Early History of St. Mary's Catholic Church (1838 - 1901)


Village of Minoa

"The Minoa Chronicle," Fall 1997*

Submitted by Kathy Crowell

Felix Fieselmayer was the first settler of the St. Mary's Parish.  He arrived in 1825 and was soon followed by:  Mathias Suther, 1827, Baden, Germany; Jacob Unmuessig, 1827, Baden; Ignatius Helfer, 1828, Alsace, France; Theobald Troh, 1829, Alsace; Sebastian Troh, 1829, Alsace; John Kueppele, 1829, Alsace.

Immigrants from Alsace and Lorraine, two provinces of France, continued to arrive in our area.  By 1832 over 30 Catholic families had settled here.  Missionary priests served the community, but their visits were infrequent, only once or twice a year.  The first of these priests was Rev. Father Werich.

The first Mass offered in this area was in the log cabin of Ignatius Helfer, located at the corner of Helfer and Main Street, next to the present Catholic Church.  Mass was also said at the Caspar Fabing and Adam Bucher homes, as well as the old log school house located near the old Catholic Cemetery at the corner of Kirkville Road and Main Street (Kirkville Road earlier was called Silver Street).  It was so named, according to Ella Dieterle, because a farmer in that area refused to barter for his goods--he only wanted silver, no paper money.

As the Parish grew, the need for a permanent place of worship became obvious.  Caspar Hullar offered land directly across from the old Methodist Church, sufficient for the church and a burial ground.  The land was cleared and the timbers were in place, but like many times in those early years, problems arose and the plan was abandoned.  Adam Uth (Oot) and Michael Remlinger in 1838 deeded 3/4 of an acre of land where the old Catholic Cemetery still stands to the parish Trustees:  Joseph Snyder (Schneider), Joseph Fabing, (Fabing, Sr.), Anthony Labock (Laubach), John Caperly (Kippley), Caspar Conroth (Konrad), Theobald Throw (Troh), Ecknants Helfer (Ignatius Helfer) and Felix Fessenmaer (Fieselmayer).  A simple hemlock frame building was constructed on the site, and it became their first church.

This small mission church was occasionally visited by priests from Salina, Utica, and Syracuse.  Many changes took place in the church.  Rough slab board seats were replaced with rough hemlock planks and eventually with church pews.  A tower was placed on the church and a 350-pound bell installed.  An 18-foot addition was added to the church and the outside was shingled with new pine clapboards.  A melodeon was added to enhance the beauty of the liturgies.

In the late 1840's nine acres of land were purchased for a rectory on the east side of the Minoa-Bridgeport Road just north of Kirkville Road (corner of what was know as Saw-Mill Road).  In the early 50's the rectory was built which served the church until 1922.  The rectory was a two-story frame building with four rooms downstairs and three rooms upstairs.  It was located at the northwest end of the lot and later moved to the southwest end of the nine-acre plot near the school.

A one-story frame school house was built on the same lot.  It contained one classroom and two small rooms for the teacher in residence.  The school, a place of learning for the children, was also the focus of many pitched battles between the clergy and the trustees.  Both felt it was their right to appoint teachers.  This controversy finally closed the doors to this school in 1893.  It had an unusual school curriculum for much of its existence.  The day was divided into two parts:  One half was taught in German and the other in English.

The church continued to grow in population and in religious activities.  In 1843 Joseph Helfer became the first child baptized.  Their first resident pastor (Father Columbanus) was appointed in 1852.  In 1860, 41 boys and 41 girls were confirmed.

During these early years burials were adjacent to the church.  The last burial in this cemetery was in the 1880's.  The land was so low that the graves filled with water even as they were being dug.  In 1867, 3/4 acre of land was purchased behind the present church parking lot on Main Street.  Peter Snyder was the first person buried in the new cemetery.  Parishioners purchased a plot containing eight burial sites for five dollars.  The cemetery was located directly behind District #2 School.  Parents and town officials felt that a cemetery was an unfit place to have as a children's playground.

Conrad Shoemaker owned a lot where the present church is located and he exchanged his lot for the school property.  The church soon discovered they had no access to their cemetery, so they had to purchase this land from Mr. Shoemaker (apparently a very good businessman) in 1875.  The cemetery continued to be expanded.  On December 2, 1889 another acre of land was added to the east end of the cemetery.

On July 11, 1875 Father Hengen was found dead in his bed.  Excitement gripped the community.  Murder and robbery were suspected, but it was concluded that he died of a heart attack.  His headstone is located about 150 feet from the cemetery entrance on the south side of the road.  It easily can be identified by the chalice on the front of the stone.

On May 27, 1881 the church was destroyed by fire.  The battle between the trustees and the clergy intensified.  The insurance company refused to pay until the matter was resolved.  A compromise was finally reached, and the cornerstone for the new church was laid on September 10, 1882 with the church being completed on May 3, 1883.

Problems. continued.  Many parishioners refused to pay their subscription unless the property was held by the trustees.  The power to incorporate and have by-laws drawn up were put into the hands of two laymen.  They continued the battle, keeping all financial affairs in the hands of the laymen.  In November of 1883 Bishop McNierney appealed to the Franciscan Fathers, O. F. M. Conv., to take charge of Manlius Station (Minoa).  They accepted, making Minoa a Mission attended by the Franciscan Fathers, with ties to the Assumption Church of Syracuse.  Problems between the parishioners and the clergy continued, but finally on December 15, 1897 the church was incorporated and then became known as St. Mary's Church of Minoa, NY.

The 1901 Census counted 112 families with a total membership of 498 parishioners.  That same year 36 boys and 29 girls ille Road location to its present site.  It would again burn and have to be rebuilt.  Only their strong faith carried them through these difficult years.

*"The Minoa Chronicle" is published in January, May and September by Norma Jenner, Bob Kinsella, Bev Petterelli and Loretta Sturick,  and is available at Green's Hardware Store, the Minoa Public Library and the Village Office, Minoa and at Brownell's Printing, Eastwood.

Submitted 9 June 1998