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The First Mass – As told from history of St. Clement’s Parish

Finally, the great day arrived, October 14, 1917. The annals almost shout an exclamatory, underlined marginal headline in artistic, flourishing penmanship – “Opening of the New St. Clement’s Church.” The reader readily imagines stirring scenes of jostling crowds and perhaps a blaring band on the grandstand with ecclesiastical and civic dignitaries about to deliver flowery, oratorical speeches. What follows is almost anticlimactic:

“Today a new page in the history of the Redemptorist’s at Saratoga was begun. At seven o’clock this morning, Very Reverend Father Provincial, after a simple Blessing, said the first Holy Mass in the new Church on Lake Avenue. At the seven o’clock mass there were about eighty-nine people present and at the 10:30 o’clock Mass about 350 people. Considering the circumstances, and the short notice to the parishioners merely through the local paper, the attendance was by no means discouraging. Very Reverend Father Rector offered the 9:30 o’clock mass and delivered a short sermon. Although matters are not yet complete for an inception of a full parochial system, still it was deemed advisable to begin under present circumstances, the details to be supplied little by little. Those who saw the “new Church” for the first time today were favorably impressed.”

The first of a long litany of baptisms was recorded on the following Sunday when the infant, Margaret Catherine Cherry was baptized. From November 26 to December 1, 1917, another “first” for the new parish was a six-day bazaar held in the school quarters under the direction of the Reverend Albert Zudeck, C.SS.R. It was noted that in spite of serious handicaps resulting from World War I, this first social was a “most gratifying success. The daily accounts of the bazaar in The Saratogian abounded with compliments. High hopes were expressed for the benefits that would accrue to Saratoga “socially, politically and economically in a new era in the city.” In these days of ecumenism, it is significant to relate that Saratoga seems to have been ahead of the times by half a century. As the annalist indicated: “There was a whole-hearted cooperation on the part of parishioners, the members of St. Peter’s Church and friends from near and far, both Catholic and non-Catholic. It has brought the new parish to the knowledge of all Saratoga and aroused the interest of the parishioners in their new St. Clement’s Church.”

A very practical item was included with the information that the net profit from the bazaar was $1,935. In the monetary exchange of those days, that sum could buy a great deal of coal. In passing, we here offer a grateful salute to all those parishioners and friends, who through five decades have consistently manifested their generosity in behalf of the parish. The tradition of cooperation has always been an encouraging characteristic of our people, an attribute of which they may be justifiably proud.

Soon after the bazaar the parish celebrated its first Holy Day of Obligation on December 8th, the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. Leading up to that beautiful feast of the Patroness of the United States of America was a Novena to the Blessed Mother. Nine renowned missionaries were invited to conduct the Novena, and on the Feast Day itself, three Masses were celebrated, at 6 o’clock, 7 o’clock and 8 o’clock in the morning.

During this period Father Joseph McGurk, C.SS.R, frequently offered Mass at Mount McGregor, which was a nearby tuberculosis sanatorium. This traditional spiritual care continued through the years until June 10, 1945, when it was decided to close Mount McGregor. Again, as did the classical phoenix, it rose from its ashes as a rest camp for Veteran’s of World War II. Again doomed, it was designated as the annex to the Rome (N.Y.) State School for the Retarded. And so the record of missionary service by the Redemptorist’s is still carried on to this day.

Through the years the Redemptorist’s’ continuous service to the patients at what was Mount McGregor has been a source of satisfaction, especially since the notation of December 7, 1920 read: “Reverend Father Bloechi was called to Albany to confer with the Bishop about Mount McGregor. Until now we have been tolerated on the Mount only once a month and on Holy Days of Obligation. The Bishop has taken great interest in the affair and the result is that the authorities . . . will hereafter allow the Catholic patients their rights – and Holy Mass will be offered every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.”

