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A Brief History of St. Mary’s Parish

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Date: Nov 1950 [unknown]
Location: Lancaster, Lancaster, Erie, New York, United Statesmap
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A Brief History of St. Mary’s Parish
by Barbara Schuble

This history of St. Mary’s Parish, in four installments, was compiled and prepared by Barbara Schuble. The installments appeared in the Lancaster Enterprise in November 1950. Credit lines on some of the original installments were incorrect.

Part I: 1829-1853
November 2, 1950

In the early days during the time of the exploration of the French along the Great Lakes, records show that the districts of Buffalo. which is now Lancaster and the parish of St. Mary’s, was occupied by a tribe of Indians, known as the Neuter Nation.

In 1829 Bishop Dubois of New York, to which the diocese of Buffalo belonged, sent a missionary, priest, Father Nicholas Mertz, to Buffalo. Father Mertz founded St. Louis Church, the first Catholic Church in Buffalo. His missionary work also included Williamsville, Alden, Attica and Lancaster.

At that time the Catholics of Lancaster numbered about 15 families. On Father Mertz’s visits to Lancaster he brought with him his Mass kit and celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the humble log huts of the villagers, once here, once there. When Mass was over, the children were instructed, infants baptized and the sick were visited and anointed.

During Father Mertz’s time Lancaster opened its first school. It was a traveling school. The villagers offered the children of the district their log cabins which served as their dwellings. The teacher and pupils passed on from one dwelling to another, until each home had witnessed the happy assemblage of youngsters and their master.

The Catholics of Lancaster, known as the Catholic Church Society of Lancaster, on January 6, 1834, purchased a piece of land whereon they might in time build a church and school. They chose for the site a tract of land a little to one end of the village and situated on a hill the site occupied by our present church and school.

In those days, St. Mary’s on the Hill presented a different picture from today. It was a steep, almost inaccessible knoll covered with forest and sheltering a few long huts; the four acres west of the church were hilly pastures; on either side of the little brook still meandering through our cemetery, ran up steep, sloping banks on a level with the railroad tracks. Old stumps on little knolls dotted the fields, while alongside the brook in the ravine grew tall tufted elms.

On the east as well as on the north and south our beloved hill was bordered with woods that just a few years before had been the happy abode of the Seneca’s.

Father Mertz’s advanced age forced him to resign as pastor of St. Louis Church. Father Pax his successor, continued the work Father Mertz had begun.

In 1837 Father John Neumann became Father Pax’s successor, as visiting priest in Lancaster. He was instrumental in bringing about the erection of our first church upon the hill—a rough board building, wherein, once a month he said Mass.

To Father Newman too, goes, the credit of the establishment of St. Mary’s first school. Anxious to have their children gain the knowledge of God, their Creator, the Catholics built a frame structure of old timbers at the crossroads of Transit and Broadway. The registration was 30 pupils.

When Father Neumann left, our parish was put in charge of Father Noethen. Father Noethen has the distinction of being the first priest to make his dwelling place in Lancaster. He celebrated Mass dally in the little log hut hidden among the towering elms and pines of old St Mary’s. There was no rectory. The priest lodged either with a neighboring family or with the schoolmaster.

In 1842 the school was moved from Broadway and Transit roads to the hill. The first school building on St. Mary’s was a low frame structure of three rooms. One room was used as a school and the, remaining room made up the priests dwelling.

Father Kraemer followed Father Noether, making his home with the schoolmaster.

Bishop Timon visited, our parish during the fall of 1847 and administered the sacrament of Confirmation. We are told by him, in his "Missions of Western New York” that the church, seating about two hundred, was much too small to accommodate those who had gathered to pay tribute to their first bishop and to welcome him on his initial visit to our hill.

On Nov. 25, 1847 the trustees deeded over to the Bishop the church and property they had purchased as the Catholic Church Society of Lancaster. The Bishop saw that he had obedient subjects in Lancaster and shortly afterward he sent the Redemptionists of St. Mary’s Church, Buffalo, to take care of our parish for a time. They took care of St. Mary’s until July 1850.

