A Loving Parish

Oct. 21-27, 2004
A Loving Parish
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Hannibal’s Our Lady of the Rosary Church Celebrates 50th Anniversary

HANNIBAL — In the small country village of Hannibal sits the warm and welcoming parish of Our Lady of the Rosary. The parish will be celebrating its 50th anniversary at 11 a.m. on Oct. 31 with a Mass celebrated by Bishop James Moynihan. After the Mass, a pro-life tree, planted between the church and the rectory, will be blessed. A catered dinner will follow in Hartnett Hall and a “remembrance” video highlighting the history of the church will be shown.

In the fall of 1954, the increasing numbers of Catholics in the Hannibal area made it imperative that something be done to provide for their spiritual needs. After searching for property, Father Edward C. Hearn, then pastor of Holy Family Church in Fulton, acquired the deed for the home and land belonging to Mrs. Iva M. Goodrich on Cayuga Street directly across from Hannibal High School.

The first Mass celebrated in Hannibal was on Sunday, Nov. 28, 1954, in the living room of the house with 87 people in attendance. From that day on, the congregation increased steadily, until it became apparent that larger and more permanent facilities would be necessary. The barn behind the house was transformed into a beautiful little chapel. St. Joseph’s Church in Oswego provided used pews, while other furnishings such as the altar, vestments and candlesticks were donated by friends and parishioners. In the spring of 1956, Father Hearn reported to Bishop Walter A. Foery that the Catholics of Hannibal were anxious to be established as an independent parish. As a result, Our Lady of the Rosary Church officially came into being on June 1, 1956, and Father James E. Nicholson was appointed the first resident pastor.

This first Catholic Church in Hannibal was dedicated on Dec. 9, 1956, by Bishop Walter A. Foery. On this occasion, the bishop also confirmed his first class at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish. Under Father Nicholson’s direction, a new and permanent brick church designed to seat 318 persons was constructed. Most of the labor involved in the construction was furnished by the men of the parish and several boys of the village. The project was completed in a little less than one year. On Dec. 8, 1960, Father Nicholson was transferred to St. Patrick’s Church in Jordan, and Father Robert Quigley was appointed pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Church. During the years of Father Quigley’s pastorship, the parish continued to grow and prosper.

Bishop Walter Foery appointed Father Joseph D. Segrue as the third resident pastor in 1967. During the month of August, the parish hall was renovated. Father Segrue, assisted by the janitor, James Scanlon, constructed a visual aids storage room, paneled and painted the walls and installed a folding partition dividing the hall into two teaching areas for religious instruction. The year 1968 was a time of continued improvement in the church. The sanctuary was renovated to better adapt to the changes in the liturgy after Vatican II. In 1970, Father Segrue was transferred to St. Paul’s Church in Oswego and he was succeeded by Father Thomas Neary who served for the following two years. Father Joseph Larkin was appointed the fifth resident pastor in 1972.

In the winter of 1975, Father Larkin announced that he was looking for volunteers to work on a shrine in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The shrine, dedicated in 1976, stands between the rectory and the Church, facing Hannibal Central School. Father Dennis Hartnett followed Father Larkin as pastor. The parish was then more than 20 years old and the membership had increased substantially, particularly in the number of children enrolled in the religious education program. Father Hartnett’s first priority was in the education of the young people. He hired the first director of religious education. At that time, classes were held in every available space : in the sacristy, the cry room, the confessional room, the hall kitchen, and the hall itself. Everyone agreed that classroom space should be built but the question was how large and how expensive. Before the parish could go any further with its plans, Father Hartnett had to get the bishop’s approval. Father Hartnett was told that before they could go ahead with any construction it would be necessary to raise one-half the cost of the building. The parishioners continued to work on dinners, bake sales, raffles, and other fund-raising activities and donated generously each month to the building fund.

In the fall of 1979, Father Hartnett became seriously ill and was ultimately diagnosed with having throat cancer. He was on sick leave for approximately 14 months. In Father Hartnett’s absence, the bishop appointed Father Peter Paige as administrator. In December of 1980, Father Hartnett returned with a renewed determination to build the classrooms which were so desperately needed. As soon as the necessary funds were raised, he approached the bishop and received permission to go ahead with the new addition. Six classrooms and an office for the DRE were built by the end of December. It was named “Hartnett Hall” in honor of the pastor who worked so diligently to make the dream a reality. In 1993, Father Hartnett was taken ill again. The cancer which had been thought to have been conquered over a decade before had come back. This time, no treatment could save him and Father Hartnett died on Dec. 12, 1993. Regis Wallover has been a member of Our Lady of the Rosary Church for 28 years.” When Father Hartnett died, it was a very big loss to our parish,” said Wallover. Following the death of Father Hartnett, Father Moritz Fuchs was installed as the new pastor for Our Lady of the Rosary Church on March 15, 1994.

Father Edmund Wolak replaced Father Fuchs as pastor for Our Lady of the Rosary Church five years ago. “This parish is very unique,” said Father Wolak. “It’s smaller than any of the other parishes that I have served with. It’s a rural area. People are more hospitable because they know each other.” As a church community, Our Lady of the Rosary has grown from 87 members to more than 300 families. Father Wolak acknowledges a few challenges in his duties as pastor at Our Lady of the Rosary Church. His biggest challenge is to bring the people who have been hurt by the closing of St. Joseph’s Chapel in Oswego five years ago to the church. He is also concerned about the children who don’t make it to church. “We offer a great religious education program here, but we can only touch the lives of the children who come,” said Father Wolak. When Father Wolak preaches, he doesn’t stand at the podium. He walks out into the aisles to be near the parishioners. “I come to the people,” said Father Wolak. “I want them to be part of me. Because the parish is small, it is like talking to your sisters and brothers. It is very special here. I love to preach in this parish.”

Kathy Emmons has been the DRE at Our Lady of the Rosary for nine years. The parish boasts a very strong religious education program with 115 students in attendance. It is one of only two parishes in Oswego County that incorporates religious education release time into the school schedules. Father Fuchs trained Emmons in the direction of the program and she said that Sister Germaine Hilston, CSJ, is her mentor.

Emmons finds her position as religious education director very rewarding. When she asks lay people to help teach, they become her friends and family. Many of her teachers take time off from their jobs to teach the children. Deceased parishioner Louise Malone was very special to Emmons. She was her source of information. Before she died, she asked Emmons to keep the annual Strawberry Festival going. Malone headed the committee for the festival. Every year, after the tent was set up, Malone hung rosaries on the tent, hoping that it wouldn’t rain on the day of the festival. The history of Our Lady of the Rosary Church wouldn’t be complete without the mention of long-time parishioner Eleanor Doyle. “She is part of a group that is the backbone of the parish,” said member Janet Driscoll. “Her example of faith inspires me in a lot of ways.” Our Lady of the Rosary community is a very close-knit family. “We’re very close; when one’s hurting, we’re all hurting,” said Emmons.

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