Small Parish, Big Heart

July 22-Aug. 4, 2004
Small Parish, Big Heart
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Parishioners at St. Patrick’s Church Celebrate 150 Years of Faith

TRUXTON — Known primarily by skiers who frequent Labrador Mountain, Truxton is nestled among the picturesque mountains that Upstate New York is known for. Travelers may miss Main Street if they are driving too fast, but if they stop, they will find a population of warm, welcoming people of Irish descent and St. Patrick’s Church –– the oldest Catholic Church in Cortland County.

The church is commemorating its 150th anniversary with a 10:30 a.m. Mass that will be celebrated by Bishops James Moynihan and Thomas Costello on Aug. 1. Following the Mass, a parade and picnic will take place. The congregation is comprised of fewer than 100 people, but what is lacking in numbers is more than made up for with commitment, dedication and hospitality.

Truxton was settled in 1792 and became a town in 1808. The earliest settlers were New Englanders who built the town’s Methodist church. In the 1840s, the first Irish Catholics began to settle in Truxton, having migrated from New York City after arriving from Ireland to escape political persecution and the Great Potato Famine. Not much is known about the first church, which burned down in 1878. The existing church was built in 1880 through the efforts of Father Bartholomew McLoughlin. He served as pastor until the time of his death in 1888. Father Michael Joyce succeeded Father McLoughlin and during his administration, the first rectory was purchased. Father Joyce was the first resident pastor serving both St. Patrick’s Parish and St. Bridget’s of Solon as a mission.

Under many pastoral leaders, St. Patrick’s has grown and flourished. Former pastors include Father William Shanahan, Father Carl Pilla, Father Charles Drumm and Father David Jutton. For the past six years, Father Daniel Muscalino and Deacon Lawrence Brickner have served the parishioners at St. Patrick’s. Father Muscalino said that the faith-filled, loyal communicants of St. Patrick’s are an inspiration. “My experience is that small parishes have a unique sense of ownership and loyalty that you don’t see in larger parishes,” said Father Muscalino. “Their faith is astounding to me.”

St. Patrick’s Parish is one of eight Catholic churches in a 10-mile radius. In addition to serving St. Patrick’s, Father Muscalino also serves at St. Lawrence Church in DeRuyter and assists at St. Mary’s Parish in Cortland. In addition, he teaches full time at Bishop Ludden in Syracuse. Father Muscalino said his ministry at the parishes is a joy but he wouldn’t be able to do it without the help of Deacon Brickner and the committed, caring parishioners. The love and ownership the congregation has for their parish allow them to fill in and maintain the church despite the absence of a priest, explained Father Muscalino. “They pick up a lot of the responsibility,” he said. For example, when the church needed a new roof, the congregation not only raised the required $20,000, they facilitated the bid process and oversaw the repairs.

“We have no debt in this parish,” said Robert O’Donnell, a parishioner and building and maintenance administrator. “One third of the funds we raised for the roof came from people outside the parish. The parish stays strong through the cooperation of all the parishioners as well as strong financial support from current and past parishioners,” said O’Donnell. “When the people of Truxton see something that needs to be done, they do it,” said Father Muscalino. “There is a very large ecumenical sense in the community.” The parishioners of St. Patrick’s work closely with the Methodist church coming together to provide bereavement lunches, vacation Bible school, prayer experiences and a joint Thanksgiving service. “The difference in faiths doesn’t matter,” said Father Muscalino.

The importance of faith is evident in Francis Hoffmann –– the oldest member of St. Patrick’s Church. Hoffmann was the postmaster in Truxton for 33 years, owned the general store and ran an insurance business. At age 93, he attended Mass everyday until five years ago, when his health prevented him from doing so. For many years, Hoffmann also assisted as altar server when one wasn’t available. He still attends Sunday Mass during good weather, sitting in the same pew since 1911. While he hasn’t seen many changes in the building except for a few cosmetic renovations, Hoffmann said he has seen a lot of priests come and go. Hoffmann was baptized and married at St. Patrick’s as were his eight children.

Trisda and Mike Faherty and their five sons are the newest members of St. Patrick’s Church. The Fahertys moved to Truxton from Danville, Pa. 18 months ago. Trisda said she wasn’t sure what to expect when she arrived in Truxton, but has found the community welcoming and friendly. “I really enjoy it here,” she said. “When we miss Mass, the community misses you. Here, everyone knows you and if something happens to one of the boys, word gets around.” The two oldest Faherty boys are altar servers and Trisda will start teaching religious education in the fall. Originally from Marathon, N.Y., Trisda is used to living in a small community. “I like feeling I’m part of the community,” she said. “I used to teach religious education in Danville and I miss it. I’m looking forward to teaching here.”

Lonnell O’Donnell, is the president of the Altar and Rosary Society and one of the anniversary committee coordinators. She said that organizing the festivities for the 150th anniversary celebration is a community effort. “The young people are becoming more active in the church,” said Lonnell. “They have taken over the responsibility of fundraising, religious education programs and vacation Bible study.” Lonnell is happy to see more young people move back into the area. “Those who moved away to attend college or take jobs are slowly returning,” she said. The number of children in the community is growing. “There seem to be more babies crying in church,” said Father Muscalino. “I tell the congregation, ‘I’m a school teacher. I can talk over crying babies.’ The more children we have in the parish, the better.”

Father Muscalino shares the enthusiasm and love of St. Patrick’s Church with his parishioners. He was not at all surprised to hear that the people embraced The Catholic SUN reporter on her visit to Truxton. Nor was he surprised to learn that they packed her a lunch for the 30-minute trip back to Syracuse. “Packing someone a lunch is very typical of the type of people they are,” said Father Muscalino. “The practicing of their faith is not just done on Sunday.”

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