The History and
The History of the Unitarian-Universalist Church
by Dr Leonard Ralston
Dr. Ralston has been a member of the Unitarian-Universalist Church since 1960 and has served at various times as Trustee, Treasurer and Moderator. He joined the History Department at SUNY Cortland in 1957. After retiring, he researched and wrote a history of the college, Cortland College: An Illustrated History, published in 1991. He has been active in the Cortland County Historical Society for many years and recently served as editor for two Society publications, Cortland County Remembers and Bertha Blodgett’s Stories of Cortland County.So, don’t miss the latest installment of the East End Center’s History and Heritage Series which features the stories of churches in Cortland County, on Sunday, April 19th at 2:00pm.Please call the Cortland Youth Bureau at 607 753-3021 to reserve your seat for what promises to be a fascinating program.
Thank you for coming and welcome to the Unitarian-Universalist Church. This hyphenate title has only been used for the past 50 years. Before then, the church boasted a number of names. When the founders first met in 1813, they deemed it the “First Universalist Religious Society.” After they built the church, it became the “First Universalist Church.” In the late 1880’s, it was “All Souls Church.” By the 1930’s it returned to “First Universalist Church”, but was sometimes called “All Souls Universalist Church.” In 1960, it became the “Unitarian-Universalist Church of Cortland.” Many refer to it simply as the “Cobblestone Church.”
I will cover three main topics in the course of this talk. First, a brief understanding of the religious faith that led to the founding of the congregation and the building of the church as well as the core ideas of the Unitarians who joined the Universalists some 50 years ago; second, some description of the unique construction techniques of cobblestone architecture and the interior changes undertaken at the church’s rebirth in the 1890s; and third, recounting some of the highlights of church history during the century and three-quarters of its existence.
A number of independent religious thinkers of the 16th and 17th century found little biblical support for the ideas of Hell and of a stern and vengeful God who consigned most of mankind to suffer eternal damnation in its fires unless they somehow earned God’s forgiveness, a formidable task for all. These Calvinist doctrines were so harsh and unforgiving that even Cotton Mather, the famed Massachusetts religious leader died in torment, fearful that his soul was destined for eternal damnation, in spite of a life lived in an effort to earn salvation. New England Calvinists completely rejected Universalism, piercing the tongue of one Universalist with a red-hot iron to prevent spread of its doctrine.
Universalists preached a doctrine of Love and forgiveness. (At one point in the history of this church, the motto “God is Love” was painted in large letters across the rear wall.) John Murray, cast out of England for his Universalist beliefs, preached a message of salvation for all when he came to the Colonies shortly before the American Revolution. He said:
“Give them not Hell, but hope and courage. Do not push them deeper into their theological despair, but preach the kindness and everlasting
love of God.”
Universalism was most frequently found in small towns and rural villages, and was most popular with farmers, artisans and craftsmen, men and women of little wealth or social standing
The other half of the hyphenate name, Unitarianism, is an even older belief, found equally heretical by orthodox Christianity. As early as the 15th century, some courted death by fire when they denied the Trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. They insisted that there was only one God, that Jesus was a great teacher and prophet and perhaps even divine, but not God. The doctrine eventually found a home in America among Congregational churches in New England and tended to spread among urban settings.
These two faiths, each of which questioned some of the fundamental beliefs of traditional Christians, had separate but similar positions as the home of free thinkers and religious liberals.
When the small congregation decided to build their own church, the members became intimately involved. Calvin Bishop of Homer donated the plot of land, Robert Wells cut the hardwood timbers for the framing, and the general contract for construction was let to Horace Bliss. Numerous contributions of labor and materials kept the cost of the building between $5,000 and $6,000. The Town of Cortlandville contributed $100 toward construction of the church in return for the use of the church basement as the Town Hall. The Town retained use of the basement until the 1880s.
The exquisite cobble masonry was executed by Benjamin Davis of Clarendon, NY, described as a “strong Universalist.” Materials for the cobblestone building were carefully chosen from the annual deposit of stones readily available in the area and drawn to the site by dray and sledge. The church was thus built from the very soils on which it stands.
Cobblestone construction is a folk art, combining a plentiful material, a basic need, and a strong aesthetic sense. The cobbles are stones of a size that can be held in one hand. After being washed and sorted by color, the stones are sized at the building site by being passed through beetle rings or boards. Larger stones are used in the interior of the walls and smaller, matched stones make up the public face of the structure.
The early mortar used in cobblestone buildings was unique. The lime was ground from local outcroppings, burned, and then slaked in a pit for six months before clean “sharp” sand was added. This lime mortar hardened very slowly and bonded with the cobbles in a way that retained a degree of flexibility needed to allow the building to adjust to temperature changes without cracking, since the walls are about two feet thick at the base.
The Cortland Church has a herringbone pattern of small stones combined with an unusual diamond pattern. One observer commented that the general rhythm of the stones set row on row gives a wonderful texture to the wall as the light of the day travels across the stones.
