Four years ago in August, Father Richard Morisette arrived home

By Luke Eggleston
SUN staff writer

After leaving his hometown of Oswego and his home parish of St. Mary of the Assumption Church 52 years ago, Father Morisette had served in 13 different parishes.

Finally, Bishop James Moynihan offered him an opportunity to return to St. Mary’s. Although the church building was largely the same, the community had experienced numerous changes. Some of the people Father Morisette encountered had been absent from his life for over five decades.

“Coming back was interesting,” he said. “There’s a certain curiosity regarding what you will find and which people you will see again. You’re kind of re-identifying with the community and reacquainting with people. Every encounter was interesting. They were very welcoming, that was part of it. I didn’t feel like I was a stranger by any means. It’s been that kind of experience for the past four years.”

Father Morisette believes his home parish is one of the more beautiful churches in the Syracuse Diocese.

“There isn’t a building like it, certainly around Oswego at least, but even around the northeast you might say. It’s an exceptional building and I don’t think a week goes by when there isn’t some visitor here who will stop by and say ‘Father, you have a beautiful building here,’” Father Morisette said.

The church structure has changed very little since its consecration in 1925, but Father Morisette is intimately familiar with the reason it has proven so sustainable.

“A building like that demands a lot of maintenance. That’s been the primary objective. To keep that building well maintained, keep it attractive, functioning the way it’s supposed to. That does take a lot of doing financially and of course people taking care of it,” Father Morisette said.

Shortly after he arrived in 2005, Father Morisette helped launch a $1 million capital campaign to repair the church. Four years later, the parish community is nearing the finish line. It needs just $98,000 more to complete the repairs, which included a new roof. Leakage had emerged in the church’s tower walls and, in some places, bricks needed repointing and new bathrooms needed to be installed.

Father Morisette describes himself as “rather dull” and “nothing special,” although he also claims that one of his greatest weaknesses is pride. Nevertheless, during a recent Mass, Father Morisette asked the parishioners whether or not they believed in miracles.

He noted that on some occasions, the demands of the capital campaign seemed beyond the powers of the church to finance.

“As we started it was kind of ominous. Are we really able to do this?” he said.

Father Morisette credits the generosity of the parish community for generating the funds the building required.

“If it wasn’t miraculous it was the next thing to it. Of course it was a sign of the generosity of the people too,” he said.

Sustaining the church was not Father Morisette’s only challenge when he took over at St. Mary’s. He was also compelled to guide the church through a significant change as it was linked to Our Lady of the Rosary in nearby Hannibal. The transition has not been difficult, however. Father Morisette said that the parish community at Our Lady of the Rosary has provided a welcome addition to his schedule.

“That’s a very nice parish by the way. I’m glad to have it,” Father Morisette said. “That was kind of unexpected when I got a letter from the bishop about it. It’s turned out to be very nice. The people are very good out there and very responsive, very generous, there’s a lot of participation.”

Pope Benedict XVI announced recently that, beginning with the Feast Day of St. John of Vianney, this will be the Year of the Priest. Father Morisette said that it was too early to tell what kind of an impact the pronouncement would have, but it presented him with an opportunity to reflect on his own vocation.

“It’s beyond understanding and it’s beyond our ability to appreciate what it’s all about as priests and as human beings,” he said. “We can’t fully grasp what it’s all about.”

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