ROME, N.Y. — Father John F. Hogan, Jr., pastor of Church of St. John the Baptist, recently received news that Bishop Robert J. Cunningham will be celebrating the 100th Anniversary Mass of the Church of St. John the Baptist, on Sunday, Aug. 16 at 11 a.m.. Concelebrants will be Father Philip A. Hearn, parochial vicar, and Father Hogan.
The celebration will take place under the big top in the church parking lot. This will be a family celebration with food, games, children’s rides and more.
The original Italian Catholic parish of Rome was organized at a meeting of 60 representative men of that nationality at Duly Hall on July 26, 1909, and was incorporated Aug. 5, under the title of St. John the Baptist Church. Bishop Patrick Ludden approved the formation of the parish and the plans were thus formulated. From 1910-1914, services were conducted in the Ferlo block, 311 E. Dominick St. Father Vincenzo Giorgio was the first pastor assigned in 1910.
On Sept. 11, 1911, the property for the church on River Street was purchased from Bridget Weliken. A basement church was constructed first, and on Sunday, Nov. 30, 1911, Monsignor Grimes of Syracuse dedicated the structure. In 1914, the church was completed.
The second pastor was Father Joseph Panesi, who served from 1917 until his death in January of 1944. Under his guidance, membership in the congregation increased greatly and the church came to occupy a prominent place in religious and community life. During the 27 years of Father Panesi’s pastorate, many improvements were made on the church and additional property was acquired.
One of the earliest accomplishments attributed to the priest was securing the 3,000 pound refined bronze bell in 1921. Made in Valduggia, Italy, the $1,000 bell was dedicated and christened Oct. 31, 1921. A tower, higher, larger and stronger than the two already on the front corners of the edifice, was built to house the bell. It was designed by F. W. Kirkland, Rome, and constructed by a parishioner of St. John’s. In the fall of 1922, the congregation purchased a three-manual organ from the Presbyterian church. The instrument, on which improvements were made later, had 25 stops and a two-horsepower electric blower. It was installed in the balcony, which had to be enlarged. Soon after coming to Rome, Father Panesi acquired the rectory at Brook and River Streets and, in 1923, the house and lot next to the church were purchased. This structure served as the first headquarters of religious instruction for children of the parish and later became the residence of the sisters of the Order of Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate, who were brought to the parish in 1935 to carry on religious education and social work. Growth of the congregation necessitated an enlarged church, and in 1924 an annex was built increasing the seating capacity from 400 to approximately 600. This renovation cost $27,000.
In 1926, the interior of the church was remodeled and redecorated, and memorial stained glass windows were installed.
The steady growth was further evidenced by the fact that, in 1926, the bishop of the Syracuse Diocese sent Father Francis J. Zimmer to become the first assistant in the parish’s history.
Still another achievement occurred in 1928 when Father Panesi dedicated the St. John the Baptist Cemetery on Lower East Dominick Street.
The parish continued to grow and with it the attendance at Masses so that the services became overcrowded, with worshippers being forced to stand on the outside steps. Conditions were eased somewhat with the conversion of the Church of Religious Education at Mohawk and Third Streets, into a mission church for Sunday Masses in 1948.
In 1944, Father Victor F. Ciciarelli, a native of Syracuse, became the third pastor of the congregation. Soon after he arrived, he made plans to free the parish of its mortgages. The last of four mortgages on the River Street property was burned in 1944, with Nicholas J. Rienzo and Gregory Andronaco, trustees of the church, officiating.
In 1945, St. John’s purchased the property of Carl C. Ubell at 146 Stanwix St., as a convent for the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate.
Through necessity and after many meetings, in April 1946, a building fund committee for a new church was formed. This committee worked for years. They estimated 2,500 families in the parish. They estimated costs, worked out plans for raising money and computed the costs. The first St. John Festival was held on the present site in 1949 to raise the money for the new church. Some years, two festivals were held each summer with church societies working to raise the $250,000 required to build the church.
The site selected for the church was a tumbledown building that was once a modern manufacturing plant owned by the Rome Brass and Copper Company. The church purchased the property from Revere Copper and Brass Company and razed the building in 1952.
The new church at 200 E. Dominick St. is 54 feet wide, the full width of the building, and 90 feet long and seats 600 worshippers. Architect Frank W. Brodrick of Syracuse drew the plans. Bishop Walter A. Foery blessed the cornerstone on Oct. 4, 1953. The formal dedication of the new church was on Sunday, May 23, 1954.
In February 1972, Pope Paul VI made the pastor, Father Ciciarelli, an Honorary Prelate, with the title of “monsignor.” The parish honored him on Feb. 29, 1972.
Father Anthony F. Tosti came to St. John’s as an assistant in September 1974 and he was appointed co-pastor in January 1976. Father Edward C. Madore and Father John M. Wood also served as associate pastors.
The 75th Jubilee was celebrated on Saturday, Aug. 4, 1984 with a dinner at The Beeches. A Jubilee Mass was celebrated by Bishop Thomas J. Costello on Sunday, Aug. 5, 1984. Former assistant pastors of St. John’s and former sisters who had served the parish, as well as parish sons who had been ordained, attended the celebration.
Father Anthony F. Tosti, a priest-son of the parish, was named the fourth pastor of St. John’s in 1985 when Msgr. Ciciarelli retired. Father Tosti served until July 1, 1991. In October, 1991, Father Anthony LaFache was appointed pastor. He stayed until July, 1992. Father Joseph J. Clemente became pastor in December 1992, until June 2003. Father Hogan has been pastor since July of 2003.