The building’s roof is supported by a beautiful structure of Howe trusses similar to those used by early settlers for barns. The beams were cut from trees on Robert Wells’ farm, located west of the village, near what is now the intersection of Groton Ave. and Route 281. They are notched and pegged together so that the curves of the truss line feels like a ship’s hull. The hardwood beams resting on the walls are 12” by 12” by 44 feet long.
Cobblestone buildings are fire resistant, warm in winter, cool in summer and added a feeling of respectability to a new and minor group in a raw new land. This Cobblestone church is now among the oldest structures in Cortland County and the oldest Universalist congregation still occupying its original building in New York.
A few brief years before the outbreak of the Civil War was one of the most remarkable periods in the history of the Cortland Church. William H. Fish, an enthusiastic abolitionist and multi-faceted reformer held the pulpit from 1857 until 1862. In that brief time, he brought some of the most celebrated personalities and speakers of the period to the church.
There was no radio, television, or movies then and well know orators and lecturers were a prime source of entertainment. Favored speakers travelled circuits through the northeast and Midwest usually combining messages of morality and uplift with entertaining presentations . Cortland became a regular stop on many circuits. The orators often spoke on Saturday night, remaining in the village overnight. Reverend Fish persuaded many to give services at the church on the following Sunday.
Horace Greeley, newspaper publisher and presidential candidate was one of the many who spoke here. Henry Ward Beecher, famous preacher and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe of Uncle Tom’s Cabin fame was another. Ralph Waldo Emerson, famed essayist and lecturer, came on three separate occasions, and William Lloyd Garrison, newspaper editor and certainly the most notorious abolitionist of the period was among a score of the most notable.
The notoriety of the speakers drew members of other churches who came to hear the exciting topics discussed. Those who came were sharply criticized by their peers, and, in extreme cases, even excommunicated as heretics for attendance at the programs of the “free church.”
A Homer Presbyterian minister named Priest fell victim to some of these strong feelings. After a year travelling about Europe, he lightheartedly accepted Mr. Fish’s invitation to speak about his experience. Leaders of his own church pressed him not to speak in that “unholy place” and Priest asked to be relieved of his promise. Mr. Fish replied that publicity had been distributed and everything was already in place. He would not withdraw the invitation, leaving it up to Reverend Priest to decline if he wished. Priest decided to speak as advertised and soon thereafter, was relieved of his pulpit.
Stephen Brewer and J. C. Carmichael of Cortland were expelled from their churches because they were drawn to the church to listen to these eloquent and challenging speakers. Brewer, in particular, became something of a celebrity when a lengthy trial resulted in his expulsion.
After those exciting pre-war years, the church entered a low period. Between 1875 and 1882 the church actually closed its doors except for an occasional service. The New York State Census of 1865 gives one picture of the state of religious activities in Cortland during that post-war year. The Cobblestone church property was valued at $4,500, as compared to $8,000 for the Presbyterians, $6,500 for the Baptists, and $5,500 for the Methodists. (All of these other churches of that date were later replaced by larger, more opulent structures.)
The Universalists also trailed in attendance. On the average Sunday, the Catholic Church (which did not reveal the value of its building) used 110 percent of its available seats, the Presbyterians 65 percent, the Baptists 62 percent and the Episcopalians 29 percent. Universalists used only 50 of their 450 seats on an average Sunday, a mere 11 percent.
While both Presbyterians and Baptists paid their ministers $1,000 a year and the Episcopalians paid $700, the Universalist minister received only $400. Those figures may help explain why the tenure of most Universalist ministers was short, averaging less than three years.
The congregation even considered dissolution during the early 1880s but by the end of the decade, returning prosperity and a charismatic, mercurial, and somewhat unstable minister, Uri Mitchell, revived the church. During the brief span from 1889 to 1891 church attendance grew and the congregation made the decision to remodel the church interior.
When first built, the church conformed to New England custom in its floor plan. The first floor contained box pews that were rented by congregants, and a three-sided balcony created a second level. The new church interior was pretty much as you see it today; the sloping floor, theatre style seats and a vaulted ceiling of warm, rich panels of Canadian ash, in a style popularly known as “parlor car.” In 1895, an arch in the east wall was opened and an loft built to accommodate the new Morey and Barnes organ This instrument is a smaller sister of the organ in St. Mary’s church. Both were built in Utica.
It was also during this active period that stained glass windows manufactured by the Utica Glass Company replaced the casement windows on the lower level of the church. The window on north wall, nearest the entrance memorializes Madison Woodruff, a well known potter whose establishment was located on Groton Ave. The next window was dedicated to the memory of Horace Bliss, the main contractor when the church was built. All of the other windows are dedicated to people important during the early history of the church. The themes of the windows hold few of the spiritual figures common in other churches.
It was during Mitchell’s ministry that Dr. Lydia Trowbridge, an early woman physician and advocate for women’s rights, joined the church and energized many of the women in the church to join her in demanding suffrage for women, a goal they reached nearly thirty years later.
Uri Mitchell left the church in 1891, startling the congregation with the announcement that he no longer believed in Universalism. It was twenty years before the mortgage that financed the new interior was finally paid off.
