completed, the building was once more blessed and re- dedicated, and its use restricted to devotional purposes. In recent years, during the pastorate of Father George E. Arseneau, the basement was enlarged, and a pleasant, serviceable social hall, kitchen and storerooms installed. A new heating system was added and the sacristy re-decorated.” (Mrs. Ruth Werder, The Tully Independent, July 11, 1963.)
It was probably at the time of this renovation that the present main altar, a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Aneas Lane, was installed. Perhaps too at this time, two angel lights were added on either side of the main altar, gifts of the Altar and Rosary Society. Another aspect of the renovation involved the enlargement of the southeast sacristy to its present dimensions. Previously, it had been the same size as the northeast sacristy presently used as a storeroom, and in which confessions were heard until the installation of the present confessional located in the rear of the church, which was a gift of Mr. Richard Long in honor of his brother, Lawrence. (The present sanctuary lamp memorializes the mother of Richard and Lawrence, Mrs. Anna Shea Long.) Later on, Father Patrick Sloan was to partition off part of the enlarged sacristy as sleeping quarters for himself, probably for use when the weather necessitated his traveling to LaFayette on Saturday evenings in preparation for the Sunday services.
About the time of the renovation, according to Mrs. Werder in the same article referred to above, “it was deemed necessary to provide better hitching rails and some shelter for the horses that were used to bring the families to the church, and so a sturdy, double row of sheds was constructed in the yard behind the church. They served the priests and parishioners well for many years, and Peter Fitzpatrick is well-remembered because he drove a horse and buggy to church long years after the automobile became the common mode of transportation of a Sunday morning. The sheds were flattened by a severe windstorm in 1950 and the area has now been converted into a parking lot for such mechanical contraptions as getting people to church nowadays.”
The history of a church, like that of any other human institution, is essentially one of the names more than of events. Here we might mention some of those names that figured very prominently in the early history of St. Joseph’s: Long, Mason, Donovan, Reidy, Grace, Moore, Berrigan, McManus, Gorman, Hanrahan, Fitzpatrick, Randall, Downey, Crowe, Carey, Keough, Naughton, Aungier, Ryan, Mahoney and Murphy. Some are possibly missing, but out of human error and not out of deliberate neglect.
Records indicate that Robert Mason and Bernard McManus were the first baptized in the new church, and the first couple married there James Crowe and Margaret Grace, in 1889. Many vocations have been nurtured through the relatively brief history of St. Joseph’s. Among those from LaFayette who have entered the religious life have been Sister Clarissa, O.P. (formerly Clara Mahar) Father Edmund D. Berrigan and his sister, who became Sister Josephine, Father Daniel DeLorme, Father Lawrence Sheehan and Father Dennis Moore. (Father Moore was the son of Martin Moore, an original parishioner of St. Joseph’s. He was a diocesan priest whose last pastorate was at St. Matthew’s in East Syracuse. A plaque in that church commemorates Father Moore’s seventeen years there and also notes that he was the builder of that church. Father Moore’s sister, Sarah, became Sister Delphine of St. Joseph of Carondolet. Martin Moore’s great grandson, James Martin Moore and the son of a former parishioner. Joseph Moore is Brother James Moore, OFM Conv., now teaching in Pittsburgh, PA. Others who have entered religious life have been Father Paul Long, the brother of a present parishioner, Mr. Richard Long, Sister Theresa Carmel, formerly Margaret Aungier, The Reverend Edward Carey, C.M., the son of John Carey, one of the original trustees of St.
Joseph’s and Mother Paul of the Perpetual Rosary Convent on Court Street in Syracuse, (the sister of a former parishioner, Mr. Herman Abend.)