Years of Growth

From the tiny acorn, the sturdy oak of St. Clement’s grew. A third Mass was added on Sunday for God’s little ones, the children. Serenely, surely, steadily the first parish priests, Father McGurk and Father Edwin Shearer began their work of building the Church. Meteorologists and older citizens may take issue with the notation in the Church annals that on December 30, 1917, the thermometer on the veranda registered 36 degrees below zero at 7 a.m. The next day, the last day of the first parish year, the temperature rose to 33 degrees below.

Shall we ever be through with “firsts?” At the risk of sounding like a social column we record on January 26, 1918, the first marriage with a Nuptial Mass took place at 7 o’clock in the new St. Clement’s Church. The ceremony united Arthur Pray and Josephine Hagen. A simple marriage ceremony was entered earlier – in November 1917 between William Tydings and Mary Helen Woods.

Those whose special devotion is to Our Lady of Perpetual Help will be interested to know that on January 26, 1918, Pope Benedict XV formally confirmed the veneration of Our Lady’s miraculous image here in Saratoga with many indulgences. The document came through the renowned Cardinal Gasparri, then Secretary of State. As in every healthy parish, social activities began to grow. Despite frigid weather of ten degrees below zero that January, some 275 persons were present at a card party which was given on behalf of the parish.

After the snows finally thawed on May 12th the new parish held a procession in honor of the Queen of May. As always “a little child shall lead them” and the parishioners renewed their youth – and their faith – as the youngsters walked innocently, tossing their floral petals before the image of the Blessed Virgin.

Can the next entry in our parish annals be true? A garden party on the roof of the school, August 19th. As usual, the wonderful workers of St. Clement’s produced the almost impossible . . . net receipts of $265.83. Let our modern bankers evaluate that amount in the current rate of exchange, while the early parishioners hold their heads high with pride.

Under the date of August 31, 1918, there appears the first mention of a school that was naturally expected to be a part of the parish. The School Sisters of Notre Dame, who have been associated with the Redemptorist’s over the decades in the field of education, are also spoken of for the first time. The understatement of the year is the brief notice that “Not too many children are expected this year. . . Father Rector is working very hard to fit out the rooms over the powerhouse on Lake Avenue so that the Sisters who will soon come may have a suitable home . . . three Sisters are expected – two choir and one lay.”

On September 7th Sister Euthymia, Sister Martyria and Sister Verona arrived. “They were accompanied by Sister Ambrose from New York. The sisters will take their meals at the college for a few days and hear Mass in our chapel, until their oil stove is in working condition and they have a supply of food. Their rooms in the powerhouse are well furnished. Father Rector spared no pains to give them a real home. What was intended for a laundry has been converted into three rooms by means of partitions – a kitchen, a dining room and a study hall. Besides these rooms, there are two living rooms, one spare room and an oratory.”

In this parish we have many reasons to hail the School Sisters of Notre Dame on this Jubilee occasion. This start of a school for St. Clement’s seems to have been quite difficult, if not down right unpromising. Nonetheless, on “September 9th, school opens. Twenty-five children put in an appearance, but some will not be accepted because they belong to St. Peter’s Parish. September 10th, nineteen children in school. The parish consists of 230 families . . . over 800 souls. At most we get 300 persons to come regularly. Yet even these do not send their children to our school as is quite evident.” These must have been discouraging times. Yet let the plain, historical facts stand. The parish and the school had begun.

The parish annals yield a priceless gem of information under date of March 30, 1919: “Father Cornelius Warren, C.Ss.R, opened a Mission in our new Church today. The Mission is to last one week, and the Reverend Louis Smith, C.Ss.R, will assist Father Warren.” The significance here is that Father Warren is still living an active ministry at the advanced age of 94. Father Louis Smith, who died in Saratoga, spent many years with Father Warren in the higher echelons of the Provincial administrative staff. Following the entry about the Mission, is this additional mention of April 1st: “The Mission at St. Clement’s is doing very well. The services in the evening are attended by 350 persons and of these 75 per cent are coming to the morning Mass and instruction.” Impressive statistics – for that day or this!