The church celebrated its centennial during the dark days of the 1930’s depression, at which time Grace Buck B. Buck chaired a committee charged with preparing a history of the church that was printed by Fay Parsons, who was also the Moderator of the church.
Universalists shared a liberal though somewhat different view of religion with the Unitarians for many years. Gradually, the two groups grew closer, cooperating informally at first, then slowly moving toward union. In 1953, they jointly established the Liberal Religious Youth, an organization for the religious education of teenagers. The following year, they formed the Council of Liberal Churches, to ease further joint activities. Delegates from both bodies met in Boston in 1960 and voted to unite, forming the Unitarian-Universalist Association, composed of nearly 900 churches, including the Cobblestone church.
It was during the ministries of Max Coots, (1954-1959) Jim Hunt, (1959-1961) and Bob Payson (1961-1967) that the congregation moved away from its roots in a rural Christian Universalism toward a more cosmopolitan, urban liberal style that characterizes the denomination today. Central New York was honored during this period by the presence of two exceptional liberal ministers in Max Coots in Cortland (and later in Canton) and John Taylor in Ithaca. Both were exceptional preachers, eloquent, thoughtful, entertaining and enlightening, all in the same sermon.
Since the departure of Bob Payson to a larger calling in Pennsylvania, the congregation has been a fellowship with visiting ministers and speakers on a myriad of topics through the years.
U-U’s (as we often call ourselves most of the time in the interests of brevity) try to make sense of the modern world and follow a creed which values the teachings of all religions in all parts of the world. Frequent and open discussion of contemporary social issues make up a strong part of our activity and social gatherings during coffee hour after services is a powerful tradition
We also keep our sense of humor. A story in the church bulletin at May Memorial Unitarian church in Syracuse told the story of a raging fire that threatened a number of churches on one street. Catholics braved the flames to go into their church and save the chalice from which the host is distributed at communion. The Jews hastened into their temple to rescue the Torah, their holy writings. The U-U’s went back in to save the coffee pot. Speaking of Coffee, please adjourn to the social room for some light refreshments.
The History of St. Anthony's
By Rita Alcorn
“I Love to Tell the Story”
A Brief History of St. Anthony’s Church-50 Pomeroy St., Cortland, N.Y.
This brief history originally presented January 6, 2008 at the Epiphany Choir Festival sponsored by the Cortland County Council of Churches held at St. Anthony’s Church was prepared by St. Anthony’s Parish Historian, Rita Alcorn. This brief historical summary was also given as a hand out after the presentation -St. Anthony’s Church: Past and Present-given on January 25, 2009 at the East End Community Center as part of EECC’s “History and Heritage Series”
In 2009 St. Anthony’s Parish is celebrating 92 years in the city of Cortland, N.Y.
St. Anthony’s Church was founded on June 10,1917. It’s name then was St. Anthony’s Italian Roman Catholic Church. Mass was said in Latin and sermons were given in the Italian Language. Bishop John Grimes of Syracuse asked Father Pio Parolin,a Scalabrini priest from Italy and the Pastor of St. Peter’s Italian Roman Catholic Church of Syracuse, to bless this new Catholic Church in Cortland.( He was a priest of the Missionary Order of the Society of St. Charles founded by Bishop John Baptist Scalabrini of Italy.), The first pastor was Rev. Vincenzo Penta, who was born in Avellino ( near Naples), Italy. He was an associate pastor at St. Peter’s. Father Penta, Vito J. Addessa, James Comando and Father Parolin, led the committee of laymen who purchased the wooden building which was the original Pomeroy St. School ( 1884-1915). The first trustees were Vito J. Addessa and Damiano Falso. As St. Anthony’s developed from an Italian National parish to a diocesan parish, nine pastors served the parish . [ Their pictures and biographical summaries are seen in the front entrance of the church They are Vincenzo Penta (1917-1927); Bindo Binazzi (1927-1932) ; Carmen Monteleone (1932 - 1948); Joseph Delahunt (1948-1960); Carl Denti (1960-1970); Alexander Pilla (1970-1981); Carlo Stirpe (1981-1995); Jerome Katz (1995-2003 );and Mark Kaminski (2003 -present).]Also serving this parish were many associate pastors, and pastoral assistants and parishioners in various ministries during its 91 year history.
