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.
In 1863 during the time of the Rev. Patrick Cannon, the church was enlarged to meet the growing population.
As mentioned previously, Rev. Stephen’s grave was incorporated into the construction of the transept and sanctuary. During 1864, additional property was purchased from the Porter family for a young girls’ academy, and in 1865 the nave and side aisles to the church itself were added. The old church almost totally disappeared with only the original front left standing, according to a Catholic article undertaken to “Celebrate the Golden Jubilee of his Holiness, Pope Pius X “written sometime in 1914. The church was opened for divine service on Nov. 5, 1865, when confirmation was administered to almost 100 persons.
The parish continued to grow and in 1869, Bishop Stephen Ryan gave first Communion to a class of children and administered confirmation to a class of 140 persons during his first visit. Father Cannon was transferred to Lockport during this year and the Rev. Patrick Moynihan was appointed rector. Father Moynihan continued this growth with the purchase of a lot and two frame buildings south of the church for its first parochial school which opened during October of 1870 with 120 students.
Remember the comments about the church “being the life of the congregation from birth until death” in a previous article on Holy Trinity. Well, this concept was apparently recognized and adopted among all congregations throughout the diocese during these times as the parishioners of Holy Trinity followed these same steps of St. Mary’s in the early 1900s. Father Moynihan also started the rebuild of the church façade and steeple during 1873. His health deteriorated during his last two years of service and he died in Genoa, Italy, on Sept. 7, 1878, when he accompanied Bishop Ryan during a trip to Rome.
Following in the footsteps of Father Moynihan, the Rev. James A. Lanigan became the next pastor and during 1884, ground was broken for a new, three-story building south of the church for a new parochial school which was opened the following year. Seven members of the Sisters of Mercy resided temporarily in the new school as there was not a convent at this time. Father Lanigan presided when the church was incorporated on Jan. 9, 1890, after instructions from the Bishop to all pastors of the diocese. He returned to Buffalo in 1896 and became the rector of the Cathedral of Buffalo and Vicar General of the Diocese.
You are probably beginning to realize that the early congregation was predominantly of Irish descent as the pastors’ names certainly reflect this heritage. Niagara Falls was a haven for immigrants of all countries during these times and ethnic neighborhoods were sprouting up as the population of the city grew. It became a natural instinct for the faithful to follow their heritage to the predominant place in their life, which was their church.Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.