Coptic Orthodox Christians have a
long history in Egypt, dating to the first century C.E. Tradition holds that
St. Mark the Evangelist founded the church in Egypt, and that the modern-day
pope of the Coptic Church is part of an unbroken line of patriarchs, dating to
Mark.[i] At the
Council of Chalcedon in 451 C.E., the Egyptian faction rejected the prevailing
argument that Jesus Christ was one person with two separate natures — one
divine, and one human. Instead, Copts argued that Christ had a single nature in
hypostasis — one person, one united nature from two, divine and human. This
theology set the Alexandrian (Coptic), Syrian, and other Oriental Orthodox
churches apart from the dyophysite (two-nature) Byzantine and Roman churches.[ii]
I interviewed Br. Antonios the Shenoudian of St. Shenouda the Archimandrite
Monastery, he elaborated on the Coptic idea of Christ: “When we say that Christ
is one, we believe that he is fully divine and fully human, but there was a
union that had to happen in such a way that it preserved his humanity and his
divinity, but we could no longer speak of them separately… Otherwise we
couldn’t say that he took flesh.” Antonios’s metaphor for Christ is that, if
you look at a person, you don’t assume that there are two persons in one
began to settle in Western New York in the 1960s, when Copts began to leave
President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt en masse.[iv]
The community of St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church, which initially rented
space in Rochester buildings, moved to the southwestern suburb of Henrietta at
530 Lehigh Station Road. When Pope Shenouda III visited North America in 1989,
he visited Rochester and consecrated the church.[v]
St. Mark’s remains one of only eight Orthodox parishes in Monroe County.[vi] St.
Shenouda the Archimandrite Monastery, founded in 2004, sits across the street
from St. Mark’s at 525 Lehigh Station Road.[vii]
Roughly one hundred families attend either St. Mark’s or the monastery.[viii] The Ss.
Peter and Paul complex, a former Roman Catholic church that the monastery
purchased in 2006, is roughly a twenty-minute drive to the north, at 736 West
Main Street in Rochester. The Coptic parishioners at the two churches and
monastery are mainly of Egyptian heritage, although Sudanese, Ethiopian, and Eritrean
Christians began to attend St. Mark’s and the monastery in the early 2000s.[ix] Fr.
Shenouda Maher Ishak, a noted theologian and the pastor of St. Mark’s at the
time, directed the monastery and St. Peter’s, while also serving at St. Mary
and St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church in Syracuse, N.Y., until it received a
permanent priest. As of this writing (Fall 2018), Fr. Shenouda is solely
responsible for the Coptic monastery of St. Shenouda.[x]
He directs the monastery with the help of Br. Antonios, who is a theologian, a
former hematologist at Strong Memorial Hospital, and the son of Egyptian
immigrants who came to America to avoid the Nasser regime.[xi]
Pope Shenouda III appointed Br. Antonios as the monastery’s first novice in
In 2003, the Coptic Church acquired 51 acres of land across the street from St. Mark’s.[xiii] An essay called “Monastic Rule” from the monastery website provides an oral history of what happened next:
When H.H. Pope Shenouda III [then the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church] was making one of his pastoral visits to the United States in August 2003, Fr. Shenouda went to greet his His Holiness. When he greeted him, Fr. Shenouda asked him how the newly purchased land could best be used. His Holiness told Fr. Shenouda to pray and see what God’s will is for the use of this land. Shortly afterwards, on the Feast of the Transfiguration (August 19, 2003), Fr. Shenouda was on the phone with one of his spiritual children, who had never been to Rochester, nor knew anything about the land. Fr. Shenouda told him about the land, and this person very simply said in Arabic, “Abouna, this is a monastery. It’s a monastery, Abouna! And I’ll tell you who it’s named after — after the name of Abba Shenouda.”[xiv]
of the great Coptic saints, St. Shenouda directed two Egyptian monasteries and
a convent (hence his title of archimandrite) in the fourth and fifth centuries
C.E. He amassed a considerable library of Coptic literature.[xv] The
invocation of his namesake resonated with Fr. Shenouda, who recalled themes
from the saint’s life:
The rest of that day, Fr. Shenouda kept thinking about what that man said, and it all fit just as was described in the monastery mission, i.e. being in a village and combining the life of prayer and solitude with service, etc. So, after this event, when Fr. Shenouda … presented this idea to His Holiness Pope Shenouda as he was leaving the United States to return to Egypt, Pope Shenouda immediately gave his blessing.[xvi]
In August 2004, Pope Shenouda III
traveled to the U.S. on his next pastoral tour and visited St. Mark’s. The Pope
presided over the laying of the new monastery’s cornerstone.[xvii] The
monastery would be one of only three Coptic monasteries in the United States.[xviii] 900
Coptic Christians from Western New York attended the proceedings.[xix]
Shenouda decided that the monastery would emulate the good works of St.
Shenouda by performing community service, providing religious and Coptic
language education, and opposing “paganism.” The “Monastic Rule” essay
elaborates on this anti-secularization message:
We are surrounded by a society today where people are preoccupied with so many different aspects of their lives that they are not filled with the love of God and the correct understanding of Who He is[,] and how we are supposed to be living our lives with Him. So by the grace of God, and the prayers of St. Shenouda the Archimandrite and your prayers, as this monastery reaches out to this community this true faith and knowledge of God will be delivered to them. There is a lot to be done[,] and we are responsible to do this work through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.[xx]
delays had slowed construction of the monastery when, in March 2006, Fr.
Shenouda learned that the Roman Catholic Church of Ss. Peter and Paul was going
on sale. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester had opted to close three
churches, including Ss. Peter and Paul.[xxi]
The purchase of Ss. Peter and Paul offered a chance to increase the visibility
of Coptic Christianity and spread the monastery mission of public service and
education into the city of Rochester. Unfortunately, the purchase would use
most of the funds set aside for the monastery. After much prayer, and with the
blessing of Pope Shenouda III, the monastery purchased Ss. Peter and Paul. The
day that the monastery made its first deposit, June 29, 2006, was the Catholic
feast day of Saints Peter and Paul. The closing day, February 9, 2007, was the
Catholic feast of St. Cyril, which was interpreted as a sign from God.[xxii]
Peter and Paul became a Coptic mission, while maintaining its historic
architecture and artwork, the St. Peter’s soup kitchen, and clothing relief
expense of Ss. Peter and Paul slowed work on the monastery, but Fr. Shenouda
took things in stride. He told the Democrat
& Chronicle in 2007 that God wanted his community to be involved in the
19th Ward as well as Henrietta: “That’s why the Lord, before we
built the monastery, prepared Saints Peter and Paul for us.”[xxiv] The
cover image for the monastery’s eventual website would reflect the providential
role that Fr. Shenouda and his peers ascribed to God. The image fuses a photo
of the monastery so with one of Ss. Peter and Paul, so that two buildings
appear to be one. Jesus Christ, depicted in front of the crucifix and
surrounded by stylized eagle wings, floats above the united buildings. A
Biblical quote, Malachi 4:2, appears above Jesus: “But to you who fear My name,
the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings.”[xxv]
restoration of Ss. Peter and Paul received a moderate amount of local press
coverage in 2007–12, culminating in the church’s addition to the National Park
Service’s National Register of Historic Places on June 20, 2012.[xxvi] Former
Catholic parishioner Craig Murphy and artist Sandra Bialaszewski restored the
church’s century-old nativity figures, and the Coptic community staged the
scene for Epiphany 2007 and 2008.[xxvii] The
nativity statues have since been placed on permanent display in the Ss. Peter
and Paul sanctuary.[xxviii]
Although Orthodox churches traditionally use icons, not statuary, Fr. Shenouda
concluded that this debate was a matter of ritual, and not theological,
differences, so it was acceptable to retain Catholic artwork. Fr. Shenouda
wanted to be open about the building’s history. Some of the remaining saint
statues are not Coptic saints, but they are kept for the sake of historical
preservation. The church organ remains, despite the use of a cappella music in
Coptic worship. The high altar is from the German-majority Ss. Peter and Paul
that preceded the current building’s construction. Another altar has “IHS,” a
Jesuit slogan, carved upon it. Copts do not believe in the Immaculate
Conception or Assumption of the Virgin Mary, but no art in the sanctuary embodies
this theme, so no alternate depiction of Mary was necessary. One adjustment
reflects Coptic theology: A statue of St. Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, portrays
him as a young man, but Copts believe Joseph was elderly and already had
children from a past marriage when he married the Virgin Mary. Bialaszewski
therefore painted Joseph’s beard white.[xxix]
events of 2011 captured the combined Catholic-Coptic heritage of Ss. Peter and
Paul. In March 2011, the Rochester Coptic community hosted North American Copts
for a weekend of lectures and services commemorating the celebrated priest
Mikhail Ibrahim (1899–1975). Most of the events occurred at St. Mark’s, but a
Sunday field trip went to Ss. Peter and Paul, so that guests could see the
restored facility. The Fr. Ibrahim event was emblematic of the Rochester Copts’
connections to the transnational Coptic world, since guest speakers hailed from
Cairo as well as California.[xxx] In June
2011, the Coptic community welcomed former Catholic parishioners back to Ss.
Peter and Paul for a centennial Mass. 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.”[xxxi]
Shenouda the Archimandrite Monastery was finished in 2012. For several years,
Wednesday prayers, one Sunday service per month, and Bible study classes were
held at Ss. Peter and Paul, while Friday prayers and all other Sunday services
were held at the monastery. The Wednesday service was discontinued in 2017, so
only one religious service happens at Ss. Peter and Paul per month, but the
site is used for other programs, such as church retreats. Monthly community
dinners occur in the Ss. Peter and Paul rectory. St. Peter’s Kitchen is still
open, but responsibility for the thrift store has been given to other charities
in the 19th Ward.[xxxii]
Today, Fr. Shenouda and Br. Antonios are the only clergy who work at the monastery and Ss. Peter and Paul.[xxxiii] The monastery’s website is currently being redesigned, but the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine offers screen captures of the website’s past iterations. Fr. Shenouda and Br. Antonios offered essays in English and Arabic about the Coptic language and Coptic Orthodox rituals. “Teaching tapes,” recorded church rites, and other audio files were available, but the Internet Archive did not capture these recordings. Individuals curious about these recordings should contact the monastery directly.[xxxiv]
[i] Daniel Gorman Jr., interview with Br. Antonios
the Shenoudian, Thursday, 24 May 2018.
[ii] John H. Erickson, Orthodox Christians in America, Religion in American Life, edited
by Jon Butler and Harry S. Stout (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999),
17–18; Gorman, interview with Br. Antonios.
[iv] Gorman, nterview with Br. Antonios; Mark Hare,
“Who We Are: Orthodox Christians,” Rochester
Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, N.Y.), 29 Dec. 2008, A4, ProQuest
Document ID: 442066662; Cindy Mindell-Wong, “St. Mark Meets Britney Spears:
Copts Keep the Faith in Rochester,” Rochester
City Newspaper (Rochester, N.Y.), 19 Mar. 2003, acc. 12 Apr. 2018, https://www.rochestercitynewspaper.com/rochester/st-mark-meets-britney-spears/Content?oid=2127553; “Sabet K. Salib [Obituary],” Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
(Rochester, N.Y.), 1 Sept. 2016, ProQuest Document ID: 1815647531. For context,
see: Erickson, Orthodox Churches,
[v] Lisa Hutchurson, “Pope of Coptic Church Visits
Local Worshippers,” Rochester Democrat
& Chronicle (Rochester, N.Y.), 16 Aug. 2004, acc. 28 May 2018, ProQuest
Document ID: 441693003; Mindell-Wong, “St. Mark.”
