ST. MARGARET'S - OUR JOURNEY
In September of 1916, while passing through this beautiful yet almost barren neighborhood, Most Reverend Dennis Dougherty, fifth Bishop of Buffalo noticed the promise of development in the North Park region. After being offered two different tracts of land on Norwalk and Tacoma, neither of which would suffice the needs of a parochial plant, it was decided to purchase the tract of land bounded by Hertel, Linden, North Park and Saranac Avenues. The purchase price was $45,000 covered by a bank mortgage.
On December 6 1916, Bishop Dougherty appointed Reverend Thomas J. Timmons first pastor and founder of the new parish. The name chosen was suggested by Father Timmons. He recalled a wish expressed by the late Bishop Colton to name the next parish after his beloved late sister, Ms. Margaret Bingham and St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland. Bishop Daugherty was pleased and said he would gratify Bishop Colton’s desire.
When Father Timmons first visited the site of the new parish, he found a swamp. The streets marking the boundaries were nothing more than mud lanes having no sidewalks, water mains or sewers. In his anxiety to have modern equipment of every kind installed in the area, Father Timmons assumed the burden of the debt.
On Thursday, December 14, 1916, construction, under the direction of Charles Fimiani, was started on a small frame structure to serve as a temporary church on the southwest corner of Hertel and North Park. A heavy snowstorm set in about noon on Friday, December 15th and developed into a blizzard which forced all hands off the job by Saturday noon. The storm raged until the following Wednesday, December 20th. The snow was removed and under adverse conditions was resumed.
The appearance of the little new wooden church was anything but inviting; covered by tar paper and lath on the sides and roof. The interior was freshly painted beaverboard. Two borrowed stoves supplied the heat. Two cupboards were in the corners. Behind one, the priest vested. The other served as storage for candles, etc.
About 10:30 Saturday night, December 23, 1916 the work was finished and the next morning at eight o’clock the first Mass was celebrated and at ten o’clock the second Mass was celebrated. At each of the services Father Timmons read the bishop’s letter appointing him pastor with the assignment of founding the new parish.
From the very beginning a very kindly spirit manifested itself among the few parishioners and they gave every encouragement and help to the pastor. Those words of encouragement and acts of good will can never be forgotten. The first census listed only forty nine families in the new parish. The parish worshipped in the little church until November 1918.
The first child baptized in the new church was Thomas Edwards on January 14, 1917. Since then there have been 6,300 baptisms in the parish.
The first marriage was performed in the little church on April 18, 1917 uniting Miss May Timmons, cousin of Father Timmons, and Thomas Little. Since this marriage 2,124 couples have been united in this parish.
On May 20, 1917 Most Reverend James McCluskey, Bishop of Zamboanga, in the Philippine Islands, visited St. Margaret’s and administered the Sacrament of Confirmation to a class of children in the little church. Nearly 5,000 have received the gift of the Holy Spirt since its beginning. After the services he went over to the site of The Cornelius on the corner of Hertel and Saranac and broke ground for the edifice which was to serve as a church and school.
The first member of the parish to die was Mrs. Margaret Connolly in November, 1917. Since then there have been more than 5,000 faithful called home to their eternal reward.
The first rectory was a rented apartment over Galle’s Meat Market directly across the street from the little church at 1406 Hertel and was occupied until the fall of 1919 when the parish purchased a large frame building at 1396 Hertel. This building now stands at 135 North Park Ave. On March 3, 1923 the priests took up residence at 50 Saranac and on March 3, 1925 they moved into the present rectory.
Recognizing the need of a parochial school, shortly after the breaking of ground for the new building in 1917 a house was erected for school purposes on the parish grounds about three hundred feet south of Hertel Avenue. The house now stands at number 6 Colton Drive and is occupied by Richard Wolff. Father Timmons applied for two Sisters of Community of Sisters of St. Joseph and Sister M. Frederic and Sister M. Paul of the Cross took charge of the school which opened on Wednesday, September 19, 1917 with a solemn High Mass. Father Timmons, celebrant was assisted by Father Carr and Father O’Hern.
After Mass a procession comprised of clergy, Sisters, students and parishioners marched to the school. The classrooms were blessed and the children were assigned to their respective places. The school began with a total enrollment of forty one pupils including seventeen from St. Mark’s and Holy Spirit parishes. Regular school work began on September 20, 1917. Registration doubled in the first month and on October 15, 1917 Mrs. Walter Tehan joined the teaching staff. The first graduates were Ernest Cavanaugh, John Dwyer and Pauline Riley.