On July 28, 1850, Bishop Timon sent Lancaster, Father Sergiun de Stchoulepnkoff, a new resident pastor. To Father Sergius de Stchoulepnkoff belongs the honor of having started the first brick church on our hill, on the same site where now stands our present edifice.

The construction was started in 1850, making the year 1925, its Diamond Jubilee commemoration. In 1851 the new church was dedicated under the corporate title "St Mary's Church of the Assumption” of Lancaster, N.Y. We were officially taken, a just pride in our affiliation with so illustrious a mother.

Father Stchoutepkoff was transferred to Buffalo; he returned in 1853. During the interval 1851-53, Father Urich had charge of the Parish.

At the suggestion of the Rt. Rev. Bishop Timon, Father Urich also built an orphan asylum for boys. It was a long, red frame building and occupied the site of our present convent.

The need for orphan asylums at the particular period was pressing, owing to the cholera plague, which swept the country and left many children orphans.

The orphanage on the hill sheltered about 60 boys and was in charge of three lay teachers. It was known as St. John’s Protectory for Orphan and Wayward Boys to 1874. The property was moved to Limestone Hill and became one of the famous institutions popularly known as Father Baker’s.

Part II: 1853-1892
November 9, 1950

Father Sergius de Stchoulepnkoff, better known as Father Serg, returned to Lancaster in 1853 and remained till 1856. When Fr. Serg left Lancaster in 1856, he was succeeded by a young priest, Father Nicholas Sester. Father Sester remained but three years when he was recalled to Buffalo to assume charge of the debt-laden parish of Sts. Pete & Paul, the French Church. At the same time, 1859, Fr. Klein of the French Church was transferred to Lancaster, but remained only until June, 1861, when Father Zawistoski became our pastor. His stay was of short duration.

On January 3, 1863, Father Henry Feldman came to our hill. Up to Father Feldman’s time the priests of St. Mary’s had no house of their own, but lodged with a neighbor family. The need of a parish house was urgent, and Father Feldman began a small structure which was later enlarged by Father Sester. This house served as a rectory until 1908, when it was occupied by our organist, Mr. Leo Roy.

Besides the rectory, Father Feldman also built a small brick school to replace the wooden structure in use up to that time. It occupied the site of our present "Greater St. Mary’s School." It was during the sixties, therefore, that St. Mary’s Hill began to take on an aspect quite similar to that of today—a rectory, church, school, and convent. There were at that time, of course, no sisters at St. Mary’s.

The long frame orphanage was in charge of the Christian Brothers. The softly sloping hill directly in front of the convent building had quite a different appearance then. On its site were patches of corn, potatoes, and cabbage, carefully guarded by rail fences. A large, ugly rail fence, we are told was the immediate predecessor of the present beautiful hedge that graces the front approach to our church.

Some of our parishioners still remember Father Feldman and tell of his kind and cheerful manner. Father Feldman, it appears, began the custom of giving the people of St. Mary’s a yearly "family feast." The meeting place of the picnickers seems to have been in the vicinity of Court Street.

Some years it took place at what was later Mook’s Grove. Amusements were few and far apart in those days and the oldsters still speak of the eagerness with which they looked forward to such an event. Father Feldman was transferred from Lancaster in 1867.

In February 1867, Father Nicholas Sester, having freed the French Church of debt, again ascended St. Mary’s Hill as pastor, this time to remain for a period of about twenty-four years. Father Sester was a young energetic priest. His whole heart was in St. Mary’s. His wide charity and child-like simplicity had endeared him to the hearts of his people during his first visit in our parish, 1856-1859. His return in 1867 was, therefore, an event heralded with delight by old and young alike. It was a holiday, we are told, the day Father Sester returned to St Mary’s.

To Father Sester is due credit of “leveling the hills and filling up the valleys” of St. Mary’s. Just west of the church there was a very steep incline running north on a level with the railroad tracks. The land belonged to the Brothers of St. Joseph who conducted St. Mary’s School for a short time. When they left our hill it was reverted to Bishop Timon. Father Sester bought this land, four acres, from the Bishop. Smaller tracts had been previously purchased under Father Serg and Feldman. Under the skillful direction of Father Sester these stump pasture lands and unbecoming garden plots that surrounded our church property terraced lawns and park-like surroundings.