A masterful bit of business dealing is recorded shortly thereafter: “May 22, 1919, the contract for the new college, chapel, and infirmary has been given to Niewenhous Brothers of New York City. The buildings are to be completed May 20, 1920.” Newspaper notices reported the cost to be $300,000. Then the important day arrived. The report says simply “On May 19th the Procurator of the Province, Reverend Charles Becker, C.SS.R., arrived this afternoon to inspect the new building prior to its being handed over to Very Reverend Provincial by the contractor, Niewenhous Brothers Construction is completed, and with a day to spare! Meanwhile, did anything eventful happen in the parish? Indeed, on May 28th, the Right Reverend Edmund F. Gibbons, Bishop of Albany, paid his first visit to the Parish to confirm sixty-seven parishioners at St. Clement’s.”

Quite a few of our older parishioners can still remember the so-called “Spanish Influenza” of 1918, one of the worst epidemics of modern times. How did it affect the young St. Clement’s Parish? The first ominous notes were sounded about October 1st. “There is danger of a general epidemic. The ‘Spanish Influenza’ is doing deadly work in Boston and is spreading rapidly from State to State. In Saratoga, there are a few cases, and the authorities are thinking of closing all public places. October 7th, schools and churches have been closed in many States. In town all the schools have been closed but the churches are allowed to remain open with no public services. This is done by order of the Board of Health.”

As a consolation, came the happy news of Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, heralding the end of World War I and our parishioners rejoiced with the rest of America. Our chronicler adds another entry: “November 25th.: There will be no bazaar at St. Clement’s this year because of the hard times created by the war and because of the influenza.”

A brighter note is struck on March 6th when The Saratogian featured an article about a remarkable set of Stations of the Cross being erected in the Church – works of art from St. Joachim’s Church in Rome, Italy. They were transferred by the Very Reverend Joseph Schwartz, C.SS.R, and procurator of the Redemptorist Fathers in Rome.

Then on August 19th and 20th, the social life of the parish began to bubble; a Grove Festival among the pine trees. Net receipts were about $1,000. St. Clement’s was beginning to flex its financial muscles. On June 29, 1920, we seem to have been in a comfortable way of life; a strawberry festival in the school building with parishioners invited to visit the new community house, chapel and infirmary from 6 until 10 p.m. On August 21st the new building on Lake Avenue was formally taken over by the Redemptorist’s. Naturally, a significant milestone was the opening of the new school on September 15th with an enrollment of 71 children, taught by two School Sisters of Notre Dame.

Of note also was the unveiling of the Calvary Group donated by Thomas F Meagher in memory of his wife. This took place on November 11 with the order of services including the Way of the Cross, was in the Church and the unveiling of the statue, and an address by the Reverend Louis Bloechi, C.SS.R. Afterwards, approximately 400 persons were invited into me community chapel for Solemn Benediction. The children’s choir, under the direction of Sister M. Martyria, sang.

Appropriately enough, on November 25th, Thanksgiving Day, the centenary of the death of Saint Clement Mary Hofbauer C.Ss.R., was celebrated with Bishop Gibbons consecrating our new chapel to St. Clement.

On December 28th Father John Conway, C.Ss.R, arrived from Boston to preach a tritium in honor of the centenary commemoration of St. Clement’s death. It is recorded that the parishioners attended with great earnestness and that Father Conway’s sermons were very practical and inspiring. Those who knew the old Missionary could hardly believe otherwise.

Some of the older parishioners may recall that in October 1921, the Arch-confraternity of the Holy Family was inaugurated in this parish. The Arch-confraternity was first organized in Liege, Belgium, in 1844 Three years later Pope Pius IX who enriched it with many indulgences approved it. Originally, some parishes boasted of six separate divisions – for married men, married women, single men, single women and separate divisions of the Junior Holy Family for boys and for girls. Eventually, the men’s branch of the Arch-confraternity was absorbed by the Holy Name Society, which continues to the present time. In St. Clement’s, as in many Redemptorist parishes, this unified society has given way to further specialization.