[vi] Mark Hare, “A Faith That Engages All Senses of
the Soul,” Rochester Democrat &
Chronicle (Rochester, N.Y.), 29 Dec. 2008, A1, ProQuest Document ID:
[xxi] “Coptic Monastery of St. Shenouda,” Facebook,
acc. 5 May 2018, https://www.facebook.com/brantonios/; Marketta Gregory, “Catholics to Shut Down 11
Churches,” Rochester Democrat &
Chronicle (Rochester, N.Y.), Saturday, 19 Nov. 2005, A1, ProQuest Document
ID: 441800596, copy in SMA; Gorman, interview with Br. Antonios; Marketta
Gregory, “Closures Sadden Resigned Faithful,” Rochester Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, N.Y.), Saturday, 19
Nov. 2005, A9, ProQuest Document ID: 441800986, copy in SMA; Mike Latona and
Tamara Tirado, “City Churches Cope With Change,” The Catholic Courier (Rochester, N.Y.), November 2005, copy in St.
Monica Roman Catholic Church Archive [SMA]; Amy Kotlarz, “City Parish Holds
Closing Mass,” The Catholic Courier (Rochester,
N.Y.), 13 Oct. 2006, https://www.catholiccourier.com/articles/city-parish-holds-closing-mass.
[xxii] Gorman, interview with Br. Antonios; “The Roman
Calendar for A.D. 2006,” Romcal: A Program to Generate the General Roman
Calendar of the Catholic Church, acc. 2 Jun. 2018, www.romcal.net/output/2006.html.
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.
Interview conducted by Courtney Thomas, Jr., on Dec. 2, 2018.
Revised Transcript by Daniel Gorman Jr. and Courtney Thomas, Jr., Feb. 2020.
Please be aware that the recording contains racial epithets, which we have not written out fully in the transcript.
Speaker Codes: KM: Minister Kenneth Muhammad. SM: Saeed Muhammad. CT: Courtney Thomas, Jr.
START OF RECORDING
CT: So yes, it is December the 2nd, 2018, 2:11 [14:11 EST]. I’m with Rochester’s representative of the Nation of Islam, Minister Kenneth Muhammad, and his son, Saeed Muhammad, and — you dive right into it. So the first question I want to just ask is, how would you describe just the Nation of Islam, and your belief in general, in just one word?
KM: I would say in one word, love. We love our people.
CT: That’s it. I wanted to start with that question because it’s usually the hardest question to really, like, think about —
CT: And it goes into what we were talking about earlier —
CT: Misconceptions, ’cause I doubt anybody outside of the Nation would really have said that.
CT: So I really wanted to start with that, ’cause that’s how I’m gonna open up.
CT: Just love.
KM: Yes, sir.
CT: Period. And then, really, start with, what, uh, the Muhammad Study Group is doing, what you guys are. Uh, going into that, pretty much, would you consider your belief a religion? Would you call the [Muhammad] Study Group a religious organization?
KM: Well, you know, I’ll say it like the Holy Quran says, you know, that Allah set up his nature as a religion, so Islam is not a religion. Islam is a system by which Allah established his nature within every creature. Every creature has an identity, but to get to that identity, there’s steps. So the religion, or the religious side of Islam, is there, but once we have established the identity, we can let that religion stuff go.
KM: [We] no longer need it no more. Some people just hold religion as a cover —
KM: But in Islam — Islam is our nature.
CT: In coming and visiting you guys, I felt like there was a difference —
KM: Yes, sir.
CT: And that’s why I asked that question. It’s very easy to say, oh, this is a religious organization, and draw your own concepts and connotations —
CT: With whatever religion truly means, —
CT: So I definitely want to get into that. Um, well, in asking that question, what is the Muhammad Study Group?
KM: Well, the Muhammad Study Group is a close-knit membership of registered individuals who have made a decision to be a part of the Nation of Islam — it is an entity, a nation is there, [unclear].
KM: So that’s what Muhammad Study Group is. We come and we study as a group of individuals, until we blossom into what is called a Mosque —
KM: Right? Then we become Mohammad Mosque. So it’s stages, after stages —
KM: And then eventually we are a Nation. That’s the ultimate goal, is a nation. But we have to start somewhere.
KM: So we start by studying Islam, or the nature of God.
CT: The nature of God. And that’s what Islam is.
CT: The nature of God.
KM: It’s the nature of God!
CT: That’s — so, I was gonna say, between the Muhammad Study Group and the Nation of Islam —
CT: So there are different stages, and the Muhammad Study Group is definitely under that umbrella of the Nation —
CT: It’s affiliated.
KM: It’s an affiliation.
CT: So I was gonna say, can you — is there — do they differ in any way? Of, like, the way that it operates, or any of the beliefs or ideas, or is it —
CT: Are they one and the same?
KM: One and the same.
CT: That’s good to know.
CT: That’s something to clarify.
CT: ’Cause, um, yeah — I think that, from the beginning, kind of, when I first got involved with you guys, when I first, like, showed up over the summertime —
CT: It was definitely kind of some dissonance between what was thought to be just the Study Group who kind of took these teachings from the Nation, but now it’s really clear that it’s underneath the Nation.
CT: The one and the same.
CT: Right, that’s good to know. Um, are there any sacred texts — I know the Quran is something that’s huge, but are there any other texts or documents that are just believed, like, really taught from, that are considered sacred within —
CT: The Muhammad Study Group?
KM: Yes, yes, it’s Supreme Wisdom, lessons given by our founder, Master Fard Muhammad.
KM: He brought those lessons himself. So those are considered sacred, and there are several groups of lessons that Master Fard Muhammad wrote himself —
KM: That the Nation of Islam and the Muhammad Study Group, we study from, in addition to the sacred text — the Holy Bible, the Holy Quran, and the books by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. So it’s called Supreme Wisdom.
CT: Supreme Wisdom.
CT: I’ll have to check that out for sure—
KM: It’s very scared. Very sacred! You can find it online.
KM: But if you want the [real] Supreme Wisdom? You got to come to Muhammad Study Group. [laughs]
CT: That’s real! [laughs]
KM: Got to come to the Muhammad Study Group.
CT: That’s real. Um, what is the most important concept in what you’re studying, in your belief?
KM: Mm. That’s a good question, Brother. That’s a real good question. I would answer it as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught, believed, and practiced. We believe that Allah — that God — appeared in the person of Master Fard Muhammad. We don’t believe that God is just Spirit only. We believe that God is a man.
CT: Do you believe that every member who truly decides to, like, take this journey to heart, is a God themselves, or do they have God inside of them?
KM: They have God inside of them, and they have the potential to be one with God. As Jesus said, right, “When you see me, you see the father.”
KM: And he also said, as it had been written in the scriptures, that “Ye” — meaning you — “are all gods, but children of the most high Gods.” That’s what the most Honorable Elijah Muhammad teach and believe. Many people say, well, that’s not true. God cannot be a human, cannot be a man. Well, that goes against the teachings of the prophets.
KM: David believed that God was a human being.
KM: Right? Solomon believed that God was a [human being]. Moses said, look, uh, a man is coming that is like unto me, right? And then he even said to Aaron, you will be my spokesman, but I’ll be like a god to Pharaoh.
KM: I think I read it somewhere in Deuteronomy, that he said that, but not the Moses of 4,000 years ago, but the one who would be like him, that would come forth a thousand years later —
KM: I would just answer to that, then.
CT: I was — my follow-up question, so I just wanted to get into that.
KM: Yes, sir.
CT: Uh, um, I was gonna say, so continuing just about the Muhammad Study Group and how you guys operate, uh, are there any family traditions that are, like, really important —
KM: Oh, yes, yes.
CT: To the Study Group.
CT: Because I know it goes — that it’s not just studying —
KM: Family is very [unclear].
CT: But it’s actually something that you embrace within your life.
KM: Yes, yes.
CT: It’s a cultural thing, as well. So are there family traditions? Um, and I guess to kind of wrap another question into that, uh, specifically, talking about, when it comes to the family, [do] the teachings outline anything regarding the role of women and the role that they play within the studies?
KM: Do you want to answer that?
SM: No, you can go ahead.
KM: You see, I thought of him because he came up in Islam. Um, you know, he was born into the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and the family is very sacred in the Nation, very dear to the Honorable Louis Farrakhan, because family is the cornerstone of community, and without family, you don’t have no community, and without community, you don’t have no Nation. So family is the foundation to the Nation, so whenever we come in the company of one another, you know, our tradition is that we, uh, have family time that we take time to spend with our — if you’re married, with your wife, with your children, and you balance that —
KM: With your day-to-day operation. But the family is the cornerstone of the Nation of Islam, and the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Minister Farrakhan are an example of that. So family is very sacred in the Nation, and out of that role, the woman plays a very, very critical role.
KT: Without her, you know, there is no nurturing of the children. There is no taking care of the husband.
KT: There is no modeling for the children, because the woman is the really the true model for the children, right? She teaches the child; she is the first teacher; she is the first nurse. So her establishment and her role in family, in the Nation of Islam, is just as equal to the role of the husband. There’s a balance, right? Her job is to bring up the children, with the idea as the seed to blossom and grow children, that takes the belief, takes the practice to a whole ’nother level.
KT: You see that in the example of the children of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. You see his sons, you see his daughters. You see that in the example of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s children. You see that in the example of my son. You see that in the example of all of the children that you see —
KM: When they come, and how they embrace Islam as a nucleus, because without that identity, how could you be successful?
KM: Without proper roots.
CT: That’s true. Yeah, even coming in here just now —
CT: Seeing the families —
KM: Yes, yes.
CT: The smiles and the children definitely —
KM: It’s family!
CT: The children around, and they know one another. It seems like it’s very close-knit. So —
KM: Yes, yes. It’s not so that we don’t share that with our community.
KM: You know, that’s why we, we — that may put us into the next question, of what the role of Muhammad Study Group is, is it’s just that, is not to just keep it enclosed, where it is just among us, but it’s to also share the — I don’t like the word tradition, um, but it’s to share our way, our way of life, that has always been among black people. But unfortunately, it was lost —
KM: During a time that our mothers and fathers were brought here as chattel slaves. The family was broken up. So the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s purpose today and aim is to re-establish family.
KM: Right? Across, uh, ideology, you know. So we have our Christian family. They are our brothers and sisters, right?
KM: You’ve seen me there last night!
KM: And we share bread together.
CT: Broke bread. You did.
KM: We may have, you know, religious differences, but we don’t exploit that to the point that we can’t be brothers and sisters to one another —
KM: You know, because that’s what we have been taught, you know. Uh, we have families where we come together based on that bond — that we didn’t come from the same mother; we didn’t come from the same father; but the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad become the access by which we now start rotating as brothers and sisters, and that’s based on us giving our word.
KM: Right? And that’s what bonds us together, even though we don’t have the same mother and the same father, but we do, because the Honorable Elijah Muhammad becomes the spiritual mother, —
KM: You know, from the womb —
KM: That he produces, which is called Muhammad Study Group, or Muhammad’s Mosque.
KM: We all come out of that same experience, right?
KM: And we grow into our own — uh, establish our own identity within that structure —
KM: Right, so we all have our own families, but at the root of our families —
KM: Is the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. That bonds us together.
KM: That ropes us in together, but not to the point where we exclude our broader community —
KM: Which is our people, ’cause we love our people.
[Laughter; unclear remarks by KM and SM]
CT: It’s that one word. I’m going to keep honing on, on that. Like, love — love is the way. Um, I was gonna say, so, kind of, last, like, two questions on tradition, uh, pretty much: When it comes to, I guess, actual services, like the Sunday service —
CT: Um, I know there is definitely — it’s organized fashion.
CT: There’s typically a leader.
CT: I know, like, in the church, they have worship leaders, and a different rabbi leads the service in the Jewish community, and whatnot. So here, what role does the leader play in the service, and let alone, are there specific — I know the men and women sit on different sides —
CT: Um, are there other specific customs within the services, and the reasons for those?
[Unclear remarks by CT]
KM: Well, I would say there is no other than the structure that you see when you come to the Nation of Islam meetings at Muhammad Study Group or Muhammad’s Mosque, and always the tradition is that the minister, who is the representative, uh, leads the tradition, just as much as you would see in a church setting, which is led by, you know, a clergy, reverend, pastor, —
KM: Bishop, right? Uh, it’s the same setting, uh, you know, just slightly different. You won’t see no singing [CT laughs] at Muhammad Study Group. Um, our, our focus is on, uh, teaching [unclear], right? The scripture says, how can they know, except they have a teacher? Some translations say preacher. Well, preacher and teacher is — some similar, but we prefer to use the word teacher, because we need to be taught.