Now to return to the pastorate of Father Mahon, this priest was perhaps best known for his work with the youth of his parishes. While pastor at Pompey and LaFayette, he trained more than one hundred altar boys, and a gold chalice still preserved in St. Joseph’s records the names of those from LaFayette: James Crowe Sr., David F. Crowe, M.J. Crowe, Leo J. Crowe, Lester P. Crowe, David Reedy, James Francis Ryan, John J. Naughton, John Long, James Vincent Crowe, David Francis, Anthony Crowe, Michael Francis Reedy, Daniel J. Long, Richard Edward Long, Lawrence Francis Long, William Thomas Long, Paul Shea Long, Harry G. Kennedy, John F. Mahar, Francis S. McManus, Robert James, Vincent Conan, Clement Lane Conan, Robert Vincent Mason, John Timothy Mason, John McConnell, Martin J. Hanrahan, William Reilly, Robert Gardner, and Charles Molloy. The inscription on the chalice (and also on an accompanying ciborium reads: “Presented by the following named altar boys to St. Joseph’s Church, LaFayette, New York on the occasion of its re-dedication October 25, 1909, by the Reverend P.A. Ludden D. D. and the The Reverend G.S. Mahon, Pastor.”
The boys from LaFayette traveled to Pompey by horse and buggy for instruction. As Mrs. John Kaltenbach observed in the parish center dedication brochure: “No casual observer of today could fail to recognize the sacrifices and inconvenience that life in the early 1900’s made common to every family in the mission church.” Father Mahon also established the Altar Society in St. Joseph’s. In appreciation of the pastoral work of Father Mahon, the LaFayette parishioners joined with those of the other parishes under his direction in raising over $3,000 to send him to Europe. Father Timothy F. Howard succeeded Father Mahon in October, 1913. His pastorate lasted until 1915 when he was sent to St. Paul’s in Oswego. He was followed by Father William Oley, who remained only a few weeks.
The Reverend Robert Bogan arrived as pastor on August 8, 1915. He was a noted scholar and speaker who took a very active part in civic affairs. He was particularly a favorite as a public speaker at patriotic functions, and his pastorate spanned the period of U.S. involvement in World War I.
In 1919, LaFayette was transferred from its affiliation with Pompey to the Jamesville parish of St. Mary’s. It is interesting to note here that Father Robert Wright served his first pastorate at the mother church in Pompey as its sixteenth pastor and then moved to his second pastorate at the former mission church in LaFayette.
With the transfer of the mission to Jamesville, the Reverend Patrick J. Sloan became St. Joseph’s pastor. At this point credit for much of the remainder of our narrative should be given to Mrs. John Kaltenbach, who has so effectively traced the history of St. Joseph’s up to the present time in the 1971 Parish Center Dedication pamphlet.
Father Sloan and his successor, Father Lawrence Horan, often traveled by train to LaFayette. Father Sloan’s pastorate spanned the years 1919 to 1926 and Father Horan’s 1926 through 1932. In 1932, LaFayette’s longest tenured pastor, The Reverend Vincent P. O’Connor, arrived from his previous pastorate in Deposit, New York.
The post-war building boom was slow in affecting LaFayette. Father O’Connor, whose death the parish sadly noted in 1962, had faithfully seen his mission through the Great Depression of the 1930’s and World War II. Due to ill- health and consequent retirement, he was deprived of the joy of experiencing the sudden growth of St. Joseph’s, which came during Father George Arseneau’s pastorate, 1957-1962. (Father Arseneau, in 1962, was transferred to St. Mary’s Church in Cortland. where he is still pastor with the title of Monsignor.) During his pastorate, Father O’Connor had the sad responsibility of celebrating the funeral mass for Robert Mason, killed in Italy in 1945 while serving with the U.S. Army in Europe. Robert was the only son of Robert Mason, previously mentioned as one of the first two parishioners to have been baptized in the new St. Joseph’s and of Julia Murphy Mason, a present member of the parish.
Father O’Connor celebrated his silver jubilee on May 29, 1945, and, later on, his parishioners in Jamesville and LaFayette, as a token of their appreciation for his service, presented him with an automobile. Father O’Connor died May 16, 1962, in the 42nd year of his priesthood.
The sudden growth of St. Joseph’s under Father Arseneau necessitated the scheduling of two Sunday masses. (Previously, Mass had been celebrated on alternate Sundays at 9:15A.M. and 11:00 A.M., with confessions heard before the masses.) During this time the Blessed Sacrament was, for the first time, reserved in our tabernacle, the first Christmas Midnight Mass celebrated, and the first Holy Week services conducted.
Father Arseneau converted the church basement into a social and religious instruction center, replaced several of the stained glass windows, re-decorated the sacristy, purchased a new organ and secured the services of the Franciscan nuns for religious instruction.
