The above map shows the site of the former Roman Catholic Church of Ss. Peter and Paul from 1912 to 2006. As of 2019, the church is a Coptic Orthodox church named for the same saints.
The story of Rochester’s Roman Catholic Church of Saints Peter and Paul began with ethnic and political tensions in the city’s Catholic community. Looking back on the church’s history, an anonymous newspaper writer wrote on July 1, 1893, “A number of the members of St. Joseph’s Church” pushed for the creation of a new church. “These members lived on the west side of the [Genesee River] and they were not pleased with the site selected for St. Joseph’s Church in Franklin Street [on the river’s east side]. They separated from that parish and organized the new church….”[i]
SPP Golden Jubilee Newspaper Cutouts (1893), Annotated by John E. Curran
This narrative is
too simplistic. The Ss. Peter and Paul archive and Fr. Robert F. McNamara’s
histories of the Diocese of Rochester provide a more thorough account of St.
Peter and Paul’s origin. St. Joseph’s Church, founded in 1836, was located on
Ely Street, on the city’s east side.[ii]
The disgruntled German parishioners, who wanted a church on the west side of
the Genesee, battled with local Redemptorist priests in 1838–42 for control of
the new parish. When the laity decided to form their new church without pastor
Simon Saenderl’s permission in 1843, New York Archbishop John Hughes
intervened. Hughes’s creation of Ss. Peter the Apostle Church that year met
most of the parishioners’ demands. The church was located on the west side of
the Genesee, near the Germans’ homes, and the Redemptorists did not run the
parish. In a compromise measure, neither the laity nor the Redemptorists, but
rather the Archbishop owned the property.[iii],
Fr. Ivo Leviz served as the first pastor.[v]
The School Sisters of Notre Dame, who had been working in Rochester since 1853,
took over Ss. Peter’s parish school in 1855.[vi]
The St. Peter the
Apostle corporation was registered with local authorities as “St. Peter’s
German Catholic Congregation” from 1843 to 1859, after which the church was
reincorporated as the “Ss. Peter and Paul’s Church Corporation.”[vii]
The reincorporation process was fraught. Factions supporting and opposing
church authority (pro- or anti-bishop) vied for control of Ss. Peter and Paul
in 1852–55. Based on the documents available in the Ss. Peter and Paul archive,
it is unclear if “bishop” in this case referred to the Bishop of Buffalo or the
Archbishop of New York; more research is needed on this point. Seven
“Anti-Bishop” men were convicted in January 1853 of trying to forcibly enter
Fr. Francis X. Krautbauer, pastor from 1851–59, opposed the parishioners who
wanted to incorporate the church under state law. Krautbauer struggled to
maintain order and got into shouting matches with lay leaders.[ix]
Eventually, Krautbauer left the church to “bring” what a 1961 parish history
would call “lasting peace to the parish.”[x]
It was not until 1862, however, that all of the rebellious parishioners made
their peace with the clergy’s leadership of Ss. Peter and Paul. That year,
Bishop John Timon of Buffalo wrote the following in his diary: “Met with rebels
of St. Peter’s… all present reconciled… only two absent hold out. Deo Gratias.”[xi]
Relations also improved between Ss. Peter and Paul and its parent church, St.
Joseph, in this period. The two parishes hosted a “love feast” in 1854 to
formally end their feud.[xii]
birth of Ss. Peter and Paul reflected the push by some American Catholics for trusteeism, or the control of American
parishes by the laity, instead of clerics. It also reflected the trend toward
liberal church politics that Pope Leo III would denounce in 1893 as the
A 1961 parish history of Ss. Peter and Paul took Pope Leo’s position,
dismissing the parish’s advocates of trusteeism as “minority, malcontent groups
of laymen who insisted on holding tenure of church property” who “plagued [the]
parish almost from its inception.”[xiv]
Likewise, a 1987 parish history, taking the Catholic Church’s side, dismissed
the would-be German trustees as “dissatisfied laymen.”[xv]
When Fr. Joseph
Sadler replaced Fr. Krautbauer as pastor in 1859, he oversaw construction of a
new brick Ss. Peter and Paul on the same lot.[xvi]
A new school building was also erected, but it burned down sometime between
1859 and 1861. A local newspaper commented on the scale of the fire: “Two of
the members of Truck No. 1 were in the second story when the floor fell,
carrying them with it, but they escaped, strange to say, without injury.”[xvii]
The 1961 parish
history describes the years after the church’s reconstruction as “an era of
peace and prosperity.”[xviii]
Fr. Francis Sinclair, a German priest, succeeded Sadler as pastor in 1865, only
one year after his ordination in Rome. Sinclair would remain with the parish
until his death from a heart attack in 1907. Diocese historian Fr. McNamara
reported in 1993 that Sinclair was the son, possibly born out of wedlock, of
Baron Gottlieb von Schroeter, a Lutheran convert to Catholicism. Sinclair grew
up in the home of one Herr Grueder, but the Baron did visit Sinclair in Rome
and attended his 1864 ordination. When Fr. Sinclair was reunited with his
Lutheran mother before his departure for America, she would not speak to him.[xix]
Sinclair was the most successful of the church’s pastors to date. He steered
Ss. Peter and Paul to its golden jubilee in 1893. When Bishop McQuaid and
Archbishop Corrigan, head of the province of New York, came to lead the
centennial Mass, it was a celebratory event, a far cry from Archbishop Hughes’s
emergency intervention fifty years earlier.[xx]
Fr. Sinclair also presided over the installation of a new organ at
A highlight of Sinclair’s career was his extended trip to Israel in 1900.[xxii]
struck Ss. Peter and Paul the night of Wednesday, January 6, 1869. Due to
structural defects, the parish school’s second floor collapsed during the
Epiphany Festival. The meeting hall on the second floor was full of
parishioners. Eight people died and forty were injured.[xxiii]
The Rochester Daily Democrat, using
the hyperbolic language of nineteenth-century reporting, wrote that the
policemen who responded to the accident saw “a series of sights that froze the
very manhood in the veins of the strongest.”[xxiv]
The bodies of the dead, plus some of the wounded, were taken to the rectory.[xxv]
Bishop McQuaid, recently arrived in Rochester, heard the church bell sounding
the alarm and hurried to the scene, where he administered last rites and tried
to calm parishioners.[xxvi]
A joint funeral for six of the victims occurred on January 8.[xxvii]
Rochester city historian Blake McKelvey, writing in 1955, connected the
accident to the city government’s failure to enforce building standards:
While much sympathy was expressed for the victims, the need for more adequate supervision of construction [in Rochester] was again deferred. Indeed, even the collapse of a five-story building on downtown State Street in 1878 produced only a new report full of earnest recommendations, which were again tabled and forgotten….[xxviii]
“The School House Disaster—Funeral of Six of the Victims–Condition of the Wounded–Coroner’s Investigation,” Rochester Union-Advertiser, Jan. 8, 1869, SPP Photocopy.