KM: We need to be re-educated, retrained, —
KM: Right? And so that’s my job, and those who have established themselves as, uh, helpers to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and myself, our job is to lead the worship by teaching and imparting the Word from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.
CT: Yeah. Okay.
KM: I don’t know if that answers your question.
CT: No, it definitely answers my question, especially within your role. And then — and — just curious about the, the customs of — why do men and women sit on different sides [during service]? Um…
CT: And, I guess, also, with the customs, I saw that you guys were selling different things outside.
CT: I always wanted — I was always curious about the significance of, like, the bean pies.
CT: ’Cause I LOVE bean pies.
CT: But I — I don’t like to do things without, without really knowing why —
CT: So I’ve always wanted to know, kind of just those small customs, like, how this thing’s being sold after church, and creates the community orients for sure, but then, within the different services — just kind of those purposes —
CT: If you can touch on those.
KM: Well, uh, remember the comments that you have stated, and it was somewhat surprising to me, too, when I first came to a meeting. Um, I was raised in the church, you know.
KM: I didn’t stay long. But I can remember as a little boy, you know, that we sat wherever we wanted to —
KM: You know? I can remember vaguely being at church with my mother, you know, sitting with my mother. [laughs]
KM: So, when I came to the meeting, I was like, I got to sit over here? So I didn’t understand, —
KM: But I never asked until, you know, years down the road, I started hearing, you know, “Brothers on this side, and sisters on this side, and it is because the black man has to be learned — has to be taught how to be a man, and if he’s intermingling with a woman, then how can he be…” You know what I mean? They started explaining it from the perspective that Master Fard Muhammad set up two classes —
KM: Right? A class for the males, and a class for the females. Master Fard Muhammad knew the nature of the black man, and he knew the nature of a woman —
KM: But we didn’t know our natures.
CT: I see.
KM: So here we are, intermingling with each other without a knowledge of our own nature.
KM: And look what we [were] producing as a result of that.
CT: That’s true.
KM: So when you come in the Nation, Brother, now you are getting taught — I would say not out of arrogance — for the first time, your nature —
KM: Which is different from your ancestors where we came from, which is a land mass. No, Master Fard Muhammad went one step deeper —
KM: Because everything has a nature in creation, and if you don’t know that nature, then how can it function? How can you function properly? So we are taught in the FOI, the Fruit of Islam, the name given to the military training of the men, see, who is the property of submission — but we didn’t know that our nature and that we own this nature, because someone else has their name on us. Somebody else was claiming us, instead of us claiming ourselves.
KM: So when you claim yourself, you know who you are as a man, right?
KM: Then you gotta to learn how to take orders.
KM: That’s military training! ’Cause the black man in North America has never been trained. Who’s trained us?
CT: No one.
KM: Not Pharaoh!
KM: He trained us in his language.
KM: Right? In the Babylonian language, rather than in the nature in which God created us. The same with the woman. This is why we have problems in relationships between black men and black women — ’cause we don’t know each other —
KM: Other than being more romantically on the physical level, and maybe somewhat on the mental level, and, you know, sharing political views, but our nature?
KM: We’re far from that, Brother. So the Nation set it up in such a way that, when you come in, you’re being trained, from day one, when you walk into our structure.
CT: Learning your nature. That is —
KM: Learning your nature!
CT: That is deep.
CT: I didn’t realize. ’Cause that’s — that hit me. That’s deep.
KM: ’Cause that’s critical, right?
KM: And our nature, unfortunately, until this present time, has been manipulated, because we [striking table for emphasis] don’t know it, and when you have someone who know[s] your nature, he undermines the faith that we could have in ourselves, and [striking table for emphasis] he undermines the knowledge that we are functioning from, because it’s not sufficient! And once he know[s] you come back in — if you come back into the nature of yourself, you have the ability to master Self. So you can go to school and get a master’s degree, but have you truly mastered your own nature?
CT: That’s one of the teachings that I’ve truly picked up and pondered, studying [with] you guys. It’s, I’ve always heard you be consistent in that, and say the purpose is to get you back to your original nature. Correct me if I’m wrong —
KM: No, that’s important. That’s the truth.
CT: Because I want to make sure I get that right. Because that is something I have taken deeply to heart.
KM: That’s the purpose, Brother.
CM: I’ve heard you say, time after time, I’ve heard you read about it, and it’s been like, that’s the purpose, —
KM: That’s it.
CT: Getting back to your true nature.
KM: That’s it.
CT: We’re not trying to convert you into something or turn you, just getting you back to your true nature.
KM: We can’t convert you to what you already are.
[CT and KM laugh]
CT: Exactly. That’s it, that’s it.
KM: Our job is to just, you know, expose you to the knowledge and the system, see, that’s the key. We have a system from God, —
KM: And he is successful in everything that he do, right? And so, in spite of the opposition to the Nation, we[’re] still here.
KM: After eighty-plus years, and we’re getting stronger!
CT: Yep, yes.
KM: Regardless of what people say, their views of the Nation of Islam, they have not been able to defeat what Master Fard Muhammad brought, because all we’re teaching our people is the nature of themselves.
KM: And then, when you do that, you have to expose the one who has lied to us. You have to make the guilty made known. Without making him known, then you are still stuck!
KM: And that’s many of our people. We’re still stuck, unfortunately, on stupid. No! Unfortunately.
KM: But, after four hundred and sixty-plus years, if we don’t realize that this system — the system and the Man — is our open enemy, then we are just stupid.
CT: Yeah. This is not a system created for us, that’s true.
KM: It’s not!
CT: But as you said, we have our own system, the system from God.
KM: It’s opposed to who you really are.
CT: That’s true.
KM: You — I mean, you’re in the University [of Rochester].
CT: I know it.
KM: You’re reminded every day of white supremacy. Just look around —
CT: That’s true [best guess].
KM: The images. You don’t see any black faces up in there —
CT: Yeah, so true.
KM: Not a righteous black face! [laughs]
CT: Yeah, that’s so true.
KM: The images reflect theirthinking, so when we’re among them, we have to assimilate. But when you assimilate, you lose something!
KM: You got to give up something, or that becomes your ass in the white man’s world.
CT: [laughs] Yeah.
KM: That’s truth, Brother.
CT: That is true. So, continuing, we got — definitely touch[ed] bases on the purpose, which I’m very glad we were able to clarify. Um, as far as rituals, does the Muhammad Study Group and the Nation of Islam follow, kind of, —
CT: The same rituals as —
KM: No, we don’t follow no rituals, Brother.
CT: So, not like the Five Pillars of Islam?
KM: Those are not rituals.
CT: Okay. Well, not rituals, but — um, I don’t know what word I’m trying to say. For, well, I should say, touch on the Five Pillars. Is that something that’s very integral?
CT: Just wanted to get that clear. So —
CT: And then — “rituals” is the wrong word. I should say — [pauses]
CT and KM simultaneously: Yes.
CT: And also, different seasons, like Ramadan, for example.
CT: Okay. Different — I just wanted to make sure. So if you had to — what is, I guess, the most important day or season, or, just kind of, act within, kind of — for example, one of the things that I really want to do is, I really want to go to Mecca. I want to take the hajj. I, I want to do that. And that’s just for me, personally, probably because I love to travel, but also I learn things, and I experience things kinesthetically. So, for me, that’s, like, very important to me.
CT: Um, what would you say the most important principle —
CT: What’d you say? [laughs]
KM: All of the principles of Islam are important. Those principles are there to help us to grow to back into ourselves. Prayer — critical. Fasting — critical. Charity, right?
KM: ’Cause all of these things helps us to check the nature of ourselves —
KM: Right? So, without those principles, you can’t become yourself.
KM: So the five principles in the Nation of Islam, and in Islam traditionally, is very critical. Right? So going to Mecca is a ritual. It’s a ritual.
KM: It’s a ritual. But it’s said that Muslims should make that journey once in their lifetime, but I say to you, Brother, and Minister Farrakhan said to us, the true journey to Mecca is from sperm to God. ’Cause that’s a journey. That’s a pilgrimage. So, when we get to Mecca, what do we do in Mecca? We say, “Oh Allah, here I am —”
KM: “In your august presence —” Well, what do you mean? A building? Brick and mortar? Is the presence of God, Minister Farrakhan said, is really there? No, the presence of God is in you, —
KM: And that’s the journey, to get back to the God in you.
KM: The ritual is just an indication. So when you get to Mecca, have you reached that destination? Ask the Muslim world, have they reached their destination? Is the presence of God in their life in the Muslim world? Well, if it was, they wouldn’t get on a plane, as the Minister taught us, and go to Europe and go to North America, and take off the holy garments, —
KM: And act other than themselves. But [striking table for emphasis] Master Fard Muhammad left Mecca. Eh? He left Mecca and came to North America and did not take off the holy garments. He said he would not fall victim to this system, and he didn’t fall victim. In fact, he came to uplift us in this corrupt system.
KM: So the Bible talks about putting on the — what? The incorruptible!
[SM and CT murmur]
KM: Man, this is something here, man.
KM: I don’t know where I’m going with this one.
SM: Man, I’m kind of fired up on that one.
CT: [laughs] Now, this is good.
KM: Because he came, —
KM: Right to black bottom Detroit!
SM: Go on [best guess], man.
KM: And he found us in a corrupt state.
KM: But he began to purify us of the dross of colonialism, —
KM: The dross of white supremacy, —
KM: The dross of thinking like a n—–.
KM: So now, we started entertaining the language of, I’m a black man.
SM: Come on, man.
KM: See? Before Master Fard Muhammad, we [weren’t] really talking like that.
KM: We know that Noble Drew Ali did a wonderful work. Marcus Garvey did a wonderful work. But when Master Fard Muhammad came, he came to the worst version [best guess]. Man. And he went to work. And so Elijah Muhammad said, when Master Fard Muhammad found him, he was so far down in the mud, all you could see was his eyeballs, and then he said Master Fard Muhammad cleaned him up and took him off the junk pile, to put him back on top of the junk pile —
KM: Meaning, you can’t get away from your people! Even though your life has been made better, what, what does it mean if you can’t go back and help your brothers and your sisters?
KM: God always provides a way for us. He don’t get away from us. If he takes something away, he’s always bringing it back.
CT: Right. Whew! You got me fired up inside. All right.
KM: Man, all praise due to Allah. I’m getting fired up.
CT: I love hearing you —
KM: I don’t know where it comes from, son.
CT: I love hearing you explain things, I’m not gonna lie. I love hearing you explain things. It’s deep, understanding.
KM: And it’s real, Brother.
CT: It is.
KM: This is, this is our, our discourse of our history.
KM: And I thank Allah, you know, for our minister today who spoke. I wish you would have been here earlier. Brother Minister Carlos was the keynote speaker.
KM: The archivist! And he was just sharing the history of the Nation. That’s why I was like, ah, man, I wish Brother [CJ] would have been [here], because he gave, he gave so much in his message today that a lot of this could have been fulfilled just by hearing him today.
SM and CT: Mmm.
KM: And it was beautiful.
KM: He went into the history of the Nation. He went into the history of Minister Farrakhan, right? A lot of people think they know the Minister — you — there’s a lot of history behind Honorable Louis Farrakhan that people just don’t know.
CT: Well, yeah, segue-waying into the the community. You definitely said, without the community, there is no Nation.
KM: There is no Nation.
CT: And the community is definitely — is just instrumental, and you guys in the community — I just wanted to just touch upon — since the MSG has been here, what have you guys done in the community, what are you guys doing now, and what are you hope to do in the community in the future?
KM: We want to continue to go after as many of our people as we can.
KM: Our job is to spread the Gospel, the love, —
KM: To our people that will spread to us from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Minister Farrakhan. And I would say, since my time here at MSG, we have seen hundreds, maybe thousands of people, —
KM: Who have come to the teachings for their various reasons, right?
