ROCHESTER — Church bells tolled “Ave Maria” June 30 at the beginning of the final Mass at St. Anthony of Padua Parish, which for 42 years has overlooked Jones Square in the Edgerton neighborhood.
The 100-year-old parish began as the diocese’s first-ever Italian national parish. Since the mid-1970s, it also had been home to the Vietnamese Catholic Community, which moved to St. Helen Parish in Gates June 23 (see related story on page 2).
St. Anthony was part of City West Catholic Community, along with Holy Apostles, 530 Lyell Ave., and Holy Family, 415 Ames St., where parishioners may opt to attend following the closing, said Father Paul Tomasso, pastor of the parishes. Many St. Anthony parishioners have moved away from the parish, he noted.
“The parish is closing due to a shortage of parishioners and money,” Father Paul Tomasso said. “Without a substantial increase in the amount of parishioners and money, we couldn’t continue.”
The closing Mass, which included a hymn in Italian, was attended by representatives of Interfaith Action, a local federation of business alliances and congregations from several religious denominations, including a number of Catholic churches; Sisters of St. Joseph and School Sisters of Notre Dame; the staffs of Holy Apostles and Holy Family; parochial vicars Father Peter Deckman and Father John Bosco Tai Pham; the family of the late Father Nicholas Aletto, St. Anthony’s pastor from 1963 until 1970; and more than 100 parishioners and former parishioners from as far away as Texas.
“Msgr. (Paul M.) Ciaccio, Father (Michael J.) Tydings and Father Aletto lived the ups and downs of building up this building, and this parish, and they are often remembered for so many nickels and dimes that it took to build this building,” Father Tomasso said of the St. Anthony pastors who helped build the church and school.
Father Tomasso thanked several groups for their support, including the Vietnamese Catholic Community, whose presence he said allowed the parish to remain open several extra years.
“We would have had tonight long ago, without the support of the Vietnamese Catholic Community,” he said.
The collection from the final Mass was to be split equally between St. Joseph’s Northside Outreach, Notre Dame Learning Center and Interfaith Action, Father Tomasso said.
The St. Anthony property is up for sale, and the parish’s records as well as those of the former St. Patrick Cathedral, which had been transferred to St. Anthony after St. Patrick’s was sold to Eastman Kodak Co. in 1937, now have been transferred to Holy Apostles. A mosaic of St. Anthony also will be brought to Holy Apostles, Father Tomasso said.
During the Mass, Father Tomasso suggested that parishioners draw on St. Anthony’s history as a traveler and missionary, not just as the patron saint of lost items, as they make their own transitions to other parishes.
“We have to remember we go with God, and it will be all right,” Father Tomasso said.
Many of those who founded the parish also were world travelers. According to diocesan histories, the parish grew from the migration of Italians to the Diocese of Rochester in the 1880s. An Italian congregation was officially formed in 1898 by Father J. Emil Gefell, who had studied in Rome, and parishioners met in the Our Lady’s Chapel in the former St. Patrick Cathedral’s, according to the book the Diocese of Rochester: 1868-1968, by Father Robert F. McNamara.
St. Anthony of Padua parish and school opened in 1906 in the former city School No. 6 on Lyell and North Plymouth avenues. The parish school moved to a new building on Costar Street in 1956, and the parish moved from Lyell Avenue to a new building on Lorimer Street in 1965. The Costar Street school closed in 1987 and is now home to the Early Childhood School of Rochester No. 57.
Many parishioners who attended the final Mass reminisced about the move of the church and school while enjoying homemade cookies during an outdoor reception after the closing Mass.
Tony DiMarzo of Rochester said he and other parishioners at the new church’s first Mass continued to attend the parish for decades.
“There were a lot of people there who are still here now,” DiMarzo said.
Mary “Angie” Palmesano of Gates attended school at both the Plymouth Avenue and Lyell Avenue buildings, and graduated from the new school building.
“I hate to see it go,” said Palmesano, who moved to Gates two years ago.
Jean Pryor, who coordinated the parish’s neighborhood outreach for several years, recalled how the parish annually sponsored a festival in Jones Square Park and how its members worked to expand health insurance and child-care options for area families. Pryor said the parish’s Italian bakers always made its functions special.
“I always remember the St. Joe’s tables,” Pryor said. “I used to look forward to it, with all the baked goods.”
The Mass drew at least one attendee from far away. Patty Boccia Newell of Plano, Texas, said she flew in for the Mass to say goodbye to the church in which she was married. Newell also attended St. Anthony’s school.
She spent time reminiscing with family and former neighbors, including Joanne Spallina Reeder and Agnes Bovenzi Annechino, both of Greece.
The group recalled how their families had gone door to door asking for $1 donations to open an Italian parish, they said.
Annechino fondly recalled her family’s pride in the fact that her mother had a key to unlock the church for daily Mass.
Reeder — who celebrated her 50th school reunion June 8 — said she graduated in 1957 as part of the new school’s first eighth-grade graduating class. She recalled that the school had exciting, modern amenities including a milk machine that dispensed both white and chocolate milk.
“This was a real thrill for everybody,” Reeder said.
She recalled how parish school children helped take up weekly second collections to build the new church. When the new building was completed, all were able to share in the joy, she said.
“It was such a joyful time for everybody to have something modern and new,” Reeder said.
Rosemary Giuliano Marcello said all three of her daughters were baptized and married at St. Anthony. Later, when the family moved to Greece, they kept their ties with the parish, she said.
“Whenever we got a chance, we were at Mass here,” Marcello said.
“It’s a sad thing (to see it close),” she added, wiping away tears.