Auburn church marks 175th year - Catholic Courier

Auburn church marks 175th year

Holy Family Church, sometimes referred to as the "mother church of Auburn," is an imposing, twin-spired structure built in 1861. For parishioners, however, it represents more than just a place of worship in an impressive, cathedral-like building.

"It’s our home," explained longtime parishioner Josie Nicolella.

Later this month Nicolella and her fellow parishioners will conclude their yearlong celebration of the parish’s 175th anniversary. That celebration began during Mass for the Feast of the Holy Family on Dec. 28, 2008. After Mass, representatives of the City of Auburn, the Cayuga County Legislature and the New York State Assembly presented special proclamations to the parish in honor of its anniversary, said Nicolella’s husband, Al.

Anniversary events have been sprinkled throughout the past year, said Al Nicolella, chairman of Holy Family’s anniversary committee. The parish published a new photo directory of its members, complete with an updated parish history, and sold parish sweatshirts. The Cayuga County Museum of History and Art designated April as Holy Family Month and had a display about the parish’s history, and the children in the parish’s faith-formation program carried a Holy Family Parish banner in the Memorial Day parade, he said.

The parish also held three organ recitals, a Mass and luncheon with Bishop Matthew H. Clark, a dinner dance featuring music from the 1970s, a parish picnic, and an Old Timers’ Basketball Game with current and former players from the parish’s team. There will be a parish retreat day later this month before the anniversary year wraps up with a Mass and reception on Dec. 27, Al Nicolella said.

It’s hard to believe the parish has been around for 175 years, said Margaret Vail, who has been a parishioner for 87 of those years. At 102 years old, Vail is one of Holy Family’s oldest parishioners, according to Margaret Lepak, parish secretary.

"I think it’s wonderful to think it’s been here all these years, and so many people go there and it’s still a wonderful church," Vail said.

Although Vail has belonged to Holy Family for nearly nine decades, she did not grow up in the parish. Instead, she belonged to Auburn’s St. Aloysius Parish, which has since closed, until her family moved closer to Holy Family when she was 14.

"When we moved up on Fulton Street we immediately became members of Holy Family Parish, and I’ve gone there ever since," Vail said.

The parish hasn’t changed too drastically, in Vail’s opinion, although the makeup of its parishioners seems to have shifted.

"When we first started going there I can remember a lot of names that were more Irish, and now I read the bulletin every week and the names of the people are more Italian and Polish and all that," she said.

Another longtime parishioner, Thomas McNabb, said he remembers a time when the parish rectory was filled to capacity.

"I can recall the days when we had four priests there," said McNabb, who was baptized at the parish in 1937.

Father Dennis Shaw currently is the only priest serving at Holy Family, but this active pastor has been a godsend, McNabb said. For one thing, it was his idea for the parish to start a shelter for Auburn’s homeless men, he said. Chapel House opened in Holy Family’s gymnasium and has since moved into its own building.

"He’s a wonderful priest," Vail said of Father Shaw. "All our priests are good, religious priests, but he’s done so much for the poor and the homeless, and I think that’s a great part of religion."

Holy Family’s parishioners also are always looking for ways to step up and help others, McNabb added.

"It’s always been a parish where people became very active in various parts of the parish life. Everyone became involved," said McNabb, who sang with the choir for 20 years and served on the parish’s education committee.

McNabb currently serves as head usher for one of the weekend Masses, and also is a member of the Auburn City Council and serves as national secretary for the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a Catholic fraternal organization.

"The people … are very generous people, not only money-wise, but helping in the community for different causes. They’re right there," Al Nicolella said.

Parish volunteers run a Clothes Closet where those in need can shop for free used clothing twice a week and also operate a Catholic Shop. All the proceeds from the shop benefit various charities, Al Nicolella said. Volunteers also staff a local soup kitchen and regularly lead the rosary at a local nursing home.

Every weekend Mass at Holy Family is packed, McNabb said, perhaps because parishioners know their fellow parishioners will care for them the same way they care for Auburn’s needy and infirm.

"When they need us we’re there," Al Nicolella said.

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