St. Mary Parish in Pavilion celebrates sesquicentennial

Fri, Jul 24th 2015 09:00 am

Agriculture has been a thread woven throughout the history of St. Mary Parish in Pavilion from its earliest years to the present. The small country parish had its roots in the Irish immigrants who were escaping the trials of the Potato Famine in Ireland. Many settled in the area because they were assured work at the Brooks Farm.

Although the Brooks family's religion was Presbyterian, Major Brooks opened his home, allowing 12 to 15 immigrants and a priest to celebrate Mass. This is recorded to be the roots of the parish, circa the 1850s.

Soon the parish moved about three miles to the north where Mass was celebrated in the home of Patrick Mulvey in Pavilion. The congregation was organized in 1858 and made a mission of St. Joseph Church in Batavia. In 1861, an old blacksmith's shop in Pavilion was purchased and remodeled into a church.

The parish purchased a lot in 1861 where a small 60 by 40 foot church was built. This structure remains as the main part of the present church. The first couple was married in the church in November 1865. The couple had 12 children, with some of their descendants still remaining members of the parish. The actual marriage certificate was preserved and shared as memorabilia for the parish timeline.

Father Thomas Milde was appointed the first pastor in 1887, when it was made into an independent parish in Pavilion. Father Milde repaired the church and purchased the house adjoining the church property for a rectory. New stained glass windows were installed in 1899, which remain symbols of the parishioners' love for family members and their parish.

A fire began in the rectory in 1906 while Mass took place in the church. There was a heroic attempt to save the records from the upper level of the rectory, but flames destroyed the building and church documents. A general alarm was given in the town and congregations of other services, which were also in progress, were dismissed as church bells began to ring throughout the village.

The congregation of St. Mary Parish grew to about 100 families. One of these families included the current eldest parishioner, Mama Louise Connor Lynch, as current pastor, Father Innocent Diala, has affectionately named her.  

Nearly 98 years young, Lynch still expresses great love for St. Mary's as she recalls being wrapped in buffalo blankets while travelling from home to church in a horse drawn sleigh. Lynch also fondly remembers Father J.C. Dobbins, who after 20 years as pastor, left the church free from debt with a new rectory and many new furnishings in the church.

This same spirit of resilience, commitment, loyalty, and generosity of time, talents and funds to the church community has spanned over three centuries as it continues to be a hallmark of St. Mary's. A new parish hall was built, renovations have been made and throughout the years the parish balance sheet has remained positive.  

One of the current parishioners of the combined parishes, William Francis Fuest, named for his great-grandfather who was the first trustee, is now serving in that same capacity today.

Parish commitments to religious vocations include Sister Clara Connor, aunt of Mama Louise Connor Lynch and Sister Concetta DeFelice, who is a member of the Franciscan Order of the Divine Child and currently serves as minister of the Western New York Region. She was a member of St. Mary's and is the sister of Vinnie DeFelice, parishioner of Mary Immaculate.

Parishioners of St. Mary's look proudly to the parish's 150 years of dedication and will celebrate the occasion on July 26.


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