By Dc. Tom Cuskey
St. Patrick Church in Binghamton just celebrated the 150th anniversary of the dedication of their church building. A milestone, yes, but it’s part of an even longer story of service to the Southern Tier.
St. Patrick’s is the elder member of a linkage with St. Thomas Aquinas Church. Its Southern Tier roots go further back than the building itself. The original congregation came together in 1838, the first permanent Catholic parish in the area. The parish, the anchor of the westside neighborhood at the corner of Oak and Leroy streets, formally took shape in 1843 as St. John’s parish. A story from the Sept. 29, 1873, edition of The Daily Republican recounted the dedication of the new church building and a new parish name and patron: St. Patrick’s. More than 2,500 people — including many priests and altar boys — attended the ceremony according to the report.
Danita Fiacco, the parish administrator supporting Msgr. John Putano, pastor, shared that the first permanent pastor was Irish, as were many immigrants in the neighborhood. That significantly influenced the name change. The parish today serves many ethnicities in what is still a very Irish part of town. “We do have fourth- and fifth-generation families in the parish,” Fiacco said. “It’s just part of the fabric of the life here, yes indeed.”
The 150th celebration focused on the church building and recent improvements, including new doors and a carillon that Bishop Douglas J. Lucia blessed and dedicated as part of the anniversary liturgy. Fiacco stressed, though, that the true spirit of the parish has and will continue to focus on the community and outreach.
“That’s something that I get a little choked up over,” she shared, pausing for a moment to maintain her composure. “I can remember sitting through many meetings, and him (Msgr. Putano) banging the drum.” The parish’s efforts have included a bag lunch ministry, shower facilities and support of a winter warming station for the homeless, as well as a food pantry that kept hungry people nourished when times got tough during the COVID shutdown. “As all the other little pantries were closed, we opened,” Fiacco reported. “We had to snake the line outside as people came for a box of food.” She added that feeding people is part of St. Patrick’s heritage from the days of the Great Depression.
Seminarian Joseph Ryan is a native son of St. Patrick’s. The anniversary celebration was very special to him. “Not only because I have worshiped here for so many years of my life, but this is my grandmother’s parish,” he shared. “Also, God willing, next year I’ll be ordained a (transitional) deacon here in the spring.”
Ryan discerns a priestly vocation and others seek to do God’s work in their own way; the varied approaches fit into the big picture that Bishop Lucia spoke of in his homily. “Today’s Gospel is really all about kingdom thinking,” he shared, celebrating history but not resting on the laurels. “The simple fact that the landowner kept going to get more workers to labor in the vineyard means there’s more work to be done. The mission continues.”
Still, history brought the community together for this observance, its mission recognized at the highest levels. In his remarks, Msgr. Putano shared an Apostolic Blessing from Pope Francis as well as citations from the NY State Assembly.
James Falank, a member of St. Patrick’s for 11 years, joined because of a personal connection to the pastor. “Monsignor Putano married my wife and I 42 years ago,” he shared. “He knew my grandparents; he knew my mother.”
Mary Puthawala and her husband are members of St. James Parish in Johnson City, but she regularly feels the desire to worship at St. Patrick’s. “My heritage is mostly from Ireland, so I have always had a bit of an affinity for St. Patrick’s. It’s such a gorgeous church with a lot of history.” The importance of the anniversary reflects the faith gained and shared since those first days in 1838. “It speaks to the permanence of the church as an institution.,” Puthawala observed. “I think it gives people a sense of permanence and something to believe in, as in truth and beauty.”