The Sisters with distressing inconveniences traveled back and forth between the school and Mount St. Joseph Motherhouse.
The corner stone of the Church-School building was laid by Bishop Dougherty on September 16, 1917.
With the opening of school in the new building in September 1918 with an enrollment of seventy one additional pupils the number of Sisters was augmented. They took up residence in the upper front part of the new building on January 1, 1919.
The first Mass was celebrated in the new building in October 1918. The great “Flu Epidemic” which took a heavy toll of lives caused the school to be closed for a number of days in the month of October, 1918.
New Year’s 1919 the new building was completed. It was erected at a cost, including equipment, of $135,000 and was considered one of the finest buildings of its type in the country.
On February 23, 1925 the new convent at 35 Saranac Avenue was completed and became the permanent residence for the Sisters.
The rectory and convent along with other improvements including the Cloister Wall, cost $128,000.
As the new parish grew, the capacity of the little chapel became overtaxed and it became necessary to add another Mass at nine A.M. to the Sunday schedule. Rev. Luke Sharkey, the Editor of the Diocesan Paper, the Catholic Union and Times, came to St. Margaret’s every Sunday. He refused compensation for his faithful and valued service which was indeed a great contribution and help to the struggling new parish.
In April 1919 Rev. Thomas J. Dunn was appointed as first assistant to Father Timmons. Father Dunn remained at St. Margaret’s until May, 1923 when he was named pastor of St. Anthony’s parish in Farnham, NY.
Since the founding of the parish, St. Margaret’s has witnessed several of her sons elevated to the ranks of priesthood the first of whom was the Rev. Thomas J. McGuire who was ordained in Rome in May, 1920.
The first young lady of the parish to enter the religious life was Marguerite Burke, who entered the Novitiate at Mount St. Joseph, October 15, 1918. She received the habit of the Sisters of St. Joseph on April 221, 1919 and made her final profession on Easter Monday, April 21, 1924. Her name in religious life was Sister Margaret Joseph. Margaret was her choice honoring the name of her parish.
In October, 1926 the parish had developed to the extent that the section East of Wallace was cut off for a new parish which was named St. Rose of Lima, in honor of the first American to be canonized.
After the division of the parish, the number of families continued to increase. The growth was so amazing and the number of children seeking admission, it was necessary to add the school annex in September, 1927 which accommodated about one hundred students. This building was dismantled after the enlargement of the school was completed in 1967.
The tenth anniversary of the parish was celebrated on Sunday afternoon December 5, 1926 in the church at three o’clock. The parishioners joined with Father Timmons and his assistants Father Scanlon and Father Ward in the solemn jubilee devotion. Afterwards, they marched over streets covered by snow to St. Mark’s Church filling it to overflowing for prayers and Benediction.
Rev. Felix McCabe was appointed assistant pastor on September3, 1932. He established the Novena to the Most Blessed Sacrament, which met with extraordinary success. People from the parish, city and suburbs filled the church to overflowing. It was the time of the “Depression” and people had pressing needs. Later on the Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help was inaugurated at St. Margaret’s by the Redemptorist Fathers.
Father Timmons died on October 2, 1942. Bishop Duffy, Ordinary of the diocese at the time celebrated he Requiem High Mass on Tuesday, October 6, 1942.
Reverend Daniel J. Molloy was installed as pastor in November, 1942 during a security “blackout” – World War II was being fought. Father Molloy was pastor of Ascension parish in North Tonawanda before his transfer to St. Margaret’s. He inherited a rather large debt of about $300,000 which he managed to liquidate within ten years.
In September, 1956 when ground was broken for the present church, the parish had a surplus of $200,000. A drive for funds under the chairmanship of Rupert Welch was held from May 5th through May 26th, 1957. The drive brought in about $140,000. The cornerstone of the new church was laid by Most Reverend Leo R. Smith, Auxiliary Bishop of Buffalo on Sunday, June 3, 1957.
The next major project was conversion of the space formerly used for the church into classrooms. This work was completed in 1959 at a cost of about $90,000. The schools was enlarged from seven classrooms plus the annex to fifteen rooms. The annex remained in use for kindergarten and first grade. The enrollment of the school at that time was 620 pupils.
In 1942 when the Catholic Youth Council for boys and girls was founded in the Diocese, St. Margaret’s was among the first to form a parish unit. Over the years with deep interest on the part of Father Molloy and various laypersons of the parish the youth organization brought home many first prize trophies and awards for debates, oratoricals, one act plays, short story, baseball, bowling and Nativity creations.
