Reeling in the Years St. Anne’s Church celebrates 50 years in the northern community of Parish

Dec. 12 -18, 2002

By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
PARISH — The history of St. Anne’s Church located on Parish’s Main Street, is actually longer than the 50 years that was celebrated this fall. The parish was first established in a French settlement situated halfway between Mexico and Parish back in the mid-1800s. But, the newer building that served as a movie theatre and an Oddfellows Hall before it was purchased to serve as a church back in 1952, is the current home of the parish. With a history so long and varied, the church community came together to celebrate 50 years at a dinner and Mass held in late September.

There are still folks around who remember the first St. Anne’s Church which was surrounded by a cemetery and sat in Pepin’s Grove where there used to be many a celebration complete with chicken suppers and dancing to the tunes of the Colosse Band. And, then there are parishioners who remember the red brick church on Main Street and the musical productions and dancing that went on there before Father James Slowey helped establish the church. In 1950, Mass was celebrated in the village’s Grange Hall before the current property was purchased. It was a mission of St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church in Mexico back then. The church was restored as a separate parish in 1972 and then became a sister parish to St. Patrick’s Church in Williamstown sometime in the mid-1970s, according to former trustee, Stephen Stelmashuck.

Stelmashuck’s family has always attended St. Anne’s Church. He said he remembers back in the mid-1960s when he received his First Penance in the church on Main Street. “I was about eight years old and we all lined up to go into the confessional — the old fashioned kind back then,” Stelmashuck remembered. “I went in and started talking and Father Slowey said, ‘Speak up boy, I can’t hear you.’ So I got louder and he said, ‘I still can’t hear you.’ I felt like I was shouting. It sure made you not want to do anything wrong because you didn’t want to come back,” Stelmashuck laughed.

Stelmashuck’s parents, Stephen and Mary, attended the old church on French Street before the newer one was established. The old church survived a slow-burning fire in its steeple and then in the 1940s, the roof was blown off during a particularly bad storm. The congregation had dwindled by then with the establishment of other churches in the area including St. Mary’s in Mexico in 1916. The congregation couldn’t afford to replace the damaged property so the diocese suppressed the parish for several years until it came back to life in 1950.

Gertrude O’Hara and her family lived in Colosse. She remembers many events surrounding the older church. She remembers walking to most everything back in those days and she remembers her father Alard Gardner, driving to church with the pastor, Father Lawler.

“I remember dad used to bring a shovel with him in bad weather because sometimes the roads would be bad and he would have to stop and shovel us out,” O’Hara recalled.

In those days, there was one priest who served St. Anne’s, St. Francis Church in Little France, St. Mary’s in Mexico and another church in Central Square, O’Hara said. Her family traveled to whichever church the priest was celebrating Mass at that week. “And sometimes in bad weather, we couldn’t go at all,” O’Hara said. “Then my mother would get out our prayer books and we’d have a lesson at home.”

O’Hara remembers card parties and ice cream socials during a time when she said, “The days were a lot longer and the clock didn’t move so fast as it does now.”

The church has always been somewhat of an anchor for the community serving as the food pantry’s base for many years. There are ecumenical services that take place there every Thanksgiving and the parishioners travel to the other churches in town for ecumenical services for Christmas and Easter. The church’s current pastor, Father Tony Keeffe can often be found chatting with neighbors at the post office or the corner market. It is a real “community” church. Bridget Swartz lives next door to the rectory and has since the early 1960s. She remembers her children roller skating with Father Robert Dwyer, the vegetable garden Father Richard Thompson worked on and Father Thompson’s mother Viola staying with him. Father John Fenlon, another former pastor, grew pumpkins, she said.

“We’ve made a lot of friends through the church over the years,” Swartz said.

The community-wide celebration in September drew friends from far and near. Father Thompson, who currently serves as administrator of St. Michael’s Church and Holy Family Church in Fulton and as vicar for the Northern Region, was there to concelebrate the Mass with Father Keeffe. O’Hara spoke at the celebration and Stelmashuck read a proclamation from the Town of Parish that recognized the church’s anniversary.

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