GENEVA — St. Stephen’s Parish, which is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year, is full of treasures, according to its parishioners.
The parish originally began as an offshoot of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Geneva, according to “The Song of Stephen,” a booklet published in 1954 that chronicles the history of the parish. In the early 1900s, it was unusual for a city the size of Geneva to have a Catholic population large enough to require two parishes, according to the booklet.
St. Stephen’s Parish has always maintained a close connection with St. Francis de Sales Parish. Their elementary schools were merged in the mid-1980s, and in 1998 the two parishes joined to form the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva.
St. Stephen’s was founded in 1904 by Father Stephen McPadden, although ground wasn’t broken for the current church building until 1910. The church, which cost $108,000 to build, was dedicated in the fall of 1912.
One of the most obvious treasures of the Gothic structure, which stands at the corner of Pulteney and High streets, is the large stained-glass window above the front entrance. The imposing window portrays a Jesse tree — the family tree of Jesus — and includes pictures of Jesse, David, Jacob, Solomon and Josias, to name a few. A delicate grapevine appears throughout the entire picture, and this grapevine symbol is found in several other places in the church because “Jesus is the vine and we are the branches,” said Betty Sweetland.
Sweetland has been a member of St. Stephen’s Parish for 25 years and is a member of the 100th-anniversary committee. Each of the stained-glass windows in the church was donated in memory of a family or individual, but the Jesse tree window, she said, has a special story. A local woman, Elizabeth “Nelly” Organ, was known for teaching the young ladies of Geneva to sew and embroider, and eventually formed a sewing class. In 1916, this class donated $2,000, raised from the sale of their handiwork, to St. Stephen’s so the parish could purchase and install the Jesse tree window. Since then, Organ has held a lofty, somewhat legendary status in the parish’s history. Sweetland spent hours researching the parish’s history, but said she enjoyed learning about her parish.
The parishioners of St. Stephen’s are proud of their church and its rich history and beauty. To celebrate the centennial, guided tours of the church will be held monthly throughout the year. The history and symbolism of the stained-glass windows will be pointed out along the way, as will the hand-carved wooden reredoses — which are ornamental screens or partition walls behind an altar — for the high, St. Joseph and Marian altars, pulpit and shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The real treasures of St. Stephen’s Parish, however, can not be found in century-old wood or glass. These treasures are the parishioners themselves, said Joan Doeblin. Doeblin, who was one of several people who led guided tours through the church on Feb. 29, has been a member of the parish since she was 2 years old.
“The people in the Roman Catholic Community (of Geneva) are very special people, and I just have this real heart connection with St. Stephen’s, and it will never end,” Doeblin said.
Parishioners today have a chance to connect with the parishioners of 100 years ago through the parish’s Century Club. Members of the anniversary committee have compiled binders with the names of the first 100 people from the parish to be baptized, married or buried. Anyone who finds the name of a relative or friend in the book can add their name to the back of the book, thus joining the Century Club, Sweetland said.
Sweetland also believes the parish’s unique identity and strengths come from its parishioners. She was particularly impressed with the way parishioners handled the change the parish went through when it clustered with St. Francis de Sales Parish six years ago.
“We know things change and you just have to go with it. I know that’s so important. It’s working, and it’s because of the people here,” Sweetland said.
Bishop Matthew H. Clark will visit the parish at 11 a.m. June 6 to celebrate a Mass in honor of the parish’s centennial anniversary, according to Ruth Page, pastoral associate. There will be a reception immediately following the Mass, she said.