In 1870, two
years after Bishop McQuaid formed the new Diocese of Rochester, Ss. Peter and
Paul was a prosperous German Catholic church with 2,500 parishioners.[xxix]
This population boom continued through the century’s end. The author of an 1898
Catholic newspaper article, which recounted the history of Rochester’s St.
Patricks’ Cathedral, noted, “Ss. Peter and Paul’s church on King Street … is
one of the most thriving congregations in the city.”[xxx]
German parishioners formed a religious confraternity, or verein, called the German Catholic Union of Knights of St.
Mauritius in 1873. When members of other verein visited Rochester the following
year for their national conference, the Knights were integrated into a national
network of Catholic associations. This informal network eventually became a
formal nonprofit organization, the Knights of St. John, and Ss. Peter and Paul
parishioners would remain active in the Knights through at least the 1950s.[xxxi]
Additional confraternities, such as the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sodality for
parish women and the citywide Rochester Deanery of the Holy Name Union, formed
in the twentieth century.[xxxii]
More research is needed to trace the development of Catholic social
organizations in Rochester.
Fr. Emil Gefell, Fr. Sinclair’s successor as pastor, had attended Ss. Peter and Paul as a youth.[xxxiii] Before coming to Ss. Peter and Paul, he taught German and Italian at St. Andrew’s Seminary.[xxxiv] Once Gefell took over from Sinclair in October 1907, he initiated a major project — the relocation of the parish from Maple/Liberty Street and King Street to West Avenue (West Main Street today), where the firm of Gordon and Madden would build a new, Romanesque church.[xxxv] This church would feature two smaller shrines branching off from the central sanctuary.[xxxvi] The new church and a new school were finished in 1912.[xxxvii] An adjacent mansion (present address: 750 West Main Street) was purchased for a convent.[xxxviii] Another adjacent house was purchased for a rectory.[xxxix]
Ss. Peter and Paul 1838 Map Fragment. Editor’s Note: While the original Ss. Peter and Paul church is typically described as being located on Maple Street, one may notice that the site was more accurately on Liberty Street, connecting to Maple.
Newspaper Clipping about West Avenue Site: “Where New Ss. Peter and Paul’s Church Will Be Built” (No Date, 1900s)
The high cost of
building the new Ss. Peter and Paul prevented Gefell from buying interior
decorations, so the church sanctuary was not finished until 1929, when Prof.
Gonippo Raggi installed decorations.[xl]
Executives of the Rochester, Buffalo, & Pittsburgh Railroad bought the old
Ss. Peter and Paul to make it into a warehouse. However, they allowed Gefell to
temporarily use the church for St. Lucy’s Church, Ss. Peter and Paul’s mission
to Italian Catholics. St. Lucy’s eventually became its own parish in a new
location, closing in 1970.[xli]
By 1940, the neighborhood around Ss. Peter and Paul was no longer as intensely German as in the nineteenth-century. Immigrants in the surrounding blocks were approximately 40 percent Italian, 20 percent Canadian, 15 percent German, 15 percent English-Welsh, and 10 percent Irish. Residents tended to work in blue-collar jobs as “wage workers.” More women than men held professional or semi-professional jobs, but only 20 of women in the neighborhood worked in those jobs. Very few residents graduated from college. The neighborhood’s African American population would grow after WWII, due to the Second Great Migration, but in 1940 only thirteen African American families lived near Ss. Peter and Paul.[xlii] Against this backdrop, the church celebrated its centennial in June 1943.[xliii] The cornerstones of the 1843 and 1859 churches were put on display for the centennial Mass, over which Bishop Kearney presided.[xliv]
A less pleasant
surprise occurred on May 30, 1944, forty-eight years to the day since Fr.
