Nov. 6-12, 2003
From the Ground Up
By Blessed Sacrament staff/ SUN contributing writers
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
St. Joseph’s Church celebrates its 50th anniversary
Lee Center –– The parishioners of St. Joseph’s Church are proud of their parish –– and rightfully so. From the ground up, it was parishioners who built the church. Now, 50 years later, the church that was founded on faith and hard work celebrates a milestone with its 50th anniversary.
To mark the occasion parishioners came together for a dinner dance on Oct. 17 at The Beeches Restaurant in Rome and a Mass on Oct. 19. Several former pastors from the church attended the dinner dance along with other clergy from the Rome area. Bishop Walter Foery dedicated the church on Oct. 18, 1953, but its history can be traced back to the 1920’s. The first Mass was celebrated on Dec. 2, 1923, at St. Joseph’s Mission Church by Father Thomas Driscoll, who was pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Taberg. St. Joseph’s Mission Church, once a private residence, was purchased and turned into a chapel. It had a tiny sanctuary and held about 80 people.
From small beginnings something incredible blossomed. The parish grew extensively in the 1940’s. According to church records, people sat on the church’s front lawn to attend Mass. In 1950, the mission moved from St. Patrick’s Church to St. Mary’s Church in Rome. To meet an increasing congregation, Father Aubrey Seiter, pastor of St. Mary’s, purchased a seven-acre plot located at 5748 Stokes-Lee Center Road, for $1,800 for the construction of a new St. Joseph’s Church. Groundbreaking took place in October of 1952. Father Seiter designed a Norman-Gothic style building modeled on his recollection from seminary days in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery next to St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester. Aside from being unique looking, the steep roof serves a practical purpose in the winter, said Father Paul Carey, who has been pastor at St. Joseph’s Church since 1998. “There is really no snow removal needed on the roof,” joked Father Carey. The seating capacity for the new church was approximately 400. Another attribute of the building includes native granite rocks from Alexandria Bay that Father Setier purchased for “seven and one half cents apiece.” “Everything in the church is in some way a hand-me-down,” observed Sister Dorothy Root, CSJ, pastoral associate at St. Joseph’s Church. “Father Seiter had a lot of foresight about what he saw for the church.”
In another act of frugality Father Seiter obtained the bell for the tower from a church in Heuvelton. Church records tell the story: “Father Seiter was out for a drive one day and by chance passed by a church while workmen were removing the bell from the church tower in order to replace it with a new chime system. Father offered the pastor $450 for the bell and donated it and the electrically timed Angelus ringer to St. Joseph’s.” The people of St. Joseph’s created their church from nothing. Some pitched in by hauling the granite rocks to Lee Center from Father Seiter’s property in Osceola. Others nailed the framework together. Women gathered at the worksite and prepared sunset dinners for their hard-working husbands and sons. Because of the amount of free labor and donated materials, the church was completed at a cost of $37,000. It was considerably less than the estimated value at that time which was $165,000.
Anthony DeMinco, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s Church, helped to work on the construction of the church 53 years ago. “It was a very energetic core group of men,” DeMinco recalled. “We worked hard but we had a lot of fun, too.” DiMinco was also one of the 10 men who helped to hoist into place the 800-pound statue of St. Joseph. The statue still stands in the same spot where it was erected –– high in the stone wall above the church’s entrance. On Feb. 9, 1962, St. Joseph’s Church was incorporated as a parish. Church traditions of today are deeply rooted in its founding days. There exists a substantial number of parishioners from German decent, remarked Father Carey. The church celebrates this heritage annually with a German dinner. The choir also has planned a trip to Germany this spring.
Over 50 years later, the 500 families who belong to St. Joseph’s still embody the same spirit of faith and dedication the church was founded on. And they are still contributing to its growth. New stations of the cross were installed in the church and the church was rewired, with parishioners doing all the work. A parishioner, Ted Prossner, also an architect, designed the parish center, which is located next to the church. Father Carey optimistically looks ahead to future generations of the church –– the youth who will contribute to its spirit and physical livelihood. “They are an important part of the church,” said Father Carey. “And they are eager to contribute to the parish.” One of the favorite parish activities is a special Mass the Confirmation class leads every other week. “There is always a strong turnout at the Mass,” commented Father Carey. “The older people enjoy coming to interact with the youth. The youth enjoy it as well.” Sister Dorothy, who has been at St. Joseph’s since 1988, has noticed something special about the relationship all parishioners –– both young and old –– have with the church. “The church is really their own,” she said. “They helped make it into what it is today.”
DeMinco, who served as a parish trustee for 38 years, agrees. He and his wife, Leda, live nextdoor to the church. They raised their sons there. It is definitely a special place, he said. “Our church stands together,” said DeMinco. “The people who made it have continued to contribute to it through the years.”