KM: But they, as Brother Carlos said today, they can’t say that they didn’t get something, —
KM: Whether they stayed or not. Along their way, we handed them something that they can still use to this very day, —
KM: And that is the knowledge of themselves! See, this is not for everybody, you know. The mosque is not for everybody.
KM: You can be a part of the Nation of Islam, right? But those of us who put on these uniforms and put on that name Muhammad, we have taken on the assignment —
KM: Of Muhammad. See, Muhammad means one who is worthy of praise and has made a conscious decision to go to war with ourselves.
KM: Many are called, right? But only a few are chosen — those who have chosen Him. And we are always conscious of the fact that we’re [tapping table] in that process of being chosen.
CT: Right. It’s deep.
KM: So our work is just to give our people the knowledge of themelves.
KM: They can do the rest — teach a man, what, how to fish, and by providing him with what he needs, if I constantly have to feed him, then that’s what he expects.
KM: But if I teach him how to fish for himself, then he no longer needs me.
KM: Right? It’s something like that, I believe.
CT: Yeah, he can feed himself! That’s exactly how it goes! Um, and —
KM: And, and I just want to add, see —
KM: That was the work of Jesus. Some people say he gave out bread, he gave out fish. That’s a lack of understanding of the Scripture.
KM: The fish, the bread, it was the principles that Jesus taught, and two of the principles which we call in Islam principles of faith in action, which is prayer and charity.
KM: And, see, once you put your faith to an exchange, you get a product. Right?
KM: When you multiply. You have those factors.
KM: Then you put them together, you produce a product. So, in the — Jesus — you know, it’s nice to say, “Oh, we’re going to get a soup line.” That’s nice! I’m not knocking that.
KM: But if you keep doing that, then what are you doing? You’re handicapping people.
KM: And that’s what Jesus was calling people away from. He said, “Pick up your bed —”
KM: “And come and follow me,” eh? Not, “Stay in the bed” — “Pick up the bed.” Right? ’Cause there were those who were paralyzed —
KM: And they couldn’t walk. They couldn’t talk. They couldn’t think, ’cause they were blind and deaf and dumb. But until they met the master teacher, they began to, what? — become disciples —
KM: And do as the master was doing. See, Paul was the greatest indication of the message of Jesus because he internalized that message —
KM: And began to spread that message outside of the confines of Jerusalem. They didn’t know too much about Jesus outside of Jerusalem.
KM: They knew about Jesus because Jesus had a disciple called Paul, who began to tell the world about Jesus and the message that Jesus had brought. That’s the same message of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and how Minister Farrakhan has taken that message outside of the the Nation of Islam, to the whole entire world.
CT: Yeah, yeah.
KM: So, to everybody who is somebody know[s] about Elijah Muhammad —
KM: You can’t say, “I don’t know nothing about Elijah.” I find that hard to believe.
KM: If you have heard of Minister Farrakhan.
SM: And just to add to what he was saying about the teaching of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad — yesterday, when we [were] out in the community, my brother came to me and said, “Brother, Brother, it’s tough times right now.” We get out the Final Call newspaper, and he was trying to be funny. He said, “Brother, times are so tough, tell Elijah I need a dollar.” And I said, “Brother, if you go to page 19 in the Final Call newspaper, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s teachings, you will learn, if you are really understanding his teachings, how to multiply —”
SM: “And get something for yourself.”
KM: That’s right.
SM: “But if he keeps continuing to feed you, and feed you, you ain’t gonna never get it; you gonna expect somebody to give you something all the time, man.”
Unclear speaker [KM?]: Just to add to that, yeah —
SM: From real life experience —
KM: That’s right.
CT: Our experience [best guess].
SM: From yesterday, you know —
SM: Because we play around with the teachings, but we can actually — if you apply those principles, ’cause what we’re learning are principles, —
KM: Hmm, hmm, —
SM: We will see —
KM: That’s right.
SM: Not only our life change, —
KM: Come on.
SM: But we understand how we can do something for ourselves.
KM: Good point; that’s a very good point. Yes, yes.
CT: No, that’s huge, and that’s, that’s just a perfect segue-way into the second part of, like, community, which I wanted to ask you guys about from —
CT: I know, in reading the Final Call and coming to some of the Monday sessions, we read different readings from the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. He’s talking about black people being built up economically.
CT: And socially.
CT: And through the families, and with education, and of course teaching is one of the huge principles.
CT: So, when it comes to politics, and just in the community, and specifically Rochester, through the lens of, like, just the MSG looking into the community of Rochester, what do you guys think the city really needs when it comes to, like, jobs or education —
CT: Or citizen/law enforcement relations —
CT: Or socioeconomic disparities? What — what is that? What are those political factors that really go hand-in-hand with the mission that is being taught here?
Unclear speaker [KM?]: Mhmm.
KM: We need what every other ethnic group have, Brother, already in this city. You think about it. The Italians have their area.
KM: Now the Asians.
CT: That’s, that’s true.
KM: Right? And even our Hispanic brothers are coming now, fastly approaching an identity and an area that they can call their own. Right? So the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Minister Farrakhan, that’s our — that’s our message. How can we integrate when we don’t have nothing?
[murmur of agreement]
KM: How? You have to have something —
KM: In order to be made equal, you got to have something. We don’t have nothing!
CT: That’s true.
KM: So we have to first come together, and that’s our message to our people in Rochester. Look, you and I can’t do nothing if we don’t unite.
SM: That’s right.
KM: And that, unfortunately, has been our downfall as a community. So, we do our best to be an example —
KM: Of uniting across religious lines, because we understand our people. We understand that we [can be] very divisive when it comes to religion. If I’m a Christian, I’m a Christian. So when we find good Christians who believe in Jesus, who believe in their people, then we have a common cause, and we’re willing to work with them, and that’s what we have been doing for the last plus-thirty-something years. Some of those relationships have been sustainable.
KM: Some haven’t. It’s the nature of things, —
KM: Right? So, we want to continue to do that, adding what the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Minister Farrakhan [have] given us, that we gotta do something for ourselves.
KM: We can’t keep depending on others to do for us what we can unite and do for ourselves. Unfortunately, we still have a mentality that we want jobs.
Unclear speaker [CT?]: Right.
KM: There are plenty [of] jobs in Rochester, but we don’t have them, —
CT: Hmm, yeah.
KM: You’re talkin’ about photonics, but how many of our people are skilled in the area of photonics?
KM: When you have a graduation rate such in Rochester that half of us are not even graduating!
CT: Yes. Not even one in two. It’s really crazy.
KM: So — But this is all by design, too.
KM: That there was once inside the high schools shops, where brothers and sisters could take various courses, and didn’t need necessarily to go to college to get a degree in a certain area. Well, they took all of those programs out of the high schools.
KM: Guess where they’re at? They’re all in the suburbs; they’re out in the rural areas. So now you’ve got white students [who’re] graduating from high school, going off in culinary, making $50,000 dollars a year. So some of the programs are being restored at East High School, if you probably know of some of the things that they’re trying to do there, but our people don’t have the education, Brother, that will help us to get into some, some of these highly skilled jobs. So our message to some of those brothers and sisters [is], what are you going to do?
KM: You going to rob? You going to steal? Because that’s what the data show us, that we’re out here robbing.
KM: We’re out here stealing from each other, so we say to those brothers, mostly brothers, —
KM: Who don’t have a high school diploma, that — come and get the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad before you find yourself in a trap —
KM: In a spider’s web.
KM: Now you’re spinning and now you’ve been sucked into his prison-industrial complex system, —
KM: Where white boys who don’t have a college degree [are] your overseers, —
KM: And they’re making, starting out, $50,000, so they have careers off of the backs of our people. Ain’t that something?
CT: It is.
KM: They’re making, they’re creating — they have created an industry, while we can’t do the same. It’s because we don’t have the knowledge —
KM: Of ourselves!
CT: Especially here in Rochester.
CT: Eighteen prisons? [laughs]
KM: How many, Brother?
CT: I said eight — there’s eighteen prisons in the greater Rochester area.
KM: Wow. See, that’s what prison reform is — why it is so important to have —
KM: [tapping for emphasis] Prison reform, and we have to push the argument —
KM: Based on that data that you — could you send me that?
CT: I can definitely. We — at the U of R, we — one of the classes that I did —
CT: Truly enjoy —
CT: Is — it’s called “Prisons.”
CT: And every Saturday, they have us go to a different prison, and we spend —
CT: Two, two-and-a-half hours just literally seeing the system, —
CT: Learning things like the fact of — the inmates there, —
CT: They make $0.25 cents an hour.
KM: An hour.
CT: And it starts at 15 [cents]. $0.25 cents is the maximum.
KM: That is —
CT: That is, that is slavery.
KM: It is.
CT: That, [laughing] that is legit slavery.
KM: Isn’t that something?
KM: And see, that kind of data, Brother, is very important, you know, in helping the Nation, UCLM [United Christian Leadership Ministry of Western New York] — you know, we need that kind —
KM: So it strengthens our argument, —
KM: That, when folk are coming after us, based on their limited view of who we are and what we do and what we say, that helps to sustain our argument.
KM: Look at the data! It — That doesn’t lie!
CT: It does not.
KM: It just recently came out — you know, Mayor Lovely Warren may not be pleased with it, but this is one of the worst cities for black people to live in.
CT: Yeah, I saw that in that index, too.
CT: Um, I’m writing a paper on that, actually. I saw that in the Democrat & Chronicle. I’m writing a paper on that.
CT: I’m going to recreate the index.
CT: So that’s going to be fun.
KM: Now, explain what that means.
CT: So, pretty much with the — so, in the D-and-C, they released a report that Rochester was the fortieth-worst city in the United States to live in for — if you are black.
CT: Black people in Rochester, it’s the fortieth-worst city to live in. Um, and the way that they did that is they took all these different metrics where they said education — so, percent of people with a high school diploma —
CT: And they compared it, whites and blacks, and then they look at the gap.
CT: White people graduate — at least 70% of white people here graduate —
CT: With a high school diploma. There’s only one in two here, where it’s, like, fifty percent, —
CT: Really a little less than that. I think it just went up, like, fifty-one, or something like that.
CT: But still, every one in two. So there’s a twenty-percent/twenty-five-percent difference —
CT: In whites versus blacks.
CT: And then they did that same thing for median income.
CT: They did the same thing for health —
CT: Who’s insured privately, who has health insurance.
CT: So they did education, socioeconomics, the health disparities, I think, — um, housing, I want to say. And they had all these different metrics, and then they pretty much compared blacks and whites, and looked at the gap in between.
CT: And based on the size of the gap, that’s when they assigned different little weights, um, different weights, and they gave Rochester a score.
CT: And then they compared the scores — they did the same thing across major cities, any cities with a population over 50,000 —
CT: They did the same thing with cities across the nation, and then they ranked them based on that score.
CT: So what I’m going to do is pretty much recreate that, that metric, because, it’s to say things like — how we were talking about colleges.
KM: How we were talking about…?
CT: Like, how we were talking about earlier with colleges.
KM: Right. Got it, got it.
CT: And how, where you don’t necessarily have to have a college degree —
CT: Just to do something to be successful. That’s less the case today —
CT: But I want to look at — in education, they only looked at, like, high school diploma.
CT: I want to look at high school diploma, college degree, —
CT: Some type of technical degrees, —
KM: Right, [unclear], right.
CT: Because a lot, a lot of our people are going to vocational degrees.
CT: So, I mean — and, and that’s [what it] showed.
CT: Things like — and then, I do want to look at some systematic injustices.
CT: That’s something they admitted.
KM: Mhmm, mhmm.
CT: The rate at which white and blacks are being incarcerated, and for what?
KM: Mhmm, mhmm.
CT: Are we being incarcerated for actual, like, crimes —
CT: Or are these felony misdemeanors that really aren’t felony misdemeanors, —
CT: Or certain things — like, — okay. So-and-so smokes weed.
CT: Or, [a] dude was on my property and I physically removed him, but now that’s, that’s assault.
CT: But that’s — it’s my property.