Gefell’s ordination. A fire broke out in the church’s basement storeroom. The Democrat and Chronicle reported,
“Firemen were successful in confining the blaze to the storage room and the
rear of the altar. The pastor said there would be no interference with church
services in the structure.”[xlv]
Time and again, the parish survived major fires on its premises.
retired in June 1950, although he continued to live at the rectory and
celebrate daily Mass in the house’s chapel. Fr. Robert J. Fox, a native
Rochesterian, became the new pastor. Fox supervised the restoration of the
school, bell tower, and church sanctuary, including Prof. Raggi’s paintings,
during his first year.[xlvi]
Fox would supervise further renovations in Fall 1966, when a portion of the
west side chapel’s ceiling collapsed and cracks were noticed in the east side
Fr. Gefell lived to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of his ordination in
1956. He died at age 88 in May 1959.[xlviii]
Heart problems plagued Fr. Fox during his tenure. He suffered his first heart
attack on March 6, 1959.[xlix]
His second heart attack occurred in July 1967 and proved fatal.[l]
Bishop Fulton Sheen, who had administered last rites to Fox, presided over the
funeral. According to the Catholic
Courier, “Bishop Sheen’s eulogy centered around the idea of the priesthood
as an emptying of oneself so that the church might be filled. It is only when
the priest returns to his God that what he gave is once again replenished.”[li]
In the wake of
Fox’s death, the Bishop tasked priests from the Congregation of the Sacred
Hearts of Jesus and Mary (abbreviated SS.CC.), along with brothers from the
same order, with running Ss. Peter and Paul.[lii]
Sheen’s abrupt decision to put the order in charge took many parishioners aback.[liii]
changes mandated (or inspired) by the Second Vatican Council appeared at Ss.
Peter and Paul around this time. The church experimented with parishioners
bringing their own communion bread and placing it in the ciborium, or
ceremonial chalice, before Mass began. Indirect evidence indicates that this
practice disgruntled parishioners. The August 11, 1968, parish bulletin
excerpted an essay by Catholic writer Mary Perkins Ryan, assuring people that
there were sanitary ways for many people to put bread in the ciborium, and
lauding the participatory aspect of parishioners sharing bread from home.[liv]
A bulletin from January 1970 cited Methodist luminary Charles Wesley, in
addition to Catholic saints, in an article about singing as a form of prayer.[lv]
In September 1970, pastor William Davis, SS.CC., launched a lay parish council,
reflecting the Vatican II direction that laity receive a greater say in running
Finally, like so many American Catholic churches, Ss. Peter and Paul began
hosting “Folk Masses,” using folk music instead of traditional hymns.[lvii]
When the Landmark Society of Western New York considered adding Ss. Peter and
Paul to its registry in 1971, Landmark research assistant Amy Hecker wrote that
the church “seems to embody a growing process worthy of dignity, and a sense of
II nor the broader turmoil of the 1960s completely transformed the conduct of
Ss. Peter and Paul’s parishioners. Unlike many American Catholic churches, Ss.
Peter and Paul did not remove its communion rails.[lix]
The Ss. Peter and Paul archive contains a set of photographs from the 50th
anniversary celebration of Sr. M. Rosamond’s vows as a nun (July 19, 1970). The
nuns pictured, ranging from middle-aged to elderly, still wear habits and veils,
in contrast to the American nuns who, in a few years, would shed their habits.
Meanwhile, the formal dresses of women and girls in attendance seem
deliberately old-fashioned, resisting the new styles and patterns of the late
Similarly, photos from the parish bingo workers’ dinner party on June 7, 1970,
reveal the old-fashioned clothing of middle-aged and elderly parishioners.[lxi]
These photographs hint at the ways that Catholic parishioners and clergy sought
continuity in an age of discontinuity.
Photographs of SPP Bingo Workers Dinner Party (June 7, 1970) and SPP Picnic (1972)
documentary record for the 1970s is thin. Two notable events were the closure
of Ss. Peter and Paul School in 1972 and the transformation of the school
building into a tutoring center for the Rochester City School District.[lxii]
By 1984, church attendance had declined substantially. The loss of white
parishioners to the suburbs (“white flight”), the death of older parishioners,
and the arrival of non-Catholic residents in the 19th Ward were some
of the factors responsible. The Immaculate Heart of Mary Sodality disbanded in
1983; the note discussing the dissolution does not say why the group decided to
stop meeting, but it does note that three members had died in the past year.[lxiii]
An undated document from the late 1970s–early 1980s, “Option for Future
Ministry,” yields useful statistics about the 19th Ward, although
the document has a blunt, sometimes fatalistic tone. It is worth quoting at
The parish has a total population of about 7,000 people; Predominantly Blacks; About 20% Hispanic most of whom are bilingual. The Whites fall into 3 categories: Middle-aged homeowners who bought homes before the White-flight. Old people who have been there for years and don’t want to leave. Poor, uneducated who can’t find cheaper accomodations [sic] elsewhere. Active parishioners number about 200; 100 use envelopes; ave. 150 for worship.
[The 19th Ward] is certainly one of the most neglected areas of the city. It has the usual inner-city problems: Poor trash removal; many abandoned buildings/boarded up houses; Vacant lots not cared for; drug selling is pretty open; Prostitution is flagrant. A recent Evangelization Census which included about 16,000 people (3 parishes) came up with these significant statistics: About 7,000 in SS Peter and Paul area; Approximately 50% consider themselves unchurched; Large numbers of alienated Catholics; A large elderly population; A large number of children under 18 and many much younger. Many mothers with small children/no husband/no support. Many unemployed men/some have turned to alcohol.
Needs: The presence of caring Christian persons; Prayerful concern for the plight of the many marginal people; A follow-up to the evangelization census; large scale, long term evangelization program; Persons with a strong desire to proclaim the Good News in new ways to people who have rejected what they heard before. People with a desire to serve others who won’t necessarily appreciate the service. So the service must be unconditional, without a thought of reward, spiritual or material; this is the most difficult part of the mission.
