BINGHAMTON — On Sunday, Oct. 27 at 2:30 p.m., St. Patrick’s, the “Mother Church of the Southern Tier,” will be celebrating its 175th anniversary with a special Mass at which Bishop Robert J. Cunningham will preside.
It has been designated the “Mother Church” because when it was established in 1838, it was, for the next 50 years, the only Catholic church in the Southern Tier. All of the Catholic churches that were established in Broome County after that were offshoots of St. Patrick’s.
“I’m very excited,” commented Kathleen Reynolds, church historian and lifelong parishioner, of the celebration. For Reynolds, the commemoration will be a culmination of the memories of six generations of her family who have attended St. Patrick’s. Her paternal grandparents, Denis Hallerehan and Mary McMahon, were married there on May 7, 1860. In addition, Reynolds said she met and married her husband at St. Patrick’s and two of her grandchildren were baptized there. Reynolds also serves as a Eucharistic minister and lector at St. Patrick’s, and in the past, has brought Communion to the sick.
The celebratory Mass will feature a special liturgy and some extraordinary music, which will include a brass quartet, a violinist and music performed on the church’s recently restored pipe organ.
Msgr. John Putano, pastor of St. Patrick’s and St. Thomas Aquinas, is especially excited. He commissioned Tom Kendzia, a noted liturgical composer, to write a special Communion hymn, entitled, “As I Have Loved You,” to be sung at the Mass. “It is very beautiful,” remarked Msgr. Putano, of the hymn.
Following the Mass, Reynolds said, a bagpipe band will lead those in attendance to a reception in the church hall.
“There is a great history here at St. Patrick’s — and I think it is important to celebrate that history because it is about our Catholic faith and how that faith flourished over these past 175 years,” said Msgr. Putano.
“There are so many families that have several generations who have been members of the church — some have three or four generations,” added Reynolds. “It’s incredible.”
Msgr. Putano said he is very honored to serve as pastor of St. Patrick’s, a post he has held for the last three years. The church has a membership of over 800 families.
“I attended St. Patrick’s Academy, graduating in 1961,” said Msgr. Putano. “So I have many fond memories of my years at St. Patrick’s, and when I came here, originally to assist Father John Booth who was ill at the time, I was excited to be a part of this community as well as St. Thomas Aquinas, where I had served one summer as a deacon.”
According to Reynolds, the history of St. Patrick’s began in 1824 when the first of many Irish families arrived in Binghamton. The Irish population continued to grow, and by 1830, their spiritual needs were administered to by circuit riders, who traveled from as far away as Philadelphia.
According to Reynolds, the official history of the parish began with a wedding in 1834. Reverend Michael Hurley, rector of St. Augustine’s Church in Philadelphia, Pa., traveled to Binghamton to preside over the marriage of Rhoda Elizabeth Waterman and James White. They exchanged vows under a tent, as no church had been built yet.
The following year, on special Sundays, Reverend Arthur Wainright of Pottsville, Pa., presided at Masses on the lawn of the Edward White family in Binghamton. Hundreds of people of all denominations attended the Masses under a canopy.
With more Irish families moving into the area, it became necessary to acquire some land on which to build a church. A site on Leroy Street, the site of the current St. Patrick’s, was chosen because it was elevated. All the influential residents of Binghamton, regardless of their religious affiliation, contributed to the building fund. The church, named after and dedicated to St. John the Apostle, was completed in 1838.
Under the pastorship of Father Arthur Doyle, St. Patrick’s was formally named a parish in 1843. The following year, Father John Sheridan replaced Father Doyle as pastor. He served until 1847, when St. Patrick’s third pastor, Father James Hourigan, took over. He served for nearly 50 years. Reynolds noted that Father Hourigan believed that St. Patrick’s would eventually become the seat of the diocese.
In 1873, the original church was replaced by a new one built in the neo-gothic style and it was renamed St. Patrick Church.
After Father Hourigan’s death in 1892, his nephew, Father Nicholas Quinn, served as interim administrator until the appointment of Father John McDonald in 1893. Among the many renovations facing him, Father McDonald was responsible for tearing down the impressive church steeple, the pride of the parishioners and a Binghamton landmark. Some parishioners bitterly opposed the dismantling of the steeple, and after its removal, Father McDonald left the rotting timbers between the church front and the curb as evidence of their structural deficiency.
Father John McLoghlin succeeded Father McDonald who died in 1907. His notable achievements over a span of 21 years as pastor at St. Patrick’s included liquidating the parish’s existing debt, installing new stained glass windows and erecting a parochial school. After his death in 1928, Father Ambrose Dwyer succeeded him. He completely remodeled the church by installing marble altars, aisles, an altar rail and a pulpit.
After tending to the spiritual needs of his parishioners for nine years, Father Dwyer died in 1937. Father William Sheehan, who served less than three years before passing away, considerably reduced the parish debt. In 1940, Father D. Francis Curtain was appointed pastor. He served for the next 23 years.
Because Bishop Foery wanted a central Catholic high school to be constructed in the Binghamton area, St. Patrick’s High School closed in 1963.
Also in 1963, Msgr. Frank Harrison was appointed as pastor to St. Patrick’s. On March 3, 1971, Pope Paul VI appointed Msgr. Harrison Bishop of Syracuse. In 1974, he left St. Patrick’s and was succeeded by Father Thomas Doran who served until 1985.
Then Father James Fallon returned to his home parish to serve as pastor. He initiated Perpetual Adoration at St. Patrick’s Chapel. He served until 1990 when Msgr. Robert Davern and Father David Pichette served as interim administrators until the appointment of Father James Quinn in 1991. Father Quinn, who also taught religion at Seton Catholic Central High School, left St. Patrick’s in 1993 to teach full time at the high school.
Msgr. Peter Owens, vicar of the Southern Region of the Diocese, took over for him.
In 1998, a Celtic cross was placed in the courtyard in front of the church. The cross, from Bray, Ireland, honored the parishoners’ Irish roots.
From 1999 to 2008, Father Laurence Lord served the parish as pastor and Father John Booth served from 2008 to 2010.
“This 175th celebration is a community event because St. Patrick’s Church is the Mother Church of the Southern Tier,” said Msgr. Putano. “All are invited to attend this special celebration and celebrate our Catholic faith and also acknowledge the role of other faiths in the history of this first Catholic church in our region. We are excited because it is not only a significant event — but also because it is an opportunity to give witness to our community of what our Catholic faith means for us, how we reach out to the community and how we all need to work together to build a community that sees its primary role as one of service — to love one another as God has loved us.”