Brockport parish honors past, looks forward as it turns 175 - Catholic Courier

Brockport parish honors past, looks forward as it turns 175

BROCKPORT — Fifty-two years ago, Steve and Connie Mesiti walked in the front doors of the Catholic church on Main Street for the first time. They immediately felt at home at Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“On the very first Sunday that we came to Mass here, we just felt that it was a special place, and we’ve never changed our minds in the 52 years that we’ve been here,” Connie Mesiti explained.

Brockport parish was founded in 1848, 20 years before the Diocese of Rochester was established

Those 52 years account for just a fraction of the parish’s existence, as Nativity is celebrating its 175th anniversary in 2023.

Nativity predates the establishment of the Diocese of Rochester by 20 years. In 1848, when the first Catholic Mass was celebrated in Brockport, the village was under the auspices of the Diocese of Buffalo. Construction of the parish’s first church began in 1851, and the building, located at the corner of Erie and Utica streets, was completed in 1855.

The parish’s footprint has changed quite a bit over the last 175 years, noted Mary Lynne Turner, the parish’s volunteer historian. In the late 1800s, the first church building was enlarged, and a school and convent were built nearby. In 1916, a new school was built, and 10 years later, the current church was constructed a few blocks away on Main Street, Turner said.

New parish center provides community with window into the parish

The most recent change to the parish grounds was the construction of a new parish center, which connects the church with an adjacent house that had once served as a convent but more recently had been used as a parish center, Turner said. While the exterior of this house — constructed in the 1870s — was still in good shape, the interior was completely renovated, she said.

The new parish center contains a large gathering space, which can be subdivided into smaller spaces as needed, as well as more than a half-dozen multipurpose rooms that can be used for anything from meetings to faith-formation classes, Turner said. Another space in the parish center can host a meeting as easily as it can house a buffet line, as slow cookers could easily be plugged into the outlets built into its floor, she added.

A kitchen and handicapped-accessible bathrooms also are among the parish center’s features, but its focal point is the floor-to-ceiling glass window that encases the side of the parish center that faces Main Street. Not only does this window let in natural light, but it also provides the community with a literal window into the heart of the parish, so people can see what it’s about, Turner said.

“People can see from the outside that we’re a living parish,” she remarked.

Historic features share space with state-of-the-art elements

Although the parish center features many state-of-the-art touches, it also includes nods to the parish’s history. A pair of benches from the original church encourage visitors to linger, and a stained-glass window from the church adorns the wall opposite the new bathrooms.

The same is true inside the church, which houses stained-glass windows created in the 1920s alongside a new stained-glass window that can be backlit with the flip of a switch. An altar depicting the Last Supper was installed in 2001, and a marble altar that anchored the sanctuary several decades ago has been repurposed and now houses the tabernacle in the church’s Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Turner said.

Church of the Nativity parishioners respect their history while looking forward

Respecting the past while simultaneously looking to the future is something Nativity parishioners have always been good at, the Mesitis said.

“We appreciate and we treasure our history, but we’re not stuck in the past,” Connie Mesiti remarked.

Parishioners are open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and flexible enough to adjust to needs as they present themselves, she said. The parish has always welcomed students from SUNY Brockport, especially after the Newman Oratory, which housed the students’ Newman Community, was sold several years ago. The parish began ministering to a sizeable Hispanic migrant population in the 1970s and continues to do so today, with Mass offered in Spanish each Sunday at 1:30 p.m., Turner said.

“That (community) used to be primarily Mexican, but … more recently we have a lot of Ecuadorans who have moved to town,” she noted.

Although the parochial school closed in 2003, Nativity’s faith-formation program remains vibrant, said Connie Mesiti, who served as faith-formation director from 2014-20. She also led the parish’s contemporary choir for 21 years, while her husband trained extraordinary ministers of holy Communion and coordinated the children’s liturgy program for more than two decades.

The Mesitis said the parishioners themselves have been Nativity’s most valuable resource throughout its 175-year history.

“There’s a spirit here that is quite special. We’re the body of Christ, and that spirit is alive and well in this parish, thank God,” Connie Mesiti said.

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