This weekend, as St. Patrick’s celebrates 100 years in the beautiful church we call home, I’d like to take you back another couple of generations to the earliest Catholic days in our area.
Local historians tell me that the first Catholic parishes in Greene County were in the mountains – in Hunter and Ashland – to serve the many tannery workers who lived in the Catskills in those days. It was the famous Irish Potato Famine that swelled the Catholic population of the river towns, so in 1848, the parish in Hudson made a mission in Coxsackie, one of the six missions they oversaw in those days.
In 1854, St. Mary’s was chartered as its own parish and had a resident pastor for the first time. It was then that St. Mary’s reached out to six missions of our own, on both sides of the Hudson River: in Greenville, Castleton, Malden, Stuyvesant Landing, Valatie and Coeymans. Each of these communities began by meeting in people’s homes until they had the funds and labor to build simple structures to serve as churches. In those early days, the majority of Catholics in Northern Columbia and Greene counties made their way on foot, horse, ferry and sled to Mass at St. Mary’s.
There’s a famous photo in an old book on the history of St. Mary’s that shows a 120-year-old image of residents from Valatie, Stuyvesant and Newton Hook crossing the frozen Hudson River on a frigid winter day in order to get to Mass at St. Mary’s. When I look at that photo, I marvel at the sacrifices earlier generations made to go to Mass on Sundays. There’s no need to make the point too bluntly, but boy, our generation sure could use a dose of that commitment and devotion.
Of those six St. Mary’s missions, four have survived as full-fledged parishes today, in Valatie, Greenville, Castleton and, of course, Ravena! How beautiful to have St. Patrick’s older sister on hand to cheer on her beloved younger sister as she celebrates 100 years of sacramental celebrations in her beautiful vintage brick church home.
With love & fatherly pride,