CHILI — Well over a century ago, St. Pius Tenth Parish had another name, another church and a much smaller membership.
A parish that once had hundreds of members now has thousands, and will have a new parish center by the end of next year.
Late last year, Bishop Matthew H. Clark presided at a Mass celebrating the parish’s 150th anniversary. Following Mass, hundreds attended a ground-breaking ceremony for the center, which is slated for completion in November 2005.
“Let us pray for (God’s) help through this construction to successful completion and that his protection will keep those who work on it safe from injury,” the bishop prayed during the Nov. 21 ceremony.
The center will feature a large gathering area adjacent to the church sanctuary, according to Mike Wagner, who chaired the parish’s construction committee. Wagner said construction will begin this spring on the $1.8 million center, which will include the following features:
* A large kitchen and reception area that will allow the parish to host funeral and sacramental receptions; coffee hours; and other activities.
* An office wing allowing the parish to centralize its ministry offices, meeting and conference rooms.
* A large multipurpose space that can be used to provide overflow seating for certain Masses.
“It’ll allow us to open up the worship space for overflow when we have Christmas and Easter Masses,” Wagner said. He added that the project also includes expansion of the church lobby so that it can be used as a narthex or gathering space.
Deacon Leo Aman of St. Pius noted that the new center will be a boon to the staff’s work, and enhance the overall life of the parish. “It allows … a lot of space for community-building,” he said.
And St. Pius enjoys a strong community, according to Glenn and Jane Schneider, a couple who’ve been active in the parish for several years. They said they have volunteered for various youth and parish-wide activities, and have chaired the parish’s anniversary committee.
“It was a lot of work,” Glenn said. “But the dividends were huge. If you go back to give something, you’ll get back tenfold.”
One of the larger parishes in the diocese, St. Pius is the spiritual home of 2,300 registered families, according to Richard McCorry, senior ministry associate. St. Pius draws its membership primarily from Chili, Gates and Churchville, McCorry said
St. Pius was originally known as St. Feehan’s Parish, founded by Irish immigrants in the 1850s, according to a parish history written by Gert Amesbury. After the parish built a new church on Chili Avenue in the 1950s, it was renamed St. Pius Tenth, for the pope who reigned from 1903 to 1914. St. Pius was canonized in 1954, and the new church celebrated its first Mass on Christmas Day, 1956. Meanwhile, you can see the old St. Feehan’s Church by visiting Genesee Country Village & Museum in Mumford, to which the church was relocated and where it is still used for weddings.
St. Pius held several events over the past year to commemorate its 150th anniversary, including an Aug. 14 Mass at St. Feehan’s, and a Sept. 11 celebration of the 50th anniversary of Father Gerald Connor’s priesthood. Father Connor served as pastor of St. Pius from 1977 to 1998. His successor, Father Daniel F. Holland praised the parishioners for pulling together to raise funds for the new center, and added that he enjoyed the Nov. 21 Mass and ground breaking.
“I thought it was a great celebration of the parish, to build up our faith and our awareness of what we can achieve together now and for the future,” the pastor said.
McCorry noted that the parish boasts a membership comprising all age groups, including sixth-graders like Kathryn Pietropaolo, who attends the diocesan school on parish grounds. Kathryn said she sings in the parish’s children’s choir because she enjoys “serving God.”
Her mother, Sue Pietropaolo, said she sends her daughter to St. Pius to reinforce the lessons she learns through her faith.
“I just think that the morals and the values that kids get are invaluable for the rest of their life,” Pietropaolo said.
Sue Vandervoort, pastoral business manager, said it’s gratitude to God for all he’s done in her life that spurred her to work for St. Pius. Vandervoort noted she’s been blessed with six children, a husband, and a grandchild on the way.
“I am fulfilled by serving the people of St. Pius because I feel the Lord has been so good to me, it’s time to give back,” she said.
Among the people she serves are Charles and Mary Ann Schott, who’ve been attending St. Pius for almost five decades. The couple’s children attended St. Pius Tenth School and they said they have grandchildren attending the school today. Charles said he helped to build the church, and noted he was glad to see that a new parish center will be built onto it.
“It’ll provide a place for social functions for parishioners,” Schott said. “It’s another way to keep the parish together.”