On February 14, 1962, Bishop Walter A. Foery established St. Joseph’s as an independent parish and appointed The Reverend Edgar M. Holihan first resident pastor. While living temporarily at the Pius X Home in Syracuse, Father Holihan began the construction of a rectory on farmland which had at one time belonged to Thomas McManus, one of the original church trustees, and grandfather of a present parishioner, Mrs. Thomas Ryder. The gratitude of St. Joseph’s parish should here be acknowledged for the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Ryder in helping to make possible the procurement of that, particularly attractive property.
Father (now Monsignor) Holihan came to LaFayette from St. Charles Church in Syracuse. He had attended schools in Syracuse and then St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s seminaries in Rochester, New York.
The rectory of St. Joseph’s was the first structure to be erected in the church itself was built in 1888. Provisions were made in the initial planning for future buildings on the thirteen-acre site as the needs of the parish should expand. Under Father Holihan’s wise financial management, this structure was paid for by the parishioners in just under four years. The rectory houses living quarters, two combination office and conference rooms and a large meeting room. It was specially designed to provide for future expansion of the living quarters.
During Father Holihan’s pastorate, we experienced much more firsts. In September, 1962, the Legion of Mary was organized. Earlier that year, on March 4, a carillon system was dedicated to Father Arseneau, the gift of John and Robert Brandt, Lance De Marko, Carol Ezick, Linda Kurgan, James Moltion, Teresa Rogers and Daniel and Sheila Ryan.
An essential attribute of the life of any parish is its participation in the world-wide mission of the Universal Church, and the Legion of Mary, perhaps to a greater degree than in most other instances, exemplifies this universal participation. The Legion began as an association of lay Catholics in Dublin, Ireland, in 1921. Its purpose was the spiritual advancement of its members and the general intensification of Catholic life. On
September 7, 1921, a small group of lay people, stimulated by an awareness of the Christian vocation to be witnesses and urged on by the writings of the popes, met with their parish priest in St. Nicholas of Myra parish, Dublin, to discover some practical means of translating their discussions on the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ and the writings of St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort into concrete action in the service of their fellow-men. The system of lay apostleship that eventually became known as the Legion of Mary was influenced also by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which was extremely active in Dublin during the 1920’s. During the next forty years the original group of the Myra Street meeting multiplied into more than 60,000 active units, operating in more than 150 dioceses, vicariates and prefectures over five continents. By 1964 there were more than one million active members. The auxiliary membership (those rendering to the Legion a service of prayer only) totaled more than nine million. The Legion admits any practicing Catholic of at least 18 years of age. The Legion demands high standards of Christian life and the two most fundamental requirements for membership are (1) attendance at the weekly meeting, where the Legion prayer, spiritual reading and guidance by the spiritual director form the member, and (2) the performance of a substantial amount of assigned apostolic work each week. Discipline, very much a part of the ideal of membership, is measured by the individual’s adherence to the system; in addition, each member has a personal responsibility to recruit new members, both active and auxiliary.
The Legion seeks to undertake any and every form of social service and Catholic Action approved by the local bishop. Generally, the visitation of homes is the most characteristic work of the Legion members. To resume our narrative, another first of this period was the attachment of the Corpus Christi Church in South Onondaga to the LaFayette parish. At that time, Bishop Foery appointed Father Bernard Walsh as an assistant to Father Holihan, effective June 5, 1963.
Two years later, on July 8, 1965, the designation of Corpus Christi as an independent parish, with Father Donald Bauer as its first full-time pastor, led to the transfer of Father Walsh to succeed Father Bauer at St. Paul’s in Rome, New York. This change also meant that a residence had to be acquired for the new pastor at South Onondaga. Father Holihan purchased a large farmhouse next to the South Onondaga church for this purpose. Basic furnishings were acquired and the new pastor was able to move in within ten days after his appointment.
In November, 1964, Mass was celebrated in English for the first time in LaFayette. On Christmas of that year, 437 parishioners attended the three masses in St. Joseph’s.
In January, 1965, a Catholic Youth Organization was formed and Father Holihan instituted parochial masses, replacing the traditional high masses. In November of that year the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine was inaugurated and at the same time, an Ushers’ Club formed.
