St. Mary's Church of Canandaigua


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contributed by Dianne Thomas 

 pictures contributed by Ron Hanley


From The Ontario Co. Times, Canandaigua, NY, Wednesday, 1890    Vol. 40, No. 50   (parts of article are missing)



Jesuit Missionaries labor among the Indians a Century before a white settlement is made



Interesting Personal Mentions.  Rapid Growth from Small Beginnings 

From early in the seventeenth century when the Jesuits sent their missionaries to preach the gospel to the original owners of the soil, the people of the Six Nations, until the time came when prosperous villages and cities had sprung into being and the lad was fully occupied by the whites, there is nothing in history to show that the church of Rome had representatives in Western New York.  The first white settlers were Protestants in religion, and the eighteenth century had come and gone, and the nineteenth was fairly ushered in, before the Roman Catholics had acquired strength to build churches or to support stated religious services.

As no records were kept in the early days of St. Mary’s church, Canandaigua, except those of marriages, births and baptisms, nothing remains as a basis on which to write it’s history, except the personal recollections of a few old residents.  With their aid, and relying upon the old church book entries for verification of dates, the following statement is prepared:

The land now occupied by the church and parsonage, was a gift to the society from the late Thomas BEALS.

The original church was a small square, brick building and was built in 1848 or 1849.  Three walls of this old building were incorporated in the new building erected some years later and constitute the front and part of the sidewalls of the building as it now stands.  In 1861-2, the capacity of the church was still further enlarged by the addition of the transepts.  From that time the building had remained practically unchanged, until now again, it is altogether inadequate to the needs of the congregation, and plans are making for the erection on a more central site, of a large and handsomely appointed new church. 

For years before the erection of the original building however, the Roman Catholic faith had been devoutly upheld here by a band of worshippers, and from time to time priests of the church came from neighboring cities and villages to minister to their spiritual wants.  Services were held at private houses, or in other available buildings. 

Little do the present generation know of the inconveniences and discomforts experienced by these early worshippers.  Sometimes the priests would come to Canandaigua one in two weeks, and again there would be intervals of a month or more between their visits.  Children for years were taken on horseback on in wagons to Rochester for baptism and confirmations. 

Father Bernard O’REILLY and William O’REILLY of Rochester, during the years of 1846 and 1847, were regular attendants upon the Catholics of Patrick DOYLE and located on Antis street.  Here the faithful would assemble on Sundays, chairs were loaned by neighbors and with a crude table for an altar, the prayers of the mass were offered.

In 1848, Father Patrick BRADLEY of Geneva, assumed the duty of attending the Catholics of this village and during the same year the foundation was laid for the church building. 

The first baptism recorded in the old church records was that of a girl: Mary, daughter of Mr. and Mrs.
Thomas LEE.  Michael LEE and Margaret LEARY appeared as sponsors.  The date was Nov. 26, 1848.  The first marriage took place, Dec 8, 1849, the contracting parties being John TANNEY and Anna LOWREY.  The witnesses were Michael DOUGHERTY and Bridget SHERIDAN.

William LYSAGHT, uncle of the present William LYSAGHT, was a prominent Roman Catholic here at the time of which we write, and resided in a house that stood on Antis street, on the same ground now occupied by his nephew’s house.  Mr. LYSAGHT made a trip to Rochester and canvassed among his personal friends to raise fund for the new church.  He was fairly successful, and returned with quite a sum of money.  For years before a parsonage was rented, the visiting priests usually stopped at the hospitable home of Mr. LYSAGHT.  The old residence was burned in 1850, and with it much valuable property adjoining.

Father BRADLEY did not remain long with the church, for on the record of 1849 appears the name of Rev. Edmund O’CONNER.  He came Oct 10, 1849, and was the first resident pastor.  Father O’CONNER was a man of strong personal character, strong in his convictions and a witty, eloquent speaker.  He remained until January 1858, and reduced the church dept to a nominal sum, and also organized several religious societies.

During the years 1854 and ’55, the Know Nothing movement was at its zenith and some of the fanatics in the eastern cities burned churches and engaged in other riotous proceedings.  A branch of the organization flourished in this village and the Anti-Catholic spirit ran so high that threats were expressed of burning the little church.  On one night, when it was feared the attempt would be made, Father O’CONNER

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 ……. Nor promptly replied: “If I get up on a box in Main street and begin the violent abuse of Protestants, will you guarantee me protection?”  To this the president replied, “No sir!”  The priest’s logic was irresistible and the stranger was at once officially advised to desist from his labors in Canandaigua.