What is now being done: We are trying to evangelize, to build a servant community; We are trying to make ourselves known to the people; We are trying to communicate of Black people that SS Peter and Paul welcomes them; We are trying to discover which kind of service is most possible for us. We are at the very beginning of a mission, we haven’t begun to lay the foundation, we are just beginning to dig it.
What gifts are needed: Any gifts that will contribute to helping with evangelization, with building a community of people who will be a constant light in this area. Gifts for visibility and availability for service. Types of service might include: coffee house, day care, kindergarten, hospitality center, soup kitchen, alternative school for high school drop-outs, night school for high school equivalency, organize neighborhoods into catalytic communities/base communities, DRE, director of evangelization, adult education, sacraments programs etc.[lxiv]
SPP “Option for Future Ministry” & SSCC Rochester Summary by “Claire” [no last name] (n.d., circa late 1970s–early 1980s)
The Ss. Peter and
Paul leadership ramped up its philanthropic and social justice initiatives in
the 19th Ward during the 1980s, hoping to reverse the trend of
decline. Pastor Richard McNally reiterated in a 1984 essay that only 200 people
attended Ss. Peter and Paul, but “we probably have a higher per capita number of
young parishioners than many other places. This is due to a very conscious
outreach by past and present staff members.”[lxv]
The administrative staff had shrunk considerably; one other priest, two brothers,
one nun and one volunteer from the Sisters of St. Joseph, and two lay men
worked with McNally. Nonetheless, parishioners volunteered for many parish
committees, helping to take up the slack.[lxvi]
In response to
the 19th Ward’s poverty levels and the Reagan administration’s cuts
to food stamps in 1981–82, the parish launched a soup kitchen for the 19th
Ward and Bull’s Head (N. Genesee Street to W. Main Street) area, St. Peter’s
Kitchen. Seminary intern Brother Rich Czerwien did substantial work in getting
the kitchen off the ground.[lxvii]
Brother Bob Di Manno, SS.CC., became much loved in the parish for running St.
Peter’s Kitchen from 1982–86.[lxviii]
Despite the fluctuating number of people running an increasing number of
programs, McNally was optimistic: “There is lots of life here: if you don’t
believe it, come here and work for a few weeks.”[lxix]
“Life” did not
translate into fiscal stability. As the decade progressed, the parish began a
new round of building renovations. The parish budget, covering a new parish-run
daycare, new offices, St. Peter’s Kitchen, and a thrift store called PriceLess
Clothing, was stretched thinly. By 1986, Br. Di Manno had to write pastoral
letters emphasizing the importance of donations.[lxx]
The city government recognized the church’s social initiatives with a
certificate of merit in December 1986, but such an award did not help the
parish’s financial situation.[lxxi]
The parish sold its convent to a neighborhood resident, while retaining the
mortgage, in the hopes of gaining some income. The new occupant turned the
convent into a boarding house, but defaulted on payments and allowed the
convent to fall into disrepair and become the site of criminal activity. As a
result, the parish took back the building.[lxxii]
Ultimately, the convent was sold to Main Quest, a drug rehabilitation facility
for the Bull’s Head area, in 1994.[lxxiii]
The DePaul Halstead Square Community Residence, a single-room occupancy program
for people with mental health issues, took over the building in 2014.[lxxiv]
The 1990s saw Ss.
Peter and Paul continue its social justice orientation, while pursuing new
interfaith outreach and launching new projects intended to revitalize the local
economy. This was a deliberate response to the parish’s 1989 Vision Statement,
which, according to pastor and Sacred Heart priest David Reid, “affirm[ed]
commitment to our present church building both as a place of worship and as a
place that gives dignity and grace to our West Main Street neighborhood.”[lxxv]
A 1990 position paper elaborates on this social-justice orientation and reveals
parishioners’ opposition to gentrification. It also suggests that the current
population of Ss. Peter and Paul was more comfortable with the neighborhood’s
ethnic diversity than parishioners were during the peak days of white flight:
Guiding assumptions…. Working with the residents of the neighborhood, not just for the residents, is essential. We want to be partners in creating a non-violent, supportive environment for individuals, families, and children to live and grow…. We want to effectively act to improve the neighborhood while consciously ensuring that residents will not be displaced and that our efforts do not duplicate existing services or activities.[lxxvi]
“Proposal to the Parish Community of Ss. Peter and Paul’s Church from the SSPP Social Ministry Committee: Three-Year Plan for Strengthening Our Outreach in the SSPP Neighborhood,” Final Draft (Nov. 6, 1990), SPP Copy
In 1991, Ss.
Peter and Paul began leasing church space on Sunday afternoons to Rev. Mary L.
Robinson’s ten-member African American congregation, Miracle Outreach Church of
The defunct parish school became a mixed-use space. Much of the building was
converted into low-income housing in 1989–90; Fairchild Place, later called
Sojourner House, took over the housing program from the parish. The thrift
store and St. Peter’s Kitchen remained downstairs in the parish school.[lxxviii]
Damien Care Center, a free clinic, was launched in the basement under St.