In 1950 the original building was razed and by 1951 the present building was completed.(The first mass in this building was held on Palm Sunday,1951.) The church was blessed by Bishop Walter Foery of Syracuse on St. Anthony’s Day, June 13, 1951. The Latin mass was still said then and the Latin words inscribed above the 1951 doors of this building say: Deo Optimo Maxima- God the Most High and Lavdi Divi Antoni- Praise Divine Anthony. These words proclaim this parish’s purpose and direction as a place of worship and its devotion to its Patron Saint: St. Anthony of Padua. ( St. Anthony was a Franciscan Monk who lived from 1195 to 1231. He was canonized a Saint by Pope Gregory IX and he is buried in the Basilica at Padua, Italy. His feast day is June 13. He was a noted Franciscan scholar, teacher of theology, doctor of the church, reformer, preacher and miracle worker. His feast day is June 13.)The symbols in the circular rose window of St. Anthony (seen above the front entrance on the choir loft wall) manifest the Franciscan Monk as preacher of the word and follower of Jesus. All of these valuable stained glass windows were created by the Henry Keck Stained Glass Studio of Syracuse and Stanley Worden was the chief designer. There are 5 original windows from the 1917 Church and 24 others that were installed in 1954 and 1962 and donated by parishioners. Changes in the interior of the church continued as a result of Vatican II. During the 1960’s in the interior of the church the main altar of the church was turned around so that the Priest and people faced each other during the celebration of the mass. During the 1970’s the Pastoral Council became more formally established. This elected lay group participated in the decision making process along with the Pastor.
A major renovation of the church interior occurred in the 1980’s. In 1984, the altar was
placed in the center of the church with the refurbished benches arranged around it. This was done in accordance with the spirit of Vatican II, to enhance a sense of community and to increase lay participation at worship. Beneath the Altar is the Altar Stone which contains the relics of the Martyrs Saint Marcarii and Saint Aetherii from about the third century A.D. This is the original altar stone presented to this parish in the 1917 church. This central Altar was dedicated on June 13, 1984 by Bishop Frank Harrison.
The current organ is a Rogers Pipe Organ built by Mr. Leonard Carlson .. It was dedicated on June 21, 1992 and is an integral part of our music ministry along with the piano. The Tabernacle from the 1950-51 church is now in the Blessed Sacrament chapel located in the Southwest corner of this building.
There are many reminders of this church’s history preserved within the building today. Also many traditions have continued from the early beginnings of this parish. The tradition of the celebration of St. Anthony’s Feast Day which includes the St. Anthony’s procession and the St. Anthony’s Monks and the singing of the Italian Hymn to St. Anthony and many other spiritual and social facets of this celebration continues today. And this tradition is over 100 years old. The singing of the Italian Christmas Hymn “Tu Scendi dalle Stelle” is another example of a continued tradition. The annual Election Night Spaghetti Supper is another social tradition which is very popular in the community.. Through these 91 years numerous parishioners and community members have contributed their time and talents to insure the parish’s growth and development and preserve it as a place of worship. Most recently the Chapel of Adoration was established and dedicated in June, 2005.
Today our Pastor Rev. Mark P. Kaminski, PhD. leads a parish which continues to honor its ethnic heritage while welcoming a diverse population. There are 425 families and there are many social, cultural, educational, spiritual and charitable opportunities for all ages offered to its parishioners and to this community at large. And most recently the parish has developed a center for the study of Italian language and culture.
Father Penta, this parish’s founding Pastor, said at the very beginning of our formation in 1917, “ Saint Anthony’s Church is to be a parish for all of Cortland County”…” From it blessings will flow and touch others”. ( This description is written in Italian by Father Penta about our founding and it appears inside the Baptismal Record book of 1917.)
After our program today, you are invited to view the many pictures displayed in the Chapel of Remembrance in the front of the building and in the church hall downstairs and on this display all of which show more of our history.
St..Anthony's History Part 2
By Stephanie Passeri
St. Anthony’s Current Pastor
Father Mark Kaminski came to St. Anthony’s in November 2003. He brought with him a host of wide-ranging interests, talents, and experiences. Born in Europe of Polish family background, he was raised in Bonn, Germany. A man who speaks five languages, including Italian, he has multiple degrees, including a master’s and PhD in literature from the University of Cologne, a master’s in theology from Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Detroit, and a doctorate in theology from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. in 2008. His dissertation traced the history of the deaconate and focused on the training and expanded role of the deaconate in today’s church.
Father Mark’s ministry at St. Anthony’s mirrors this understanding and appreciation of the past along with enthusiasm for the present and a vision for the future. Under Father Mark’s tutelage, parish staples, such as St. Anthony’s Day and parish organizations and ministries have continued to flourish. In addition, he is far-sighted in supporting new parish activities which are generating great enthusiasm. These initiatives include a revitalized religious education program, expanded youth activities, special worship opportunities (Eucharistic Adoration Chapel), and community outreach.
History of Religious Education (and May Procession)
One exciting area of expansion and revitalization is the current religious education program under Alanna Boudreau, the current Director of Religious Education. However, St. Anthony’s has always had a highly effective and often innovative religious education program with a great deal of lay involvement, going back to such pillars of parish life as Josephine Fabrizio. Jo was the first Italian American woman of Cortland to get a degree from the Cortland Normal School (1929) and pursue a teaching career. She was already teaching religious education in the 1920’s. Once she started teaching in one-room country schools in neighboring counties, she drove home to Cortland on weekends to see her family and teach religious education at St. Anthony’s, including First Communion and Confirmation classes. She continued teaching First Communion classes until her death in the 1960’s. Mary Natale DeGrace was another very active religious educator of the 1940’s and 50’s. For a time in the 1950’s, Father Delahunt decided to add some Sisters of St. Francis for religious instruction, but parishioners always provided the bulk of the instruction along with the priests for some classes. In the 1960’s, Mary D’Addario and Yolanda “Weaser” Fabrizio were very active lay teachers.
