St. Mary Church in Auburn celebrates sesquicentennial
Mid-August has always been a special time for parishioners at St. Mary Church in Auburn.
In addition to commemorating the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, patroness of the community, on Aug. 15, parishioners also participate annually in a spiritual retreat and enjoy a Flower Festival that fills the church with more than 2,000 white carnations placed in honor and in memory of loved ones.
This year’s festivities held even more significance, as Bishop Salvatore R. Matano joined the community to celebrate the feast day Mass, which also marked the sesquicentennial of the parish’s founding.
On Aug. 15, 1868, Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid, first bishop of the Diocese of Rochester, created St. Mary Parish to honor Mary’s Assumption. The community celebrated its first Masses in homes and public buildings until a temporary wooden structure known as the “Shanty Church” was built. The cornerstone for the current church was laid in 1870, and the structure was dedicated in 1877. Today, that same modified Gothic structure still brings people through St. Mary’s doors, contends Father Frank Lioi, the church’s pastor since 2004.
“It’s a significant building,” he said. “When you go inside, it is absolutely wonderful. Everything is cleaned, neat and perfect. I think it is the beauty of the place that attracts people.”
Father Lioi said the parish receives numerous requests to host weddings because of the church’s architecture. He noted that the church’s location at 15 Clark St. is right in the “heart of downtown Auburn” and very visible in the community.
“St. Mary is seen as the fabric of Auburn,” he stated. “There is always somebody in church, visiting or praying.”
Penny Jarvis-Goodsell, a St. Mary parishioner for 35 years and a parish council member, said she hears the church bells every day from her job at the Auburn YMCA, just a few blocks away.
“It’s an icon of downtown,” she said. “St. Mary is just part of the (Auburn) community.”
In addition to the church’s interior and exterior beauty, its liturgical music also has appealed to people over the years, Father Lioi said. The church has two organs in regular use — an 1890 Carl Barckhoff Co. pipe organ that was restored in 2017, and an 1872 Garrett House chancel organ installed in 2006.
St. Mary also has groups of liturgical singers — the St. Mary’s Choir, which sings at 9:45 a.m. Mass each Sunday, and the St. Mary’s Schola, which performs at feast-day Masses. Father Lioi said the church also hosts a number of concerts each year, including by the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra and MasterWorks Choral.
Paul Fallon, 18, who has served as sacristan and an altar server, said the music is one of the first things he notices as he processes into church at the beginning of Mass.
“I have always enjoyed the music there (at St. Mary),” he remarked. “The organ is very beautiful.”
“The wonderful choir always draws us in,” Jarvis-Goodsell said of her family.
While architecture and music have made St. Mary an inviting place for many, Sandy Lent emphasized that it is the parishioners who have made the parish so special all these years.
“We all come together whenever Father (Lioi) needs help with something,” she noted, adding that people always step up to volunteer around the church.
A longtime parishioner, Lent said she has attended daily Mass at the parish for 32 years, chaired the lectors’ ministry for more than 30 years and been involved in the Flower Festival. She said her parents were married in the church’s rectory in 1938 and that she was baptized in the church the following year.
“St. Mary’s has been a wonderful place to grow in faith and it has been a second home,” Lent said. “You walk in St. Mary’s and you feel like you’re home again.”