top of page


St. Vincent De Paul Church History
Since 1889
Beginnings of the Parish


The first evidence of a religious instruction program functioning within the boundaries of what is now St. Vincent de Paul Parish appeared in 1889 in the Oak Street area, called Grove’s Tract.  Here Miss Lillie Burns gathered the children of the neighborhood into her parlor every Sunday afternoon that she might teach them the first rudiments of their faith.  The zealous work of this noble lady did not pass unnoticed, and it was not long before the rector of St. John’s Cathedral was convinced that a Mission Sunday School should be established in the district for those children who lived quite distant form their parish church of St. John’s.  In the spring of 1891, his planning culminated in the organization of a Mission Sunday School with the Cathedral Conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society responsible for the classes.


To provide quarters for the instruction of the children and for the anticipated divine services which eventually would be held in the district, the Conference immediately set up a committee composed of Joseph Lighton, Edmund A. Dollar, Michael Earles, John W. Cuddy, and the Rev. Dr. Lynch.  The efforts of this committee resulted in the purchase in the following year of a one and one-half story wooden cottage located at the corner of Vann Street and Greenway Avenue at a cost of one thousand dollars.  There was established here the Mission Sunday School.  The priests who assisted were:  Father Charles McGuire, Father William F. Dougherty, Father Thaddeus O’Sullivan, Father Bernard Quinn, Father William Slavin, and Father Joseph A. Hopkins.


Later, in 1892, the Sunday School House was converted into a Mission Chapel and Father Hopkins, Cathedral Assistant, who was placed in charge, said the first Mass.  It was during his administration that the building was beautified and enlarged to accommodate 225 people.  Several years later commenting on Father Hopkins’ work, Father Dougherty wrote:  “The young priest labored with all his might to promote the interests of the parish, and considerable credit is due him.”


The new church was incorporated in 1893 under the name of St. Vincent de Paul Church, with the Rt. Rev. Patrick Ludden, D.D., Bishop of the Diocese of Syracuse, the Very Rev. J. J. Kennedy, Vicar General, the Rev. Michael Clune, Rector of the Cathedral Parish from which St. Vincent’s had it origin, Timothy Gaherty, Treasurer, and Michael McEnery, Secretary, as the incorporating trustees.  


Once the church was incorporated, the officers sought a suitable site for the future church.  The property known and distinguished as lots 23-30 in Block 495A, on Henderson (now Hawley Avenue) and Vine Streets and Sherwood Avenue was purchased for the sum of $3,000.00 from Mrs. Louise Sherwood.  Early in 1894

Trustees authorized the purchase of another lot from Mr. King for the sum of $600.00.  This parcel of land was located in Vine Street.


First Pastor (1894 – 1944)


In the development noted in the 2 years that followed the establishment of the Mission Chapel, the Catholics of the area now numbering about 100 families of Irish stock, felt that their circumstances warranted making a request to the Bishop for a resident pastor.  The Bishop received this request favorably and in due time appointed the Rev. William F. Dougherty, of the Cathedral Staff, as the first pastor of the new parish.  The new pastor proceeded to his rented residence at the corner of Henderson and Elm Streets on May 31, 1894, and found that the only food in the house proved to be two two dozen eggs that he brought with him as a parting gift from Father Clune, and furthermore that he would be forced to spend the first night on a bed without a pillow. The next morning, June 1st, he offered his first Mass in the Mission Chapel.


It was not long before Father Dougherty was well established in his new parish, and the enthusiasm with which he entered upon his work was communicated to his people.  Attendance at the Mission Chapel so increased that the accommodations of the church were soon totally inadequate and the people were forced to hear Mass while kneeling on the ground outside the structure.  This constantly growing population promoted the thought of a new church on the property already owned by the parish, so it was no surprise when early in 1895 the idea began to take positive shape in the form of plans.


Plans for the New Church

Meetings of the trustees and gatherings of leaders of the parish amply supported the representations of the pastor for a new church.  During this period entertainment after entertainment was held to raise money, and the church treasury steadily increased.  A press report under date of May 31, 1895 stated: “The recent fair for the proposed new St. Vincent de Paul Church netted about $5,200.00 and was the most successful affair of its kind ever held here.”  