Along with special classes to prepare for the sacraments, there were regular weekly lessons which once involved early release from school during the week. Classes were held in various locations over the years, including the Church Hall of the first church, the Court House during the building of the present church, the Discenza block on the corner of Elm and Pomeroy, and later the Paduan Youth Center on the South End.
During the time of Father Denti, associate pastor and religious education director Father Fred Pompei, along with Dr. Anthony Papalia and others, implemented a forward-thinking program called The Institute of Christian Unity, in which high school students of all faiths could chose from a wide range of classes set up like mini-college courses. The majority of classes were held at the Paduan Youth Center with some classes held at other venues in the city. Faculty included Fathers Denti and Pompei, Protestant clergy, a number of SUNY professors, Mr. Thomas Curri, Mrs. Mary Alice Bellardini, Dr. Samuel Forcucci, and other Christian and Jewish community members. The institute had an executive board, officers, and division chairs, including Mrs. Samuel Forcucci, Marjorie Petrella, Diane and Ralph Passalugo, and Philomena Corsi.
Under Father Pila, once a month at the Paduan Center, Associate Pastor Father Canaan held the Family Program at which adults and children first had separate classes, then a joint activity culminating in a Mass. Under Father Stirpe, active religious educators included Kathy Smith, Sister Chris Treichel , and Diane Passalugo, the first formal lay Director of Religious Education. Her husband Ralph was very active in the Renew Program, which focused on small group Bible study for adults with the goal of increased fellowship in the homes of families. Under Father Stirpe and Father Jerry, Helen Matthews was director, followed by Bonnie Barker, and Kay Robillard continued as First Communion teacher. Bible study has been done under Fathers Stirpe, Katz, and Kaminski.
One very beloved and formal parish activity, the May Procession, combined girls from religious education and young women from the Our Lady of the Rosary Sodality. Begun in the early 1940’s by Beatrice Buttino, later to become Sister Mary James Vincent, the May Procession was held until the early 1980’s. This event consisted of a procession including girls as young as four dressed as angels, flower carrying early elementary school girls dressed in blue organdy gowns, older elementary to high school girls in formal white gowns, Sodalists in white dresses and blue capes, a May Queen and court dressed in formal gowns and one little boy in white carrying the crown of the Blessed Mother on a pillow. Starting in the 1950’s, the procession began at the San Rocco Lodge and then entered the church with an honor guard of Knights of Columbus. Once in church, a living rosary was performed by the participants, who also sang special Marian hymns in English and Italian, and a statue of the Virgin was crowned by the May Queen. Some of the other parish women who organized and trained the participants were Yolanda “Weaser” Fabrizio, Bella Fabrizio and Rosemary Nitti Curtis. Under Father Stirpe, senior citizens and then children did the May Crowning while now First Communion children perform the ceremony with Father Mark.
Under Alanna Boudreau, the current religious education program includes training in catechism and Biblical topics but also exciting participatory activities, many involving a variety of age groups, the whole parish, the community, and beyond. The youth are directly involved in the Mass liturgy, community service, parish fellowship activities, and even national and international religious events.
An example of a popular new initiative is the Family Mass followed by Dish-to-Pass Suppers. Religious education students take the place of the adults in various roles during the Mass, including lectors and music. These Masses can have a specific theme, such as the All Saints Mass and Celebration which was locally televised. Children as young as four had researched the life of a favorite saint, done displays, and, with parents help, came up with costumes. A procession of little saints along with other participating costumed adults entered the church as the congregation sang “The Saints Come Marching In.” At the supper, students gave lively presentations about their particular saint.
St. Anthony’s Eucharistic Adoration Chapel has offered Mrs. Boudreau a chance to involve teens in a new worship group, the Teen Eucharistic Adoration Group. This group is very much run according to the teens’ ideas. One special aspect of this group is that it includes participants from other county parishes and even Syracuse. Meetings take place every other Monday evening. After Eucharistic Adoration including prayer and singing, the teens have a meeting in the Church Hall. At one of these meetings, the teens suggested enacting the Las Posadas Mexican neighborhood Christmas tradition they had learned of in their Spanish classes. The event involves a procession led by a young couple dressed as Mary and Joseph reenacting their quest to find shelter among neighborhood homes. This blossomed into an event involving a wide swath of the East Side. With the help of some members of Cortland’s Hispanic community, the authentic words to the script recited between Joseph and the homeowners and the traditional song were found. Eight neighborhood home and business owners awaited the long procession made of religious ed. children, their family members, and other parishioners. After listening to carols, the neighbors performed the dialogue with St. Joseph and listened to prayers being recited after they had turned the couple away, following the Gospel account. Finally, the procession approached the church through an avenue of luminaries made earlier by the children, to be met by Father Mark, who welcomed the Holy Couple and processors to the Mass, followed by a traditional Las Posadas party with pignatas and much merriment.