Peter’s Kitchen in 1992, but it only operated for approximately eighteen
Ss. Peter and Paul launched a Neighborhood Community Center and hired a
part-time community organizer, Evelyn Reaves, in 1993.[lxxx]
The parish Social Ministry Committee’s rationale for the center was that, “As a
membership-based community center, residents will be able to participate
in the overall direction and activities of the center. We believe this is the
most authentic way of creating participation and building a strong sense of
The center did not remain open for long, inspiring parishioners to participate
in other 19th Ward volunteer groups.[lxxxii]
celebrated its 150th anniversary on June 27, 1993.[lxxxiii]
Despite this milestone, Ss. Peter and Paul’s financial situation remained
precarious. In the wake of the Diocese’s recommendation to form cost-sharing
“clusters,” the church clustered with St. Francis of Assisi Church in November
A promotional film, Saints Peter and
Paul: The Message Goes Out!, describes the parish’s shift from focusing on
spiritual needs to providing social services. The film gently asks for donors’
Fr. Reid launched a capital campaign in 1995 to raise $500,000 for church
Reid also consulted with clergy from around the country, including Kermit Krueger,
pastor of Chicago’s United Church of Rogers Park, about renovating an aging
church’s physical plant.[lxxxvii]
Parishioner Craig Murphy coordinated much of the Ss. Peter and Paul
rehabilitation efforts, recruiting Henry Swiatek, a professional art restorer,
to work on the church’s paintings.[lxxxviii]
The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts reassigned Fr. Reid to a church in New
Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1996.[lxxxix]
Two years later, the Sacred Heart order withdrew entirely from Ss. Peter and
Paul, as the order no longer had enough priests to staff the site.
Consequently, the church returned to diocesan control.[xc]
In 2000, Ss.
Peter and Paul, now under the leadership of Fr. Paul Tomasso, joined the Roman
Catholic Community of the 19th Ward (RCC19). Formed by St. Monica,
St. Augustine, and Our Lady of Good Counsel, this initiative shared costs,
facilities, resources, and priests between parishes.[xci]
Under this new configuration (in a plan approved on September 10, 2001), four diocesan priests — Brian Cool, Michael
Upson, Raymond Fleming of Emmanuel Church of the Deaf, and Bob Werth — would
rotate among the Community’s churches and celebrate Mass at all of them. Fr.
Larry Tracy would help out as an extra priest when needed. Pastoral
administrators, such as Ss. Peter and Paul’s Craig Bullock, would take over the
parishes’ day-to-day business matters.[xcii]
administrative reorganization reflected the Diocese’s call for “Pastoral
Planning for the New Millennium” — an admission that the Diocese no longer had
enough priests or resources to maintain its current operations.[xciii]
Craig Bullock released a letter crediting Fr. Tomasso with saving Ss. Peter and
Paul from closure.[xciv]
Bullock told the Democrat & Chronicle
in December 2000 that he was optimistic about Ss. Peter and Paul’s future.[xcv]
His tenure proved to be short, however, despite his enthusiasm for the job and
leadership of a major “Vision Retreat” in March 2002, the records of which read
like anonymized oral histories of the parish in that era.[xcvi]
Sr. Patricia “Pat” Flass, from the Sisters of St. Joseph, took over Bullock’s
position of pastoral administrator in July 2002.[xcvii]
Dale Davis, Minutes from Ss. Peter and Paul Church Retreat, Mar. 17, 2002
celebrated its 160th anniversary in 2003 with a Mass led by Bishop
Unfortunately, the improved budget and church attendance rate that Craig Bullock
had predicted did not materialize. In September 2003, for instance, an average
of only 83 parishioners attended Sunday’s two Masses.[xcix]
Starting in May 2003, the 19th Ward/Corn Hill/Bull’s Head Planning
Group began another round of pastoral planning to consider RCC19’s future.[c]
In fall 2004,
Bishop Clark issued his directives: The RCC19 churches must have a single
pastor, one shared staff, and three weekend Masses in total. Fr. Fleming, Sr.
Pat, and other RCC19 officials ran surveys and focus groups to give
parishioners a voice in pastoral planning. The Planning Group then developed a
downsizing plan, submitted it for diocesan review in summer 2005, and announced
it in November 2005. Parishioners upheld the measure in a vote. Good Counsel
and St. Augustine would close first, with Ss. Peter and Paul closing six months
later. Parishioners would report to St. Monica, which would also become home to
Emmanuel Church of the Deaf. A number of RCC 19 parishioners had petitioned the
diocese to keep both St. Augustine and St. Monica open, but the Planning Group
concluded that this was not feasible. St. Monica required the least
renovations, compared to the other three churches. The diocese concurred. Some
parishioners from the closing churches reported a feeling of loss, while others
accepted the change, given the city’s declining Catholic population.[ci]
Indeed, many of Ss. Peter and Paul’s parishioners no longer lived in the
neighborhood around the church, which they considered unsafe. A number of Ss.
Peter and Paul parishioners, crestfallen after the closure was announced, left
RCC19 entirely and relocated to Holy Apostles Church.[cii]
Sr. Pat’s June 4,
2006, message to the Ss. Peter and Paul congregation captures the complex
emotions surrounding the closure:
There are two temptations we must avoid. The first is nostalgia, which is basically a state of denial. The second danger is despair, which leads to apathy, resignation, and perhaps, cynicism.
The challenge is to avoid these two temptations, and try to imagine a renewed Church. After the Resurrection, Jesus was a different sort of being. He didn’t have the same “old” body. Our local Church is going through a dying process that we pray will lead to a new life. Jesus told his apostles not to cling to him. We can’t cling to the past, either.