The building plans developed rapidly; the Bishop approved the building project when it was proposed to him; Architects Gunson & Emery of Watervliet were engaged;  building plans were studied and accepted;  and the pastor broke ground for the new church on August 15, 1895, by using a pick to carve a cross on the ground over which the sanctuary was to be located.  The excavation work was let to Michael and John McEnery, the mason work   to the contractors and builders, Rafferty & O’Hara, and the carpentry work to Heuber Brothers.  Bishop Patrick Ludden, D.D. laid the corner stone for the new structure in imposing ceremonies on November 10, 1895.  The ceremony was witnessed by several thousand people, over a thousand of whom were members of Catholic societies of the city parishes in attendance in a body, having marched to the site from Clinton Square. With this beginning, the construction was pursued in earnest.  


Church Completed in 1897

On the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul, July 19,1896, the first Mass in the basement of the church was celebrated by Father Dougherty.  This was a High Mass and marked the opening of the Forty Hours Devotion.  The basement church was used for divine services until the church was complete and dedicated by Bishop Ludden on November 7, 1897.  On this occasion 62 altar boys sang with the choir consisting of 30 voices of parishioners.  C.P Renaud had charge of the music assisted by Kapps’ Orchestra.  The total cost of the church and its furnishings was $62,000.00.  Of this amount $50,000.00 had been expended for the masonry and carpentry work, and $12,000.00 for the heating and the electric, furnishings, stained glass windows, stations and statues, altars and pews, confessionals and altar rail.  In 1909, the front vestibule was added as a protection against the weather at a cost of $6,000.00, and in 1928 the entrance to the basement and the baptistery were added at an additional expense of $6,500.00.  Consequently, the church building and its furnishings originally cost $474,500.00, an amazing figure in light of present day costs.  


Building of the Rectory

Father Dougherty first lived on Henderson Avenue near Elm Street and remained there for 3 years, moving then to a larger house at 414 Elm Street, where he resided for 6 years.  The permanent rectory at 342 Vine Street, on the lot south of the church, was started in the fall of 1902, and was completed the following year with expenditure for building and furnishings of $16,200.00.  Except for some alterations in 1921 and 1924 to provide living quarters for additional personnel, the rectory remains as it was originally constructed, with its stone foundation, brick walls, and wood frame.


When church and rectory were completed, Father Dougherty turned his full attention to the next project in his building program which would complete the parish plant, namely, a school and convent.  Intensive religious instruction programs had long been conducted by the priests and devoted lay assistants, but the parish school wherein the philosophy of Christian education could be fully incorporated into the daily school activities was ardently desired by the pastor for his children.


School and Convent Development

The plan for the school had been unfolding for years.  Through the pastor’s foresight the property on Sherwood Avenue, Burnet Avenue, and Winton Street had been procured for school purposes.  In 1914, when it became known that St. Vincent’s parish was one of the seven parishes indicated to bishop Grimes by his predecessor Bishop Ludden where there should be a parochial school, Father Dougherty was already prepared to undertake the task.   


In accordance with the drawings prepared by Napolean A. LaVaute, Syracuse architect, contracts for the erection of the school at a cost of $40,000.00 were awarded to Gorman Brothers.  The building was dedicated on October 8, 1916, and the first classes consisting of the first 4 grades entered the school the following day.  There were 209 children in this first enrollment – 124 boys and 85 girls, and when the first class was graduated form the elementary school in 1921, the school population had increased to 368 children (199 boys and 169 girls).  In 1921, at a cost of 515,000.00, contractor Francis Hueber converted the third floor assembly hall into four classrooms to house grades five through eight.  The building of a high school was undertaken with the groundbreaking on July 28, 1930 and was occupied by the high school classes on June 1, 1931, the 37th anniversary of Father Dougherty’s ordination.  The plans had been prepared by Architect Napolean A. LaVaute and executed by Contractor E.K. Fenno, at a cost of $100,000.00 for the construction and the full equipment.


Sisters of Saint Joseph

It was Father Dougherty’s good fortune to obtain the services of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, from Troy NY to assume charge of his new school when it opened in 1916.  The Sisters were housed in the Sherwood homestead that had been remodeled and accommodated for convent use by the Gorman Brothers, concurrently with the building of the school, at a cost of $15,000.00.  An additional $5,000.00 was expended in 1030 to provide the needed accommodations for the Sisters who were to staff the high school.  During the years following steps were taken as finances allowed to modernize the convent for more comfortable living for the Sisters devoted the care of the children of the parish.    