Following St. Anthony’s theatrical tradition, another new event uses theater to involve both religious ed. children, their families, and all parishioners and guests. January 11th marked the second annual performance of La Befana: An Epiphany Legend, an original play that came out of the culture section of the Italian Language and Culture classes offered at St. Anthony’s. The play is scheduled during religious ed. class in the Church Hall, but all are invited. The script follows Matthew’s New Testament account of the Three Kings and Micah and Isaiah’s Old Testament prophecies. However, an added character is the Befana, the popular Italian folk figure who brings gifts on Epiphany and also embodies the over-zealous housekeeping of Martha in the New Testament. The ages of the actors and singers ranged from sixty to one and a half. This one act play will be televised on local cable.
St. Anthony’s hosts and coordinates a number of youth events that go beyond the parish. St. Anthony’s hosts a free Vacation Bible School in August. Under Mrs. Boudreau, St. Anthony’s coordinates an annual pilgrimage to Mount St. Mary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for local teens and college students. Under Kimberly Petrella, St. Anthony’s coordinated the fundraising and trip for county Catholic youth to see Pope Benedict at the 2008 World Youth Day in Australia. College age and older young adults have enjoyed hearing religious speakers with meals and fellowship at Theology on Tap.
Music Ministries and Other Musical and Theatrical Tradition at St. Anthony’s
Music has always been an integral part of worship, and St. Anthony’s has a rich musical tradition both with worship and related activities. Whether through its organ music, choir, theatrical performances, or the area band that grew out of St. Anthony’s church band, music has inspired worship and contributed to the arts in the Cortland community and far beyond.
In the pre-Vatican II early years at St. Anthony’s, Masses were said in Latin with homilies in Italian or English, depending on the Mass, until the early 1950’s when English became the norm except for novenas and other special occasions. At regular Masses, traditional hymns, such as “Tantum Ergo,” “Panis Angelicus,” and the “Ave Maria” were sung in Latin. Italian hymns were featured on special occasions, such as the monks’ song on St. Anthony’s Day and Italian hymns about Mary for the May Procession. As the years went by, more hymns in English were featured. As was customary before Vatican II, the congregation was more an audience than participants in worship and worship music. However, the congregation was inspired by the music and singing provided sometimes by the choir and soloists and sometimes by just the organist/vocalist.
Many in the music ministry participated for decades. While Bessie O'Connell was the first organist, Marian Tucci was the organist for over 50 years. Choir soloists Joe Calabro, Beatrice Sardo, and Genevieve Corsi Camilli performed for decades, as did such choir members as Celeste Dougherty and siblings Joe and Lisa Buttino. Lisa sang in the choir from the 1920’s until just a few years ago. Children have also been part of the music ministry, including Mary Daniels’ children’s choir in the 1950’s and various children’s choirs over the years led by Henry Fabrizio and others.
Under Father Carlo, in keeping with his post-Vatican II goal to have more direct Mass participation for the congregation, all the parishioners became participants as singers as more congregational singing took place. Over the years, other organists have included Kathryn Daniels (children’s choir), Veronica Natoli Martin (children’s choir), Janet Radmore, and Yuri Karlgut. Choir Directors have included Sam Forcucci and Manny Medeiros. Nancy Yang Stevens is the current organist and musical director. She directs the choir but also the parish congregation, which uses hymnals to sing along with the choir.
St. Anthony’s has also had a long secular music tradition. While the first small St. Anthony’s celebration used the Cortland City Band, Cortland was soon blessed with the talents of Frank Crisara, a Calabrian immigrant with a natural talent for music. After coming to Cortland to work on the railroad, Crisara missed playing in the Italian symphonic band in Syracuse, and with the help of Arturo D’Orsi, conductor of the Duca degli Abruzzi Band, Frank started the Mascagni Band in 1911. After the founding of St. Anthony’s Church, this became the St. Anthony’s Band. The church band was so popular it became Cortland’s Civic Band from the 1930’s to 1954, and was revived as today’s Old Timers Band in 1967, still with Crisara as the conductor in his eighties. Crisara taught generations of St. Anthony’s men and boys to play instruments, many becoming noteworthy professional musicians, such as Col. Arnald Gabriel, Frank’s son Ray Crisara and others.
St. Anthony’s secular musical tradition was not and still is not limited to St. Anthony’s Day. In the 1920’s, in the Church Hall basement, operettas were performed under the direction of Maude Coty Burnham, a drama coach who lived on Port Watson Street. The Church Hall had a sloping floor, movie theater seats, and an actual stage. Silent movies were shown on Sundays. In 1934, Joe Buttino, a young high school student, started his career as St. Anthony’s resident director/producer with his debut mystery play. He went on to direct and produce variety shows and popular plays of the day. One 1940 musical variety show featured young Angie Valerio (now Barbato) singing “Campagnola Bella,” a performance she reprised 48 years later for the Italian class at St. Anthony’s.
