The French and the French-Canadians
desired a church of their own, as their number increased, where priests
would minister to them in their native tongue. It was not until the
year 1848 when Father F. E. Foltier of Montreal came to Oswego and began
to organize the new parish of Saint Mary’s, that their long cherished hope
saw realization. The effort was premature, for although the corner
stone was laid in March of the next year, owing to lack of funds, another
year elapsed before the structure was finished.
In the meantime the original
plan of a separate French parish was abandoned and the English-speaking
Catholics on the west side were invited to co-operate. With their
assistance the church was completed and received its dedication on August
18, 1850 by Bishop McClosky of Albany.
The pastor’s financial burdens were
lightened; but his troubles began in trying to unite a bi-linqual congregation;
and before a year had passed he retired from the field of conflict.
His successor was Father James Keveny who managed to shepherd the divided
fold for another year. He was followed by Father Joseph Guerdet,
a native of France, who poured the oil of peace on the troubled parochial
During Father Guerdet’s administration,
which lasted until 1867, the Sisters of Saint Joseph’s of Carondalet established
at Oswego their first mission in the East, and took charge of Saint Mary’s
school which had been in lay hands from its foundation 1850.
While a Mission was being given
in 1859, part of the church floor collapsed and four women and one man
met their death in the panic that followed.
In 1867 an addition to the school
was under way but it was left to Father Guerdet’s successor, Father Louis
Griffa, a native Italian, to finish the work of his predecessor.
Before long Father Griffa found a new phase of the old difficulty confronting
him. Owing to the immigration of French-Canadians and the rapid growth
of the English-speaking population, it soon became evident that the church
could no longer accommodate its congregation. In 1869 Saint John’s
parish, also on the west side but to the south, was formed and about one
half of Saint Mary’s English-speaking people became members of the new
parish. This notably decreased the number of English-speaking people
in Saint Mary’s, yet the dissension between the Irish and the French remained.
When Father Griffa came to the
parish, there were only fifty-four French names on the pew rent book; but
about the time of the formation of Saint John’s, the number had increased
hundred who voiced their desire to form a
separate congregation. Father Griffa gave his approval and prevailed
upon the Rev. J. F. X. Pelletier of Quebec to undertake the task.
Until a church could be erected special services for the French were conducted
in Saint Mary’s. The building project was delayed for eighteen months
and during this time Father Griffa took charge of the English-speaking
people, Father Pelletier of the French. Each had a time for Mass
Finally, to put an end to existing
difficulties, the trustees of Saint Mary’s acceded to the proposals of
the trustees of the newly formed French corporation, and purchased Medes
hall on the east side for the French congregation, at a cost of seven thousand
dollars, and advanced anadditional five hundred dollars to help fit it
up as a church. In December 1871 the building was ready for use.
The French took possession, choosing Saint Louis as their patron.
With the departure of the German
members in 1863 to Saint Peter’s, on the east side, and the French to Saint
Louis’ in 1871, Saint Mary’s membership was made-up exclusively of English-speaking
people mostly of Irish descent. In 1877 Saint Mary’s numbered one
hundredand fifty families.
Under the pastorate of Father
M. J. Fournier, who came to Saint Mary’s in December 1885, the church was
renovated within and without and electric lights (a novelty then) were
installed. his health failing, Father Fournier went south in November
1901 and during the following month, on December 17th, died in Charleston,
The year 1902 opened up a new
era for old Saint Mary’s with the appointment of Father Joseph A. Hopkins,
then assistant in the adjacent parish of Saint John’s, as pastor.
When he took charge conditions were not encouraging. He found the
church overcrowded and in need of repair, the rectory unsuited even for
a dwelling, the school with its seventy students falled far below the modest
stand of efficiency, and the property heavily in debt, the mortgage having
remained unpaid for thirty years. The total debt in 1901 was $10,899.04.
This was hardly a cheerful outlook; but the future was full of promise.
Work became the watchword. Expansion began and spiritual progress
led the way for all material development. New life flowed in the
veins of Old Saint Mary’s - new wine in old bottles.
parable, however, was to find fuller expression in the new buildings that
soon followed. The school was remodeled to accommodate three hundred
children, but this structure soon (1905-06) gave place to a new school
housing seven hundred pupils. Additional property was purchased,
a convent was provided for the sisters, a rectory for the priests, a parish
house for the people, a free public library for the literary, a summer
villa for the nuns, a fine church property at Southwest Oswego for the
country folk, and a chapel at Nazareth Place for the cottagers. But
the climax of all these labors was the beautiful church that arose on the
sire of the old - a new church of early English Gothic structure made of
native stone carefully planned and executed, and which required almost
ten years to complete.
In the year 1925, the year in which the work
on the new church was terminated, the parish of Saint Mary’s rounded out
the seventy-fifth year of its existence. Of all these years none
was more brilliant than the Diamond Jubliee year. The crowning glory
was: the building ready for use, the consecration of the church and
its altars and the splendor of the solemn ceremonies commemorating the
events of the anniversary and the consecration.
In the “Commonweal”, December
25, 1925, there appeared the following: “The fortunate ones who witnessed
the consecration of Saint Mary’s is Oswego last September, will long recall
the magnificence of the function. How well Archbishop Dowling’s masterly
sermon linked the past with the present. The past and the present
were there in a mystic marriage of ancient tradition united to modern needs.
It would have been a mighty joy to Mr. Comes, had he lived, to see the
climax of his work. (His soul, however, was remembered in a Solemn Requiem
the next day). There before the eyes of all were the things he worked
and fought for the splendor of God’s house in nave and chancel (the rich
windows in wondrous colors shedding lustre on the shrines and on the scene,
the Ministers of the Mass in medieval vesture - the simplicity of linen
albs, contrasting with cloth of gold - the bishop celebrant of the Mass,
a Cardinal of the Church upon the throne of crimson). It was like
an illuminated page from the past, a picture such as Edwin Abbey could
have put on canvas, like the Holy Grail.”
While that bright day has passed
into history, the memory of its meaning shall remain; for Saint Mary’s
stands an eloquent sermon in stone of sacrifice and patience, of vision
and courage. Its consecration crosses shall be reminders of the consecrated
hearts and hands that built so wisely and so well.
& Assistants who have ministered at Saint Mary’s Church Oswego, NY
its foundation in 1848:
Rev. F. E. Foltier, Pastor
Rev. James Keveny, Pastor
Rev. Joseph Guerdet, Pastor
Rev. Louis Griffa, Rev. J.B.
Rev. Louis Griffa, Pastor
Rev.J. B. Harrington, Rev. Thomas
Welch, Rev. Tobias Glenn, Rev. Richard W. Meehan,
Rev. James L. Meagher,
Rev. John J. McLoghlin, Assistants
Rev. M. J. Fournier, Pastor
Rev. George S. Mahon, Rev. Daniel
Doody, Rev. William Griffin, Rev. John W. Farrar,
Rev. William McCormack, Assistants
Rev. Joseph A. Hopkins, Pastor
Rev. John W. Farrar, Rev. Edward G.
Quaid, Rev. Charles M. Coveney, Rev. Edmund Fontaine, Rev. Patrick J. Gallagher,
Rev. David C. Gilden, Assistants