Parish Life

From the completion of his building program until his death October 26, 1944, Father Dougherty’s efforts were concentrated on the inculcation of deep religious ideals among his people and the dissipation of the financial debt that had been accumulated during the building program.  One of the spiritual highlights in each recurring year was the Annual Devotion in conjunction with the Feast of St. Anne on July 26.  He had conducted pilgrimages to St. Anne’s Shrine in Canada for many years, in fact, his own personal pilgrimages had extended beyond the fiftieth year.  He inspired devotion in his people to the Mother of God’s Mother, so that the appeal to Saint Anne has become a permanent part of the parish’s spiritual activities.  The last of his efforts to discharge the debt was the successful drive he directed during the fiftieth anniversary year of the parish’s founding.  


Father Dougherty – Pastor for Fifty Years

Born in Oswego, NY, September 18, 1864, he attended St. Mary’s School and the public high school in that city.  In 1882, he went to the College of Our Lady of the Angels at Niagara for his classical studies which he later completed at St. Michael’s College, Toronto, Ontario.  He entered the Provincial Seminary at Troy, NY in September 1884, as a student for the Diocese of Albany.  Having completed his theological studies, he was ordained a priest on December 21, 1889.  On the Monday following his ordination he was appointed assistant pastor of St. John’s Cathedral, as it was then known, and remained there until he was appointed the first pastor of St. Vincent de Paul.  His appointment dated his administration as beginning on June 1, 1894, on which day he said his first Mass as pastor in the Mission Chapel at the corner of Vann St. and Greenway Ave.  After a full priestly life of fifty-five years, fifty of which spent at St. Vincent’s, he died happy in his achievements and proud of the people whom he called his own.  To this fearless man of God a memorial plaque, erected in the church vestibule on the eleventh anniversary of his death, was lovingly dedicated by parishioners and friends.  The plaque of bronze was unharmed in the fire and has been replaced in its original position in the vestibule.  



Second Pastor (1944-1950)


It was the lot of Father William H. Oley, who succeeded Father Dougherty as Pastor, to devote the 6 years of his pastorate to the further reduction of the debt and to the needed repairs of existing buildings.  During his administration, beginning on November 17, 1944, and ending with his resignation because of ill health in November 1950, the debt was reduced by more than $50,000.00 and he expended an additional $50,000.00 in repairs and improvements.  Marked progress had been made during his administration toward stabilizing the financial structure of the parish.  He departed this life on February 16, 1956.  


Third Pastor (1950 – 1960)


His successor in office, Rt. Rev. David C. Gildea was appointed the parish’s third pastor on November 18, 1950 having been Superintendent of Schools from September 5, 1930, and being continue as the Director of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine and Secretary of the Diocesan Building Commission. Monsignor Gildea found himself in the same position as Father Oley when he became pastor: the debt was still an item of concern and the buildings needed further improvement and repairs.  Dedicate to this program in the seven years since his appointment, the debt of $40,000.00 had been discharged and the sum of $140,000.00 spent in repairs and improvements. This latter figure does not include any of the moneys expended in the reconstruction of the church which must be considered separately. He was dedicated to this program during his tenure.


Tragic Fire

A tragic blow fell upon the parishioners and friends of St. Vincent de Paul Parish on December 7, 1955 when the church was destroyed by fire.  The beautiful Gothic structure that had been erected through the sacrifices of so many devoted people on the hillside overlooking the course of the old Erie Canal, which stood out majestically in its position of prominence on that wintry morning in December, by nightfall was is ruins.


Undetermined in its origin, the fire was discovered shortly after noon.  Beginning in the front vestibule area in the vicinity of the confessional on the Hawley Avenue side, the fire burned upward into the false attic and then forward to the section over the sanctuary.  When fire followed the smoke through the peak of the roof from front to back within a few hours, it became only too clear that the edifice was doomed despite the valiant efforts of the many companies of the Syracuse Fire Department that had answered the alarm.  Section by section the roof collapsed, pouring tons of slate, bricks, mortar, plaster and debris to the floor below.  When darkness settled over the hilltop, the building was a smoldering wreck and the hearts of thousands of people were saddened by the much talked of event of the day.  It was indeed Pearl Harbor Day for the people of St. Vincent’s.


Immediate Effects of Fire

The real purpose of a parish, however, was not to be obliterated by fire, even though the parish church was no longer available.  When the conflagration was at its peak, arrangements were being made for Masses in the school auditorium on the next day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  From that day forward through the period of reconstruction of the church, the auditorium became the parish church, with Masses, baptisms, weddings and funerals being conducted there as in a church building itself.  


