You are here: Home About Us Parish History

St. Patrick's Parish History

The first Mass was celebrated in St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church on Christmas morning in 1856. More than 150 years have come and gone since that first Christmas morning. Since that time, many have gathered together in this church to give praise to the Lord God and to receive His graces in the sacraments.
 
Our parish commemorated our Sesquicentennial Anniversary with a grand year-long celebration. We remembered our heritage, celebrated  today's parish faith community and developed programs and ministries to educate and lead generations of believers to follow. We even buried a time capsule to be opened in 2056.

THE CHURCH OF ST. PATRICK 1856 - 2014   158 years
 

IN THE BEGINNING

A full 10 years after the trio of first settlers had begun to clear the wilderness that is now Watertown, the little community boasted but one Catholic, James J. O'Daugherty, who arrived from Quebec on September 23, 1820. Grist and sawmills had been the first industries established in Watertown, Brownville and neighboring hamlet and villages, for food and shelter were the first demands of the settlers.

With the construction of cotton, woolen and other mills at the fine water power sites of the Black River and backed by southern capital investors, came an influx of people to man the mills and till the fields. The area was also growing as people emigrated out of Canada at the time of the Mackenzie Rebellion. Many among them were Catholics.

By 1830, there were six Catholic families in Watertown. The first mass here was offered by Father O'Reilly of Utica, and held at the home of Daniel Branigan. Irish and French missionaries from Kingston, Ontario, Utica, Syracuse and Rome, along with priests from Carthage, met the needs of Catholics in our area from 1831 to 1835. They used private homes and a schoolhouse which was located where the old Arsenal Street School would later be located. This was all under Diocese of New York, headed by Bishop Connolly.

On September 1, 1838, the Baptist Church on Factory Street and adjacent land were purchased for $1,350. The Church, 10 years old at the time, could hold up to 300 people. The first Catholic Mass was said at the new St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church on October 29, 1838, by Father Michael Gilbride. He resided in Carthage but when Fr. Philip Gillick arrived in 1840, he took up residence in Watertown and made Carthage an out-mission.

Around 1847, Ireland was experiencing a potato famine that resulted in many Irish people immigrating to Canada. It was from there that many of them came to the United States. Of the Irish immigrants who came and stayed in Watertown, most were laborers and housemaids and not "well to do people." The parish was outgrowing its current location. Between 1846 and 1851 Rev Francis McFarlane began raising money for a new church. He entrusted the $3,000 that was raised to his successors for this purpose.

 
By 1854, the parish had grown to the size that demanded a new edifice. Rev. Patrick McNulty became the first pastor of what was to be St. Patrick's Church.

He immediately acquired a lot near the comer of Arsenal and Massey streets (then known as Madison Street). He hired James J. Lyons, a New York City architect, to draw up plans for a Romanesque structure which was completed in 1856-57, at a cost of $25,000. A residence was also built.

When the St. Mary's parish moved from Factory Street to its newly constructed church on Massey Street, the name changed to St. Patrick's Church, to honor the Irish immigrants that originally formed this parish. The former church on Factory Street began being used by the French Catholics. They purchased it in 1857. This later became the Parish of Our Lady of The Sacred Heart.

First 100 Years

Pastor – Rev. Patrick McNulty – 1854-1860


At 5:00 AM on Christmas morning in 1856, the first mass was offered in the yet-to-be-finished St. Patrick's Church by Fr. McNulty. The parishioners brought their lanterns to provide lighting to the unfinished interior and hung them on the walls for light.

The following year, the church was dedicated. The Archbishop of New York, Most Rev. John Hughes, delivered the sermon at this ceremony as the parish was then in the Diocese of Albany. Christmas Eve of that same year, the church was formally opened at the midnight mass.

When St. Patrick's was originally built, it was finished without a bell tower. This was seen as a status symbol that the parishioners did not think they deserved. It was later added during renovations by Fr. Tobias Glenn.

