By Anthony Hinkelman
In its 100 years of service, the building of Sacred Heart and St. Mary Our Lady of Czestochowa in New York Mills has served generations of families, and housed numerous organizations, clubs, and programs. Yet in that century, only a few years have passed since the church welcomed in another congregation, a change that, although challenging, has strengthened the parish.
The church, which now serves over 550 families, started from humble origins. It began as the temporary mission of Holy Trinity Parish in Utica, serving the Polish faithful in the area.
On June 6, 1910, a formal parish site was purchased. A large barn was converted into a church for a congregation of about 200 families and on Jan. 3, 1911, the first Mass was celebrated. It’s this same site the current parish building has grown from over the century.
Three years ago, Sacred Heart’s congregation merged with St. Mary’s, and the church’s name was formally changed to Sacred Heart and St. Mary Our Lady of Czestochowa.
“Like any change you’re going to have a bumpy road. Change is hard for everybody but on the whole it’s been pretty smooth. I’ve been welcomed,” said Margarete Zarnoch who was part of the old Sacred Heart congregation.
On September 9, 2007, the two congregations held a unity celebration in which a final Mass was held at Sacred Heart. Communion was delayed, however, for a procession to the new Sacred Heart and St. Mary’s church. They brought their tabernacle, sanctuary lamp, statues of the Sacred Heart, Our Lady Queen of Victory and crucifix to add to their newly-shared church. There, Mass was resumed with Communion.
“It was bittersweet,” said Zarnoch, noting with amusement that the day of the procession was a rainy day.
It was sad, explained Zarnoch, to leave the building her Sacred Heart congregation called home for so many years. Yet, the warm embrace they received at St. Mary’s made the transition easier to handle.
“What really made you feel more welcome was seeing many of the things from Sacred Heart incorporated into the new St. Mary’s,” she said.
According to Barbara LoGalbo, a parishioner, both churches held meetings and formed committees well before the merger.
“There was a time frame where we attended both churches so we were familiar with each other. [Sacred Heart] had beautiful traditions,” she said.
LoGalbo was inspired by the Sacred Heart members’ reverence, witnessed even after service.
“They have this practice when Mass is ended where they don’t just walk out. They stand there and say three ‘Hail Marys.’ It’s so nice to do that and not just beat it to the car and leave,” she said.
Although the building has served St. Mary’s parish for most of its 100 years, the newly received Sacred Heart congregation is just as much a part of the building’s anniversary celebration.
“It’s just like a family,” said LoGalbo. “Everybody has the same thought in mind: come to church to pray. That’s what it’s all about.”
In preparation for the anniversary celebration, Father Michael Carmola of Christ King Retreat House led a three-day retreat at the parish. Father Carmola spoke on various topics, each day centering on a different theme. Participants ended each evening eating snacks and sharing their thoughts on the topics discussed.
The centennial celebration began outside Sacred Heart and St. Mary’s. There, Father Valentine Krul, the parish pastor, fellow clergy, Bishop Robert Cunningham and the congregation opened with prayers.
Their outdoor crucifix with newly-installed outdoor stations — a gift from the Knights of Columbus Council, which operates from the building — was blessed. Then the building itself was blessed and rededicated. The procession went indoors where Mass was celebrated.
“It was quite a milestone for a congregation. It is a great thing … to celebrate 100 years,” said Zarnoch.
With the liturgical service over, the parish went to dinner at the Twin Ponds Country Club.
“Once we got to Twin Ponds it was pure enjoyment,” said LoGalbo. “We could just mingle and eat.”
The parish has since been busy with events, having just celebrated its annual family-style ham dinner Sunday, Nov. 7. Such events have been positively impacted from the merger, which has brought more ministers, lecturers and volunteers, according to LoGalbo. Such volunteers helped make the ham dinner.