Feb. 12-19, 2004
By Kristen Fox / SUN Staff Writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Oswego County parishes deal with massive snowstorm
Oswego –– The five-day State of Emergency declared in Oswego County was finally rescinded on Feb. 3, but 10-foot high snow banks that line St. Paul’s Church in Oswego still remind parishioners of the extreme storm that hit the region. The snowstorm blanketed Owego County with approximately 86 inches of snow between Jan. 28 and Jan. 31, according to the National Weather Service spotters network. Father Eric Harer, who has served as pastor of St. Paul’s for nine years, can’t remember so much snow hitting Oswego in such a short period of time. “Last winter was bad, but not this bad,” Father Harer recalled. “Not since I’ve been here has one single storm dropped so much snow so fast.”
The State of Emergency was declared on Jan. 29. The following weekend, Bishop James Moynihan issued a special dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass. Danielle Cummings, diocesan director of communications, said that it was the first time she can remember the bishop extending permission for parishioners to stay home due to severe weather. In spite of the storm and the dispensation, many faithful parishioners still managed to trudge through the snow and clear off driveways and sidewalks to get to services. Father Edmund Wolak, pastor at St. Stephen the King Church in Oswego and administrator of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Hannibal, noticed the usual number of parishioners at the five Masses held at St. Stephen’s and Our Lady of the Rosary on the weekend of Jan. 31. “The attendance was great,” he said. “There are wonderful and faithful people here. Some parishioners walked to church.” Father Wolak was unfazed by the massive dumping. Born in Poland, he is used to snow in such large amounts. “It doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “As a kid in Poland I saw things like this all the time,” During the emergency, Oswego County requested assistance from New York State, and State Department of Transportation resources were deployed to help county, city and local departments of public works. While the snowstorm made for sore arms and big inconveniences, it caused no major damage to St. Paul’s, St. Stephen’s and Our Lady of the Rosary, Holy Family/St. Michael’s Parish in Fulton and St. Joseph Church in Oswego –– five of the churches in Oswego County.
One of the biggest challenges posed by the snow is figuring out where to put it, said Father Peter Williams, pastor of Holy Family/St. Michael’s Parish. “When it is piled like this there is really no space left in the parking lots. We have to remove it but we don’t know where to put it,” he said. “We might have to haul it off in a great big truck.” It is the priest’s first winter in Oswego County. “Before the storm, I kept asking where all the snow was,” joked Father Willams. “The parishioners think the storm is my fault.” The three pastors agree that the storm brought out the best in the community. “It has obviously been hard for the community, but many people are looking after their neighbors,” said Father Williams. “They helped each other to clear driveways.” Dozens of volunteers also lent their services to the churches, clearing snow off of rooftops and entrances. According to Father Harer, two volunteers from St. Paul’s worked overtime to ensure that the church’s sidewalks were clean and clear for worshipers. “We couldn’t have done it without their help,” he said.
A group of generous men and women from Our Lady of the Rosary provided a different kind of help. The food pantry at the church serves approximately 50,000-70,000 meals per year, said Father Wolak, When the snow hit, many of the people who depend on the meals were unable to get to the pantry. The church made special arrangements to have the food delivered. Volunteers braved the icy roads to bring help to their neighbors in need. “In this case we had to bring the food to people,” said Father Wolak. “The volunteers were generous in giving their time to drive the food to homes.” The panty remained open for those who were able to make it in.
For now, the harsh winter weather has subsided and life is beginning to get back to normal in Oswego County. Parishioners can only do their best to cope with all the snow and wait for the arrival of spring . “Everyone is taking it in stride,” Father Williams said. “From what I hear, this is up there with the top snowstorms.”