Mother Marianne in Oswego Soon-to-be saint served at St. Peter’s
By Connie Berry
OSWEGO — A little recognized fact regarding Bl. Mother Marianne Cope: she spent nearly three years teaching at St. Peter’s School on Albany Street before she went to serve in Hawaii. She was named superior of the new Convent of St. Teresa and principal of St. Peter’s School in 1866. The school and convent building, a square, white structure, still stands next to the church. It has the distinction of the being the only surviving building where Mother Marianne actually resided. The building, now a church hall, was dedicated to Mother Marianne in 1987. It received a new sign recently, which reads “St. Mother Marianne Hall” in honor of her upcoming canonization. Her baptism took place in 1838 at another St. Peter’s Church — in Heppenheim, Hessen-Darmstadt, Germany.
St. Peter’s Church in Oswego was founded for the German community there. The Franciscan fathers from Assumption Church in Syracuse often traveled north to Oswego to celebrate Mass for them. The connection goes even deeper. The founding father, the priest who laid the cornerstone of St. Peter’s Church, the Right Rev. Leopold Mouzygember, OFM, was also the priest who presided at Mother Marianne’s investiture at the Church of the Assumption on Nov. 19, 1862. Mother Marianne’s biography, A Song of Pilgrimage and Exile, says this:
“The page in ‘The Record Book of Perpetual Vows’ that preserves the notice of her profession adds one further interesting detail: ‘Sister Marianna has the intention of doing school work in the Order.’”
All early signs pointed to Mother Marianne’s wish to be a school teacher. She taught at schools in Syracuse, Rome and Utica as well. Her duties as an administrator and her skill at getting others to do their job with little conflict was recognized early and led to her other leadership assignments within the order. Mother Marianne served at St. Peter’s School for two years before being called to Utica to the St. Clare Convent where she was to be in charge of the sisters who were teaching at St. Joseph’s and St. Patrick’s Schools. That position likely allowed her to visit family, but it wasn’t to last very long. She was sent back to Oswego for a term that was supposed to last three years. It would last basically a school year because the commissary general of the Franciscan Friars in Syracuse sent her to serve as administrator at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse.
This year, St. Peter’s Church celebrates its 150th anniversary and the canonization of Bl. Marianne Cope. Members of the parish have been meeting and planning and hope to fill the calendar with regular events that highlight both milestones. They have plans to renovate the St. Mother Marianne Hall adding a mural, some landscaping touches and a statue outdoors. Julie Smith, a nearly life-long Oswegonian, is involved in the planning, and she noted the celebration surrounding Mother Marianne’s connection to Oswego is one for the whole city and all its churches. “She’s a saint for everybody,” Smith said. The parish’s efforts will likely cost $50,000 or so, estimated the parish administrator, Father George Wurz. The various committees are heading up fundraising efforts and a recent pancake breakfast brought in more than $1,000. In April the parish will host a “Spring Scoop Supper,” an idea Smith said was a big hit at neighboring St. Joseph’s Parish. Parishioners bring all sorts of dishes to share and then diners pay by the scoop to try the different foods. Smith said parishioners from St. Peter’s mission church, Sacred Heart in Scriba will also participate in the events. Father Wurz has been at St. Peter’s since 1981, and he has made the trip to the Mother Marianne Museum in Syracuse. He recently donated to the museum a large wooden plaque that features a local newspaper story about Mother Marianne and St. Peter’s Church.
Father Wurz is offering a spiritual tribute he hopes will help evangelize as well. Beginning on Palm Sunday, April 1, and continuing to Divine Mercy Sunday on April 15, parishioners at all Oswego Catholic Churches are asked to pick up an envelope that contains a prayer for Mother Marianne’s intercession and prayer cards to be given to two other people who will also be asked to pray to Mother Marianne. The prayers are for healing and will culminate in a healing Mass at St. Peter’s Church on Divine Mercy Sunday. “I’m hoping that when you ask for two sponsors to pray for you, you might be inviting someone who has been alienated from the church to pray and maybe to come here for the Mass,” Father Wurz said.
For Smith, the meetings and planning have already made a difference in her own parish life. She said people are coming forward with gifts and talents that she never knew existed. They tied the pancake breakfast to World Marriage Sunday around Valentine’s Day and invited parishioners to bring in their wedding photos. The couple married the longest, 62 years, was recognized at the event. “We’re getting to know each other better,” Smith said.
St. Mother Marianne Hall is the site of most of the parish events. The wooden floors are shiny and look to be original. Upstairs is likely where Mother Marianne and the other sisters slept. Now it houses the Northern Region Faith Formation Offices. For Smith, the hall has a special significance.
“I met my husband here,” she said. “It was in this room at a record hop. The pews were lined up all around the room, girls on one side, boys on the other. Kids used to come here from all over the city for those dances.”
That was when Smith was in seventh grade. It took a while longer for her to warm up to her husband. “He used to follow me home and I didn’t like it,” she said with a smile. “But I met him again at my brother’s wedding and we got reacquainted.”
St. Peter’s Church hopes to offer an evening event in August or September when a Franciscan sister can come and give a presentation on Mother Marianne. Father Wurz said they will also celebrate with an anniversary Mass at some point, hoping Bishop Robert Cunningham will come to celebrate.
The German roots are strong at St. Peter’s and are intertwined with the early Franciscans in the diocese. The little schoolhouse was once home to a saint and so the parish is looking to preserve it and honor the memory of Mother Marianne. Anyone interested in helping the parish as it refurbishes St. Mother Marianne Hall, can contact the church at (315) 343-0350.