GREECE — During its 175-year history, Our Mother of Sorrows Parish has gradually come out of the woods and always remained on top of the world — the world that surrounds it, that is.
Once called “the church in the woods” because of its arboraceous surroundings, the church is now surrounded mostly by paved roads, given that it lies off well-trafficked Mt. Read Boulevard. The street itself was named for Nicholas Read, a parishioner who donated the land on which the parish’s first church was built. The church sits atop the highest point in Greece, Paddy Hill, so named for the Irish farmers who once lived in the area.
Originally called St. Ambrose Parish, it began as a mission church of the Diocese of Buffalo and has boasted three different church buildings, including the current church that was dedicated in 1968. The current church is undergoing renovations to the tune of more than $400,000, completion of which is expected in time for an anniversary Mass to be celebrated by Bishop Matthew H. Clark on Sunday, Sept. 12, according to Father Alexander Bradshaw, pastor. Renovation work is designed, in part, to improve the church’s acoustics and interior appearance, he noted.
Our Mother of Sorrows Church is reputedly the oldest country parish in New York state. It’s also the oldest continuously existing parish in the Diocese of Rochester. You can learn almost all of these facts by talking to Father Bradshaw, who positively beams when he speaks about his community. He noted that he is continually impressed by the generosity and dedication of his parishioners. For example, he said, when the cooling tower for the parish’s air conditioning needed repair after the last harsh winter, the parish’s men’s club quickly donated the $8,000 needed, he said.
“I was just speechless,” Father Bradshaw said. “It’s just an expression of what a wonderful body of people they are.”
Many of the people of Our Mother of Sorrows — who number about 2,000 families — are hungry to learn more about their faith, according to Deacon Bill Schmitz. He said, for example, that he hosted a series over the past year on the Catechism of the Catholic Church called “Coffee, Conversation and Catechism” that drew between a dozen and 18 people on a monthly basis. The group would meet for 90 minutes for an informal discussion of the catechism, he said.
“You just have the sense that they’re all there because they want to deepen the knowledge of their faith,” he said. “You see a lot of lightbulbs going on over the course of a year.”
One revelation that impressed both Robert Fitzgibbon and Jim Hart, two active parish volunteers, was the number of people willing to share their stories of parish life with them. For the parish’s anniversary, the two have been working on an updated history of Our Mother of Sorrows that will include a parish history written by Father Robert F. McNamara, diocesan archivist. Fitzgibbon noted that 100 people have volunteered to share their stories with him and Hart.
“I think the sincerity of people, their ability to communicate their love and caring for the parish as a community, has come across loud and clear,” Fitzgibbon said.
One parishioner with many memories of Our Mother of Sorrows is Carole Leicht, a member since 1959. Over the years, Leicht has been active in the parish rosary society, the parish antique show and a wide variety of other activities. She fondly remembered the days when the parish used to routinely hold dances.
“Back in the old days, we had dances for about every excuse you could think of,” she said. To illustrate her point, she said she recalled one dance being held in honor of “falling leaves” during autumn.
Like Leicht, Hart seemed to have been involved with almost every aspect of parish life at one point or another. He listed the liturgy committee, parish council, social ministry, marriage preparation, the Catholic Youth Organization and the parish men’s club among the activities he’s either led or supported in the past or is currently leading or supporting. However, it’s apparent he’s most proud of singing bass in the church choir.
“They got desperate enough 10 years ago that they needed my note,” he said with a chuckle.
The parish staff and volunteers pointed out that their faith motivates their service to the parish. For example, Fitzgibbon said he considers his volunteer work as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion to be a privilege.
“The privilege that comes with it is actually handing the body of Christ and the blood of Christ to parishioners,” he said.
Leandra Kosmoski, who recently joined Our Mother of Sorrows as pastoral associate, said she is looking forward to working with her new community. She noted that her background in ministry included work in guided meditation, including the knitting of prayer shawls and caps that can be given to prematurely born infants. Although she’s still learning about her new parish, she said she’s liked what she’s seen so far.
“I think I’ll stay for a while,” she said.