CT: These smaller, individual cases of, like, what are these being — what we being arrested for, and sentencing terms —
CT: And things like that. So I want to do the same process, look at the gaps and disparities —
CT: But use some different metrics, metrics that are moreso related to us and tell the complete story of —
CT: What is going on. Um…
KM: Got you. I like that.
CT: And I’m going to do that for Rochester, and the — hopefully they release the list of fifty cities.
CT: If I can get my hands on the data, I would like to do the fifty cities, and re- — rerank everything —
CT: To see if — alright, if you look really look at the complete, comprehensive picture, would this ranking kind of change a little bit?
KM: He told me it’s almost time.
CT: Oh, that’s fine.
KM: I’ll be [best guess] the time keeper. [laughs]
CT: No, it’s fine.
SM: Brother, we’re so busy. We have to go somewhere else after this.
CT: Okay. Uh, so yeah. That’s definitely —
KM: Yeah —
CT: I want to, later on —
KM: I would like to, uh, you know, definitely get, uh, my hands on that, Brother.
CT: Yeah, no, I can definitely share that.
KM: And get those eighteen prisons, too, —
CT: I can —
KM:In the greater Rochester area.
CT: The —
KM: You gotta send me that, man.
CT: The syllabus for — the syllabus for the prisons class! So literally what the whole class went through, —
CT: And all the readings and, kind of, data —
CT: That they assigned to all the students —
CT: I can get my hands on that, uh, ’cause one of my friends is actually taking the course, so he — I know he —
KM: That’s wonderful. Yeah, we —
CT: Went through it —
KM: We need it to train [best guess].
CT: So I’ll get, I’ll get that to you. Um, —
KM: We need that. That’s good stuff.
CT: I was gonna say — so we will definitely wrap up really quickly. What I wanted to — I guess I’m gonna just, like, give some big, general questions, and then I’ll just end with kind of how I said your personal walk.
CT: Um, how is the Nation viewed? Regarding, like, how the Nation is viewed, I just had some points on how society views the Nation, pretty much how it is viewed in, like, Hollywood and the larger, uh, media, um, and just major misconceptions.
CT: So, I guess, talking about the larger media, how society views it, major misconceptions, —
CT: You can address that, and then what you would want to be corrected —
CT: About these misconceptions. What would you want somebody to know?
KM: Well, you know, I’ll tell you, when we’re out among our people, there is no major misconception of the Nation. Our people understand, you know, who we are —
KM: And what we do. You know, the misconception is created by those outside of our community, you know, which is the dominant view, and [what] I mean by that is that they control all the media —
KM: Right? [laughs]
KM: And they’re constantly rehearsing this story to indoctrinate our people. So it affects the progress that the Nation can make among our people.
KM: So they create the confusion in our community. You know, our people know Minister Farrakhan.
CT: When we’re out there, we always hear, “As-salamu alaykum.”
SM: That’s right.
KM: They ain’t a member —
KM: But they, they know how to say “As-salamu alaykum.” Why —
KM: Is that?
KM: Because they understand that, you know, we [are] Muslim!
KM: And they understand that, at some point, they were Muslim, too. They may not be conscious that they [are] Muslim, right?
KM: [laughs] Because they’re not practicing it.
KM: But to say “As-salamu alaykum” means that there is a relationship with our community. So the dominant view? We don’t give a damn about what they, they really think about the Nation. We really don’t. It’s just like the prophets — the prophets didn’t focus on, “Oh, what [do] the chief leaders —”
SM: Mmm, mmm.
KM: “Think about me?” No, they kept, they kept on going —
KM: Because their role and their mission was to get their people. You know, we’re here for our people, you know, and for those of us, those that [are] outside our community — if you don’t listen, then you’re going to get what the prophets were always been warning the people about, was coming. So it’s in America’s best interest, it’s in any ethnic group’s best interest just to leave us alone.
CT: Mhmm. Right.
KM: We’re not harming you. You don’t see us going around — you don’t hear [any] reports that the Nation of Islam just assaulted an old lady walking down the street, the Nation of Islam just assaulted a white youth who is standing on the corner. No. Hell, that’s the opposite — you hear [about] them assaulting us, verbally and — even, some of them will try to come and barge their way into our meetings.
KM: So it’s their view that they have to change, of how they see us.
KM: And unfortunately, the lens of white supremacy won’t allow white people and those whose views have been affected by the poison of white people — and some of us, unfortunately, as black people have been poisoned —
KM: By the dominant view, which is coming from the slave master. So naturally there [were] some slaves on the plantation who could relate, and those are the ones that Malcolm said, those were the field N—–s.
KM: They understood that, when, uh, the house was on fire, the house N—- would say, “[unclear], the house is on fire.” Because the house N—- could relate to the dominant view of the slave master, but the field N—-, he would say, “Whose house is on fire?”
KM: “I ain’t going — I’m not fetching a pail, a bucket of water.”
KM: “Let it burn!” So the — [laughs] the black men in the mud, they are like, man, my brothers! And when they see us in the street?
SM: Mad [unclear].
KM: Them the brothers right there.
KM: Like, that’s the language.
SM: That’s the language.
KM: So they — even though they may not be able to defend us, —
SM: Right, right.
KM: Because they don’t have the knowledge of themselves, they know that we are nothing but a good group of people that means well, and we’re here to help our community.
KM: So the dominant view, that has always been the challenge of the righteous.
KM: But a day is coming where we will have the dominant view.
SM [best guess]: Yeah.
KM: But we’re not going to do to white folk what they did to us. No, our aim and our purpose is freedom, justice, and equality, regardless to your class, regardless to your covenant. We’re not here to do nothing to you —
KM: But ask you to get out of our way, and allow us to teach Islam —
KM: Without hindrances. And if white folk would do that, then we can help them to make America great again.
CT: [laughs] Hey… And just to, I guess, wrap up, I’m going to just sum up all the questions I have for you, personally, kind of into one. Um, I wanted to just touch upon how you really become — you just came to learn about the Nation, and Brother Saeed, this is for you, as well. Just — I know you grew up in it, and you were telling me the story about when you were 18. So, if each of you could just talk about how you just came to learn about the Nation, um, the number of years that you’ve been a part of the Nation, and, really, what drew you and kept you faithful. That’s the — like, once you really learned the teachings, what truly kept you faithful? Um, and then I’ll have one last question after you guys answer those.
KM: Hmm. Well, for me, uh, — and it’s, uh, — it’s always been, like, like a mystery to me, ’cause I was — I had nobody [with] dealings with religion, you know, other than when I was a little boy, and I’d say that I barely went to church, you know. So, for me, it was, it was strange, Brother, you know. It was strange. Um — but I know I can recall a longing in me, a yearning, but I could never decode it.
KM: Like, what is this longing? What is this yearning? ’Cause I would fulfill it by smoking weed, drinking, partying, right? So I was missing the calling —
KM: ’Cause I didn’t understand it! Until a great friend of mine, who had just prior to me coming to the Nation, he had a brush with the Five-Percent Nation. He was a good, close friend to me, and he asked me one day, “Man, what [do] you know about yourself?”
KM: “What [do] you mean?” “I mean, what have you been smoking?”
KM: You know what I mean?
KM: “[What do] you mean, man?”
KM: You know — [I was] amazed. I mean, we’re boys! And he said, “No, man, I’m serious. You know who you are?” I started telling him, “Yeah, I know who I am.” “Well, who are you? Where [are] you from?” “My people [are] from Florida.” Right?
KM: “No, no, I’m not talking [about] that.” He said, “You don’t know yourself.” And that was the first time that I ever stopped and thought about what somebody said, ’cause I didn’t care — I didn’t give a damn what you said. You know what I mean? ’Cause it didn’t mean — ’cause that’s how it is in the street, when you come up in the street. Look here, ’cause — man, I got a rap. I got a reputation. So when he said that, I had to stop and think. He said, “Man, have you heard of Malcolm X?” “I don’t know Malcolm.” So he gave me the book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, the first book I ever read. I didn’t read books. Not in that time. So as I’m reading Malcolm’s story, I said, “Damn! Sounds like my story!” Right? So now, for the first time, I got somebody interpreting for me what I was yearn- — longing and yearning for.
KM: It was now being put into perspective for me, so I said, “Aha! That’s what it was.” I was looking for something, but I didn’t know what I was looking for! As Malcolm started talking about his hustling, and this, and this, and that, I said, “Damn. Now this makes sense.” So, as I’m reading Malcolm’s life, I’m sitting in the bed and I’m just, like, “Man, what is going on?” So I hear Elijah Muhammad [is] coming to town, —
KM: ’Cause I was a hip-hop back in those days.
KM: College Station. WRUR! RIT, I think it’s still — oh, uh, University of Rochester!
CT: Yeah, WRUR! That’s it! [laughs]
KM: Right? I used to listen to it every Saturday night!
KM: And the brothers that night were saying — they [were] advertising Elijah Muhammad coming to Rochester. I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. I just read about this man. He’s coming to Rochester?” So I said, oh, I gotta go, I gotta go and hear him, ’cause I’m reading about him in the life of Malcolm X!
KM: So, it — but it wasn’t Elijah; it was Farrakhan.
KM: But I didn’t know. So that’s how I got my start, into the Nation. I heard Minister Farrakhan personally myself, and as I’m sitting there, like you’re sitting there, and I’m listening, like you’re listening, Minister Farrakhan was saying everything that I ever experienced in my life. It blew me away. It is as though me and him were having a conversation. But there were thousands of people in that church that night.
KM: But I made up my mind, right then and there, I’m going, and I’m going to seek out who this man is, because I thought he was Elijah Muhammad. And that’s how I started my journey in the Nation.
KM: What sustained me? I would just say my thirst for — for the knowledge, you know?
KM: Through my ups and downs.
CT: And how many years has it been, since?
KM: Since 1987!
KM: This month of December.
KM: I came into the Nation. I don’t know if it was the first week or second week of December. But it was [tapping for emphasis] December.
KM: Damn, isn’t that something?
CT: [laughs] That is something.
SM: I came in October.
KM: [laughing] Ah!
KM: You’re an October Baby. [claps hands]
[All three laugh.]
CT: That’s when your birthday is?
SM: Yeah, [unclear].
KM: Yeah, Brother, so I would say in closing, man, that I came in, in December, so this would make 31 years.
KM: I’ve been striving to follow the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s teachings and the Honorable Louis Farrakhan. Ups and downs, ups and downs, failures and success.
CT: And in those —
KM: We’re still on the journey.
CT: And over those 31 years —
KM: 31 years.
CT: How’d you become, or — and what led you to truly, just, take up that calling and become the Rochester representative?
KM: Well, I didn’t call myself to that. I was asked to, uh, take on that responsibility. I mean, when you’re in the Nation, and you’re asked, you don’t say, “Well, I’m not qualified.” Nobody is qualified —
KM: But you learn along the way, to become qualified. So we, we, we help our Nation wherever we can help our Nation, ’cause this is all we’ve got. This is it.
KM: And I believe wholeheartedly in that, that this is all I got. I don’t have nothing outside of this. That kind of reality, I can’t relate to that, Brother. I can’t. I’ve been far removed from that reality for 31 years.
KM: I know that side. For 18 years of my life, I knew that, and I wasn’t pleased with that, so why would I want to go back to that?
KM: That wouldn’t make no sense.
CT: Yeah. That would be stuck on stupid.
[KM and CT laugh]
CT: Right, yeah.
KM: So I would end it there, Brother.
CT: No, that’s perfect. Um, as you guys already have, I sent you the email. Um, so I —
KM: I want to hear his story —
CT: How can I say [best guess], I don’t think I —
[KM speaks; unclear in recording]
CT: I wanted to say, before we end, I would love to —
CT: Hear your [SM’s] story, ’cause you said you were brought up [in the Nation].
SM: Yes, sir. You know, uh, just being brought up in the Nation, and I’m going to try to do it in 120 seconds, —
KM: Yeah, be quick.
