GATES — A piano-player softly tickled the ivories as about 380 people filled the Grand Ballroom at the Diplomat Party House in on the afternoon of March 6 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Rochester’s Most Precious Blood Parish.
Annette DeCarolis, a member of the parish for 50 years and an alto in its choir, noted that the dinner followed on the heels of the anniversary Mass earlier in the day. The parish often celebrates significant events with the eucharistic meal and then a regular meal, she said.
“We start in the church and around the altar and then the feast continues in all of our activities,” DeCarolis said.
Bob Russell Jr. remembered wielding a jackhammer in the late ’70s at the age of 13 when he worked with such parish men as his father, Bob Russell Sr., to build a new convent.
“It was fun,” Russell said of working with his dad. “We (children) wanted to be involved because the parish meant so much to our daily life.”
His sister, Diane Russell-Horn, secretary of the parish’s 75th-anniversary committee, said her family has long been involved in parish life.
“I remember being a little kid and going into the rectory and cleaning it,” she said.
Bob Russell Sr. added that many families such as his served Most Precious Blood in many ways. For example, he noted that he was a former president of the parish’s school board and parish council — but that he didn’t think that made him or his family special.
“We didn’t do anything that any other family didn’t do,” he said.
Former bingo worker Mike Chaba said he didn’t miss the smoke-filled bingo games, but he did fondly recall the camaraderie.
“It was always a close-knit organization, and we always had fun,” he said of the parish.
One parishioner called Most Precious Blood “a family of families.” Extended families are common at the parish, according to several parishioners, including Tony Bellavia, a lector whose parents and grandparents hailed from Villavellalonga, Italy. Indeed, the parish was established by Bishop John Francis O’Hern in 1930 to serve Italian immigrants. The Precious Blood Fathers were assigned to serve the new parish and worked there until a decline in vocations compelled the order to withdraw its members in the 1980s.
Probably the most famous of the Precious Blood priests to serve the parish was Father Sebastian Contegiacomo, CPpS, who served as pastor from 1937-69, and for whom Sebastian Park, located near the parish, is named. Eleanor LaPietra, who handled publicity for the anniversary, noted that the parish will dedicate a monument to Father Contegiacomo on July 24.
Father Contegiacomo’s successor as pastor, Father Peter Nobili, a Precious Blood priest from Italy, returned from his current assignment in Niagara Falls, Ontario, for the anniversary celebration. He had fond memories of his time at Most Precious Blood, he said.
“We tried to create community in all of our doings, and make (parishioners) feel like a family,” he said. He particularly recalled how parishioners created elaborate Nativity scenes in the church that would attract visitors from throughout the region.
Although the parish is most often associated with Italians, Most Precious Blood owes it existence to a German, Ralph Huether, a farmer who donated a portion of his land to be used for the parish grounds. Huether’s daughter, Bernardine Huether Gordon, secretary of the parish’s Sacred Heart League, was 4 years old when the parish opened and said her back yard still borders the parish grounds. Over several decades, the Sacred Heart League has kept the church and its altar clean, Gordon said.
“We’re in the presence of God — what greater honor can you give him than to keep his house clean?” she added.
Gordon has also been among parishioners working to keep the parish neighborhood clean as well, by fighting the establishment of adult-oriented entertainment there. Currently, Most Precious Blood and Holy Rosary Parish in Rochester are among the neighborhood groups fighting the establishment of an adult bookstore within the parish boundaries of Precious Blood. The Town of Greece’s Zoning Board of Appeals was slated to announce March 15 whether it will approve an application from the proposed bookstore’s owner for variances to zoning restrictions.
When asked whether it might be easier to simply move out of the area to someplace where she didn’t have to fight against things she believes will ruin her neighborhood, Gordon dismissed the notion.
“People keep saying ‘You’ve got to get out of here,’ but this is my home, and this is my parish, and, hopefully, when the time comes to go, I’ll be buried from my parish,” she said.
Father Gary Tyman, pastor of Precious Blood and Holy Rosary since 2001, noted that parishioners such as Gordon embody the parish’s desire to hold the line against neighborhood decay.
“I think it’s part of our role to reach out beyond the church itself and help the neighborhood become a better place to live,” he said.