Whatever portion of St. Charles Borromeo Parish’s 100-year history you delve into, there’s a close-knit atmosphere to be found.
“Everybody knew each other,” recalled Mary McGlenn, 86, about her childhood years in the parish. “It was like a close family. You just knew all the kids and their parents.”
McGlenn said that when she recently lent her first Communion class photo for St. Charles Borromeo’s 100th-anniversary celebration, she remembered many folks in the large group portrait. “It was amazing — I could pick out about all the faces,” she said.
This sense of familiarity continues today for the Elmira Heights parish, according to Pat Palmer. “The Heights is a small school district, a smaller community. It’s just a small-town atmosphere,” she said. “At this parish I know the people my age, their parents, their relatives, their children.”
“I teach first-grade religious ed and also coordinate children’s liturgy. I’m running into parents my age that I went to school with, and I’m teaching their kids,” continued Palmer, 46. “Everybody likes the fact that they know everybody.”
A major family reunion, so to speak, was due to take place Saturday, Nov. 6, with St. Charles Borromeo celebrating its centennial year. Rochester Bishop Matthew H. Clark was to preside at the 4:30 p.m. Mass, with a reception following in the parish hall. The event was set to occur two days after the feast day of St. Charles Borromeo on Nov. 4.
The original St. Charles Borromeo Church, located on what is now Prescott Avenue, was built in 1904, a few years after Masses were first held in Elmira Heights. At the time, St. Charles was a mission of St. Mary Our Mother Parish in Horseheads.
“We walked to church,” McGlenn said. “Families paid their pew dues, I remember.” McGlenn recalled that she regularly went to Sunday-morning Mass with her family before returning to St. Charles Borromeo for religious instruction at 2 p.m., with her parents coming for Benediction at 2:30.
McGlenn added that her mother, Mary Doran, organized the parish’s first Altar/Rosary Society — an organization that’s still going strong today. McGlenn’s family connection with the parish now extends to four generations: her son, John, and his children attend St. Charles Borromeo as well.
Some of St. Charles Borromeo’s early history was brought to light in October when the parish obtained the cornerstone from the first church building, which is currently vacant. It includes a time capsule containing such items as bulletins, financial reports and photographs.
“The box is all rusty, but there is an original newspaper with the article about the laying of the stone, coins and a letter,” said Anne Bremer, business manager for the St. Casimir/St. Charles Borromeo cluster. She added that the cornerstone will be placed permanently at St. Charles Borromeo.
In 1935 St. Charles Borromeo became incorporated as a parish, getting its own resident priest for the first time. In 1960 the current St. Charles church building opened at 130 Oakwood Ave. The church debt was paid off in four years thanks to successful fundraising efforts.
“Young people got together and we worked on different things to raise money,” said Dick Wilson, 83, who has belonged to St. Charles Borromeo since the 1950s. Wilson is a former parish council member and also helped start weekly bingo, which just concluded a run of more than 40 years at the parish this summer.
More memories: Palmer — whose maiden name is Spirawk — worked part time at the rectory during the pastorate of Father Joseph Gaynor, who served St. Charles from 1969-89. “I also helped the housekeeper — I did dishes, I dusted. I used to run off the bulletins when they did them on the old mimeograph,” she recalled with a laugh. Palmer also noted that her mother was a religious-education instructor and that all three of her children have now served as teacher’s aides as well as altar servers.
“And my husband (Mark) is an usher,” she added.
These days, St. Charles Borromeo has a membership of 555 families. The parish planned to build a school in the early 1960s but never did; however, parents traditionally have “put a lot of effort into the religious ed and the youth group,” said Bremer, a longtime secretary/bookkeeper for St. Casimir before becoming the St. Casimir/St. Charles Borromeo business manager.
A milestone development in parish history occurred in 1994, when St. Charles clustered with nearby St. Casimir. The cluster’s current priest administrator is Father Eugene Dobosz, a native of Poland who arrived in 2002 after having served in Texas for more than 10 years.
In addition to sharing a priest, much of the staff, ministries and programs are a combined effort of St. Charles and St. Casimir. This has been a sometimes slow process; Palmer observed that St. Casimir strives to preserve its Polish background whereas St. Charles Borromeo does not have a distinct ethnic base — “It’s kind of like a blend of everything,” she said.
However, Wilson said he regularly attends the 8 a.m. Mass at St. Casimir Church and even serves as an usher there, even though he still considers St. Charles his home parish and was looking forward to taking part in the centennial Mass with his fellow Knights of Columbus from Elmira Council 229.
Palmer said that she, also, sees the clustering process taking hold from the perspective of the religious-education program.
“I think each year we blend a little bit more,” she said. “Each parish is unique in itself, but each year we get a little closer.”