I pray we will have courage to move forward with hope and confidence that God’s Spirit will guide every step we take.[ciii]
Fr. Ray Fleming, soon to be the pastor of
the new St. Monica, presided over Ss. Peter and Paul’s last Mass on Sunday,
October 1, 2006.[civ]
Fleming told parishioners, “I challenge you to go beyond the bitterness, the
anger and all of that stuff that gets in the way of serving and loving God.”[cv]
Once Mass ended, Fleming ceremonially closed the building according to diocesan
protocol, tying the main door shut with a ribbon and threading a rose through
Ironically, the Landmark Society of Western New York awarded a “Stewardship
Award” to the church, recognizing its preservation efforts, after the final Mass.[cvii]
On February 9,
2007, St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church and the Coptic Monastery of St.
Shenouda, both located in the southwestern suburb of Henrietta, jointly
purchased Ss. Peter and Paul’s church, rectory, and school.[cviii]
“As long as it’s in God’s hands, it will be in good hands,” Br. Antonios of the
monastery told the Catholic Courier.[cix]
As of Spring 2018, Ss. Peter and Paul is a Coptic mission, instead of a Roman
St. Peter’s Kitchen was spun off as a separate 501(c)(3) not-for-profit
supervision of Fr. Shenouda Maher Isak, the new pastor, Ss. Peter and Paul’s
church artwork was restored, albeit with minor alterations, such as painting a
white beard on St. Joseph, to reflect Coptic beliefs. St. Peter’s Kitchen and
the clothing store remained open.[cxii]
Former Catholic parishioner Craig Murphy and artist Sandra Bialaszewski repaired
the church’s century-old nativity figures, and the Coptic community staged the
scene for Epiphany 2007 and 2008.[cxiii]
The nativity statues have since been placed on permanent display in the Ss.
Peter and Paul sanctuary.[cxiv]
The Ss. Peter and Paul complex became part of the National Register of Historic
Places on June 20, 2012.[cxv]
community welcomed Ss. Peter and Paul’s former Roman Catholic parishioners in
June 2011 for a Mass honoring the building’s centennial. The Democrat & Chronicle described the
nostalgia that returning Catholics experienced. Mary Holloway was quoted as
saying, “Oh, it’s so beautiful I want to cry…. It hasn’t changed a bit, as
beautiful as ever.” Bishop Matthew Clark, who led the Mass, remarked in his
homily, “I know this building means a great deal to you and symbolizes the presence
of Christ in your lives…. Let us remember our mothers and fathers in faith and
recommit ourselves to building up the Body of Christ, and I hope revisiting
this church will become a new source of strength for you.”[cxvi]
In the endnotes that follow, SMA stands for the St. Monica Roman Catholic Church Archives, 34 Monica Street, Rochester, N.Y., 14619. Open-access back issues of The Catholic Courier, in its various iterations (Courier Journal, etc.), are available at http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/ and http://lib.catholiccourier.com/.
[i] SPP Golden Jubilee July
1893 Newspaper Cutouts, with John Curran’s Notes, copy in SMA.
[ii] SPP Rev. Robert F.
McNamara, “The Church of Ss. Peter and Paul: A Brief History of the Building”
Draft (Sept. 26, 1986), 1, SMA.
[iii] “A Brief History of
Saints Peter and Paul Church,” St. Shenouda the Archimandrite Monastery
(Henrietta, N.Y.), Internet Archive Wayback Machine, captured 21 Apr. 2014,
acc. 17 Apr. 2018, https://web.archive.org/web/20140421221948/http://www.michellabs.com:80/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=36&Itemid=19&lang=en; Daniel Gorman Jr.,
interview with John Curran, 18 Apr. 2019; “Historical Report for Ss. Peter and
Paul’s Church” (June 1961), 1, SMA; Rev. Robert F. McNamara, The Diocese of Rochester in America,
1868–1993, foreword by Most Rev. Fulton J. Sheen, 2nd ed. (Rochester, N.Y.:
Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, 1998), 42–43; McNamara, “Church of Ss.
Peter and Paul” Draft, 1. See also the newspaper articles collected in SMA
regarding the events of 1855.
[iv] St. Monica Church
archivist John Curran makes an interesting point about this dispute, arguing
that the German parishioners associated the Redemptorist priests with France,
which had warred with the German states for decades [email to Daniel Gorman
Jr., 25 Apr. 2019]. The topic of immigrant conflict in Rochester deserves
[vi] “Historical Report”
(June 1961), 16, 20. The first principal was Sr. M. Cajetana (20). The Brothers
of Mary taught the boy’s classes from 1864–87, after which the sisters resumed
teaching all classes (20).
[viii] Untitled newspaper
clipping (“St. Peter’s Church…”), The
Rochester Daily Union, Jan. 21, 1853, copy in SMA.
[ix] “Historical Report”;
Joseph Schwab and John Reis, “Regular Annual Meeting of the German Catholic
Congregation of St. Peter’s Church in this City,” newspaper clipping (no
periodical name, Rochester, N.Y.), July 2, 1855, copy in SMA; “St. Peter’s
Church Once More,” The Rochester Daily
Union (Rochester, N.Y.), July 19, 1855, copy in SMA.
[x] “Historical Report”
(June 1961), 26 (quotes from here).
[xxxii] “Holy Name Deanery
Lists Annual Meeting,” Rochester Democrat
& Chronicle (Rochester, N.Y.), Feb. 15, 1954, copy in SMA; SPP
Immaculate Heart of Mary Sodality Attendance Book (1961–83), SMA.
[xxxiii] “Rochester’s Churches —
21,” Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
(Rochester, N.Y.), May 28, 1950, copy in SMA.
[xxxiv] “Dr. Emil Gefell to
Observe 60th Year in Priesthood,” The Catholic Courier Journal (Rochester, N.Y.), Friday, May 25,
1956, copy in SMA.
