Blessed Sacrament Church History
(Humble beginning) From a building that was at once Town Hall, dance hall and fire department horse barn, to a local barn beautified to become a chapel and soon enlarged to accommodate extraordinary growth in the congregation and at last to the brick and block structure in which we worship together today, the physical plant of Blessed Sacrament Parish mirrors the growth and development of a Catholica community committed to Christ for seventy -five years. Life here has been blessed by the Lord who has provided superb leadership through pastors and associates in a style suited to each season of our parish’s life. Who has missioned the Sisters of St. Joseph to respond to the needs of both young and old, and Who has called forth even the most ordinary among us to share unique gifts as a family of faith.
First Pastor (1921 – 1937)
The Birth of Blessed Sacrament Parish
Up to 1921, St. Vincent De Paul in Syracuse and St. Matthew in East Syracuse served Catholics in the village of Eastwood. At that time the number of Catholics in the village was growing up and Bishop Grimes recognized that the people of Eastwood needed their own parish. On September 12, 1921 Bishop Grimes appointed Father Richard J. Shanahan as the first pastor and commissioned him to begin a new parish. The new pastor rented the Town Hall at 401 S. Midler Avenue for $15 per Sunday and began the parish on a cold, windy day of September 18, 1921 with a congregation of about125. It was so difficult to find a sufficient sizeable piece of property to establish a new parish. The search process gave way to purchase of six acres from Mrs. Laura A. Reynold for the sum of $22,000 on the First Friday in February, 1922. Fr. Shanahan desired to name the fledgling parish in honor of the Sacred Heart but he couldn’t since there was another Sacred Heart Parish in Syracuse. His desire was to dedicate the new parish to the Holy Eucharist and finally he called it the church of the Blessed Sacrament.
The purchased plot housed a barn and a family home which were transformed into the early church building and rectory. On September 3, 1922 the first Mass was offered in the new location. Though Catholics were not entirely welcomed in Eastwood in the early 1920’s and the presence of the Ku Klux Klan was demonstrated, the parish grew and in three short years the barn chapel was doubled in size. Growth continued to exceed all expectations and Fr. Shanahan decided that a school and convent were needed before a new church building.
The Birth of Blessed Sacrament School
From his experience at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Syracuse, Fr. Shanahan invited sisters of St. Joseph to staff the school. The community could spare but four nuns who opened the convent on August 31, 1931. The school began on the Feast of Mary’s Birthday, September 8, 1931 with a procession (so loved by Fr. Shanahan) including priests, sisters, parents and 168 initial students who comprised the first four grades. A grade was added each year until the parish celebrated with the first eighth grade graduation class in June, 1936.
Extending education to the adult parishioners, associate Fr. Bernard Duhamel led a group of eighteen women from the Living Altar and Rosary Society in a study of scripture. They, in turn, gathered groups of ten in their homes to continue the sharing as leaven in the neighborhood.
Long-time parishioners recall the spirit of cooperation and comradery during the annual turkey and ham dinners prepared by many to serve over 1800 dinners. Men of the parish would come in advance to pare the quarter ton of squash, a site witnessed but then associate, Father Dillon, with some trepidation as hatchets and cleavers flew about their business!
The Second Pastor (1937 – 1956)
After Fr. Shanahan’s death in 1937, Father William A. Moore was named pastor. With the support of the parishioners, he was to oversee the construction of the church and rectory buildings currently in use. The original wooden church was vacated on Monday, July 24, 1950 and services were held in the lower level of the school during construction.
Ground was broken July 26, 1950 and the cornerstone laid on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, June 1, 1951. Bishop Walter A. Foery dedicated the new church on June 22, 1952.
When the St. Joseph’s German Church structure was condemned, Fr. Moore purchased the stained-glass windows for eventual restoration and uses them in the new church. He was also responsible for ordering the current organ, a “Cadillac” among the instruments of its class.
The pastor was a very scholarly man and would visit the sisters, talking on from his research and great intelligence so that school papers to be corrected were put on hold! So many of those sharing their memories of Fr. Moore remember his incredible love for children, his daily presence in the school and his greetings to the children by name as they marched from school in two straight lines to the music of piano and drum at the end of each day. Many remember the animal cracker-size boxes of candy he had for each child at Christmas time.
Parish Ministry Life and Spirit of Voluntarism
Thousands of hours’ work by a myriad of volunteers contributed not only to the material sustenance of the parish, but also built up the spirit and fiber of Catholic life shared here in Eastwood. In early years card parties sponsored by women in their homes helped to raise some initial funds. Through the years many organizations flourished: the Living Altar and Rosary Society, the Holy Name Society, CYO, the St. Vincent de Paul Society who with the Legion of Mary worked in a secretive manner to meet with dignity the needs of others, the Home-School Association, St. Ann’s Circle, Scouts, a famous Choir, Players’ Guild, and others. The late forties saw the advent of the “Just Memories” shows, annual extravaganzas calling on the talents of many.