SM: Because he [KM] has to move, but just, you know, coming up in the Nation, um, you have your ups and downs, and what really, really inspired me, Brother, to be honest, is when I see my father out there in the community by himself —
SM: With the Final Call newspaper, but it looked like it was 10 people with him. And when you read the Scriptures and the Holy Quran, it talks about, you know, how you can double and double, and that’s what I was looking at. I was looking at my father, and I’m, like, “Man, here I am, living this unrighteous lifestyle, coming up in the Nation.” Right?
SM: And I’m seeing my father, like, giving his all. And Allah, you know, started to reward me, and I said, “Man, I got to get my life together.” But, when you were talking about rituals, you know, when I was younger, I was just coming to my classes, not FOI class — I was not allowed to come in FOI class.
SM: I was outside. But I would hear the brothers drilling. But me coming to the Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Sundays — it was like a ritual. Right? But now, the stage I’m at now, the Messenger talks about, we don’t do rituals. We don’t do prayers or rituals. Now I’m at, “Okay, how can I extract what I’m learning?” Because, like, he was talking about Muhammad, a battle with self —
SM: We’re — we’re — when you put on these uniforms, and you — thank you, Dad for saying that, because you’re battling with yourself. And a lot of people are not willing to do that. But the stage I’m at now, Brother? I’m really trying to extract the teachings, because I just got engaged.
SM: Now, if it’s God’s will if I get married and I have children, I want to tell my children the truth, right? So Honorable Elijah Muhammad is telling us the truth, and I would, you know, suggest that you get the books, if you don’t already have them — Message of the Black Man, Our Saviour Has Arrived, How to Eat to Live — because he’s going to give you the truth, and we need the truth, especially being young men.
SM: Because we don’t want to make the same mistakes our parents made; we want to new mistakes, like Brother Kenneth was saying Wednesday. Why would you make the same mistakes, why would I make the same mistakes Pops made, out in the streets —
SM: When it doesn’t make any sense? You would be just stupid!
CT: Yes — oh! [laughs] Right, yeah!
SM: Right? It would be just stupid! So now I’m learning that I got to make new mistakes, right? But with the guidance from the older brothers, and the guidance from the sisters, too, we can cover down and become a family, so you don’t make stupid mistakes —
SM: ’Cause you’re going to make mistakes, but I thank Almighty God Allah, because I’m taking it serious, like, taking it serious. Because when you read Our Saviour Has Arrived, that’s what book I was coming through on Monday, —
SM: Aw, Brother! Christmas is coming up, right? But he explains Christmas and we — that was the 120 seconds, bro!
[KM and CT laugh]
SM: You know? I’m just, I’m just, I’m just fired up, bro, because the teachings get you fired up.
KM: And I just want to add to Brother Saeed’s story, you know, again, what the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan can do for our people.
KM: He doesn’t — because my son doesn’t have a college degree. He only has a high school diploma. And when he graduated from high school, I didn’t force him to go to college. My only concern for him was him learning how to think.
CT: Yeah, what he was saying.
KM: Use what God has given you, and that’s what he is doing! He uses what God has given him, and he, he — to me, he’s very successful. He’s more successful than I was!
KM: Right? ’Cause, hell, when I — I didn’t graduate from high school. I had to go back and get a GED. Then I went off and took some classes and got a degree in [coughs] — in the white man’s world, but [coughs] him? He’s using this! That’s the greatest degree to have, —
KM: Is when you can use your brainpower to envision for yourself, and then go to work and produce it. That’s what he’s doing! And I’m —
SM: That’s alright.
KM: I’m very thankful to Allah, that He’s guiding Brother Saeed the way He’s guiding him, because I can’t guide him like that. I can only say to him, from a father to a son, but he has to embrace that, and only Allah can do that for him. So, when he came into the Nation, you know, I never forced him into the Nation of Islam, see? We don’t force our children to believe. That’s their choice. But if you make the wrong choice, you’ree going to live with that, too!
KM: And I’m not coming to your rescue. I’m not! Because I’ve already provided a way through my little example of what Islam can do for you. You see? So it’s on his shoulders, but again, if there was no system —
KM: By which he could tap into, then where would he be?
KM: And he’ll tell you that. He was lost.
KM: He was empty.
KM: And he would start listening to Minister Farrakhan —
KM: For himself —
SM: Every day.
KM: Every day!
CT: Every day.
SM: Every day, man. Long hours.
KM: Man, he would plug into the minister, —
SM: Long hours.
KM: ’Cause he needed guidance!
KM: See, Brother, that is more important than anything in the world, is guidance, —
KM: And right guidance. Without right guidance, you can have a million dollars, but what will happen to you? The Bible says a fool and his money shall soon depart. “Soon” may be a year. “Soon” may be five. “Soon” [laughs] may be 10! But soon will come!
KM: Right? Unfortunately, without right guidance.
KM: So the greatest commodity the Minister said that we need is right guidance. So you, Brother, are very brilliant —
CT: I appreciate that.
KM: In your own right —
KM: You know, and you are seeking understanding, and not being threatened by a different view of things. And I commend you for that, you know, and may Allah guide you, in whatever you are searching for, that you will discover it in your lifetime.
CT: Now that — that’s a great way to end. And I appreciate it.
KM: Yes, sir.
CT: That — may He truly guide me. That’s — jeez, that’s a great way to end. Um, I appreciate the time.
SM: Yes, sir.
KM: No, I appreciate it [best guess] —
CT: I appreciate the conversation.
KM: Yes, sir.
CT: Like I said, I told you it’s not really going to be an interview. I tell you, this is a conversation. I’m really … just curious.
CT: Um, the last thing, if we can, just step outside really quickly, and I would love to just get headshots of you guys.
SM: Man, I would like to get a shot of both of y’all together, too —
St. Monica Roman Catholic Church has been at the corner of Genesee and Monica Streets since 1913.
St. Monica Roman Catholic Church was formed to serve 65 Irish Catholic families, many of them farmers.[i] In 1895, Bishop McQuaid split the new parish from Immaculate Conception, which had grown too large, and charged Monsignor John Brophy with caring for Catholics in southwest Rochester.[ii] Details about Monsignor Brophy are scarce. He was 30 years old when the parish opened in 1898.[iii] A 1984 Landmark Society of Western N.Y. report says that he was known for bicycling.[iv] Parish lore holds that he took a bicycle tour through the neighborhood when he learned that he would be leading a new church there.[v] St. Monica launched as a full parish in June 1898, even though the combined church-school building at 838 Genesee Street was not completed until January 1899.[vi] At the New Year’s Day, 1899, Mass (a Sunday, fittingly), Bishop McQuaid commented:
St. Monica’s Church is the outcome of an idea I have had for some time past of placing in the outskirts of the city small parish churches. Yet I must say that you have erected here a larger church building than I expected. Still if you were able to put up such a splendid building, you will, I think, be able to sustain it….[vii]
Charles L. McCarthy, “Foundation of Saint Monica’s Church of Rochester” (1949)
Three nuns from
the Sisters of St. Joseph ran the school, with its total of 67 students.
Although nuns worked at St. Monica from its inception, the church did not open
a convent until 1907.[viii]
Previously, the nuns had lived at the St. Patrick’s Girls Orphanage and walked
a mile to school every day, as they could not afford the trolley fare.[ix]
In 1913, Brophy supervised the construction of
a new St. Monica, which cost $75,201.26, and a rectory at the southwest corner
of Genesee and Monica Streets.[x]
This project better accommodated the more than 3,000 people who attended the
John T. Comes, a Pittsburgh architect, designed the new Italianate-style
church, which held its first Mass on January 30, 1915.[xii]
While Comes designed a bell tower, it was not built.[xiii]
Tradition has it that Brophy and George Eastman, president of Kodak, went to
New York City together to obtain an organ, but this story needs more evidence.[xiv]
Nine years later, Brophy oversaw the installation of stencils, paintings of the
saints, statuary, and paintings in the church.[xv]
While the new church was under construction, a wooden annex was added to the
original church to serve as a school.[xvi]
continued to grow despite the Great Depression. Brophy supervised the opening
of a new recreation center, featuring a gym, auditorium, and kitchen, in 1935.[xvii]
The church maintained its rich culture of civil associations. A chapter, or praesidium, of the Legion of Mary formed
at St. Monica in 1931, during a wave of Legion chapters forming in Rochester.[xviii]
Parishioners worked with the Society for the Propagation of the Faith; in 1944,
for instance, they donated $155 for adoptions, $34.02 in general donations, and
$50 for “seals” to the Pontifical Association of the Holy Childhood, which
funds missionary work.[xix]
Additionally, the Works Progress Administration sent Arthur Purtell in 1936 to
assess St. Monica’s archives for the Survey of State and Local Historical
Some of the documents Purtell describes, notably index cards of members and
leather-bound church records, are not available for public review.
Works Progress Administration Survey of State and Local Historical Records for St. Monica (1936)
improvements — a redecorated church, a remodeled school, and a school addition
— occurred in 1939.[xxi]
Monsignor Brophy died the same year.[xxii]
Bishop Kearney presided over Brophy’s funeral, for which the church was
decorated with banners. Dozens of priests and nuns attended.[xxiii]
Rev. William Bergan succeeded Brophy as pastor.
In 1947, the last
full year of Bergan’s tenure, construction began on a new school, which would
provide more classroom and office space, and replace the wooden school annex.
Local African American architect Thomas Boyde, who built Monroe Community
Hospital, contributed to the school design.[xxiv]
Bishop Kearney blessed the school on its opening in 1949 and used the occasion
to laud the patriotism of Catholic schools.[xxv]
Specifically, one newspaper clipping said, “The bishop emphasize[d] the
importance of Catholic education to the growth of American democratic
This comment reflects the efforts of twentieth-century Catholics to overcome
lingering religious and ethnic prejudice, and reiterate their commitment to
democracy, despite their spiritual allegiance to the Vatican. Anti-Catholic
sentiments would remain acceptable in public discourse until 1960, when
presidential candidate John F. Kennedy made a concerted (and effective) attack
Lambert became pastor of St. Monica upon Bergan’s death in 1948. Lambert had
previously run Catholic Charities for the diocese. In this position, he had
directed health programming, settlement houses, Boy Scouts, St. Anne’s Home for
the Aged, and the 1937–42 consolidation of diocese orphanages. Lambert and Rev.
Eugene Hudson co-founded Camp Stella Maris, a Catholic summer camp at Conesus
Lake that remains operational today.[xxviii]
In the holy year of 1951, Lambert coordinated bus transportation for more than
1,000 St. Monica parishioners to visit special churches where indulgences were
More than seven million acts of Communion occurred in the diocese in 1958; 172,000 of these Communions were at St. Monica.[xxx] In their 1959 report, St. Monica’s trustees estimated that 2,000 families attended the church. The trustees called the church’s growth “steady over the years, in keeping with normal growth of City of Rochester.” “A few Negroes,” estimated at “4–5 families” and “perhaps five children in school,” attended the church; there was no mention of Latinx or Asian Americans. As of 1959, the church’s clergy had presided over 7,215 Baptisms, 5,610 first Communions, 5,754 Confirmations, 2,588 marriages, and 3,118 deaths.[xxxi] There is a gap in the church archive, unfortunately, regarding school attendance and the parish’s changing demographics in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
St. Monica Trustee Report (1959) Editor’s Note: Two scanned copies of the 1959 trustee report are embedded here. The second copy has better print quality, but is missing the fifth page.
Still, a March
25, 1960, Catholic Courier Journal article
reinforces the large population of not only St. Monica, but also the Diocese of
Rochester, in the early Cold War. The prior Sunday, more than twelve hundred
Legionnaires of Mary processed to St. Monica and renewed their membership.[xxxii]
In 1973, the Courier Journal called
the 1950s St. Monica’s peak, when the church was “about the richest in the
diocese” and drew “5,000 people at Sunday Mass.”[xxxiii]
After the Second Vatican Council, significant changes came to St. Monica. Like
most Catholic churches, the communion rail was removed and the Mass was
performed in the vernacular. Lambert retired in 1970, and Father Edward A.
