A Catholic church in Corning that dates back almost to the Civil War will be given special recognition on Sunday, Nov. 7.
Bishop Salvatore R. Matano will serve as the principal celebrant and homilist for All Saints Parish’s 10:30 a.m. Mass at St. Mary Church, 155 State St. A reception is set to take place in the gymnasium of All Saints Academy, 158 State St., immediately following the Mass.
Bishop Matano’s appearance will mark the 150th anniversary of the impressive stone structure, which proudly endures as a focal worship point for area Catholics.
Located near downtown on the city’s south side, St. Mary originated in 1848 as Corning’s inaugural Catholic parish, Our Lady Help of Christians. Ground was broken on a new church in 1866, with Buffalo Bishop John Timon laying the cornerstone 0n June 10 of that year. The building opened for worship in 1870, carrying with it a new title as well: St. Mary, Mother of Mercy. It was solemnly dedicated on Oct. 8, 1871, by Buffalo Bishop Stephen V. Ryan.
St. Mary is one of the largest Catholic churches in the Southern Tier, with a seating capacity of 650. Father Matthew Jones, pastor of All Saints Parish, said that a plan is in place to restore some pews that would increase the capacity to 700. He added that the church has undergone a series of modifications over the years; the last renovations occurred in the 1980s with a repainting of the church, updates to the sanctuary and dedication of the sacristy as Brennan Chapel to honor Father Thomas Brennan, longtime pastor of St. Mary who resided there from 1953 until his passing in 1996.
Father Jones noted that St. Mary’s high altar has largely retained the same design as when the church was built. “It is most impressive that it has withstood so many modifications, renovations and Vatican II and is still intact,” he remarked.
All Saints Parish recently embarked upon a comprehensive plan process that is due to last well into next year. Led by a New Jersey-based liturgical design consulting firm, Studio io, the process will aim to “organize the priorities of our campus, including physical plant needs, projects and a restoration of (St. Mary) church,” according to Father Jones.
“Good things are in store for us,” he added.
Originally part of the Diocese of Buffalo, St. Mary became a part of the Diocese of Rochester in 1896 along with all other parishes in Steuben, Chemung, Schuyler and Tioga counties. The parish’s first 100 years are recounted by Father Robert F. McNamara in A Century of Grace, which he released in 1948 as a centennial tribute to his native parish. The book marked the first of many parish histories written by Father McNamara, the longtime diocesan historian who died in 2009.
St. Mary was the first of three Catholic parishes in Corning. It was followed by St. Patrick, founded in 1902 at 274 Denison Parkway; and St. Vincent de Paul, established in 1913 at 222 Dodge Ave. A parish school endures on the St. Mary campus as All Saints Academy — the only current diocesan Catholic school in Steuben County.
St. Mary Church has reached its 150th year amid a sea of change in the area’s Catholic landscape. In 1990, the three Corning parishes, along with Immaculate Heart of Mary in Painted Post, formed a four-church cluster known as the Corning-Painted Post Roman Catholic Community, sharing its pastor and staff. In 2001, the churches were blended into a single parish with four worship sites and named All Saints. However, due largely to the decreasing availability of priests as well as the cost of maintaining four separate campuses, St. Mary is now the only site out of that quartet still in operation.
“The parishioners have responded generously to making their home on one worship site. It doesn’t make the move from Immaculate Heart, St. Vincent or St. Patrick any easier, but they are working hard to make our one parish move into the future, not remain in the past,” said Father Jones, who was ordained a Rochester diocesan priest in 2015 and has led All Saints since 2018.