[xxxv] William J. Brien “Ss. Peter and Paul’s Church, Rochester, N.Y.” (1953), 1, copy in SMA [Brien details the architecture and construction of the West Main Street church]; John Curran, editorial notes on St. Lucy’s Church, appended to SPP 1912 newspaper cutouts, collection in SMA.
[xxxvi] Jenkins Wurzer Starks
Architects, P.C. [best guess], Ss. Peter and Paul Survey (1976), copy in SMA.
Anniversary Pageant Planned by Catholic Church,” newspaper clipping (no
periodical name, Rochester, N.Y.), May 16, 1937, copy in SMA; Brien, “Ss. Peter
and Paul’s Church,” 2.
[xxxix] “Where New Ss. Peter
and Paul’s Church Will Be Built,” newspaper clipping (no periodical name,
Rochester, N.Y.), n.d., copy in SMA.
[xl] “Brief History”;
“Historical Report” (June 1961), 7. For discussion of Raggi’s decorations, see:
“History & Architecture,” Roman Catholic Church of Ss. Peter and Paul
(Rochester, N.Y., n.d.), SMA.
[xli] “Italian Mission is to
Use Old Church,” newspaper clipping (no periodical name, Rochester, N.Y.), June
29, 1912, SMA. John Curran writes: “St. Lucy’s Church was a mission parish of
Saints Peter & Paul serving a growing west side Italian immigrant
population. Fr. Gefell had studied in Rome for seven years and was fluent in
Italian. This as an extremely busy time for Fr. Gefell, who had just finished
the planning and development of Saints Peter & Paul’s new church campus at
its West Avenue location (later renamed West Main St.). Saint Lucy’s parish
declined and was closed in the 1970s. It later became the Lily of the Valley
church and was destroyed by fire around 2001. The former Saints Peter &
Paul Church was razed and a completely new warehouse was built for the B., R.
& P. Railways (later occupied by Seneca Paper during the 1990s and
DataVault as of 2006)” [source: Curran, editorial notes on St. Lucy’s Church,
appended to SPP 1912 newspaper cutouts].
[xlii] “Census Tract 26 in
Ward II,” Rochester, New York, 1940: A
Graphic Interpretation of Population Data by Census Tracts (Rochester,
N.Y.: The Research Department of the Council of Social Agencies, 1942), copy in
[xliv] “Centennial Rites
Slated at Church,” Rochester Times-Union
(Rochester, N.Y.), Jun. 25, 1943, copy in SMA; “Pontifical Mass Today to Mark
SS. Peter and Paul’s Ceremony,” Rochester
Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, N.Y.), Jun. 27, 1943, copy in SMA.
[xlv] “SS Peter and Paul’s
Church Damaged by Basement Blaze,” Rochester
Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, N.Y.), May 31, 1944, copy in SMA.
[xlvi] Gorman, interview with
Curran, 18 Apr. 2019; “Funeral Held for Father Fox,” The Catholic Courier (Rochester, N.Y.), July 21, 1967, copy in SPP
Father Fox’s death scrapbook, SMA; “Historical Report” (June 1961), 8, 26;
“Short History,” 23.
[xlvii] “Ornate Ceiling Cracks,
Part Falls in Church,” Rochester Democrat
& Chronicle (Rochester, N.Y.), Sunday, Oct. 23, 1966, 10B, copy in SMA.
[xlviii] “Father Gefell Dies at
88; Pastor Emeritus,” Rochester
Times-Union (Rochester, N.Y.), Monday, May 11, 1959, copy in SMA.
[lii] Gorman, interview with
Curran, 18 Apr. 2019; “A New Chapter for Historic Parish,” The Courier Journal (Rochester, N.Y.), Friday, Sept. 1, 1967, copy
in SMA; SPP History Pamphlet (“We are Called and Sent…”) (n.d. — 1970s), SMA.
[liii] Gorman, interview with
Curran, 18 Apr. 2019.
[liv] Excerpt from Mary
Perkins Ryan, Has the New Liturgy Changed
You? (New York: Paulist Press, 1967), in SPP Parish Bulletin, Aug. 11,
[lv] “Church Singing is
Prayer,” in SPP Parish Bulletin (Jan. 25, 1970), SMA.
[lxvii] Gorman, interview with
Curran, 18 Apr. 2019; Mark Hare, “Breadbasket Politics,” City Newspaper 11, No. 42 (Rochester, N.Y.), July 15, 1982, copy in
SMA; Jody McPhillips, “More than a Meal: ‘Our Philosophy is like Mother
Theresa’s: What we get, we give,” Rochester
Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, N.Y.), April 1982, copy in SMA;
“‘Privileged Isolation’ Charged to Meese,” The
Catholic Courier (Rochester, N.Y.), Dec. 1983, copy in SMA.
[lxviii] McNally, “Ss. Peter and
Paul’s” 3–4; SPP Brother Walter LeCremieux, SS.CC., Vows Ceremony Program (Aug.
28, 1985), SMA.
[lxxi] City of Rochester Certificate
of Merit for “Saint Peter and Paul Church,” signed by Mayor Thomas P. Ryan Jr.
(Dec. 4, 1986), SMA.
[lxxii] Gorman, interview with
Curran, 18 Apr. 2019; Rich Czerwien, “Convent Position Paper,” SMA.
[lxxiii] “Brief History”; SPP
papers related to convent sale (1986–94); Gorman, interview with Curran, 18
[lxxiv] Gorman, interview with
Curran, 18 Apr. 2019.
