GREECE — Even though the town of Greece developed around St. John the Evangelist Parish, some of the farm families who helped it grow are still involved in the parish, 150 years after its founding in 1865.
Just ask Dolores DeConinck, whose family continues to operate DeConinck Family Market on Maiden Lane.
DeConinck said she has celebrated baptisms, first Communions, weddings and funerals at the church.
"For me personally, much of my life has revolved around St. John’s Parish," DeConinck said.
She said development along West Ridge Road transformed the area around the parish from a rural neighborhood to a bustling thoroughfare. But the parish has remained at the center of activity, she said.
"I’m glad it (development) didn’t happen overnight," DeConinck said. "It’s just unbelievable going from Ridge Road."
That’s where the historic "old" church still stands on West Ridge Road; that church was designed by Rochester architect Andrew Jackson Warner, who designed All Souls Chapel at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.
But even that wasn’t the first church building. According to a history of the church published in the Catholic Courier in 1999, the parish was started as a mission of Our Mother of Sorrows Church in 1865 by Father John Maurice in the converted former Rowe Tavern. Parishioner Carolyn Kerhaert traces her roots in the parish back to the earliest days.
"The parish started with 20 families, and most of the early families were Dutch or German farmers," said Kerhaert, whose great-great-grandfather was among the early parishioners.
In 1875, the second church was built on Ridge Road and dedicated by Rochester’s first bishop, Bernard J. McQuaid. In 1876, St. John the Evangelist was promoted to a parish, according to The Diocese of Rochester in America: 1868 to 1993 by Father Robert McNamara.
The parish’s school was opened in the church basement in 1885, and a school and convent were built in 1888 when the Sisters of St. Joseph came to the parish to teach at the school. After a series of expansions, the school reached capacity at 1,000 pupils in 1965.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Greece experienced rapid growth and four new parishes were founded there. In 1965, on St. John the Evangelist’s 100th anniversary, the parish built a new church designed by Rochester architect James Johnson and furnished by work from such artists as Wendell Castle, Kurt Feuerherm, Carl Zollo and Arnold Mahlknecht. The building was designed in the round to accommodate more than 1,000 families; Father McNamara’s history said it was "arresting, controversial and very practical."
Kerhaert said the current church’s design aimed to put into practice some of the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council for lay participation. No matter where people sit in the expansive church, they are no more than 90 feet from the altar, allowing all to see and hear better, she said.
"One of the prettiest aspects is the openness inside and when the sun shines through the stained glass," Kerhaert said.
At Mass during a November celebration of the "new" church building’s 50th anniversary, which was a prelude to the parish’s celebration of 150 years in 2015, Father Peter Enyan-Boadu encouraged parishioners to reach out to the community as a way of keeping their faith and their parish vital.
"God wants us to be able to show love and concern for others so that this faith will continue on for another 50 years," he said.
Parishioner Rose DiBella said the parish was known for its parties and celebrations and has many active ministries.
"We started the Circle of Hope support and social group for widowed people, and we have about 130 to 140 members," DiBella said. "They are not just from St. John’s and not all Catholics."
Karen Cottorone-Young said she made lifelong friends at school.
"It’s just the closeness that everybody had, even the teachers," she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: St. John the Evangelist in Greece will celebrate its 150th anniversary with Mass at 10 a.m. May 17 and a gala following the Mass at the Plantation Party House.