Pastor – Rev. James Hogan – 1860-1878

Within three years of the completion of the structure, it was discovered that due to defects in the original construction, repairs had to be made. These were completed in 1867 at the cost of $10,000. A mortgage was taken out to complete this work, nearly crippling the parish at the time.

The population of Jefferson County had reached 55,379, by 1870, of whom 10,036 were foreign-born. Among the latter, a great number were Catholics. The national census of 1870 showed that Jefferson County now had twelve parishes meeting the needs of the 4,466 Catholic people living in this county. The Church was incorporated on September 12, 1872.

Pastor - Rev. Thomas Walsh 1878 -1879

Fr. Walsh was born in Ireland, moving to the United States for his studies in theology. He was ordained in 1868 and served St. Patrick’s for one year.  He then became Vicar General of the Diocese.

Pastor – Rev. Florence McCarthy – 1879-1880

Little information is available for Father McCarthy.

 Pastor – Very Rev. Tobias Glenn – 1880-1907

At the time of his appointment, the parish was deeply in debt for over $16,000 and on the verge of bankruptcy. The Mutual Life Insurance Co. of New York held the mortgage on the church. On October 19, 1880, they commenced a foreclosure upon it. However, within five years, Fr. Glenn succeeded in not only meeting current expenses, but extinguished the debt. He also built a three-story building at the rear of church property and opened a school at the current Pastoral Center location. The school was staffed by Sisters of Mercy, with Rev. Mother Frances, R.S.M. as first principal of St. Patrick's School. Two hundred children were enrolled in first through eighth grades.

Fr. Glenn purchased 44 acres of land at Watertown Center in 1888, opposite Brookside Cemetery, and established St. Patrick's Cemetery. It is now known as Glenwood Cemetery. A short time after that, he purchased a farm of 126 acres on the Coffeen Street hill, to operate a farm where the orphans could earn money. The dream never materialized, and the property was eventually sold to the county for a sanitarium.

In 1890, during repairs to the St. Patrick's Church, work on the steeple was made so that the parish could boast of having the tallest steeple in the city.

Early in 1890 Father Glenn proposed plans for an orphanage. In 1896, construction of the orphanage began on Coffeen Street. The St. Joseph's Society had a membership of over 1000 people. Each member paid one cent a day for a year, to raise funds for this venture. Father Glenn signed the formal act of incorporation of St. Patrick's Children's Home on October 27, 1896.

Extensive repairs were started to St. Patrick's Church in the summer of 1904. Defective bricks were replaced; the tower roof and main roof of the church were repaired. The following year, the foundation of the church was raised on the outside. The main body of flooring was also raised about the same distance. This increased in size by removing the stairway leading to the belfry. Fr. Glenn died at the age of 67 in 1907.

Pastor – Very Rev. Peter J. Devlin – 1907-1915

 A native of Ireland, Fr. Devlin immediately started work to repair, remodel and redecorate the church and rectory. He was determined to carry out the original plans for a pure Romanesque interior. The interior of the church was entirely redecorated in 1908-1909. The plaster was repaired and the entire interior was redecorated with two coats of colored paint. The sanctuary and niches for the side altars were reconstructed. In addition to frescoes about the wall, oil paintings showing a comprehensive scheme were placed about the altar and ceiling. New stained glass windows were installed throughout as well as new oak pews and wainscoting. The sanctuary was enlarged and a chapel was added.

Pastor – Rev. Joseph J. Cole – 1915-1929

During Fr. Cole's pastorate, the Church purchased the Conroy property on the comer of Arsenal and Massey streets for $7,000. The home on this property belonged to the family of Bishop J.H. Conroy of the Ogdensburg Diocese. This property was adjacent to the church property and St. Patrick's Hall. The purpose for purchasing this property was for protecting the St. Patrick's Hall property and to construct the parish's parochial school. The plan was to construct the school building that would contain classrooms, lecture rooms, assembly hall and dormitories with the swimming pool, gymnasium and recreation rooms in the St. Patrick's Hall. St. Patrick's School opened in 1923.