In January, 1858, Father Charles MC MULLEN succeeded Father O’CONNER, officiating here until May 1859, when he in turn succeeded by Father Michael PURCELL, who remained until April 1861.  Father PURCELL was a young man of public spirit and ability and though stationed here but for a short time, came to be thoroughly respected among the business and professional men of the village.  He was a brother of William PURCELL, now editor in chief of the Rochester Union and Advertiser, and Chairman of the State Board of Arbitration.

Father PURCELL, was succeeded by Father James M. EARLEY, who remained until November 1862. During his pastorate the two transepts to the church were built, and the interior was frescoed, and through his efforts, also there was organized a society of the “Sons of St. Patrick”.  Father EARLEY was public spirited and active and influential in movements outside of his church work.  He was especially interested in the Union cause at the outbreak of the war of the Rebellion and it is remembered that he was one of the principal speakers at a meeting held in 1862, in the Town Hall, to urge the enlistment of men in the Union army.  He was a forcible talker on a public assemblage, and especially strong in raising money by subscription for church purposes.  He continued prominent in the councils of the church and a few years after leaving Canandaigua, was a formidable competitor of Father MC QUAID for the Bishopric of Rochester. 

In November 1862, Father Joseph MC KENNA assumed the pastorate, remaining until May 4, 1869, when he was succeeded by the present pastor, the Rev. Father ENGLISH. 

The fairs in the early history of the church, as well as the present day, were an important source of revenue.  The first one was held in 1849, in the old station building of the Elmira and Canandaigua Railroad, and although the congregation at that time did not number over sixty families, the entertainment was patronized liberally by their friends in other denominations, and $600 was cleared as the result of the three days work.

The basement under the church was used for faire in those days, and also for the parochial school.  The ladies then, as now, were important factors in church fairs, and report saith that none entered into the spirit of these enterprises with a greater zeal than Mrs. Nancy MC CORMACK, who is yet a respected resident of the village.   We who know of her present energy and business enterprise, can safely affirm that in her days of youth and vigor no one was more nimble of foot or more untiring in effort than the genial Nancy. 

A parochial school was early established, and for years was conducted in rooms in the basement of the church.  Father HINES, now stationed at Niagara Falls, was the first teacher.  He was a young man at the time of his services here, and had hardly begun to entertain serious thoughts of entering the priesthood.  He was succeeded by the late Peter DONNELLY, of this village, father of Kev. J. J. DONNELLY, now stationed at Victor.  Mr. DONNELLY was succeeded by Patrick MORAN.  Following him, Sister Bernadine took charge of the school and it was about this time, in 1855, that it was turned over permanently to the care of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

In the old school in the basement of the church many of those who are now recognized as honored and influential citizens received their education.  Among these may be mentioned Police Justice DWYER, John FINNIGAN, the oyster king, ex-postmaster, William MC NEILLY, Charles COYLE, Peter E. BURKE and others.

Under the pastorate of Father O’CONNER, a property on Saltonstall street was purchased of Wm. LYSAUGHT, the purchase price being $2,400 and there was established the convent, orphan asylum and school, under the charge of the Sisters of Joseph.

The St. Mary Orphan Asylum and Academy, as this institution was officially named, was incorporated under the laws of the State in 1855.  It was quartered on the Saltonstall street property, the boys being provided for in the house now occupied by Edward MC GORY, and the girls in that now occupied by Thomas O’REILLY.  In 1860 the male teacher was Frank O’BRIEN, of Rochester and he was succeeded by James JONES.

In 1873, through the efforts of Father ENGLISH, the property of the late General John A. GRANGER, at the corner of Main and Gibson streets, was purchased for the purposes of the church, at a cost of $20,000, and in the grand old mansion was at once established the convent, asylum and school.  In 1880, a new

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In the Sunday School, about 200 children are enrolled and these, divided into classes, receive religious instruction from the Sisters.

The music of the church is rendered by a chorus choir under the direction of Miss Susan CLANSEY, the organist.  Branch 142, of the Catholic Mutual Benefit Association, was organized in Canandaigua, in October, 1889.  The officers are as follows:  President, John O’LEARY; Vice-President, Thomas P. MURRAY and William WIDMAN; Secretary, Jas. R. DWYER, Financial Secretary, Jas. BAGLEY, Chancellor, Wm. HOWLEY; Marshal, Thos. SHAY; Guard, Lawrence GAVIN; Trustees, Wm. HOWLEY, Wm. MC NEILLEY, John CUDDIBY, John DONNIVAN, Jas. J. DWYER.


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