Now that the parish had safely survived its days of infancy, an informative entry appears under date of January 30, 1922. Reverend Father Gillooly has just finished the census of the parish. There is an increase of about 200 since the census, which was taken tip at the time St. Peter’s Parish was divided. We have now in our district 376 men, 417 women and 214 children – total of 1007 souls. Only about half of this number attend St. Clement’s regularly.”

On August 13, 1922, after some discussion and eventual Episcopal approbation, Mass was first offered in a newly constructed dance pavilion at Saratoga Lake. To the pleasant surprise of all, about 165 Catholics appeared. Later, 293 persons were present for services at the summer colony. Again, St. Clement’s had made the difficult beginnings.

Finally, on September 7, 1922, the Sisters are “to occupy a new home, which is being rented for them from a Mr. Humphrey – a well-furnished cottage on Lake Avenue. Since the opening of the school the Sisters have occupied the second floor of the Power House building.” The School Sisters of Notre Dame moved closer to their work when the house just west of the Church was purchased as a convent on December 7, 1923. They moved into their new home the following March. Before that they were situated between Nelson and East Avenue on Lake Avenue. The next significant notice in the development of the parish seems to be the building of the new convent for the Sisters, begun on April 23, 1931. Eventually, an addition was put on as the growth of the parish dictated. The addition was blessed on March 23, 1952. City Historian, Evelyn Barrett Britten, who published her Chronicles of Saratoga in 1959. Ms. Britten points out that St. Clement’s School has always been a grade school and adds: “Those graduating from St. Clement’s School have gone to St. Peter’s Academy or the Saratoga Springs High School for their high school courses.” Ms. Britten notes that overcrowded conditions eventually called for construction of the new addition to St. Clement’s School in 1952 and describes it in these words:

“Completely fireproof and constructed of brick, marble and steel the new school follows the architectural artistry of the present group of St. Clement’s buildings. . . A gymnasium and auditorium, kitchen and cafeteria equipment, all of the latest and most modern design; additional classrooms, a library and large assembly room as well as boys’ and girls’ rest rooms and accommodations for sports events, including showers and locker rooms, are a much appreciated part of the new building in constant use.

Another development under date of May 27, 1923 reads: “At 3:30 this afternoon the unveiling and blessing of Our Lady of Lourdes grotto took place. Some 800 people attended the ceremonies. The Grotto of Lourdes promises to become one of the attractions of the city. The Shrine, artistically set in a semicircle of larches, spruces and mountain ashes with shrubbery of many species on the side, produces an unusual impression on the passerby. On Sundays, particularly, many pause to admire the shine.”

The Shrine has since been moved – transplanted stone by stone – but it still is a center of attraction. Youngsters to this day frequently ride their bicycles at top speed, only to put on the brakes at the Shrine, swallow a mouthful of water from the fountain and then kneel – sometimes surprisingly long – to whisper a prayer to Our Lady before they are off again and pedaling. “God grant that they may continue to stop to say a prayer at the Grotto and slake their thirst from Our Lady’s spring at Saratoga.”

Then, there appears in the annals the laconic statement that the wrecking of old St. Clement’s was begun at Glen Mitchell on December 21st.., the end of another year. Here the beginning of a new era, a constant tradition which continues until this day is the St. Clement’s; Bazaars, Fairs, Parties – call them what you will. But more important is the benevolent purpose behind them to keep the parish growing. If only it were possible to list the names of all those who through fifty fruitful years have contributed so generously of their time, talents and other resources to the social development of the parish. Their names would overflow this book. May it be some recognition to them that their names are written in heaven. God keeps the record. He knows each and every name and He will reward them.

Was there a youth program in those days? Well, back in 1939 a newspaper clipping informed one and all that at Ballston Spa St. Clement’s Junior Drum Corps won first prize with 93.4 points, garnering $40 in cash. They also were awarded an additional $10 as the best playing drum corps in line. And they looked in the Field Day parade, too.

As long as twenty years ago there were clothing drives for the needy and destitute. In the spring of 1947 it was announced that St. Clement’s ranked first among the 132 parishes of the Diocese of Albany in the collection of clothing for Europe. Gathered were some 8,000 articles, weighing three-and-a-half tons – another typical example of the generous charity of our parishioners.

