Niagara Gazette

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January 27, 2014

HIGGS: Looking back at the growth of St. Mary of the Cataract

Niagara Gazette — Reams of paper were collected from Michael Parsnick when I met with him at the library last week.

Mike had offered to provide me with some historical background of this early, landmark church in Niagara Falls. He is a combination of Slovakian and Polish heritage with grandparents from the “old countries” and parents Andrew and Josephine, who met in Pennsylvania, migrated to Niagara Falls and married in 1941 at St. Mary of the Cataract Church. They initially resided at the old Beir’s Hotel on Falls Street and his father Andrew spent most of his working life at Kimberly Clark. Mike was christened at St. Mary’s but the family moved to Haeberle Avenue and he continued his Catholic upbringing and formal education at St. Joseph’s on Pine Avenue due to its close proximity to their home. Mike and his son have traveled to both Slovakia and Poland to trace the family background and learn about their heritage. Visiting several small towns they located some relatives who welcomed them and spread the word around that “our American family is here.” This seems to be the case with many of our citizens who have traveled back in time and met the entire village of their family origin. Some relatives still exchange holiday greeting cards with his son.

We left off last week with the first expansion of the church to accommodate the growth of its congregation under the time of the Rev. John Boyle who celebrated the Liturgy in the homes of the faithful as well as his service in Lockport and Lewiston. Realizing this was not keeping up with the population growth, he negotiated a property sale from the Porter family which was transferred to the Diocese of Buffalo and a small stone building was built. He was later transferred to Elmira and was succeeded by Rev. Nolan who was followed in 1857 by Father William Stephens, who moved from Lewiston and became the first resident pastor. He recognized that Niagara Falls was becoming a commercial center and more settlers were moving there rather than Lewiston. Following his transfer to Rochester in 1859, there was a period when the parish was placed under the care of the Vincentian Fathers who conducted the services. Father Stephens returned in 1862, but died that same year and was buried behind the small church.

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