The first Scouting troop was organized in the parish on April 12, 1921. At the end of 1923, this became known as Troop 11. In 1943, St. Patrick's reached its peak with 86 scouts enrolled in two troops.

1929-1936

Pastor – Msgr. John L. Plunkett – 1936-1950

Msgr. Plunkett was the first of St. Patrick's favorite sons to return to be pastor of his home parish. He received a thorough business training when he worked for the New York Central Railroad after finishing his post graduate work. Several years later, he left his employment to begin his studies for the priesthood. His business training made him a shrewd businessman that let him drastically reduce the debt of the parish while being the spiritual leader.

During the midnight mass, on the 83rd anniversary of the church, fire disrupted the service. Decorations atop the altar flared up in a brief blaze. The fire started when an altar boy's elbow was jostled while he was holding a long lighted taper to light candles on the altar. The taper flame struck part of the altar decoration and in a moment the fire broke out. Police Chief Edward J. Curtin, a St. Patrick's parishioner, was in attendance. He ordered the worshipers to stay in their seats and clear the aisles. A few minutes later, the fire trucks arrived. Several men in the congregation had run to the rear of the altar where they pulled the flaming decorations to the floor, stamping out the fire. There was little damage and the mass was held without further interruption.

The interior of the church was redecorated in 1940. The sanctuary of the church was reduced in width and increased in depth. New communion rails were placed and a new marble altar erected. Numerous other structural changes were made in the sanctuary. An entirely new lighting system was installed throughout the church.

Aluinza Andrews, of G. N. Andrews Organ, Utica, built the original organ of the church in 1873 for $2,625. It served the parish well but was in need of repair some 70 years later. The pipe organ was completely rebuilt in 1942, at the cost of $3,000. Forty-four years later, the organ was again in need of repair. After careful study, the decision was made to replace the organ with a new computerized electronic organ. The new organ cost the parish $26,000 as compared to the estimates of possibly $100,000 to have the original organ restored.

The Stumpf family made a gift to the Church of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, in memory of Leo and Molly Stumpf. It arrived on September 10, 1949 along with six marble figures including the three children of Fatima and three sheep. The statues made of Carrara marble, imported from Italy, given in memory of Philip Stumpf and his mother, were unveiled on September 2, 1951.

Pastor – Msgr. John M. Hogan – 1950 - 1951

Another of St. Patrick's favorite sons returned to Watertown to be pastor of the church. Ordained in 1918, Msgr. Hogan had many interesting assignments including teacher and assistant dean of Wadham's Hall, prior to coming to St. Patrick's. He died while serving this parish.

Pastor - Rev. Frederick P. Diviney - 1951 - 1961

In the fall of 1955, the parish had grown considerably and it became necessary to add two more masses on Sunday morning. Also at this time, the parish bulletin was first published.As St. Patrick's Church was celebrating its 100th anniversary, Rev. Diviney was also celebrating his 40th year in priesthood. Coincidentally, as the parish celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2006, the pastor, Rev. Arthur LaBaff, observed his 40th anniversary of priesthood.The parish was free of debt and on June 26, 1954, St. Patrick's Church was solemnly consecrated. The Most Rev. Walter P. Kellenberg, Bishop of Ogdensburg, performed the ceremony that lasted nearly four hours. This service was only performed after a parish is debt free.