Eventually, the Church Hall was remodeled to make more space for bingo playing, and the parish plays were held at Cortland High School’s auditorium. Arnald Gabriel served as pit band conductor, and Spiegal Wilcox even played in the pit band. Lucy Sardo, who would become Lucy A’Hearn and mother of Broadway singer Patrick A’Hearn, was the choreographer.
During the 1980’s, the medieval tradition of holding religious plays in the church was brought back. Godspell was performed by parish youth in 1981 and from the 1980’s to 90’s, other plays and performances, were held in the church, including liturgical dancing. Secular events included Threads of Time (music and fashion) and cabaret nights. St. Anthony’s unique structure, excellent Jubilee organ, and acoustics have made the church a favorite setting for the annual Cortland County Council of Churches Epiphany Choir Festival and other concerts. Parishioner Armando Natale lends his accordion playing to church events.
The visual arts are also valued at St. Anthony’s. Life size statuary from the original church and an Italian wooden statue from the 1600’s are still featured. The floral arrangements of Victor Baez add much to the liturgy. The parish women, including Antoinette Burton and the late Domenica Sardo have crocheted beautiful altar cloths while others have contributed them. Parishioners’ landscaping of the atrium and grounds add beauty to the property. However, one of St. Anthony’s greatest treasures is the artistic talent of Mario Venturini, a local artist born in Tuscany. Venturini has created unique pictorial altar cloths and hand painted or made cloth collages for hanging banners. Some of his most appreciated pieces are the 21 St. Anthony’s Procession banners depicting Italy’s regions.
Places of Origin and Traditions of the Early Founders and Parishioners
Some of the lasting traditions put in place by St. Anthony’s founders were based on religious feast days of their native towns and villages in Italy. The Italian community of Cortland numbered only 231 in 1905 at the time of the first St. Anthony’s Day celebration, but by 1915, Italians made up 41 % of the immigrant population, bigger than any other group. Eventually, immigrants came from a number of towns, including Quattropani in Sicily and Castelforte, Ceccano, and Sgurgola in Lazio. However, traditions of two towns left a particular mark. Dogliola in Abruzzo had as its patron saint, San Rocco, whose name was given to Cortland’s Italian fraternal order, the San Rocco Lodge. Ferrazzano in Molisse was the source of the Italian hymn sung by the thirteen boys dressed as Franciscan monks on St. Anthony’s Day. The monks’ tradition started in 1933 by Dora Cerio, Josephine Cerio, Mary Colongeli, and Francesca Discenza. However, the first St. Anthony’s Day in Cortland started well before the advent of the monks and even before the founding of St. Anthony’s Church.
History of the St. Anthony’s Day Festival
Cortland Standard articles trace the history of St. Anthony’s Day over the years. The first mention was in 1905 with a small article noting that this was the first time such an event had been held in Cortland. After a Mass at St. Mary’s, the Societa` di Sant’Antonio, formed that year, paraded down Main Street with the Cortland City Band and three band concerts were held on the corner of West Court and Main. In 1906, a small article invited the public to the “big celebration” that would be held with music again by the Cortland City Band. In 1907, fireworks were mentioned along with the good behavior of the attendees: “The celebration was a credit to the Italian population of the city.” By 1908, the article title was: “St. Anthony’s Day Being Celebrated in Great Style by the Italians.” In 1909, the article noted that the parade went through many principal streets, not just Main Street, and for the first time, a greased pole climbing competition was noted. (This followed the Albero della Cuccagna tradition in Italy.) That year, Patsy Buttino and Patsy Christmas were mentioned as committee chairmen but a Syracuse man (P. Pagano) was in charge of the fireworks. By 1910, the fireworks were termed “magnificent,” and the Italians were praised: “The Italians are deserving of hearty commendation for their excellent celebration and entertainment.” Thus, at a time when there was general prejudice against immigrants in many areas of the United States, Cortland’s St. Anthony’s Day celebration created a bridge between various populations.
By 1911, Maestro D’Orsi’s Duca degli Abruzzi Band was mentioned, and in 1915, the program of Frank Crisara’s Mascagni Band was published two days ahead of time. In 1917, the paper reported “enormous crowds from the city and surrounding country.” A very moving comment was also made that year: “A most gratifying feature in connection with the celebration of the feast day was the fact that the Italian citizens were given the first opportunity to attend Mass in the new St. Anthony’s Church on Pomeroy St. For many months the Italians have worked faithfully for a church for their own people and a place where they could attend divine worship with one of their own kin as the celebrant of the Mass and yesterday their desire was fulfilled.”
The 1921 article described the parade with several bands, parish organizations, and the St. Anthony’s Banner. By this time there were many sporting events and races. Fireworks were done by Pasquale Buttino and Giuseppe Filaretto. Much space was devoted to the large crowds and automobile traffic, matching the county fair. The Italians good behavior was seen as “a source of pride and gratification to the American citizens of this city.”
