A fire still burns

St. Vincent de Paul Church to hold rededication Mass and dinner
By claudia mathis / SUN staff writer

The invitations have been sent to over 1000 parishioners, clergy, St. Vincent de Paul School alumni and friends. St. Vincent de Paul Church in Syracuse is planning a Mass and dinner on Saturday, Sept. 22 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the reopening of the church after a devastating fire in 1955. The celebration coincides with St. Vincent de Paul School’s 50th alumni anniversary. 
The Mass will be held at 4 p.m. and will be celebrated by Bishop Thomas Costello. The Mass will be followed by a social hour and catered dinner in the school gymnasium.
The contents from the original cornerstone of the church will be removed and put on display for alumni and parishioners. The cornerstone will then be refilled with items that are relevant to today’s parishioners.

Looking back on the last three years that he has served at St. Vincent de Paul, Father Wilbur Votraw said, “It’s been a good experience because the people here are wonderful — they’re very involved and dedicated to the parish. The upcoming rededication is a great opportunity to celebrate.”
Marian Brooks, parishioner at St. Vincent’s for the last 82 years, agrees. “It’s the dedication of the volunteers that keeps the church going,” said Brooks. “I’m happy to be around to celebrate.” Brooks said she began to do the majority of her volunteer work after she retired because of time limitations. Currently, she is responsible for counting money from church collections and selling 50/50 raffle tickets. She has also tirelessly prepared macaroni and cheese for the Lenten Friday fish dinners that are served at St. Vincent’s.
The foundation of St. Vincent de Paul Parish began with a religious instruction program in 1889 in the Oak Street area, known as Grove’s Tract. Lillie Burns provided religious instruction to neighborhood children at her home every Sunday afternoon. Impressed with Burns’ dedication to teaching the children about their faith, the rector of St. John’s Cathedral thought that a Mission Sunday School should be established in the district for those children who lived far away from their parish church of St. John.
In the spring of 1891, his planning culminated in the organization of a Mission Sunday School with the Cathedral Conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society responsible for the classes. The conference established a committee, which facilitated the purchase of a wooden cottage at the corner of Vann Street and Greenway Avenue in 1892 to provide a place for the instruction of the children. Every Sunday afternoon, the Cathedral priests taught 30 to 40 students at the school.
Later, in 1892, the Sunday School House was converted into a Mission Chapel and Father Hopkins, Cathedral assistant, who was placed in charge, said the first Mass. During his administration the building was redecorated and enlarged to accommodate 225 people.
The new church was incorporated in 1893 under the name of St. Vincent de Paul Church. Once the church was incorporated, the officers looked for a suitable site for the future church. Property on Henderson (now Hawley) Avenue and Vine Streetnd Sherwood Avenue was purchased for the sum of $3,000 from Louise Sherwood. Then, in 1894, church trustees authorized the purchase of another lot located on Vine Street for the sum of $600.
During the two years following the establishment of the Mission Chapel, the Catholics of the area, which numbered about 100 families of Irish descent, requested a resident pastor for their house of worship. Father William Dougherty, of the Cathedral staff, was appointed first pastor of the new parish.
In 1895, realizing that the accommodations of the church were becoming inadequate due to the expanding population in the area, parish leaders began to make plans to erect a new church on the property already owned by the parish. The building plans developed rapidly and Bishop Patrick Ludden laid the cornerstone for the new structure in 1895.
The church was completed in 1897 at a cost of $74,500. After the rectory was completed in 1924, Father Dougherty started the next project in his building program, which was to complete the construction of a school and convent.
Through the pastor’s foresight, the Sherwood property on Sherwood and Burnet Avenues and Winton Street had been procured for school purposes. In 1914, when Bishop Ludden indicated that St. Vincent’s was one of seven parishes that should have a parochial school, Father Dougherty was ready to undertake the mission.
The building was dedicated Oct. 8, 1916. Father Dougherty secured the services of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, from St. Joseph’s Seminary in Troy, N.Y. to assume charge of the new school when it opened.
Father Dougherty died in 1944, after devoting 50 years of his priesthood to St. Vincent’s.      
Father William Oley succeeded him as pastor in 1944 and served until 1950. After resigning due to ill health, Father Olney died on Feb. 16, 1956.
Father David Gidea was serving as third pastor of St. Vincent’s, when on Dec. 7, 1955, a disastrous fire destroyed the church.
The tragedy united the St. Vincent’s parishioners and the resolve of the parish was strengthened.
While the church was being reconstructed, the school auditorium served as the site for Masses, baptisms, weddings and funerals. 
Today, St. Vincent’s is a vibrant, faith-filled parish. The presence of Sister Gloria DeCotis, CSJ, who has served the parish for close to 40 years, has played an integral part in the work of the parish. Sister Gloria has taught at St. Vincent de Paul School, is an advocate for the poor and is a liaison for peace and justice, among other tasks.
“I think the rededication is a joyful occasion,” said Sister Gloria. “It makes us mindful of what a great church we are and how we have responded to the needs of the people in the past, how we are responding now and how we will in the future.”

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