 

THE LAST 50+ YEARS

 Pastor – Msgr. Gerald F. Kellogg 1961 - 1978

On November 29, 1965 changes from Vatican II began to be implemented by the church. The altar was remodeled and made so that the priest faced the people when celebrating the mass that was now said in the native language instead of Latin.The parish was concerned that additional school space would be needed in order to meet the needs of the parish because of an increase in enrollment. Just less than three acres of land were purchased on the comer of Chestnut and Washington streets for $54,000 in the fall of 1961. It was intended that the land would be the site of a new parochial grade school.During the urban renewal development in the late 1960's, St. Patrick's Orphanage, located on Coffeen Street, was sold. A new home, an apartment-style complex was built at 1425 Washington St. but only lasted another three years, apparently due to governmental regulations. Over seven decades it served more than 6,000 children and helped them to find safety and security. This site is now the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph.In the beginning of 1972, St. Patrick's School was facing serious financial difficulties and possible closing. The parish was faced with two options. The first was to increase enrollment thereby increasing the income. The second involved closing the school and integrating the students into one of the three other parochial schools in Watertown. The parents were committed to having a parochial education for their children. The enrollment was doubled to alleviate the financial problems facing the school.

 

Pastor – Msgr. James J. Ruddy – 1978 - 1987

 The Watertown City School District held a public auction in the spring of 1979 to sell the Massey Street Elementary School. The parish saw this as an opportunity to purchase a replacement building at a fraction of the cost of a new building to replace the Arsenal Street school which had deteriorated and was too large for the population it held.The parish won a bid to take over the school and converted it into the new St. Patrick's School. An $828,000 addition was built on to it to house all grade levels in one site. When this was completed in 1981, the original St. Patrick's School was demolished and the property was then used to construct a parking lot for the church. On May 11, 1981, the new facility was blessed by Bishop Stanislaus J. Brzana.A bequest by the late Anna D. Bohl in 1959 helped offset the cost. She had willed her shares of the famous Brown Derby Restaurant in Beverly Hills, CA and the sale on January 25, 1980 netted $325,000 for St. Patrick's. These funds were used toward the cost of the new school.The entire Catholic population of Watertown was surveyed in 1979 to determine if there was enough interest to warrant building a mausoleum at Glenwood Cemetery. Based on the responses, the decision was made to go ahead with the project. A 120­by-75 foot structure for 294 crypts was initially planned but due to the increase in sales, the project was enlarged to 450 crypts. The Glenwood Chapel Mausoleum was dedicated June 23, 1981.The parish no longer needed to build a school on the Chestnut Street property. In May of 1982, the parish sold the property to the Stone Presbyterian congregation. The purchase would allow that congregation to replace their original 117-year-old church that was gutted by a blaze the previous fall. 

Pastor – Rev. L. William Gordon 1988

 Fr. Gordon was assigned to Immaculate Heart Central Academy as a teacher and eventually became principal. He returned to Watertown in 1988 as pastor of St. Patrick's. His stay was short-term, however, and following his departure Fr. Paul Kelly was appointed administrator in the fall of 1988.

 

Pastor – Msgr. Robert H. Aucoin 1988 - 1991

 Fr. Aucoin was named Pastor to St. Patrick's in 1988. Soon after his arrival, a home was purchased on Ives Street, adjacent to the new school, to be used as the rectory.The parish was faced with the issues of the steeple being in disrepair, rising heating costs for a structure that was not fuel-efficient, and other structural faults and wear. The parish grappled with the decision to either spend $960,000 to renovate the deteriorating church structure, or raze the structure and build a new church at the cost of $1.5 million. In October 1994 the decision was made to renovate the existing church structure.In 1990, St. Patrick's still had unpaid construction costs for the mausoleum. The three parishes using this cemetery were canvassed in an effort to sell the remaining crypts and cemetery lots. St. Patrick's was eager to use these sales to reduce its then $500,000 debt.St. Patrick's debt had peaked at $600,000 in 1982 after the purchase of the former Massey Street School and the addition that was built. Through great effort of Fr. Aucoin, who also streamlined the parish administration, the debt was reduced to $69,000 by the beginning of 1993.