The loss of their church was a very serious blow to the people of St. Vincent’s, but even from the burning embers hope breathed forth heartening plans for a greater St. Vincent’s.  However, much groundwork was needed before building plans could be undertaken.  First, there was the very important subject of appraisal of loss and insurance adjustment; then, an expert analysis of the remaining church walls to determine whether there should be a plan of reconstruction or building anew; there was also the widely discussed thought of change of site;  finally, there was the recurring problem that must be faced by every parish undertaking a building program, namely, finances.  These were indeed serious problems that required the most careful attention.


Appraisal of Loss

The completion of the appraisal of loss and the insurance adjustment consumed almost 3 months – a painfully long time, it seemed, but regarded as a record for such a large loss.  The work of the men enlisted in this phase of the program began immediately, even before the fire was extinguished.  Insurance men contacted the pastor on the very day of the fire.  The next day, Mr. Harold Dawson, a Syracuse Fire Insurance Adjuster of prominence, was engaged to represent the church’s interests.  Working closely with the pastor and the church trustees, Mr. Dawson conferred with architects, insurance representatives, builder, contractors, suppliers and decorators, through the early months of the new year.  Finally, on February 28, after several hectic days of discussion, compromise and decision, especially with respect to altars and pews, agreement was entirely mutual and proofs of loss were signed.  The total amount of the insurance settlement was $454,209.14, and the checks for that amount were delivered in the custody of the pastor on March 1, 1956.  The amount of the settlement, although insufficient to replace the church and the contents, was considered a good adjustment and the first phase of the period of hope had been realized.


Plans for Reconstruction

Early estimates that 80% of the church walls were intact and sound were substantiated by later analysis.  The City of Syracuse thereby authorized the rebuilding of the church on what was left of the old walls for “it has been determined that the fire damage does not exceed 40% of the physical conditions involving structural stability.”  Full attention was given to the thought of rebuilding.  Two points required decision: where and how.  The following reasons were advanced for the rebuilding of the church on the same site.  1. the existing walls had been given a valuation of $300,000.00 by a reliable builder   2. the scarcity of suitable property in the vicinity for relocation of the building   3.  the element of attachment to the old church with its devotional atmosphere and its Gothic beauty

4.  its proximity to other existing parish buildings  5. The location of the church in the center of parish population.  These reasons were more compelling than all negative representations and the decision to restore the church on the original location was reached.  The firm of Pederson & Hueber, Architects, had assisted from December 12, 1955, in the appraisal for insurance purposes; under date of February 19, 1956 the firm was directed to prepare plans and specifications for the reconstruction of the church with the existing walls as the starting point.  This was no easy task, for only the specifications of the original church were available.  After much study and thorough analysis, it was decided that many improvements could be incorporated in the reconstructed building.  Notable among these were: the inclusion of a new exit off the sanctuary on the Hawley Avenue side, the lowering of the floor levels in nave and basement, and the elimination of the entrance steps on Hawley Avenue and their reduction on Vine Street.  On May 17, 1956 the plans and specifications were ready for bidders.  After some readjustments in the bids received on June 11, work on the reconstruction was actually begun on Monday, June 25. Contracts totaling $449,024.67 were authorized.  These included general construction by Dawson Brothers Construction Co.:  heating, plumbing and electrical work by Edward Joy Company:  window restoration and replacement by Henry Peck Studios, and architectural services by Pederson & Hueber.  


Financing the Work

There were many items not included in the original bidding which were largely items of contents and equipment:  organ, pews, address system, decorations, vestments, altars, altar furnishing, St. Anne’s Shrine, statues, confessionals, vestment cases, sidewalks, grading, seeding, exterior cleaning and pointing – these were some of the items.  With no funds to purchase these additional items, the pastor stated that the cost of these items must e met from additional revenue made available before the completion of the church.  Gifts, donations, increased church support, subscription for memorials, were several methods suggested as areas for exploration to increase the finances.  It was determined when the insurance settlement was made that the Bishop would permit some needed borrowing to meet the costs of construction and furnishings, but $60,000.00 was set as the absolute maximum debt that would be permitted.  As the months passed parish assets were increased through church activities, parish societies, and a published memorial list, but the unexpected costs in a rebuilding program necessitated adjustments so that the maximum debt limitation could be met.  





(Under construction coming Soon – This section will comprise parish history from 1955 to the present)

bottom of page