50 Years of Giving
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
St. Ann’s Parish Marks its 50th Anniversary
St. Ann’s Parish grew out of a population boom that exploded in the western suburbs of Syracuse in the early 1950’s. To alleviate the overcrowding at Most Holy Rosary Church, St. Charles Borromeo Church and Holy Family Church, Bishop Walter Foery and Diocesan Chancellor Robert Dillon purchased 17 acres of meadowland for $10,000 on the extension of West Onondaga Street, the former bed of the old Syracuse and Auburn Trolley Line.
To organize and lead this effort to build a church, rectory, school, convent and parish center, the bishop appointed Father Francis J. Sheedy, a native west-ender and son of St. Lucy’s Church. His simple faith, warm personality and Irish wit perfectly complemented the backgrounds of many of his first parishioners.
St. Ann’s parishioner Millie McAuliffe attended the church’s first Mass, which was held in the House of Providence Chapel on March 6, 1955. The House of Providence at W. Onondaga Street served as a temporary home for St. Ann’s Parish and its pastor, Father Sheedy, in early 1955. At that time, the parishioners were busy planning activities to raise money for the building fund. McAuliffe enjoyed being on the planning committees for many of these activities, and she was also the second president of the Altar and Rosary Society. “I loved church work,” reminisced McAuliffe. “I made some wonderful friendships which I still have today. We had fun. Father Sheedy was inspirational and a lot of fun. Those were some of the happiest days of my life.” A major parish event occurred on Sept. 17, 1955 with an affair called the “Autumn Festival” at the House of Providence grounds. This old-fashioned festival, with games, prepared foods and crafts, raised $6,544 and evolved years later into what many of today’s parishioners call the “Holiday Open House.”
Because every effort towards fundraising in that first year was successful, the parishioners were able to move ahead with their building plans. Contracts for the new church and rectory, designed by Pederson & Hueber Architects, were signed Jan. 10, 1956. The church cost $108,000 and the general contractor was R.A. Culotti Construction Company. The rectory cost $62,000, and was constructed by Joseph Bonzek. The ground breaking for St. Ann’s Church took place on Jan. 21, 1956, and nine months later the church was completed. The altar was made of walnut and the pews of white oak. A hand-carved crucifix from Oberammergau, Germany was placed above the altar. Graceful wooden laminated arches rising from the foundation of the side walls formed the main roof supports and the ceiling. By October 1956, the church and rectory were ready for use. St. Ann’s first assistant pastor was assigned in Feb. 1958. Father Richard Tucker, a native of Syracuse who had grown up in Most Holy Rosary Parish, had the advantage of already knowing many area families. Now with a pastor, an assistant pastor and continuing growth, it was time to consider building a school and convent.
The plans for a two-story school with nine classrooms, connected to the church on the north side, were set in motion. The convent would have space for nine nuns as well as a chapel. Both the school and chapel were designed to blend with the exterior appearance of the church. Ground was broken for these two facilities on Oct. 15, 1959. The parish had grown to 400 families. Bishop Walter A. Foery blessed and dedicated the structures on Aug. 19, 1960, and on Sept. 12, the new St. Ann’s Grammar School opened with 174 students in first through fourth grades. In 1964, registration increased to 415 students in first through eighth grades. Father Sheedy died in 1977 and was succeeded as pastor by long time assistant Father Tucker, who continued strong support of the school and parish through more widespread parishioner involvement. He was forced to retire in 1986 due to health problems.
Father Thomas McGrath became the pastor in Dec. 1986. With foresight and vision, he initiated a religious education program to serve the needs of all ages. Father McGrath left in 1995 to become pastor of St. Mary of the Lake Church in Skaneateles. Father John Roark then assumed the pastorate. His commitment to St. Ann’s School was a priority, resulting in many academic awards for students and faculty. Father Roark retired in 2001 and is now pastor emeritus.
Father Joseph Phillips succeeded Father Roark as pastor. He is also director of the Diocesan Family Life Education and Propagation of the Faith Offices. Father Phillips noticed right away that St. Ann’s was different in several ways from other churches in which he had served. He noticed the parishioners’ helpful nature. “Whenever a need is presented to the parish, people respond very graciously and generously,” explained Father Phillips. “The parish is very responsive when they have a chance to help disadvantaged children and the programs of Catholic Charities.” Father Phillips also noted that the parishioners have pride in their parish and all that they have accomplished over the years. “St. Ann’s started from an open field,” said Father Phillips. “Their pride has been carried down through generations.” As a church community, St. Ann’s has grown from 339 members to more than 850 households. Virginia Brennan has been a member of St. Ann’s parish since 1958. She has enjoyed participating in the choir since joining. “This is a wonderful, generous and giving parish,” remarked Brennan.
St. Ann’s church will be celebrating its 50th anniversary with a Mass on March 6 at 10:30 a.m., followed by a brunch at Bellevue Country Club.