Nov. 10-16, 2005
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Father Morisette Returns to St. Mary’s, Leads Renovation Efforts OSWEGO — Father Richard Morisette returned to his home parish of St. Mary of the Assumption just three months ago. And three months ago, he began the daunting task of leading a capital campaign to fund the restoration of the church that reared him in his faith. “As for everybody, your church is one of the sacred spots in your life,” Father Morisette said. “It’s where you meet God and where you find your place in spiritual history. All the stones and the familiar sites of the building all kind of come back to you when you return.”
Consecrated in 1925, the church has served Christians since the 18th century. The ancestors of some St. Mary’s parishioners carried fieldstone to help build the church’s exterior and many donated their silverware and jewelry to make the church’s sacred vessels. The church is designed according the structure of English cathedrals and bears distinct Gothic tones throughout.
The church is now asking its parishioners to once more participate in the building’s structure. A $1 million capital campaign is underway to help support the numerous renovations the church needs.
Originally a church frequented by the French community, St. Mary’s eventually became one of Oswego’s three churches catering to the English speaking Catholics and to the community’s considerable Irish population. Both St. John’s and St. Paul’s had similar congregations. Meanwhile, St. Peter’s was the German church, St. Louis’s was the French church, St. Joseph’s was the Italian church and St. Stephen’s was the Polish church.
Father Morisette attended St. Mary’s School from kindergarten through eighth grade before going to Oswego High School. He was baptized at St. Paul’s when his family lived in the country outside of Oswego, but had first communion and confirmation at St. Mary of the Assumption. Father Morisette was both an altar server and a choirboy at St. Mary of the Assumption. Growing up in Oswego, Father Morisette felt the church was of course more than just a place of worship. When he was younger, the school was bustling and when one attended Mass as a group, one sat with his or her classmates.
“Your life was centered around the school not only in attending class, but also you were in scouts or you were on basketball teams or going to choir practice or whatever other activities there were. Everything happened around the church – all of your social events and so on,” the priest said.
Father Morisette had nine other assignments before returning to St. Mary’s, first serving in Pulaski and then in the parishes around Syracuse. Most recently he served in the Eastern Region at Chittenango and then Vernon. Upon arriving back in Oswego, Father Morisette had a lot of catching up to do with people in the community. “It was like déjà vu kind of,” he said. “It was a reawakening of a lot of sights and sounds and memories that were part of my life during those growing up years. I’ve been getting reacquainted with many, many, many people.”
He also found a church very much transformed from the one he knew as a young man. “It [the church] has definitely changed. People have grown older. When we were younger, it was a very mature parish but also incorporated a much younger segment because there were probably over 400 kids in the parish school at that time,” the priest said. “That’s kind of changed now because people have kind of branched out and families are not as close and they’re not living as close together as they used to.”
Like many northern communities, industrial flight and the passage of older people to the south upon retirement have diminished Oswego’s population. “Family connections are still pretty strong in Oswego but as we know many, many people have moved away either due to retirement or jobs,” Father Morisette relayed. Moreover, there are simply fewer parishioners than there once were. “Not many people attend church as they used to. It’s not considered the obligation that it used to be. So that’s a big difference,” Father Morisette said. St. Mary’s stands as a reminder of a different time and Father Morisette believes it is irreplaceable. Even if the church were not his home parish, Father Morisette finds motivation simply in its appearance and history.
“Looking at the building and seeing how completely unique it is, it gives you, I think, the motivation of continuing with it,” he said. “There’s never going to be another church built like this in our day and age anymore because it’s so unusual. It’s a building that really needs to be preserved. Once it’s gone, you’ll never find another building like this.” The most pressing need in the reconstruction project is the rebuilding of the roof, and a major part of the $1 million is committed to that. Leakage has penetrated the church’s tower walls and water now drips down onto the church’s organ. In some places, bricks must be repointed and new bathrooms need to be installed. The church also requires new kitchen accessories.
The church is also investigating whether or not the roof on the school needs repair. “Every time you turn around there’s something. There’s a lot of small things that are constantly popping up,” Father Morisette said. Even before Father Morisette returned to the church, it was well known that renovations would need to be made and the capital campaign had been launched. Although he knows the task that lies before him will be difficult, Father Morissette of course finds confidence in his faith. “I think I just trust in God and turn it over to him. When you get older, you don’t really let things like that get to you any more. It could be stressful, but so far I haven’t experienced that so much.”
Overall, the response from the church has been very supportive. “Really there’s been a lot of devotion to it. I hear the same thing over and over again about how much the church and the building and the parish itself means to them,” Father Morisette said. “A lot of these people have gone to St. Mary’s School so they’ve had that kind of indoctrination you might say into the atmosphere of the whole parish here. But it’s been more than I might expect. They’re sincere comments about how they love the parish and don’t want to see it ever threatened.”
So far, $837,000 has been pledged to the effort. Those wishing to find out more information about the capital campaign or wishing to contribute may call (315) 343-3953.