Father Sester’s outside cares were not wholly confined to landscape gardening. For some time the little brick school between the church and orphan asylum had been much overcrowded and the need of a larger school, became apparent.

Accordingly, in 1874, a new school was begun on this very site of the old frame orphan asylum, the orphans being removed to the Industrial School, on Limestone Hill, Father Sester also enlarged the rectory, adding the wing that faces the church. Here it may be well to continue the narrative of St, Mary’s School. Following Mr. Michael, St. Mary’s first schoolteacher, came the Brothers' of St. Joseph. They remained on the hill but two or three months. Mr. M. Lux followed these for two years. Mr. Franz taught for three months.

Mr. Victor Irr held that rod for twelve years. He was succeeded by Mr. Leininger, during whose term the old frame school was pulled down and a new brick school built. Then Mr. Lohman held sway for a year. He was succeeded by Mr. Smith, who taught some four years. Mr. Rengel kept school for twenty years. Mr. Kalser, the last of the schoolmasters, came in 1892.

The new school built by Father Sester in 1874 was put in the hands of the Miss Nardins and was reserved in the beginning for girls and the younger boys. The schoolmasters continued to teach the older boys in the old building, “The Boys’ School.” Knowing that the teaching Sister’s influence carries far beyond the classrooms into the Catholic home of distant years, Father Sester invited the Miss Nardins to our hill.

The Sisters arrived on November 30, 1874, with Miss Agnes Boetsch as directress. Besides Miss Boetsch, there were two other teachers and a housekeeper. Miss Zech held this position until 1898, when she took charge of the Cleveland Avenue Academy. Miss Zech spent twenty-two years of devoted service in St. Mary's School.

From 1896 to August 30, 1898, when the Nardins were withdrawn from Lancaster, Miss Billings acted as directress. During the reign of the Nardins, St. Mary's School was in a flourishing condition. At an examination given by the late Rev. Dr. Hoelscher, a member of the Catholic School Committee and examiner for Lancaster in 1881, thirty pupils received “Excellent.”

The old brick church built by Father Sergius de Stchbulepnkoff in 1850 no longer accommodated the rapidly growing parish, and in 1889 Father Sester began plans for the enlarging of the church. While the reconstruction work was going on, services were held in a wooden chapel erected temporarily on the space now used as a playground. The new church as it stands today was dedicated in 1890. Beautiful and appropriate ceremonies marked the opening of our newly built Temple of God. People came from far and near to view the new edifice, the largest church in Lancaster. Among the many donations made at this time there were beautiful stained-glass windows, the gift of the various sodalities and of several generous-hearted parishioners.

Father Sester was anxious to see the name of St. Mary’s School Children perpetuated in the new church. With, the aid of their teachers, they secured a canary and sold chances at the low rate of two cents each. They raised $100. Father Sester donated the balance and so it happened that the children of St. Mary’s received a place of honor among the donors.

The bells in St. Mary’s tower that now call us to divine service were chosen by Father Sester. He spent much time and effort in selecting bells that would ring in perfect and pleasing harmony. On the day the bells were consecrated, they were placed in the center aisle of the church and sponsored by three of our parishioners, Mrs. Peter Marky, Mr. John Nuwer and Mrs. Kolb. The bells were named, Mary, Joseph and John.

After twenty-seven years of hard and faithful toil for the spiritual and temporal welfare of St Mary’s, Father Sester’s health began to decline and it became necessary to call an assistant priest Father Michael Krischel, to aid in the care of the parish. Father Krischel came to us in June 1890 but stayed only a few months. He was followed by Rev. Martin Philipps, who came in September 1890, as administrator during a leave of absence given Father Sester because of his poor health. Father F. X. Scherer was our next assistant and remained until November 1891.

When Mr. Joseph Rengel, who had been organist and schoolmaster at St. Mary's for twenty years, died on January 1,1890, Miss Margaret Coyle presided at the organ. Miss Prozeller succeeded her; she in turn was succeeded by Miss Schwartz. In January 1892, Mr. J. Kaiser came to Lancaster as organist and schoolmaster.