Pastor – Rev. John N. Hunt 1991 - 1995

Another native of the parish, Fr. Hunt was appointed pastor, becoming the third "son" of the parish to serve here. He was born in Watertown on June 5, 1945, attended St. Patrick's School, served as an altar boy, and attended Immaculate Heart Academy. Fr. Hunt celebrated his First Mass in St. Patrick's Church following his ordination in May 1969. Fr. Hunt continued discussion of the replacement of the church or its renovations. With the Pastoral Council, he prepared a five-stage plan for renovation. This included restoring the entire front of the church facade, construction of the parking lot, restoration of the stained glass windows, and restoration of the interior.

 Pastor – Rev. Ivan G. Boyea 1995 - 1996

 Although Fr. Boyea was only with the parish little over a year, he continued the discussions of the early stages of renovations to the church and saw the completion of the parking lot. He failed to arrive for the 5:15 PM anticipated mass for the All Saints Day observance, and was found dead that evening in the rectory. Fr. Steven Murray was appointed parish administrator until the new pastor arrived in Watertown.

Pastor – Rev. Arthur J. LaBaff 1997 - 2009

 The appointment of Fr. La Baff as the 18th pastor of St. Patrick's Church was his fifth assignment since ordination. In 1998, a survey was conducted to determine if the church should be renovated. As the result of the survey, a campaign fund to restore the Church was initiated. The target was to raise $1 million. Letters and brochures were sent to each of the 890 families in the parish, followed up by personal visits to their homes. The work on the renovation began in January 1999. With all of the work complete, the church and altar were dedicated on November 21, 1999. Total cost of renovations was 1.3 million.The pastors of the city were faced with questions about the existence of Catholic schools in the late 1990's. After much discussion and some controversy, in 2003, it was decided that the four parish elementary schools would be combined to ensure the continuation of a Catholic school system for many years to come. In 2004 the plan was implemented. The new school system was called Immaculate Heart Central School and contained classes from Pre-K through 12th grade and are administered by a board. The school is located on three sites. Pre K - grade 3 are at the IHC Primary building on Sterling Street. Grades 4 - 6 are located on South Massey Street and the Junior-Senior High School is at Immaculate Heart Central on Ives Street.Linkage:  Early in September 2009, Diocesan Administrator, Father Terry R. LaValley, accepted the recommendation of two diocesan committees and directed the linkage of St. Patrick's and St. Anthony's parishes. The linkage and associated pastoral assignments took effect on September 30th. .

 Pastor – Rev. Donald A. Robinson 2009 – present

Father Robinson had served as Pastor of St. Anthony's Church on Arsenal St. for 10 years when Bishop LaValley, then the Diocesan Administrator, appointed him to be the first Pastor of the linked parishes of St. Patrick's and St. Anthony's. The Pastoral Center at St. Patrick's became the administrative offices for the linked parishes although St. Anthony's continued to maintain some office functions at its location and Fr. Robinson resides at St. Anthony's. The former rectory attached to St. Patrick's Church served the priests of St. Patrick's for almost a century. It had been renovated during Fr. LaBaff's tenure to serve as the parish offices. This new administrative bulding was dubbed the Pastoral Center. The building is dedicated to the Stumpf family.  The $300,000 dollar renovation of the former rectory was financed through the generous bequest of Frances Stumpf, a long time parishioner of St. Patrick's.

The roof on the Church has been replaced during Fr. Robinson's pastorship. The dome of the Church steeple was painted and new lighting installed on the dome. The parish replaced the sound system in the Church. The Pastoral Center conference room and gathering room have been been refurnished by the Kehoe family in memory of Leo and Mildred Kehoe. The gratto to the Virgin Mary has also been refurbished through a generous bequest.  In the summer of 2012 the parish contracted for an extensive landscaping of the Church grounds. 

The parish continues to thrive spiritually and corporally.  Elsewhere in this web site you will find references to the host of ministry opportunities offered in the parish.  Father Robinson is assisted by a staff which includes a Permanent Deacon, Director of Religious Education, Director of Liturgical Music, Business Manager and Parish Administrative Secretary.  Glenwood Cemetery, which is operated by the parish, is administered by the Deacon Pastoral Associate, a Cemetery Superintendent and staff.

to be continued.........