Bridges of Faith

Oct. 9-15, 2003
Bridges of Faith
By Blessed Sacrament staff/ SUN contributing writers
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
St. Stephen’s Church in Phoenix celebrates 75th anniversary

Phoenix –– Behind St. Stephen’s Church sits a drawbridge. The bridge, though not in use anymore, was once a major part of the community –– connecting friends, families and loved ones. Like the bridge, St. Stephen’s Church has been bringing generations of families to faith. This year the parish celebrates a milestone with its 75th Anniversary. Appropriately, the theme for the celebration is “Gratitude for the Past, Hope for the Future.” The statement pays homage to the church’s history and those who will pave the way for its future.

St. Stephen’s Church, which began as a mission of St. Mary’s Church in Baldwinsville in the 1850’s, has developed in remarkable ways over the years. From a small number of families, the parish has grown to include over 600 families. “We are a strong and vibrant parish,” said Father Darr Schoenhofen, pastor of St. Stephen’s Church. Father Schoenhofen came to Phoenix from St. John’s Church in New Hartford in July of 2002. He immediately noticed the strong sense of family and community when he arrived. “When you are new to a place you notice virtues that some people can take for granted,” said Father Schoenhofen. “Right away I felt the love the parishioners have for St. Stephen’s.” St. Stephen’s Church is located outside the city of Syracuse. It draws parishioners from villages including Fulton, Pennellville, Baldwinsville and Phoenix. This is one unique aspect of the parish, according to Deacon Frank Forish. “We are fortunate at St. Stephen’s to have a mix of people from different places. At Mass you are always seeing new faces and meeting people from other areas,” said Deacon Forish, who has been deacon at St. Stephen’s Church since 1991.

Selma Rowland, parish historian, moved to Phoenix in the early 1960’s. Sometimes it can be hard to move into a new area, but Rowland said she was welcomed into St. Stephen’s Church with open arms. “It is such a friendly parish,” she commented. “I instantly felt at home.” The location has also played a unique role in the development of the parish. Running behind the church is the Oswego River. The annual “Gathering at the River” has become a part of the parish’s rich history. Rowland explained, “For the past couple of years parishioners from the churches in Phoenix have gone down to the river and had a get together. It is a good opportunity to get to know each other and meet new faces.” The scenic area around the riverbank has also been a beloved spot for countless picnic gatherings and covered dish suppers.

Another bridge, a stone’s throw from the one behind St. Stephen’s Church, still functions today. When boats are traveling down the river, the bridge goes up –– leaving cars unable to cross to the other part of town. “We joke that if someone is late to Mass it’s because the bridge is up,” remarked Father Schoenhofen. In honor of St. Stephen’s Church 75th Anniversary, an “Anniversary Booklet” was created. The book contains the history of the parish, short biographies of past priests and deacons and pictures of past and present parishioners. Besides memorializing the parish’s history, the booklet is a good way to share memories with younger parishioners, said Deacon Forish. “They are the future of the church,” said Deacon Forish. “It is important to give them a history.” Father Schoenhofen agrees the young people are a vibrant part of the parish. St. Stephen’s Church hosts numerous activities throughout the year to help them become an active part of the church community, such as a vacation bible school and youth choir. “As pastor, it is important to me that children feel this is their church and have a sense of belonging,” said Father Schoenhofen.

The parish is hosting several events to celebrate the anniversary. The Celebration Committee will hold a Covered Dish Supper on Oct. 18 following the 5 p.m. Mass. The Anniversary Mass will be on Oct. 19 at 10 a.m., celebrated by Bishop Moynihan, with a reception to follow in the church hall. On Oct. 26, from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. St. Stephen’s Church will host a musical mission. The parish has invited John Polce, a well-known composer and singer to host the mission. Polce will also perform one selection at each of the Masses this weekend. All are invited to attend the festivities. The new memories that will be made will carry St. Stephen’s Church –– already abundant in history, faith and friendship –– into another 75 years. “This is a parish where when people find their way here they stay,” said Deacon Forish.

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