Part III 1892-1925
November 16, 1950

In the year 1892 Father Sester, who had endeared himself to the hearts of so many, during his long stay at St. Mary’s, was transferred.

Father Andrew Frey succeeded Father Sester at St. Mary’s. He remained but a short time and was followed in March 1892, by Father Vincent Sheffels. Father Sheffels worked in our parish for six years and during this time became the friend of child and adult alike. Every week he paid a visit to the classrooms to import religious instructions and insist on strict attendance at the Sunday afternoon catechism.

Father Sheffels continued the work of beautifying St. Mary’s premises, and during his stay there arose on the hill a new building adjoining the old brick school. To the present day this building is familiarly spoken of as “The Old Hall.” It contained a spacious auditorium, a large stage, commodious basement and kitchen. This building became our meeting place for entertainments, socials and family gatherings.

On September 6, 1898, St Mary's School was placed under the direction of the Sister of the Third Order of St. Francis, whose Motherhouse at the time was located at 337 Pine Street, Buffalo. Now, it is known as St. Mary of the Angels Convent, 400 Mill Street, Williamsville, N.Y. The first principal was Sister M. Antoinette. The first teaching staff comprised three Sisters, to whom on January 1, 1899, when Mr. Kaiser resigned as schoolmaster, was added another teacher. Two additional Sisters who acted as housekeepers made up the personnel of the convent at that time. Under the direction of the Sisters of St. Francis the school that had been begun so well by the schoolmasters and continued by the Miss Nardins flourished beyond all expectations. The registration increased from three hundred to seven hundred: the teaching staff from three to nineteen Sisters. Due to the efforts of our Sisters, today St. Mary’s School ranks among the best schools of the diocese, known for its scholarship and the good conduct of its pupils. The sisters have been the greatest blessing of St. Mary’s on the Hill. Their labor in the class room, their influence to virtue by example and by word, the immaculate care of the sanctuary, and their prayers, have made St. Mary’s what it is—have made St. Mary’s people what they are.

Father Scheffels took leave of our parish on August 29, 1900.

November 30, 1900 was a redletter day in the history of St. Mary's parish. On that day Father John V. Schaus came up St. Mary’s Hill to take charge of the rapidly growing church and school. Father Schaus believed in organization for spiritual and corporal good. Accordingly, one of his first concerns in his new parish was organize or reorganize church societies.

The girls' sodality, started some ten years before, was canonically established as the Congregation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the, invocation of the Blessed Virgin and St. Rose; the women were organized under, the title and invocation of the Sorrowful Mother and St. Ann; the young men under the invocation and title of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Aloysius.

Father Schaus worked continuously in the school, among the sick and around the parish. But St. Mary’s was growing. Help was needed. In June 1901, therefore, the Rev. Michael Weber was appointed as assistant priest at St. Mary’s. Father Weber, as many will remember, was a great lover of children and devoted much of his time to school work and to athletics.

In August 1902, Father Weber was transferred, and Father Augustine Fricker came up the hill in his stead. The library was inaugurated by him.

His recreation was to visit the sick and the poor. The sodalities and dramatics were his pet diversions, and the exercise necessary to keep him physically fit was supplied by his whole-hearted engaging in athletic games with the schoolboys.

St. Mary's grew. A new school was needed. Sunday, August 9, 1903, the plans for the proposed new school were shown in the hall. March 7, 1904, the bids were opened and on Tuesday, November 15, 1904, classes were opened and a regular high school course was added to its curriculum. In 1913 an addition was made to double the former capacity and also provide an auditorium, stage, sodality rooms, club rooms and indoor recreation. When additional room was added, it was possible for St. Mary’s School to expand in other directions besides numbers. It became the first parochial high school in the United States. In June 1904, the Regents examinations were held for the first time in St. Mary’s School, Lancaster. In 1912, the High School was officially chartered under the Regents of the State of New York. It now became the examination rendezvous of all neighboring parishes. St. Mary’s is preparing its pupils for college and business life and the goodly number of its alumni who are continuing their studies at institutions of higher education augurs well for St. Mary’s and Lancaster.

