EAST ROCHESTER — The Church of St. Jerome, 207 S. Garfield St., was established 100 years ago to shorten the walking distance to Mass for local Catholics, and still attracts people who like living close to one of the area’s best-known churches.
According to a village history co-written by former parishioner Jim Burlingame, the parish itself was founded because Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid sympathized with a group of parishioners who had to walk from East Rochester — then known as Despatch — to attend Mass in neighboring Penfield. Forty families formed the original St. Jerome’s community in 1905, according to the history.
Fast-forward to 1993, when Michael Murray moved to this village. The church was only two blocks from his house, he noted.
“I think the Lord wanted to make sure I didn’t have any excuses not to attend,” Murray said.
He added that his proximity to the church enabled him to become a greeter, lector, choir member and an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. An added bonus of becoming involved in the church, he noted, was learning of volunteer opportunities outside of it through the parish’s pastoral associate, Sister Clare Brown, SSJ. The woman religious told him to try working at a neighborhood center her order sponsors in Rochester. On his first night there, he met the woman who became his wife, Linda. Both he and his wife have served on St. Jerome’s parish council, he said.
Like Murray, Tracy Lynn Morall, an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at the church, stated that living near the church made her go to it. She started attending the church nine years ago simply because it was within walking distance of her home, “but I have stayed because of the sense of community there and the way I was welcomed into the church.”
“As a single person that attends Mass alone, it can be difficult, and some of the other churches I attended I never felt very comfortable,” Morall said. “But within a few weeks of attending Mass at St. Jerome’s, I felt I was part of the family there. People take the time to talk with you and get to know you.”
Similar positive sentiments about St. Jerome’s were expressed by staff members. Jodie Hickey, parish secretary for the past two years, noted that she has liked working at the church so much that she decided to join it. Another staff member, Marge Mitrano, business manager, said she loves the variety of her work. Her fellow staff member, Leo Chinelly, who oversees parish facilities, added that his whole family is from East Rochester, so the parish “feels like home.”
And there are plenty of people who call St. Jerome’s home, according to Father Steven Lape, pastor, who said 1,350 families are registered at the parish. The former parochial vicar of St. Mary’s Church in Auburn, Father Lape became pastor in June.
“I’ve been trained by about 1,000 people, and I love every minute of it,” Father Lape said with a chuckle.
At least 200 of those people are expected to attend a Sunday, Sept. 25, centennial brunch buffet from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Country Party House in the village, Sister Brown said. She added that, like Father Lape, she enjoys working at St. Jerome’s.
“People are warm and very outgoing,” Sister Brown said. “They want to deepen their spiritual life and deepen their faith.”
Margaret DellaPietra, parish archivist and a longtime parish volunteer, is one of those seeking spiritual depth. DellaPietra noted that she has belonged to various Marian and other groups at the parish and has volunteered to do such activities as visiting shut-in parishioners. She added that she is a daily communicant because it gives her “strength to go through the day.”
Strengthening children’s faith is the goal of the parish’s religious-education administrator Terry Flanigan. About 200 students in grades kindergarten through eight participate in religious education, she said, noting her own faith motivates her to share it with younger Catholics.
“I think it’s really important to have a strong faith and to pass on my strong beliefs,” she said. “Hopefully, some of it will rub off on them.”
Diane Moulton, a former religious-education coordinator at St. Jerome’s, has certainly lived out Flanigan’s beliefs. Moulton said she had taught religious education, sacramental preparation and also served on the parish’s marriage-preparation team with her husband, John. In addition to her numerous other volunteer activities, Moulton noted that her five children, who range in age from 15 to 22, have all been altar servers and youth-choir members. Moulton was effusive in her praise for St. Jerome’s.
“When our family goes away on vacation, and we have to attend another church, we are always happy to return back to St. Jerome’s where everyone knows your name,” she said.