Zimmer succeeded him.[xxxiv]
White flight hit
St. Monica hard. As the African American population of the 19th Ward
increased, wealthier white families departed, as Rev. Zimmer noted to the Courier Journal in 1973.[xxxv]
Parish archivist John Curran recalls that real estate agents engaged in
blockblusting tactics, circulating fliers in the neighborhood that amplified
white racial fears and persuading white residents to sell their homes.[xxxvi]Upstate New York, a regional
magazine, ran its own profile in November 1973 on white flight and St. Monica —
a racially alarmist piece called “Parishes in Trouble: Diminishing White
Catholic Congregations in Changing Neighborhoods.” The article begins with the
dramatic story of how the church “began disintegrating as blacks migrated into
the neighborhood.” The essay notes white St. Monica parishioners’ feelings of
discomfort around black residents, and describes how a parishioner angry with
local black youths threatened Zimmer, who was an advocate of racial
Zimmer, both in this article and a Courier
Journal piece on St. Monica’s diamond jubilee (December 1973), emphasized
the positive changes in the parish, as young families had moved into the area
and some racially biased parishioners had departed.[xxxviii]
Ron Robitaille, “Parishes in Trouble: Diminishing White Catholic Congregations in Changing Neighborhoods,” with photos by Jim Laragy, Upstate New York, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Sunday, Nov. 4, 1973
St. Monica saw an
increase in women’s authority, to the occasional consternation of traditional
(and male) parishioners. “Pastoral Associate” Sister Barbara Moore sometimes
delivered homilies at Mass, in lieu of a priest. When Although Pope Paul VI was
an opponent of female ordination, female students at St. Monica lobbied the
parish administration in September 1972 to become altar “servers,” in addition
to altar boys. While many boys voiced their opposition, the priests and other
administrators agreed to the girls’ proposal, provided that they completed the
educational requirements. Sure enough, nine girls finished the course, and St.
Monica became the first Rochester church to have altar servers. The first two
altar servers, Julie Webster and Linda Pugliese (who told the Courier Journal she was willing to
protest, if necessary, to become a server), began their work in August 1973.[xxxix]
The church sold
its convent in February 1973. The building became the Westside Health Center, a
joint project by Zimmer and the Rochester Health Network.[xl]
This clinic offered family medicine, lab testing, dental care, and X-ray scans
to area residents.[xli]
Out of necessity, the 21 Sisters of St. Joseph moved into the church rectory,
and the priests moved to a house down the street.[xlii]
This arrangement ended when nuns stopped teaching in the parish school in 1979.
The nuns moved elsewhere, and the male priests reclaimed their rectory.[xliii]
As early as 1973, however, sisters were working at other facilities in the
city, reflecting the growing presence of women religious in American
communities, instead of leading cloistered lives.[xliv]
St. Monica’s school still had an SSJ principal, Sister Mary Ellen Cragan, in
League for Religious and Civil Rights, which by the 2010s was known for its
political conservatism, endorsed this activist orientation in the early 1980s.
In a study of 64 urban Catholic schools, including St. Monica, the League found
that Catholic schools resolved budget troubles and experienced renewal when
they served the whole community, not only Catholics. St. This commitment to
urban activism and social services, in practice, meant taking the Catholic Church
beyond white enclaves to help people of color, who suffered from
disproportionate levels of poverty and de facto discrimination. Parent
involvement in the schools was also crucial. St. Monica’s school, which had
seen its enrollment drop into the low hundreds because of white flight, had a
growing student body by 1983.[xlvi]
The transition from a racially homogenous parish to a racially inclusive one
rejuvenated St. Monica’s culture. Financial support from grocery CEO Robert
Wegman and his wife Peggy was instrumental in keeping St. Monica School and
other city Catholic schools open in this period.[xlvii]
The April 1985 parish review captured the 19th Ward’s changing demographics. St. Monica was now:
a central city parish serving a racially and economically diverse geographical community. Parishioners tend to be white, middle-income persons, although an increasing proportion (45%+) are retirees on fixed incomes. U.S. census data indicates that the majority of persons age 50 and over in southwest Rochester have completed some or all of high school. Few persons in this age group have attended college. A majority of the younger (age 40 and below) parishioners joining St. Monica’s in the last ten years are professional persons and have attended or completed college.
The school even more than the church
reflected the neighborhood’s changed demographics: “School serves app. 200
students (over 90% non-white and non-Catholic).” Financial trouble weighed upon
the report’s authors:
Pastor and staff must be capable of operating programs and ministry within tight budget constraints. Ability to work with racial minorities and non-Catholic persons is essential. Ability to recruit, train and motivate volunteer personnel is essential due to lack of paid support staff. Pastor and staff should be comfortable with inter-parish (St. Augustine’s -St. Monica’s) cooperation and shared programming.
Nonetheless, the church leadership had
plans for the future. In the long term, church officials hoped “to brighten our
liturgical programs to continue to attract people… To provide high quality
elementary education to area youth… To increase membership from area residents
through local evangelization.” In the short term, church officials hoped “to
put available space to the most efficient use… To seek a larger funding base…
To promote continuing evaluation of present and projected programs to promote
best use of assets.”[xlviii]
Diocesan budget problems intensified in the 1990s. The diocese ended its financial and direct administrative support for St. Monica School in 1991, although the parish kept the school open until 2008. To help its financial situation, while still meeting neighborhood needs, St. Monica sold its old convent to West Side Medical Services.[xlix] This house clinic later evolved into Sojourner House, which sought “to help young women in transition,” as a 2003 church history booklet put it.[l] Specifically, Sojourner House provides services to single mothers and their children who are transitioning to a more stable home environment.[li]
In 1992, at the
direction of Father Bob Werth, St. Monica joined a cost, facilities, and
priest-sharing venture with St. Augustine and Our Lady of Good Council called
the FIRST Cluster. The cluster was later renamed the Roman Catholic Community
of the 19th Ward (RCC19).[lii]
The churches in the cluster maintained their individual identities, however.
St. Monica celebrated its centennial in 1998 with much fanfare. Former priests
and nuns who had worked at St. Monica over the last few decades returned to the
church to deliver guest homilies. A time capsule from the original St. Monica’s
cornerstone was opened, revealing lost artifacts. The May 17, 1998, bulletin
ran a historical overview of the parish.[liii]
Werth, quoting Father Avery Dulles, S.J., wrote to parishioners that the church
must embody multiple models — Institutional, Mystical Communion,
Sacramental, Herald, and Servant — to do its work properly.[liv]
Bishop Matthew Clark led a centennial Mass on May 17.[lv]
RCC19 Newsletters with St. Monica Centennial Information (1997–98)
In the early
2000s, RCC19 added Ss. Peter and Paul.[lvi]
Per Bishop Clark’s mandate, the four RCC19 churches would have three weekend
Masses at two locations, but only one priest would serve all the churches.[lvii]
Sister Marie Susanne Hoffman, known as “Sr. Sue,” SSJ, was installed as St.
Monica’s “pastoral administrator” to run daily affairs.[lviii]
In fall 2004, the Bishop recommended a new round of pastoral planning for all urban churches, building on the
late-1990s “Pastoral Planning for the New Millennium” initiative.[lix]
The 19th Ward/Corn Hill/Bull’s Head Planning Group, formed to
consider RCC19’s future, recommended in November 2005 the closure of OLGC, St.
Augustine, and Ss. Peter and Paul. Parishioners took a vote on this proposal
and upheld it. After the closures, parishioners would report to St. Monica,
which would also become home to Emmanuel. Some parishioners of the closing
churches reported a feeling of loss, while others were resigned to the change,
the given declining Catholic population.[lx]
Father Ray Fleming of Emmanuel took over St. Monica after Sister Hoffman’s
resignation and faced the task of forming a “New St. Monica” community.[lxi]
Roxie Sinkler, a passionate African American social activist who was hired as a
parish administrator, was widely credited with bolstering the new parish’s
identity and prioritizing diversity. Her sudden death in 2011 inspired an
outpouring of praise in local newspapers and from civic organizations.[lxii]
Volunteer work also helped to create a new community. The “Blooming Optimists,” a group devoted to gardening and urban beautification, installed a flower garden near the entrance to the Susan B. Anthony District in October 2006. This act honored an old story about former diocesan priest Father Howard Geck, who died in 1993 at age 97. As a child, Geck was an elementary student at Ss. Peter and Paul’s school. In May, one student per day had to bring flowers for their classroom’s Marian shrine. When it was Geck’s turn, he had no flowers. Desperate, he asked an old woman on Madison Street if he might borrow flowers from her garden. Susan B. Anthony said yes. Nearly a century later, the former parishioners of Ss. Peter and Paul felt they were returning Anthony’s favor, while also getting to bond with the parishioners of the combined St. Monica.[lxiii]
St. Monica Blooming Optimists Documents (2006) Editor’s Note: The final page of this PDF reproduces a newspaper article, but the periodical name is not included. We are placing it on here for the moment, and will be happy to modify the PDF if the publisher contacts us.
In 2008, St. Monica affiliated with the Westside Farmers Market, which remains a popular summer attraction at the parish. The same year, the church began to rent its old school to Rochester Academy Charter School.[lxiv] This revenue has been indispensible in maintaining the parish. The parish has staged two major retrospectives in the 2010s. In January 2011, GeVa Theatre celebrated former students of the Upstairs Youth Agency, a joint project of composer Tony Falzano and Sister Shelia Walsh, SSJ. The agency had produced several original musicals performed by local teenagers in 1977–83. Thirty-plus years later, Falzano, Walsh, and the now-grown students performed Second Time Around, a revue of songs from the old shows.[lxv] On August 19, 2012, St. Monica collaborated with local theatre group Women of the Well for a celebration of Rochester diocese nuns on August 19, 2012. Marilyn Catherine, a St. Monica parishioner and member of Women of the Well, wrote the script.[lxvi] The event emphasized the importance of women religious, despite the Catholic Church’s ban on female ordination.[lxvii]
“A Celebration of Our Sisters,” St. Monica Church (August 19, 2012)
There have been a
few scandals in the parish. When youths vandalized cars parked at the church in
fall 2010, parishioners expressed an interest in restorative justice instead of
criminal justice, although the families of the youths were reluctant to get
In 2013, Father Fleming notified the public about several hundred thousand
The theft raised concerns in the diocese about parishes potentially failing to
follow anti-fraud protocols. Similar scandals had plagued the St. Mark and Our
Lady of the Americas parishes in Rochester, and the Sisters of St. Francis of
Penance & Christian Charity in Buffalo in recent years.[lxx]
Marlo Santini, the former St. Monica business manager, was indicted in 2014 for
stealing at least $50,000 in 2008–13.[lxxi]
The number was later put at $240,000.[lxxii]
Today, St. Monica
has a robust civil culture, with adult formation classes, programs focused on
black and Caribbean Catholicism, youth groups, and sustainability/climate
The annual celebration of Our Lady of Fatima of Portugal echoes the Legionnaire
events of 70 years ago.[lxxiv]
In 2017, recalling his service for multiple parishes in the early 2000s, Father
Fleming became the pastor for the merged churches of Immaculate Conception and
St. Bridget’s. He continues to serve St. Monica and Emmanuel, as well.[lxxv]
church sanctuary retains much of its historic artwork, although the facility
was updated in March 1976 to accommodate the liturgical changes of Vatican II.
Further renovations for greater accessibility and sustainability occurred in
2009–10 and 2013.[lxxvi]
A large, neutral-colored screen has been placed behind the pulpit to increase
the visibility of sign language interpreting.
The church no longer has an organ — the most recent organ was sold in
1999 to pay down the church’s debts — but a music ministry continues to
accompany services. The church also has an adult contemporary choir, a Gospel
choir, and a youth choir.[lxxvii]
In the endnotes that follow, SMA stands for the St. Monica Roman Catholic Church Archive, 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/.
[i] St. Monica 1959 Trustee
Report, SMA. Church historian Charles L. McCarthy notes, “At first there were
but 65 families willing to support the new church — and many unwilling”
(“Foundation of Saint Monica’s Church of Rochester,” 1949, SMA).
[ii] McCarthy, “Foundation”;
Arthur T. Purtell, Church Records from St. Monica’s Church, Survey of State and
Local Historical Records, Works Progress Administration, 1936, copy in SMA; St.
