One might say that Our Lady of Mercy in Greece was a parish that Kodak built.
Fifty years ago, the parish was carved out of the boundaries of three other parishes in the northeast area of Greece, which at that time was experiencing a population spike as thousands of Eastman Kodak Co. employees and their baby-booming families settled in its boundaries.
Father Gary Tyman, pastor, said one of the earlier copastors, Father Charles Latus, was quoted as saying that when he came to Our Lady of Mercy, he learned not to ask whether a person worked at Kodak, but in which Kodak department the person worked.
“My understanding is that this part of Greece was really growing, and such parishes as St. Charles and Our Mother of Sorrows (in Greece) and Holy Cross (in Charlotte) were somewhat at capacity,” said Father Tyman, noting that the parish schools also were at capacity.
That prompted Bishop James E. Kearney to give 42-year-old Father Michael O’Brien, who had been serving at Rochester’s St. Monica Parish, the task of creating a new parish.
After acquiring six acres of land at the corner of Denise and Armstrong roads in May of 1957, Father O’Brien celebrated the parish’s first Mass Sept. 24, 1957 — the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy — at the Lake Theater on Lake Avenue, which is now Charlotte Appliance. The parish received its certificate of incorporation on Oct. 4 of that year.
This year, the parish will cap its 50th anniversary with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Matthew H. Clark at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, at the parish, 34 Armstrong Road. The Mass will be followed by a picnic at noon on parish grounds. The picnic lunch will be catered by Golden Ponds and will feature music by the Dady Brothers.
But as important as Kodak was to the parish’s founding, the Sisters of Mercy were just as crucial: It was Bishop Kearney’s suggestion that the parish be named Our Lady of Mercy as a nod to the order, which was celebrating its 100th anniversary when the parish was founded in 1957. Sisters of Mercy would later staff the parish’s school, which operated from 1958 to 1980.
The parish was one of many begun during this time of rapid growth in the diocese. Between 1950 and 1965, 22 new parishes and 26 new parish schools were established, according to The Diocese of Rochester in America: 1868-1993 by Father Robert F. McNamara. The history notes that enrollment at parish schools increased from 31,000 children in 1951 to 55,000 in 1959, while enrollment decreased to 43,000 in 1966 due to a restriction on the number of students allowed in each grade.
To address growth in northeast Greece, Holy Cross Church gave 250 of its 900 families to the new parish. Our Mother of Sorrows also gave 250 families, while St. Charles Borromeo gave 200.
“In those days there were very distinct boundaries and they were all expected to come to Our Lady of Mercy,” said parishioner Nora Plumeri, a member of one of the founding families. Plumeri is compiling articles on the parish’s history for its anniversary.
“They did that, and I give them a lot of credit for doing that,” she added.
Sadly, during the parish’s infancy Father O’Brien died suddenly of a heart attack while attending a school-registration event on March 23, 1958. On April 1 of that year, Father John S. Whalen became the parish’s second pastor.
Beginning in May of 1958, the school was built in phases, and students that fall attended class in rooms rented from Holy Cross. Classrooms for the first and second grade were completed first in February of 1959, and then the classrooms were finished sequentially as grades were added to the school.
Meanwhile, parishioners had moved out of the theater and began attending Mass in the school’s lower level at midnight Mass on Christmas Eve of 1958.
By 1961, crews began building the next temporary church, a large multipurpose room that was attached to the school’s gym and separated from it by a heavy, moveable wall. The $165,000 building was completed in 1962. Once parishioners vacated the lower level, classrooms were completed for the upper-level grades.
In addition to the school and church, the parish also acquired a temporary rectory at 617 Denise Road and convent at 603 Denise Road for the school’s teachers. Both of these buildings were former homes that were later sold.
Fundraising for a new $1.7 million church building, which has a seating capacity of 600, began in the mid-1990s, and the groundbreaking was in 2001. In 2002, the parish celebrated its rededication with the completion of the new church, which was built on the site of the temporary church that had been used for 41 years.
“One of the things that is very striking to me is the number of (current) parishioners who were here at the founding of the parish 50 years ago,” Father Tyman observed. “There is a strong sense of a continuity or cohesiveness.”
However, he notes he has found the parish and its longtime parishioners to also be very welcoming of new members, new ideas and new ways of doing things.
“They have taken in new people and made them a part of things here,” Father Tyman said.
Patty Bardeen of Rochester, whose family helped found the parish, remembers being a member of the last class to graduate from Our Lady of Mercy School in 1980. She said it was nice having a short walk across the street to get to school.
She said she also has enjoyed her parish’s small size. It has less than a third of the number of families as some of Greece’s largest parishes.
“Even though we are a small parish, I think that’s a positive thing, because everyone knows everyone,” Bardeen said.
Bardeen this year helped the parish organize a craft show to celebrate its anniversary. It was just one event of many that has allowed parishioners to celebrate. In May, the parish celebrated with a dinner-dance that included music by the Greece Jazz Band. In June, the fifth anniversary of the parish’s rededication was celebrated.
In August, the parish hosted a craft show and a golf tournament, and also celebrated with longtime parishioner Sister Cathy Solan as she made her final profession of vows to become a Sister of Mercy, Father Tyman said.
“To have her come here to make that final profession — that was a privilege and a joy,” he said.
Father Tyman said he has tried to convey to parishioners that as they celebrate the parish’s anniversary, they are not limited to looking to the past, but also should look to the future. He said the parish is challenged with maintaining the energy and enthusiasm of its founders, especially since its surrounding area is not growing in population.
But he said its members will be the key to its future.
“It’s a good parish with a good solid group of people who are very dedicated and faith-filled people,” Father Tyman said. “We will embrace the future.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Reservations for the parish picnic Sept. 23 are due to the parish by Sunday, Sept. 16, and the cost is $12 per person for the buffet and $2 for children 10 and under. Call 585-865-0775 to make a reservation.