The parade route and site of the afternoon celebration changed over the years, including Randall Flats and the Fair Ground. However, the celebration always began with thirteen “bombs” at six o’clock in the morning. Starting in 1933, the monks became a permanent fixture of the celebration. After the brief hiatus of the celebration during World War II, the religious procession of the later 1940’s started to look more like an American parade with grandiose floats made by parishioners. Familiar parish organizations, such as the Holy Name Society, Altar Society, and Sodality marched and had floats with children riding on them. In 1955, the parade was no longer held on June 13 but on the nearest Sunday. In the 1950’s and 60’s, the route was first through the East Side, then down Main Street and the South End, and returning to the church for benediction with the festival on the Pomeroy School grounds. By Father Denti’s time, even more bands and drum and bugle corps were added. Once the Paduan Youth Center was purchased, the festival was held there with carnival rides. After the sale of the Paduan, the festival returned to the church grounds with the parade, once again called a procession, going through large areas of the East Side.
Community Outreach and Ecumenical Involvement
A parish must do God’s work beyond its own church property and community. St. Anthony’s emphasizes living the Gospel message through generosity and activism and by being a place that offers socialization to all in the community. The Parish Activities page on the St. Anthony’s Church website gives an overview of the many opportunities for ministry at St. Anthony’s.
St. Anthony’s hospitality brings local people from all backgrounds together in many events, such as the Election Night Spaghetti Supper, the Pasta and Beans Supper, and the St. Anthony’s House Tour.
Educational outreach opportunities at St. Anthony’s include free Italian language and culture classes for the community. The Giovannbattista Passeri Multi-ethnic Library was named for the parish custodian of the 1930’s who lived for years in the Church Hall until his family joined him from Italy. It includes books of all types, but especially those celebrating the many heritages of today’s parishioners and tutoring resources.
Some of St. Anthony’s initiatives include Quilters for the Homeless, Nursing Home, Hospital and Homebound Ministries, St. Joseph’s Guild, the Christmas Giving Tree, Baskets for the Needy, Thanksgiving Dinners, the St. Francis Blessing of the Animals and supporting Helping Hands Caring Hearts, the Ecumenical Baby Shower, Crop Walk Participation, and Pro-Life activities. The building of the Jubilee House helped a Cortland family to own a home it could not have afforded otherwise. For twenty years, the St. Joseph’s Day Dinner Dance benefit raised money for charities and helping agencies, such as Access to Independence, Unity Acres, Catholic Charities of Cortland, Sisters of Cincinnatus, Nazareth Farms, Hospice of Cortland, the Francis House, Red Cross of Cortland, YWCA Aid to Victims of Domestic Violence, and a local adoption agency.
St. Anthony’s Church cooperates ecumenically with other worship communities through the activities with the Cortland County Council of Churches. St. Anthony’s parishioners are on the Chautauqua Planning and Worship Committees and are presenters at Chautauqua classes.
While parish historian Rita Sardo Alcorn has preserved St. Anthony’s parish history, St. Anthony’s Church has also participated in the broader history of Cortland County. For example, St. Anthony’s contributed its Vietnam War Memorial to the Court House Park. During Cortland County’s recent bicentennial, it was the only church to have an entire group take part in the Bicentennial Pageant and also had a float in the Bicentennial Parade.
St. Anthony’s parishioners have taken the message of the parish to the community in their many fields of endeavor. Our parish has provided Cortland with doctors, nurses,Dentists, chiropractors, lawyers, musicians, artists, teachers, university professors, board of education members, social workers, barbers, tailors, seamstresses, bakers, masons, builders, merchants, craftsmen of all types, financial specialists, and religious: Rev. James Vincent Buttino (known as Father Tov), Sister M. James Vincent (Beatrice Buttino, known as Sister Bea), Sister Victoria Masterpaul, Sister Mary Carla (Barbara Thomas), Sister Valerie Natoli, and others who entered religious life: Georgianna Tucci and Carol Caratelli, and two mayors and other political officials to name a few. It is not difficult to live the message of this parish, which has such a rich past and vibrant present, because we love St. Anthony’s and St. Anthony’s loves you!
Stirpe, Rev. Carlo C., and Rita S. Alcorn and Joyce P. Alteri. People of Faith:Celebrating
75 Years of Journey, Life and Vision of Saint Anthony’s Church, Cortland, New York. Cortland, NY: Saint Anthony of Padua Church. 1992.
Vanaria, Louis M. St. Anthony’s Day in Cortland: La Festa in Central New York.
Cortland, NY: Saint Anthony of Padua Church. June 13, 1981.
Vanaria, Lewis, M. “Settlement Patterns of Cortland Italians: The First Generation, 1892
1925.” From Many Roots. Cortland, New York Cortland County Historical Society. 1986. p. 25
Vecchio, Diane. “The Influence of Family Values and Culture on the Occupational
Choices of Italian Women in Cortland, New York.” From Many Roots. Cortland, New York Cortland County Historical Society. 1986. p. 37.
Personal interviews with the following parishioners and friends of St. Anthony’s:
Rita Alcorn, Joe Buttino, Bella Fabrizio, Dorothy Natale Nitti, Guy Passeri, John Stevens