Monica Historical Write-up, n.d. (Circa 1939), SMA; St. Monica 1959 Trustee
Report; St. Monica 2003 Booklet, SMA; St. Monica Draft Parish History, n.d.,
[iv] “Review of Buildings in
the South West Area” (Rochester, N.Y.: Landmark Society of Western N.Y., 1984).
[v] Daniel Gorman Jr., interview
with John Curran, Sept. 20, 2018.
[vi] Robert F. McNamara, The Diocese of Rochester in America,
1868–1993, 2nd ed. (Rochester, N.Y.: Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester,
1998), 187; St. Monica 1959 Trustee Report; St. Monica 2003 Booklet; Draft
Parish History, n.d.
[xii] McNamara, Diocese, 303; Robert F. McNamara,
Questionnaire, Survey of Parish Archives and Architecture, Diocese of
Rochester, 1992. See also: James Sarkis, “St. Monica,” Rochester Churches,
accessed June 22, 2017. http://dorchurches.com/stmonica.
[xix] Society for the
Propagation of the Faith (Rochester), “Confidential Report of Monies Received,
Jan. 1–Dec. 31, 1944,” in The Society for
the Propagation of the Faith: Fides Vincit Mundum (Rochester, N.Y.: St.
Bernard’s Institute, n.d. ), 18, copy in Rush Rhees Library stacks, call
no. BX1417.R6 C37 1945; John Willms, “Association of the Holy
Childhood,” The Catholic
Encyclopedia, Vol. 7. (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910), http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07399a.htm.
[xxviii] “Monsignor Lambert
Named Pastor of St. Monica’s Church,” The
Catholic Courier (Rochester, N.Y.), Jan. 22, 1948, SMA copy; St. Monica
1959 Trustee Report; “Camp Stella Maris Since 1926: A Brief History,” Camp
Stella Maris.org, accessed Jan. 6, 2017, http://www.campstellamaris.org/about/.
[xxix] “St. Monica Pilgrims
Top Holy Year Visits by Bus,” The
Catholic Courier (Rochester, N.Y.), Nov. 23, 1951, SMA copy.
[xxx] Frank Kelly, “1958
Communions Total 7 Million,” The Catholic
Courier Journal (Rochester, N.Y.), Friday, Jan. 9, 1959, SMA.
[xxxvi] Gorman, interview with
Curran, Sept. 20, 2018.
[xxxvii] Ron Robitaille and Jim
Laragy, “Parishes in Trouble: Diminishing White Catholic Congregations in
Changing Neighborhoods,” Upstate New York,
Sunday, 4 Nov. 1973, 4–9, copy in SMA; quote from page 4.
[xxxviii] Dash, “Diamond
Jubilee”; Robitaille, “Parishes in Trouble.”
[liii] Roman Catholic
Community of the 19th Ward Bulletin, May 17, 1998, SMA.
[liv] Rev. Bob Werth, Cover
Letter, in Roman Catholic Community of the 19th Ward Bulletin, May
17, 1998, SMA.
[lv] St. Monica’s Parish
Centennial Mass Program, May 17, 1998, SMA.
[lvi] 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.
[lvii] Gorman, interview with
Curran, Sept. 20, 2018.
[lviii] Sister Marie Susanne
Hoffman Installation Mass Booklet, n.d. (Early 2000s), SMA.
[lix] Daniel Gorman Jr., interview
with John Curran, Dec. 20, 2018.
[lxii] Gorman, interview with
Curran, Sept. 20, 2018; Roxie Sinkler Memorial Items (March 2011), SMA; Roxie
Sinkler Center Dedication files (Dec. 2011), SMA.
[lxiii] “Father Howard W. Geck,
Dead at 97,” The Catholic Courier
(Rochester, N.Y.), Thursday, Dec. 9, 1993, SMA copy, featuring annotations
about the Blooming Optimists by John Curran; Gorman, interview with Curran,
Sept. 20, 2018.
[lxiv] “New St. Monica Year in
Review Sept. 1, 2008 – Aug. 31, 2009,” SMA.
[lxv] Gorman, interview with
Curran, Dec. 20, 2018; St. Monica “Second Time Around” Playbill (January 2011),
[lxvi] Gorman, interview with
Curran, Sept. 20, 2018.
[lxvii] St. Monica “A
Celebration of Our Sisters” files (2012), SMA.
[lxviii] “New St. Monica Parish
Meetings, January 15–16, 2011,” SMA.
This map shows the location of the New Progressive Cathedral (COGIC) from 2006 to present.
In November 2005,
the Roman Catholic Community of the 19th Ward, a cost-sharing
venture of four neighborhood churches, concluded a process of pastoral planning. Three churches — Our Lady
of Good Counsel, St. Augustine, and Ss. Peter and Paul — would be closed and
sold. Parishioners would report to St. Monica, which would also become home to
Emmanuel Church of the Deaf.
Once St. Augustine closed, the Diocese of Rochester sold the church to the New
York Western First Ecclesiastical Junction of the Church of God in Christ
(COGIC), which converted the building into the New Progressive Cathedral.
Originally named the Progressive Church of COGIC, the congregation was first located
at 537 Post Avenue in the 19th Ward from 1981–84, and then at 270
Cumberland Street (near the Rochester Amtrak station and main post office) from
Royal Chamberlain, Photo of St. Augustine Stained Glass (2006), c/o the St. Monica Archive.
COGIC is a
Pentecostal denomination. Pentecostalism emerged from the holiness movement of
the late nineteenth century. Protestant holiness adherents believed in a
theology of sanctification, or a growing disinclination to sin, leading one
toward spiritual perfection. Biblical literalism and a belief in miraculous
practices akin to those of the Biblical apostles — speaking in tongues, healing
through prayer, etc. — characterized the holiness Christians. Two cases of
spiritual gifts galvanized the movement. Theologian Charles Parham reported in
1901 that the Holy Spirit empowered him to speak in tongues. In 1906, his
student, African American preacher William J. Seymour, reported that the Holy
Spirit had given him and his multiethnic parishioners extraordinary abilities
at the Azusa Street mission in Los Angeles. Seymour’s revival is generally
accepted as the point at which Pentecostalism solidified as a separate form of
Protestantism. marked the beginning of the Pentecostal movement.
Charles H. Mason, the African American founder of the Church of God in Christ,
accepted Pentecostal theology in 1907. Under Mason’s leadership, COGIC became
wildly popular, with millions of adherents by century’s end. Mason’s followers
were primarily, but not exclusively, African American.
In 1917, Mason
tasked three female administrators, Sisters Maydie Payton, Charlotte Brown, and
Maude Jackson, and a male Elder with running the first New York COGIC
congregation in Lackawanna, near Buffalo. The number of churches in Western New
York eventually grew so large that the church leadership split the region into
two jurisdictions in 1969.
Today, the New York Western First Junction consists of 90 churches spread
across much of Upstate New York.
Bishop Leroy R. Anderson ran the First Junction (including Rochester) from 1969
to April 2004, when Bishop James R. Wright Sr. took over from him as
Wright had founded Rochester’s Progressive Church in 1981, while he still
worked as the director of the city’s Phyllis Wheatley Library.
As such, Wright has directed Rochester’s New Progressive Cathedral, in its
three iterations, for almost forty years. He received a Renaissance Award from
Mayor William A. Johnson Jr. in December 2005 and participated in the
interfaith invocation at Mayor Robert Duffy’s inauguration on New Year’s Day,
As detailed on
the New Progressive Cathedral’s website, COGIC members believe in Biblical
infallibility, the rapture at the end of time, spiritual gifts from the Holy
Ghost, and a process of personal sanctification, or an increasing resistance to
temptation after being saved. COGIC church doctrine also reflects a
complementarian conception of gender.
Only men are ordained as ministers, but ministers’ wives are accorded great
respect as the first ladies or mothers of their congregations. Mother
Maritha J. Wright, Bishop Wright’s wife, is the First Lady of the New
Progressive Cathedral. The Western First Junction has a separate Department of
Women, with a female executive who serves under the bishop. From 2013 to the
time of this writing (spring 2019), Mother Althea Chaplin has run the
Department of Women. Women also serve as evangelists
and missionaries in the community.
Distinct ministries for men, women, and youth are offered at the New
Esteemed City Court judge and civil rights activist Roy W. King served as the
cathedral’s assistant pastor and chairman of the Board of Trustees from his
retirement to his death in January 2018.
The Western First
Junction’s Bishop James R. Wright Sr. Institute of Christian Education, which
frequently hosts events at Roberts Wesleyan College, regularly coordinates continuing
education programs with the cathedral. The Institute supports the “development
of children’s and adult’s social, health/wellness and academic-wellbeing,
particularly in the Rochester city community.”
It has hosted several “NYW#1 Health Fairs,” featuring medical and holistic
medicine tutorials, at the cathedral.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth and Lady Nicole Newman, who lead the COGIC New Hope Family
Life Center in Rensselear, currently supervise the institute.
Preaching at the
New Progressive Cathedral tends to be dramatic and punctuated with organ music,
reflecting the revivalist origins of the Pentecostal movement. Members of the
congregation attend worship in formal attire, unless the service is a baptism,
in which case the person to be baptized wears all white. It is common for
church members to exclaim, dance, and participate actively in worship, rather
than remain seated.
Every August, the Western First Junction hosts the “Annual Holy Convocation,” a
multi-day conference with worship and sessions on a variety of Christian
topics. The cathedral is the primary venue, but events also occur at downtown
sites such as the Riverside Convention Center.
Much of the New
Progressive Cathedral’s programming prioritizes education, civic participation,
and public health in the 19th Ward. The church is a member of
Rochester’s Interfaith Action network.
In the weeks before Election Day, 2008 — the day Barack Obama was elected
president — Bishop Wright urged congregation members to vote. Thirty New
Progressive Cathedral volunteers, led by St. Monica Roman Catholic Church
administrator Roxie Sinkler, registered voters and publicized the upcoming
election. Over 1,000 more residents of the surrounding four city districts
voted in 2008 than in 2004.
After the infamous 19th Ward mass shooting of August 20, 2015,
Rochester mayor Lovely Warren led a “Clergy on Patrol” march from the cathedral
to the Genesee Street Boys and Girls Club.
The Alzheimer’s Association Rochester & Finger Lakes Region held “Brain
Health and Mental Health Seminar: A Community Aging Well Together,” a program
for local Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers, at the cathedral in October
In 2012, the cathedral petitioned the City of Rochester to open the Mary L. Wright Preparatory Charter School for Health and Legal Careers (Wright Prep) at their complex. The application to the New York State Department of Education emphasized the need to support a “student population similar to that in the Rochester City School District,” with particular attention to students who have fallen behind. Wright Prep has not opened as of Spring 2020.
 Marketta Gregory, “Catholics to Shut Down 11 Churches,” Rochester Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, N.Y.), Saturday, 19 Nov. 2005, copy in St. Monica Archive, St. Monica Roman Catholic Church, Rochester, N.Y. [abbreviated SMA]; Marketta Gregory, “Closures Sadden Resigned Faithful,” Rochester Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, N.Y.), Saturday, 19 Nov. 2005, copy in SMA; Mike Latona, “Newcomer Priests Settle in at Diocesan Posts,” The Catholic Courier (Rochester, N.Y.), Thursday, Mar. 24, 1994, 5A, copy in SMA.
 Amy Kotlarz,
“Ministries Continue in 19th Ward,” The Catholic Courier Weekly (Rochester, N.Y.), 8–9 Sept. 2007, 2,
copy in St. Monica Archives, St. Monica Roman Catholic Church, Rochester, N.Y.;
“Our History,” New Progressive Cathedral COGIC, Rochester, N.Y., acc. 29 Apr.
 “Brain Health and
Mental Health Seminar: A Community Aging Well Together, Saturday, October 29,
2016, 8:30 AM–2:00 PM, New Progressive Cathedral, Church of God in Christ, 384
Chili Ave., Rochester, NY… [Flyer],” Alzheimer’s Association, Rochester &
Finger Lakes Region, circa 2006.