Sullivan County Parish Plans 150th Anniversary Commemoration

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NARROWSBURG, N.Y. —  St. Francis Xavier Parish, one of the Province’s earliest New York churches, will celebrate 150 years in this Upstate community, an area steeped in a rich 120-year Franciscan tradition.

The commemoration will take  place on Aug. 26, when Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, joins Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, and Bishop Dominick Lagonegro, Episcopal vicar of the northern counties of the archdiocese, to celebrate the 11 a.m. Mass.

A picnic open to all follows the liturgy along the banks of the Delaware River, according to William Scully, OFM, pastor.

The history of the church is a very rich one, said William, with more than 100 friars having served in western Sullivan County since the late 1800s.

First Catholics
The first Catholics came to the area known as the Delaware River Valley around 1848, he said. The German and Irish immigrants were attracted by the building of the Erie Railroad, according to William.

In 1852, Fr. Joseph Roesch became the first pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Obernburg, which later became a Holy Name Province parish. .

Initially, Mass was celebrated in a parishioner’s home, but later, as the congregation grew, it was said on the upper floor of a tannery building, William said. In 1862, Fr. Roesch built the first church and dedicated it to the patronage of St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit missionary. “A small room was partitioned off in the attic and served as living quarters for the priest during his stays at Narrowsburg,” he said.

Fr. Roesch ministered in Sullivan County for approximately 25 years and, in addition to serving the churches at Obernburg and Narrowsburg, he is credited with the construction of churches at French Settlement, Jeffersonville and Ellenville, William said.

Fr. Roesch was succeeded by Fr. Gerard Huntmann, who was entrusted with the whole territory of the Delaware Valley from Port Jervis to Long Eddy. Fr. Michael Montgomery later succeeded him and became pastor of Holy Cross and its missions, according to William.

Early Franciscans
“A new era for the Catholic population in the Delaware Valley began in the 1890s with the appearance of the brown-robed Franciscan friars, most of whom had come to the United States after having been driven out of Germany, as members of Thuringian Custody in Fulda, by the May Laws of Chancellor Bismarck,” he said.

Given the origin and the predominantly German population of Obernburg, Archbishop Michael A. Corrigan requested that the friars assume not only the care of St. Mary’s parish in Obernburg, as it did in 1892, but three years later, the care of Holy Cross in Callicoon and all of its missions.

The first Franciscan pastor of St. Mary’s in Obernburg — then the largest of the remote, rural communities – wasFidelis Kircher, OFM. Fr. Hugo Kummer was later appointed to reside in Obernburg and serve the budding parishes in Jeffersonville and Narrowsburg.   In 1901, more Franciscans came to the area when Edward Blecke, OFM, first Provincial Minister of the new Holy Name Province, selected Callicoon as the site of St. Joseph’s Seraphic  Seminary. The seminary remained open until the 1970s. It is now the  Delaware Valley Job Corps Center.

Just five years ago, a neighboring church of St. Francis Xavier commemorated a milestone anniversary.  The community of St. Anthony of Padua in Yulan, N.Y., celebrated its 100th anniversary with a visit from Cardinal Edward Egan.

—Wendy Healy, a freelance writer in Connecticut, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.