New Year's night, 1905, sacrilegious vandals broke, into the church and tabernacle and stole the sacred vessels containing the Sacred Hosts. In reparation, a Holy Hour Devotion was conducted, every night for a week, closing on the feast of the Epiphany.

During the week of March 19, 1905, a retreat was conducted for the married men of the parish in preparation for the organization of St. Joseph’s Sodality.

On Christmas Day, 1905, Rev. Aloysius Faissler came to replace Father Fricker, who had been appointed pastor of the church of the Good Shepperd at Pendleton. He remained with us until June 27, 1909.

No history of St. Mary’s parish would be complete without making mention of the men who were responsible for the splendid co-operation of the choir during the latter period. Upon the resignation of Mr. Kaiser, who served, for many years in the dual role of teacher and organist, the sisters took care of the work, temporarily. Mr. Leo Roy came in August 1908.

The work of providing for the decorations and linens for the altars was now to be done by a new organization of ladies to be known as The Altar Society. It was organized Sunday, November 27, 1907, and has continued since then to make our altars a fitting place for the Prisoner of Love and a source of edification for us.

After the other parish buildings had been provided for, it became glaringly apparent that a new rectory must be built. It was with much reluctance that Father Schaus acceded to the popular demand for such an addition to the group of buildings on the Hill. April 10, 1908, bids were opened, and in the fall of the same year the pastor and his help moved into the new quarters.

June 27, 1909, Rev. Max Mueller succeeded Father Faessler as assistant at St. Mary’s. Father Mueller’s work may be summed up in the very expressive sentence that his dearest friends were our dear Lord, the sick and the children. The refurnishing of the sanctuary was one of his delights. New sacred vessels, vestments, statues, vases, candlesticks and candelabra made their appearance as a result of his begging for the House of God.

In June 1912, Father Mueller presented the first edition of St. Mary’s Messenger, “to give its readers full and authoritative information on all matters concerning St. Mary’s Church, school and parish.” He left St. Mary’s August 9, 1914, to become chaplain at Stella Niagara.

The best single effort to satisfy the many demands on the parish treasury during these days of building and improvement was the fair of 1913. The various societies joined hands in this laudable undertaking and after, two weeks of unsparing activity almost ten thousand dollars was deposited to our credit.

During Father Schnus’ absence in 1913 Father Francis Trompeter labored zealously assisting Rev. Max Mueller in the care of the parish.

Father Mueller was succeeded by Rev. Francis Hoernschemeyer, August 14, 1914. His punctuality and interest in his work were an inspiration to all of us. In the sanctuary he was a priest, in the confessional a good Samaritan, in the school a teacher, in the home, a friend, in the field an athlete. Little wonder, then, that his four years in ministering to us should seem like a day. He is still in our midst but life has left him. His mortal remains lie in our cemetery. He died a martyr to his vocation. The fatal illness that claimed him was contracted answering the feeble calls of the sick and dying during the terrible epidemic of 1918.

In 1915 the Debt Paying Society was organized. A band of self sacrificing men volunteered to visit the families in their respective districts to collect the monthly offerings made for the purpose of gradually paying off the indebtedness of the parish. Nearly five thousand dollars was realized annually.

As successor to Father Hoernschemeyer, on December 12, 1918, the Bishop appointed at Lancaster Rev. Leo F. Hoen—a newly ordained priest. Father Hoen remained at Lancaster almost seven years. In September 1925, he was transferred by the Bishop.

During his time Father Hoen endeared himself not only to the parishioners of St. Mary's but also to all those with whom he came in contact. Apart from his arduous priestly duties which he fulfilled so zealously and well. Father Hoen found time to take a very active interest in the youth of St. Mary’s parish and particularly in their education.

Father Hoen molded the course of St. Mary’s High School into a real classical course, a course with four years of Latin and arts, a course which tends to enkindle and foster in our youth an appreciation for the higher and nobler things of life. Public speaking and dramatics were some of Father Hoen’s hobbies; and those hobbies he tried to implant in others. Under his guidance the Alumni Players, a subsidiary organization of St. Mary’s alumni, an association started by Father Hoen in November 1920, rendered a series of wholesome, high-class plays, the like of which had never been seen in Lancaster before.