The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine is the Church’s official association devoted to the work of religious education. By Canon Law (the Law of the Church) it is to be established in every parish. Its origins go back at least to the year 1560.
In the United States, the CCD has been given the special responsibility of providing for religious education outside Catholic schools. The Confraternity has four areas of special concern: students who are not receiving religious instruction during their regular school days, the pre-school child and his parents, the further Catholic education of adults in general, and those hardly touched outside the Church who may have an interest in such instruction. There are programs in each of these fields: a parent- educator plan, discussion clubs for adults and an Apostolate of Good Will reaching beyond the Church.
It was at about this time that a variety of social and fund raising events began to crowd the parish calendar each year: the Fourth of July Festival, an annual Covered Dish Supper, the Christmas Bazaar, an Altar and Rosary Dinner, a Gay Nineties Night and frequent card parties all have become annual events.
In June, 1965, the outside of the church was painted and in 1968 (?) a portable altar was built and donated by Mr. James Merluzzi. Also, at about this time, central air conditioning was installed in the church. That same year Mrs. Thomas Ryder and Mrs. Robert Mason were honored for having taught religious education classes at St. Joseph’s for a period totaling 100 years. In that year too, a new bronze tabernacle was secured and a St. Joseph’s parishioner, Miss Marion Crowe was awarded the Chantal Award of the Catholic Daughters of America as outstanding Catholic Woman of the Year.
Active throughout the history of St. Joseph’s has been another worldwide Catholic organization, the Holy Name Society. This Society is officially called the Confraternity of the Most Holy Name of God and Jesus. Its object is to promote reverence and love for the names of God and Jesus and, secondarily, to suppress blasphemy.
An outgrowth of a resolution made at the General Council of Lyons in 1214, the society was initiated by a letter of Pope Gregory X to John Vercelli, master general of the Dominican order. The letter entrusted to the Dominicans a preaching crusade of reverence for the name of the Redeemer. In the United States, the society began to exert a strong influence on Roman Catholic men at the end of the nineteenth century through the leadership of Father Charles H. McKenna O.P. He organized diocesan unions of parish societies and, in 1907, founded the Holy Name Journal, a monthly magazine devoted to promoting the ends of the society.
A Parish Council (or planning board) was formed in 1966, consisting of the presidents of the various parish organizations, the two trustees, and five additional appointees. The Council included Mr. Richard Long, trustee, and chairman, Mr. Leo Crowe, trustee, Mr. Edwin Gorney, Mr. John Crowe, Mr. Thomas Ryder, Mr. Joseph Ryan, Mrs. G. DeMarko, Mrs. John Kaltenbach, Mrs. Robert Rohner, Miss Marion Crowe and Miss Rita Mason. Parish development had become a major subject of concern with the aim of building a combination catechetical center (for the teaching of religious education) and a parish hall. A Parish Development Fund envelope replaced the now outmoded Rectory Debt Fund envelope.
By 1967, the parish population numbered 874 parishioners of 202 families with 352 children receiving religious instruction. At the fifth annual parish dinner of 1967, with Father Arseneau as the guest speaker, the elimination of the $45,000 rectory building debt was announced. That same year Father Martin, formerly Father Arseneau’s assistant and a very popular priest among the LaFayette parishioners, died after a long illness.
Father Holihan’s Silver Jubilee was celebrated in June 1968 in Holihan Hall, a part of the new parish center. The red sanctuary carpeting installed at this time was a gift of a parishioner, Vincent Maher, and during the same year, bids were let for the parish center and on March 12, 1971, the first elementary religious education classes were held in that center. In the meantime, Father Holihan had assumed his new pastorate at St. John the Evangelist in Syracuse, and was therefore not present for the first classes. Father Robert Wright had arrived from his previous pastorate in Pompey.
Our first pastor of the independent St. Joseph’s parish, Monsignor Edgar M. Holihan, provided us with the direction and guidance we needed as a newly independent parish. In addition to a financial astuteness which built us a rectory and started a parish center, Monsignor Holihan was perhaps one of the finest of homilists. His public speaking ability was recognized diocese-wide with parishioners particularly appreciative of his preparing homilies even for his daily masses. He brought to LaFayette and St. Joseph’s, a dedication to duty and an unselfish giving of self that made him indeed a totally committed pastor and shepherd. His talent for translating the most profound theological doctrine into a parlance understandable by everyone was just one of many talents directed toward drawing all into the daily life of the parish and Church. The first pastor of St. Joseph’s will be remembered as one of the outstanding leaders in that long progression of “the servants of the servants of God” who have served LaFayette so well.