The Third Pastor (1956 – 1978)
Following the death of Father Moore in 1956, Msgr. Robert E. Dillon came to Blessed Sacrament as pastor having served as an associate here during Father Shanahan’s pastorate and a year into Father Moore’s.
He anticipated enlarging the school to include high school but realized classes and building space both needed expansions. A second class was added to each grade. The original plans for the rear of the school included allowance for an addition and the parish center was built in 1964. The need for more faculty prompted the completion of the third floor of the convent, structurally made ready for expansion at its original construction. Lay faculty also gave dedicated service to the growing number of children.
At the time men of the parish volunteered to renovate at the convent basement to include recreation, trunk and laundry areas. To thank the seventeen volunteers the sisters put on a dinner complete with a song they composed in honor of the men!
Drawing the parish closer were summer festivals in the 60’s, seeing upwards of five thousand guests and raising great profits and morale in the neighborhood of a parish serving over 900 children in the school and over 1100 public school students in religious instruction.
Msgr. Dillon led parishioners into an understanding of renewal in Church spurred on by Vatican II. He called together a Parish Council, uniting members of the various organizations and territories of the parish. Physical changes were made within the church building to add warmth and a closer present to the people. Wood paneling and a marble altar facing the people were added to the sanctuary while stained glass windows portrayed the stories of our tradition. In 1971 when the rude beam cross above the sanctuary was removed the talented sacristan Max Schwegler, carved it into small bells for the choir and wooden crosses the altar servers still wear today. Max also carved the large crucifix behind the altar, the statue of Mary at the side altar and the marble statues just inside the main foyer of the school.
The warm, welcoming manner of Msgr. Dillon was and is the hallmark of a very beloved leader. Though he wore two hats, as both Pastor of Blessed Sacrament and chancellor of the Diocese of Syracuse, the people felt his caring presence during a time when parish life was central to life in Eastwood. He continues to be known as a friend to many in need. When retirement for health reasons came in 1978 the loss was keenly felt by all. His summertime visits to help in the parish are much valued and appreciated as he enters his seventh decade of service in the priesthood.
Forth Pastor (1978 – 1995)
Father Joseph D. Segrue followed in July of 1978 and offered the gifts of a good administrator to the people of the parish. He had a great love for the elderly and celebrated Mass weekly in the homes of different shut-in people, encouraging them to invite family and friends to join in. He was known to be a marvelous confessor. When he heard of persons in need he was very generous in a very secretive manner. He supported the school at a time when many parishes were finding it very difficult. The school blossomed and thrives today led by the enthusiasm and excellence of principal, Mrs. Andrea Polcaro, whom he hired. Special accomplishments of the children, most especially their First Communion time, were remembered with letters of congratulation and blessing mailed to each child individually.
The buildings previously constructed he set about renovating to provide for their longevity. Our Lady’s Chapel was made from former meeting and counting rooms. He established new programs for the elderly, including increased participation in visitation by parishioners.
The parish pantry and outreach program began under his leadership. Shortly before his retirement in June, 1995 he was responsible for the construction of St. Joseph’s Manor, a senior residence and the newest building on the parish grounds.
The Fifth Pastor (1995 – 2005)
In July of 1995 parishioners welcomed Fr. James O’Brien as the fifth pastor of the parish and Fr. Kevin Corcoran as his associate. Their enthusiasm is a great encouragement to all. Listening sessions were held at frequent and varied hours and days to accommodate all ages and groups in order that the history and the hopes of the people be heard. Once again in the annals of the school, classes were to gradually be doubled to respond to the needs of families with school age children as evidenced by the waiting list to enroll. A desire to welcome people safely and beautifully had led to the outdoor renovations the parish. The Parish Council was reinstituted and a Human Development Committee formed. Parish wide events were ushering in a renewed sense of community among the people. A vision for increased depth of spiritual life and service moved the parishioners forward with gratitude for all that had been and with joyful anticipation for all that is yet to come.
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HOLY VOCATIONS FROM BLESSED SACRAMENT
Msgr. Charles Fahey
Rev. Charles Majro
Rev. Michael Meagher
Rev. Alfred Nortz
Rev. Henry Pedzich
Rev. Robert Jones
Rev. Edward Raimer
Rev. Depaul Genska
Rev. Kevin Hannon
Brother M. Christian Walsh
WOMEN RELIGIOUS (NUNS)
Sr. Matlda Anne Riley
Sr. Mary Anne Bookman
Sr. Barbara Krick
Sr. Katherine Arseneau
Sr. Maureen D’Onofrio
Sr. Jean Kelly
Sr. JoAnn LaNasa
Sr. Elizabeth John Timson
Sr. Monica Agnes Nortz
Sr. Mary Catherine Rayo
Sr. Cecelia Tobin
Sr. Sudan Rschke
Sr. Linda Ann Palmisano
Sr. Geraldine DeLuca
Sr. Louise Tobin
Sr. William Clare Ryan
Sr. Natalie Marie Slake
BLESSED SACRAMENT TRUSTEES
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PARISH HISTORY PART II
(Under construction coming Soon – This section will comprise parish history from 2005 to the present)