Avon church celebrates 150th anniversary of its church building
AVON – Proudly standing just north of this village’s traffic circle, on Prospect Street, is a sizable brick structure that’s been in existence almost since the Civil War ended.
St. Agnes Church was the center of attention Aug. 17 as the building’s sesquicentennial was celebrated. Bishop Salvatore R. Matano presided at the 4 p.m. Mass, with a picnic following on the church grounds. Also included in the day’s events was the unveiling of St. Agnes’ parish center, located in the former rectory. Joining the current St. Agnes community for the big gathering were several former St. Agnes priests, deacons and parishioners.
Father Michael Fowler, pastor of the cluster comprising St. Agnes, St. Rose Parish in Lima and St. Paul of the Cross Parish in Honeoye Falls, said the celebration was a “huge success.”
“A cadre of volunteers gave generously of their time and energy to help us prepare for the big event. Bishop Matano was the epitome of gracious presence, engaging conversation and provocative reflection; while Father (Daniel) White, as always, put everyone at ease in their liturgical duties. I am humbled by, and in awe of, what has taken place,” Father Fowler said.
Festivities on Aug. 17 marked 150 years, nearly to the day, of the blessing of St. Agnes Church’s cornerstone. That historic act was performed on Aug. 15, 1869, by Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid, who had become the Diocese of Rochester’s first bishop when the diocese was formed one year earlier. St. Agnes’ current church opened for Masses in 1870. Previously, the parish — which was formed in 1850 — had utilized a former Baptist meeting house as its place of worship beginning in 1853.
Maureen Kingston, a lifelong member of St. Agnes, noted that construction of the now 150-year-0ld church in northern Livingston County was done largely by parishioners.
“The people who built this church had nothing, no money. They were pretty much folks from the country, and they helped build it however they could,” she said.
The church has successfully withstood the test of time, having undergone its last major renovation in the late 1980s with Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark celebrating a rededication on Aug. 13, 1989. St. Agnes’ spacious interior features many statues and colorful stained-glass windows. Saints depicted on the windows include Francis of Assisi, Peter, John the Baptist, Agnes, William of Bourges and John Chrysostom.
Whereas all those features appeal to the eye, St. Agnes also is attractive to the ear — in the form of its recently repaired bells that, in late July, began ringing again for the first time since 2011. According to Bonnie Deprez, buildings and operations manager for the Avon/Lima/Honeoye Falls cluster, the bells peal at 8:10 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. each Monday through Friday, as well as five minutes prior to the 4 p.m. Saturday and 11:30 a.m. Sunday Masses.
Kingston pointed out the bells’ proud history in the community, saying that previously when the bells rang at noon, “all the Catholics in Avon stopped and said the Angelus (a brief devotional prayer).”
One more highlight on display Aug. 17 was the parish center, featuring rooms full of historical documents and photos. Joan Reid — who, along with Kingston, was on St. Agnes’ sesquicentennial planning committee — said that the parish center, which also houses the parish food pantry in its basement, is being earmarked as a gathering place for meetings and other activities such as Bible-study groups and small Christian communities.
St. Agnes has been clustered with St. Rose and St. Paul of the Cross since 2010. The parish also offers the only Catholic school in Livingston County; St. Agnes School is located at 60 Park Place.
Both Reid and Kingston, a daily-Mass lector, said they worked hard on the historical aspects of St. Agnes’ 150-year celebration, saying it’s important to go back in time so people can appreciate how the parish got to this point. In fact, Reid — who has belonged to St. Agnes Parish since 1969 — said she began planning for the sesquicentennial three years ago.
“I don’t like to wait until the last minute,” she quipped. A daily-Mass sacristan at St. Agnes, she said she’s happy to volunteer in any way possible to help keep St. Agnes going strong.
“The church I grew up in is closed,” she remarked. “I’m grateful for this church.”