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Memorial Book of Saint Mary’s Church, 
Oswego, New York

Rev. Joseph A.Hopkins, Pastor
Rev. David C. Gildea & Rev. Patrick J. Gallagher, Assistants

Many thanks to Kathy L. Last for this interesting history on the church and photographs.  Its much appreciated.

Old St. Mary’s Church

Old Saint Mary’s Church, Oswego, NY

   There was only on Catholic Church in Oswego in the year 1850.  Catholics on the west side of the river had no house of worship, and Saint Paul’s gathered within its walls all the faithful of the
   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 waters.

   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 to four
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 on Sunday.

   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, S.C.

   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.

   New Saint Mary’s Church, Oswego, NYThat 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.

  New Saint Mary’s Church, Oswego, NY 

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.

Pastors & Assistants who have ministered at Saint Mary’s Church Oswego, NY 
since its foundation in 1848:

Rev. F. E. Foltier, Pastor                    1848-1851

Rev. James Keveny, Pastor               1851-1852

Rev. Joseph Guerdet, Pastor             1852-1867
   Rev. Louis Griffa, Rev. J.B. Harrington, Assistants

Rev. Louis Griffa, Pastor                      1867-1885
   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                  1885-1901
  Rev. George S. Mahon, Rev. Daniel Doody, Rev. William Griffin, Rev. John W. Farrar, 
Rev. William McCormack, Assistants

Rev. Joseph A. Hopkins, Pastor         1902 - 
  Rev. John W. Farrar, Rev. Edward G. Quaid, Rev. Charles M. Coveney, Rev. Edmund Fontaine, Rev. Patrick J. Gallagher, Rev. David C. Gilden, Assistants

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Copyright ©  October 3,  2002 Kathleen L. Last and Photographs
All Rights Reserved