The school children under direction of the Sisters and Mrs. Catherine Ailinger produced several chorales and musicals for the edification of the parishioners. A band was organized by the late John Surra, and adult parish talent produced entertainment under direction of the late “Ernie” Clare.
Father Molloy was director of the Eucharistic League for the priests of the Diocese and was deeply esteemed for his humility, piety and charity. He was especially concerned about the poor of the parish, giving much attention to the St. Vincent De Paul Society.
The Holy Name Society flourished; its membership for several years, numbering over 900. The Society was inspired by Father Molloy to make yearly contributions to the Propagation of the Faith for the education of priests in mission territory. The same practice was adopted by the Usher’s Club.
For many years Harvest Festivals were held under the auspices of the Holy Name Society on the Monday evening of Thanksgiving week. The festivals were gala events, providing an opportunity to win a turkey and enjoyment of meeting fellow parishioners. The Society also sponsored an annual New Year’s Eve dinner dance for many years and the Harvest Festivals were replaced by the Turkey Shoot and Meat Raffle.
The Altar and Rosary Society has faithfully performed their assignment to provide linens and the daily service of the altars.
St. Margaret’s Mothers’ Club provided many services for the Sisters, teachers and the parish school; notably they have contributed books, furnishings, school supplies, salaries for music, art, and foreign language teachers. The members conducted candy, jewelry and baked goods sales and a food shower for the Sisters. At the end of school year, the mothers provided a class day dinner for the graduates and a cookout for the school children. They also provided a dinner for the Sisters and teachers on Teachers Recognition Day. The members hosted breakfasts for the First Communicants and their families as well as a luncheon for the students and their grandparents during Catholic Schools Week. At graduation they provided awards for highest average in each academic course as well as a scholarship to the female and male student with the highest average.
The Bishop’s Committee for Christian Home and Family was founded in the Diocese in 1939 by the late Bishop Duffy. The chief organizer and first Diocesan President was Mrs. J. Edmund Kelly of St. Margaret’s parish. The first parish unit was at St. Margaret’s. The ladies performed a much needed service apostolate to mothers of pre-school children in helping them to teach their little ones about God, and started the annual Bishop’s Blessing of Babies. Discussion groups became an important part of the Bishop’s Committee for the instruction and help of the mothers of pre-schoolers.
The Legion of Mary unit in St. Margaret’s Parish was formed in 1956 dedicated to Our lady of LaSallette. The Legion performs a completely spiritual apostolate.
With the implementation of the Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, a very able and active group of Lay Commentators was formed. They add a degree of richness to the liturgy in directing and leading parishioners during the celebration of the liturgy.
Father Molloy was invested with the rank of Domestic Prelate on September 11, 1949 with the title of Right Reverend Monsignor and later was invested Prothonotary Apostolic.
Monsignor Molloy was called to his eternal reward on July 1, 1966.
Rev. Walter A. Byrne was appointed administrator of the parish and served from July 1, 1966 until a new pastor was appointed.
In September 1966 Bishop James A. McNulty appointed Very Reverend Robert D. Duggan pastor of St. Margaret’s. He had been in residence for fourteen years, hence well known and held in high esteem by the parishioners. A reception under the chairmanship of Mr. & Mrs. John E. Roberts was held after his installation. A steady stream of clergy, religious, friends from all over the diocese and nearly all of the parishioners expressed their felicitations. The reception line ended very late that evening.
Monsignor Duggan lost no time in extending the work of his priestly apostolate. In September of 1967 an expanded program of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine was inaugurated on Sunday mornings. A program for teaching Christian Doctrine to four and five year old pre –school children was begun.
Conciliar Education was promoted in the parish through a regular Monday evening adult education program as well as an introductory course on the Bible.
Monsignor Duggan’s modernization program included an expansion of the school, refurbishing of the convent and rearrangement of space in the rectory to provide a conference room and new offices.
During the sixties the parish began holding family picnics at Elma Meadows Park. The day began with Mass at the park and was followed by games and contests for all of the children and the adults.
The highlight of the picnic was the annual softball game between the men of the Holy Name Society
and the young men of our CYO.
In 1968 the game of Bingo was introduced to the community at St. Margaret’s and was spearheaded for many years by Walter Guinther. It was the place to be on Tuesday evenings.
Seeing the success of Tuesday Bingo our Mothers Club began Friday bingo games, chaired by Anita Genovese and Rosalie Roberto, followed by Mary Rizzo and Rosemary O’Connell. The funds raised
on Friday went to the support of our school.
In June 1975 St. Margaret’s instituted an annual Corpus Christie day under the direction of Thomas O’Connell. The celebration began with the 12:10 Mass. A procession through the streets of the parish followed with altars set up at homes of several parishioners. Following the procession parishioners gathered on the parish grounds for a picnic and social gathering.