[lxxv] David P. Reid in
“Saints Peter and Paul Church Repair and Adaptation Campaign” Brochure (circa
1994), copy in SMA.
[lxxvi] Ss. Peter and Paul
Social Ministry Committee, “Proposal to the Parish Community of Ss. Peter and
Paul’s Church from the SSPP Social Ministry Committee — Final” (Nov. 6, 1990),
page 2, SMA.
[lxxvii] David P. Reid to Mary
L. Robinson, Oct. 9, 1991, SMA.
[lxxviii] Amy Kotlarz,
“Ministries Continue in 19th Ward,” The Catholic Courier (Rochester, N.Y.), Sept. 8–9, 2007, copy in
SPP records, SMA; SPP “History & Architecture” Pamphlet (n.d., circa 1993),
SMA; SPP and Housing Opportunities, Inc., Sublease, July 1, 1989, SMA.
[lxxix] Gorman, interview with
Curran, 18 Apr. 2019; David P. Reid to members of the Parish Council, “Re:
Proposal to Have a Medical Clinic in St. Peter’s Kitchen,” Mar. 28, 1992, with editorial
notes by John Curran, SMA; SPP Strategic Planning Document (circa summer 1995),
[lxxx]Community Voice 1, No. 1 (Rochester, N.Y.: Neighborhood Community
Center at Ss. Peter and Paul, Apr. 1993), copy in SMA; Curran, email to Gorman,
25 Apr. 2019.
[lxxxi] Ss. Peter and Paul
Social Ministry Committee, “Proposal,” page 3.
[lxxxiii] SPP “A Joyful
Celebration of The Sacrament of Confirmation and Our First 150 Years, Ss. Peter
and Paul Church, June 27, 1993” Program, SMA.
[lxxxiv] The Ss. Peter and Paul
Cluster Team, memo to the Parish Council, Nov. 6, 1993, SMA. St. Monica
archivist John Curran notes that St. Francis of Assisi had many
Spanish-speaking parishioners. Fr. Reid was bilingual and therefore greatly
valued at St. Francis.
[lxxxv]Saints Peter and Paul: The Message Goes Out!
[lxxxvi] “Historic Church
Seeking Donors for Ambitious Capital Project,’ The Catholic Courier (Rochester, N.Y.), Thursday, July 20, 1995,
copy in SMA; “Saints Peter and Paul Church Repair and Adaptation Campaign”
[lxxxvii] Kermit Krueger to David
P. Reid, Feb. 17, 1994, copy in SMA.
[lxxxviii] Gorman, interview with
Curran, 18 Apr. 2019.
[xc] Gorman, interview with
Curran, 18 Apr. 2019; John Curran, email to Daniel Gorman Jr., 26 Apr. 2019.
[xci] Mike Latona and Tamara
Tirado, “City Churches Cope With Change,” The
Catholic Courier (Rochester, N.Y.), November 2005, copy in SMA; Roman
Catholic Community of the 19th Ward Lent Schedule (“Be Still… and
know that I am here”), 2003, SMA; Roman Catholic Community of the 19th
Ward Lent Schedule (“Shatter the Hardness of Our Hearts”), 2004, SMA; Paul J.
Tomasso et al., Draft Pastoral Plan for the Roman Catholic Communities of
Bull’s Head, Corn Hill, and the 19th Ward, copy in SMA.
The inventory that follows is copied, with minor edits, from the pamphlet entitled “St. Monica History Portrayed in Movies, 1931 to 1953” (2003).
Disc 5 / Tape 3
Reel #28 — 1948 (Small Roll) 1. Afternoon Kindergarten 2. Building Construction Progress May 1948 3. Class Day (Willow Point Park) 4. Eighth Grade Graduation 1948 5. New School Corner Stone Setting 1948
Reel #40 — 1950 (Large Brown Roll) 1. Kindergarten Graduation 1950 2. Class Day 1950 (Willow Point Park) 3. Kindergarten Career Day
Reel #44 — 1951, Possibly 1954 (Small Roll) 1. May be first communion 2. Rochester Airport
Reel #45 — 1951 (Small Roll) 1. Class Day 2. Cub Scouts & Parents 3. Kindergarten Graduation 4. First Holy Communion 5. Puglisi’s Fishing Trip 6. May Day (Kindergarten)
Editor’s Note: The footage of the fishing trip and May don’t appear to be in this reel, so the church’s film catalog may have been incorrect.
Reel #49 — 1952 (Small Reel) 1. Kindergarten Holy Year Pilgrimage 2. Ceremony at Aquinas Stadium 3. St. Bernard Seminary 4. Play: “A Day in Holland” (8th Grade?)
Roll #55 — 1953 (Small Reel) 1. Covacus, Havana 2. Floracks / Fishing Trip 3. Kindergarten Graduation — Lux & Floracks 4. Class Day 5. Aquinas Football 6. Dr. LaPaliiva? 7. Mnsr. Nolan? 8. Eighth Grade Graduation 1953
About the Transfer
Digitized films from St. Monica Roman Catholic Church, Rochester, N.Y. Copyright: St. Monica Roman Catholic Church. Repository: St. Monica Archives, Brooks Ave., Rochester, N.Y.
The film canisters containing the original copies of these home movies are located at the St. Monica Archives. They were transferred to DVD and VHS in 2003. Daniel Gorman Jr. used Handbrake to scan copies of the films from the DVDs. Josh Romphf supervised the use of FFMPEG and Homebrew to remove the music that had been added to the films.