The History of St. Mary’s of the Lake Parish
Little is known of the Catholic history of Skaneateles prior to 1848. The first Christian services in what is now Skaneateles were the Masses celebrated by the French Jesuits. It was Father Charlevoix who in the 17th century visited this area and constructed a surprisingly accurate map of Skaneateles Lake. It was not until 1849 that the first Mass was celebrated by Rev. Michael Hess in the home of Patrick McCormick with about ten people present. In 1852, Skaneateles was designated as one of several out missions of the parish in Camillus. At this time, Mass was celebrated by Father William McCallion every fourth Sunday at the home of John McGinnis, the Mayor of Skaneateles.
In 1852 Fr. McCallion purchased land for a new church from Charles and Elizabeth Pardee. The new church was started in 1854 and Fr. McCallion said the first Mass in the new church on Sunday, November 27, 1855. The new church, costing $2,500 was dedicated by the Rt. Rev. John McCloskey, Bishop of Albany on September 7, 1856. The low cost of the structure was due to the donation of large amount of materials and labor by the parishioners. This original wooden frame church burned to the ground some ten years later on August 26, 1866. The Rev. Joseph Butler, OMC of Syracuse succeeded Fr. McCallion but only served the territory for eleven months. Father Butler was succeeded by the Rev. Francis J. Purcell as pastor of Camillus, with Skaneateles as one of his out missions. Fr. Purcell started to rebuild on the site of the original church while still pastor of Camillus.
The Sacrament of Confirmation was administered for the first time in the western part of Onondaga County in the autumn of 1866. Over 500 were confirmed, many of whom were from Skaneateles.
On April 1, 1867, the Rev. Francis J. Purcell was appointed the first resident pastor of Skaneateles. He oversaw the construction of the beautiful brick church, erected at a cost of $12,000. This church was dedicated on June 30, 1867. A year later Fr. Purcell established St. Mary’s Cemetery on Jordan Road. In 1874, to accommodate the large number of Catholics in Skaneateles Falls, a frame church was built there and St. Bridget’s Mission Church was founded.
The Rev. Thomas Conway succeeded Fr. Purcell in 1907 and he served as the second pastor of St. Mary’s of the Lake until his death in 1925. Soon after assuming the duties of pastor, the Rev. D. Francis Curtin saw the second church reduced to ashes in a fire during February of 1926. Through the generous support of the parishioners as well as other members of the Skaneateles community, a third (and present) church structure was built. During the time of construction of the new church, Mass was celebrated in the Huxford Theatre.
The new brick structure, which was dedicated on Memorial Day of 1927, is of English Country Gothic style architecture and features a richly crafted oak ceiling and truss work and beautiful stained glass windows from the F. Mayer Studios in Munich and New York.
Fr. Curtin left in 1937 and was succeeded by the Rev. Marshall A. McMahon who served as pastor until his death in 1962. The Rev. Robert J. Casey was appointed the fifth pastor of St. Mary’s in December 1962. During his pastorate, a beautiful Parish Center was constructed. Fr. Casey also began implementing the far-reaching renewal in the church which was initiated by the Second Vatican Council. He served faithfully as pastor until his retirement in February 1981.
James Chappell joined the parish as Coordinator of Religious Education in 1977. Already possessing a Master of Divinity degree, Jim completed his studies for the Diaconate and was ordained on November 30, 1981.
On March 1, 1981, the Rev. John J. Ziegler was appointed pastor. In October 1982, the Parish Council accepted a proposed design for a Reconciliation Room to replace the confessional and to provide a proper setting for the renewed Sacrament of Reconciliation. Work was completed and it was first used in May 1983.
In the Fall of 1983 a plan was approved for the renovation of the sanctuary space in the church so it would better serve the needs of liturgical reforms of Vatican II. The new sanctuary was used for the first time for the Easter Vigil on April 21, 1984, and it was blessed by Bishop Harrison on June 4, 1984.
On March 4, 1984, after an extensive study of the overall pastoral needs of the parish, Bishop Harrison acting on the recommendations of the Parish Trustees and the Parish Council closed St. Bridget’s Church.
In the Fall of 1984, St. Mary’s entered into a twinning relationship with St. Anthony of Padua Parish on the South side of Syracuse. In addition to tithing the weekly collection to assist St. Anthony’s in their ministry, the two parishes made a mutual agreement to pray for one another’s needs, to assist with one another’s programs and to share in periodic exchanges of choirs, homilists, etc.
Father Ziegler served as pastor until January of 1986 at which time the Rev. John J. Morse was appointed our seventh pastor. Father Morse worked enthusiastically with the youth of the parish and in outreach ministries until his resignation because of ill-health in December of 1989.
In September 1986 Deacon Robert Borchert joined the staff to serve in the pre-marriage ministry.
The Rev. Raymond B. Wood became pastor of St. Mary’s in January of 1990. In the Fall of 1990 Father Wood arranged for the installation of operable wall partitions in St. Mary’s/St. Bridget’s Parish Center to provided additional classroom space for our Religious Ed Program. During the Fall of 1993 St. Mary’s Cemetery expanded 3.3 acres of land into 1,000 new burial sites. Fr. Wood’s final task was the renovation of Marian Hall which included the re-decorating of classrooms, construction of a gathering area, a handicap entrance ramp and new handicap accessible restrooms.
In July 1995, Rev. Thomas J. McGrath was named St. Mary’s ninth pastor and served until his retirement on June 30, 2010. Father McGrath was responsible for the long overdue refurbishing of the Rectory, the living area and offices. In the fall of 1998 the property at 91 Jordan Street, which abuts our present property, on the north and eastern edge became available. Knowing that St. Mary’s property was landlocked, St. Mary’s purchased this piece of property. Our growing Religious Education Program and limited office space called for additional space. It was at this time that an ad hoc committee began to look at our options. It was decided that it was feasible to construct a building between the Church and Parish Center. Construction began on April 1, 2003 and upon completion, Bishop James M. Moynihan dedicated St. Mary’s Holy Family Pastoral Center on Ascension Thursday, May 20, 2004. This Center would include the parish offices, eight additional classrooms and an elevator for easy access to the Church and Parish Center.
The Rev. Darr Schoenhofen was named St. Mary’s tenth pastor on July, 1, 2010. In March of 2012 Father Darr resigned as pastor of St. Mary’s.
On July 2, 2012 Father Thomas J. McGrath returned to St. Mary’s as the Administrator.
St. Mary’s currently serves approximately 1200 families in Skaneateles, Skaneateles Falls and the surrounding areas. We have over 250 students enrolled in our Faith Formation Program.