Also during this time our Mothers Club sponsored their annual Sweet Heart Ball every February.
They were sold out each year and was a wonderful evening of dining and dancing enjoyed by both the young and old. It always seemed that no one wanted the evening to end.
The seventies also featured the start of the VIP Club chaired by Dan Rossi and the Annual Benefit Fund led by Joe Casey and our Holy Name Society. Both clubs were fundraising arms for the Parish.
As the eighties began our Holy Name Society and Mothers Club worked closely with each other. Lawn Fetes were held for several years. The first Co Chairmen were Thomas O’Connell and Anita Genovese Fieramusca, both presidents of their respective organizations. The entire parish including teachers from our school participated in the three day event.
Beginning in 1987 the Italian Festival left its Connecticut Street home and headed for Hertel Avenue. In 1988 the parishioners of St. Margaret’s became active yearly participants. Selling our “Bella” Jars at the corner of Hertel and Commonwealth along with pasta in a cup. Our parking lot became parking central for the many visitors to our neighborhood for the five day celebration. It truly was a labor of love for our parish that so many volunteered to work at both venues through the nineties.
On January 23, 1993 Monsignor Duggan was called home to his heavenly reward. Fr. Raymond Mahar was appointed administrator until a new pastor was appointed. In an effort to include parishioners in the selection process of a new pastor members of the Priests Personnel Board held a meeting with the parishioners at St. Margaret’s to ascertain what qualities we wished our new pastor to possess and on May 1, 1993 Monsignor James G. Kelly became the fourth pastor of St. Margaret’s Parish.
Under Monsignor Kelly’s guidance our parish continued to flourish through changing times in our world. Monsignor celebrated Mass on the main stage for many years of the festival. Parish picnics were revived and breakfast on the deck became the social hub after Sunday Mass during the summer months. During Monsignor Kelly’s tenure our 9:30 Sunday celebration featured our children’s choir under the direction of Mrs. Theresa Marinaro.
Our Holy Name Society sponsored a special breakfast every Mother’s Day for all the mothers of our parish. An updated version of the Harvest Festival began under Mike Hoodmaker’s direction. It was the annual “Turkey Shoot” and of course our parish’s participation in the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade downtown followed by a corn beef dinner in the hall. We were introduced to the “Nutty Irishman” and entertained by traditional Irish dancers.
The school children presented an annual Passion Play which was exceptionally well done first under the guidance of Mrs. Theresa Marinaro, Mrs, Barbara Zdrojewski and then Mrs. Marian Lauricella. Christmas concerts and pageants were presented annually and included the entire student body.
Christmas Eve Mass at 5:00 PM became a wonderful event for our parish family. It was where the spiritual met the everyday world. Our children participated and learned that there is room for both
Jesus and Santa but without Jesus there would be no Santa. They learned that the spirit of giving was so much better than the act of receiving as they helped Father Moreno make food deliveries to those needy families in the 14216 and 14207 areas during the holidays. That good work now continues, as it has for many years, through our St. Vincent de Paul Society. For those lessons we are forever grateful.
Our annual spaghetti dinners were always a big success featuring Father Joe Moreno’s fettucine alfredo. We celebrated and embraced each other’s heritage for we had become a true melting pot.
As we entered into a new millennium sadly our schools’ enrollment began a downward slide where it threatened the stability of the parish.
2012 was a difficult year for our parish as a chapter of our history ended with the closing of our school followed closely by the retirement of our beloved pastor, Monsignor James G. Kelly, upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75. He is remembered as a priest of great prayerfulness and holiness. A man filled with compassion and love for God’s people, a good and faithful shepherd who allowed for his parishioners to have ownership in their Parish and to be a part of God’s Mission of love and peace for all people.
As every story goes with an ending there is a new beginning and on October 1, 2012 Reverend Joseph D. Wolf became our fifth and current pastor. Father Wolf is serving as pastor to both Holy Spirit and St. Margaret parishes which is a considerable undertaking. Upon arriving at this junction, changes had to occur, as he could not keep the Mass schedules as they had been at either parish for they overlapped. After overcoming that hurdle Father was presented with an untimely and rather large pension expense from the diocese. He was also charged with the sale of the school building to Iskalo Development.
We have worked through these changes as any family would. We look to the future with thankful hearts for the journey we have been blessed with, with prayerfulness and to Our Lord and our patroness, St. Margaret, for guidance and that our Parish family continue to be blessed in the years to come.