St. Mary’s did its duty in the World War. Many of its sons stood in the thickest of the fray. Our parishioners over-subscribed their quota in the Liberty Loans. In every way St. Mary’s people proved themselves loyal and practical citizens.

In September 1919, St. Mary’s acquired the Stephan property along St. Mary’s Street and adjoining the present cemetery, which is to be used for a cemetery extension when the need arrives.

Owing to Father Hoen’s poor health, in the spring of 1920, Father Jankowski was given a temporary appointment to St. Mary's. He remained but two months, and was succeeded by Father Tronolone, whose stay proved still shorter.

By this time, St. Mary's had grown to such a size that another assistant was needed. Accordingly, Father Thomas McGuire, a newly ordained priest, was sent in September 1920. Father McGuire worked faithfully at St. Mary’s for almost four years. In April 1924, Father McGuire was appointed pastor of St. Joseph’s Church of Leroy, N. Y.

On Thanksgiving Eve, 1921, fire broke out in St. Mary's Church. The boys’ sacristy was the scene of the greatest loss. Servers’ garments, candles and vases were destroyed. The firemen kept the sanctuary from being a total loss. Smoke and water did their damage, however. St. Mary’s had to be redecorated.

Father Martin H. Ebner, S.T.D., succeeded Father McGuire in April 1924, and Father Louis W. Witkop, succeeded Father Hoen in September 1925.

Part IV: 1925-1950
November 22, 1950

In the year 1925 our Parish celebrated the silver Jubilee of Rev. John V. Schaus, M.R. as Pastor. Father Schaus died January 4, 1929. He had given St. Mary’s Parish 29 years of loving and devoted service.

Rev. John X. Schmitt received his appointment as pastor in February 1929. One of his first undertakings was to enlarge the rectory to provide suitable rooms for the assistant priests. In 1932 the church was reconditioned. Ceramic aisles, maple floors under the benches, and a new oak Communion rail were among the improvements made at this time.

The development of the new cemetery plot began in 1933. An adequate drainage system was installed, and the cemetery was enclosed by fencing. By 1935 an outdoor altar of brick and marble had been erected in the new cemetery.

In the spring of 1936, Father Schmitt imported 12 beautiful church windows from Austria. Thus, the reconditioning of the church was completed. In 1940 the renovation of the convent was undertaken. After 17 years of unselfish and devoted labor at St. Mary's, Father Schmitt died on June 28, 1946 at Mt. Mercy Hospital.

Right Rev. Msgr. Roman J. Nuwer was appointed pastor of St. Mary’s in October 1946, However, since Msgr. Nuwer was serving as a U.S. Army Chaplain in Austria from 1946-1950, Rev. Howard M. Adolf was named administrator.

Under the supervision of Father Adolf the artistic redecoration of the church began in 1948. The beautiful paintings in canvas above the side altars, the majestic beauty of the dome, and the graceful Romanesque arches have certainly helped to create an atmosphere conducive to prayer.

In 1947 the entire school was redecorated, Under the direction of Father Adolf a pew lighting system was installed in all the classrooms in 1948. Annually all the floors throughout the school have been refinished. In the summer of 1950 a new heating system in the school was undertaken.

During the past four years many parts of the convent have been redecorated. A new floor was laid in the refectory in the summer of 1949, and the redecoration of the chapel was completed in the summer of 1950.

In March 1950, Msgr. Nuwer was transferred from the pastorate at St. Mary’s, Lancaster, to St. Mary of Sorrows Parish, Buffalo. In April 1950 Father Howard M. Adolf was reappointed administrator of St. Mary’s Parish.

At the present time Rev. August Parwulski and Rev. Joseph Hassler are the assistant priests at St. Mary’s.

St. Mary’s grade and high school at the present time is under the direction of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis and three grade school lay teachers, with Sister Mary Robert as principal. Thus, St. Mary’s Parish has attained a record of which it can be justly proud. St. Mary’s has given 100 years of service to God, to the nation and to the community.

The Lancaster Enterprise
November 2, 1950

November 9, 1950

November 16, 1950

November 22, 1950

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