Father Robert Wright, as Monsignor Holihan’s successor, has had the doubly burdensome task of carrying on and, in the matter of completing the parish center, finishing the parish-building project of his predecessor. Father Wright has effected several improvements in the almost 100-year-old St. Joseph’s. The church has been painted, inside and out, many needed repairs of an old structure made, and a school bus purchased for the transportation of students to the religious education classes. Recently, a recital marked the dedication of a new Baldwin organ purchased by Father Wright. It is his task to carry on the traditions of the past hundred and more years in the service of the Catholics of LaFayette, and this in the period of post-Vatican II, when so much is changing and yet so much remains the same. The rich traditions of the liturgy, the cultural wealth of the Church, the more than one-thousand-year-old progression of teaching and preaching and serving, have become his responsibility at St. Joseph’s. Father Wright has been active in promoting a spirit of ecumenism among the several Christian communities of LaFayette and its neighborhood towns, and has already demonstrated in his relatively short time at St. Joseph’s his ability and eagerness to follow the pattern of excellence established by his predecessors. The parishioners of St. Joseph’s wish him well in his continuing efforts on their behalf.
We might end our narrative where we began—with St. Joseph the Worker. All that has been accomplished in the building of our parish, and all that has occurred during the life of the parish, has been under the patronage and. according to Church teaching, under the guidance of St. Joseph, for the Church decrees that every Church institution should designate a patron whose intercession with God may be specially invoked. (We might point out here that Catholic Christians do not worship the Saints—that they do not worship even the most exalted of all Saints, the Mother of God. What they and the
Church do however, is pray to the Saints for intercession before God. In other words. in honoring the Saints, Catholics are asking them to pass their prayers and petitions on to God. the One and only object of all Catholic worship and adoration. Statues that frequently appear in Catholic churches and often in Catholic homes are not objects of worship. Their only validity as holy objects rests in the reality of those they represent and the holiness they attained while on earth.)
The Church in practice venerates St. Joseph as second in holiness and dignity only to Mary. Pope Pius IX in 1870 proclaimed St. Joseph Patron of the Universal Church, and worldwide devotion to St. Joseph is centered at St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Canada.
One day in the late 1930’s, a small, frail stranger stopped in LaFayette while repairs were being made on his car. He was an overnight guest of the James K. Millette family and early the next morning many of the children of the parish were taken to see him there in the Millette home. This stranger was Brother André, C.S.C., who in 1904 had begun a life’s dedication and work directed toward the building of St. Joseph’s Oratory—now perhaps the greatest basilica in the Western Hemisphere.
In the Litany of St. Joseph, he is invoked as patron of workmen, families, the sick, the dying—also as the patron of prayer and the interior life, of the poor, of those in authority, of fathers, priests and religious, of travelers and as patron of devotion to Mary. March 19 is his Feast Day and is, of course, an important date in the parish calendar.
St. Joseph certainly serves as a model for youth. He was probably, contrary to some traditions, no more than 19 or 20 years old when he became espoused to the Blessed Virgin. He has been the object of much literature, music, art and poetry, and in her novel Never No More, Maura Laverty has written:
It was hard on you, man, to rise up in the night And break in on their rest,
To waken the Woman who smiled as she slept With the Child on her breast:
Hard in the telling the news that you bore As you bade her make haste,
And heavy your heart as you saddled the beast, Not a minute to waste.
Lonesome your thoughts when you stood at the door With your tools in your hand
Your glance lingered long on the pile of new wood For the work you had planned.
Bitter it was to start out in the night For a man in those years,
To look back from the top of the hill at your home With your eyes full of tears.
Hard though it was, all your lonesomeness went And your sorrow was done
When Mary leaned down from the hurrying beast And said “Carry my Son.”
You carried Him, Joseph, with grandeur and peace Like a man who is blest,
Like a man who walks down from the altar of God With the Host in his breast.