Gansevoort resides that part in the City of Saratoga, St. Clement’s Parish also includes the towns of Kings Station, Wilton, McGregor, Gurnspring and Gansevoort. Beginning in 1947. The ecclesiastical authorities and the laity of the Town of Gansevoort began looking for a suitable site for a Church for the Catholics of that part of the parish who had difficulty in reaching Saratoga for Sunday Mass. Something was finally accomplished until August 15. 1965, when the Very Reverend John A. Krimm, C.SS.R.. Pastor of St. Clement’s approved the use of the local Grange Hall.

The idea of local service proved so attractive that Catholics of the regional got together and built the Chapel of St. Therese of Lisicux dedicated by the Most Reverend Edward J. Maginn, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Albany, on September 18, 1966. The one-story frame structure, whose interior is of walnut, and is decorated in blue and gold, is located on Gansevoort’s main street, next to the Masonic Temple. It was built on an acre of land donated by a Catholic family, from materials, which were either donated or provided at cost by local concerns. The men of the parish dug the foundation, helped pour the cement, built the walls and raised the roof. A number of substantial cash contributions helped and a Protestant friend constructed a walnut altar, which faces the people. The parishioners are at present building a multi-purpose structure which will serve as a catechetical center and parish hall and will have facilities for the priest to stay overnight in bad weather.

Of St. Theresa’s, Father John O’Toole, C.SS.R, assistant pastor of St. Clement’s Church says: “The story of St. Theresa’s Chapel in Gansevoort reminds us that there is still room in the Catholic Church for small communities of Catholics. It proves Catholics can build their own chapel where they can escape the anonymity of vast organization and where the priest can give the last blessing at the end of Mass, looking out upon the wind running through the grass.” In connection with youth activities, St. Clement’s was chosen as the site for the eleventh annual Marian Day of the Diocese of Albany under the auspices of the Catholic Youth Organization. The date was May 18, 1950, and, although the weatherman was not very cooperative, the dauntless young people from Albany, Troy, Hudson Falls, Schenectady and other communities congregated here at St. Clement’s to offer homage to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Our Societies

Parochial societies are, of course, the backbone of the parish. The CYO has about one hundred members at St. Clement’s and offers them a varied program of spiritual, social and athletic activities. In addition to the Arch-confraternity of the Holy Family and the Holy Name Society, there is a small but sturdy specialized corps of the Legion of Mary.

A corollary to these fine organizations is the popular Novena devotion in honor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, conducted every Monday evening. As faithful to serving this as they are Mass and other spiritual exercises are St. Clement’s one hundred altar boys. They are ever ready to serve at their appointed times.

For our Catholic children in public elementary schools, release time religious instruction classes are conducted at St. Clement’s School every Tuesday afternoon. The School Sisters of Notre Dame impart spiritual knowledge and Christian formation to the children in this program. Confraternities of Christian Doctrine classes are also held one night each week for over 200 young adults in the public high school system, under the direction of one of the parish priests. Catholic information courses are also offered periodically and are open to all adults who are interested.

Inspired, perhaps, by the Sisters many young women in our parish have heard God’s call and answered affirmatively, finding their vocation in the religious life. They are:

Sister Mary Paul, S.S.N.D. (deceased) (Frances Sweeney)

Sister Mary Cyrille, S.S.N.D. (Marion Powell)

Sister Mary Clarella, S.S.N.D. (Marie Hennessey)

Sister Mary Areta, S.S.N.D. (Helen Hennessey)

Sister Mary Clementine, S.S.N.D. (Anna Reynolds)

Sister Marie Carmel, S.S.N.D. (Carmel Galligan)

Sister Mary Jeanine, S.S.N.D. (Marilyn Foy)

Sister Mary Tertia, S.S.N.D. (Mary Alice Shannon)

Sister Mary Loreen, S.S.N.D. (Laureen Spaulding)

Sister Marie Angela, C.S.J. (Angela Fina)

Sister Rose Cecelia, C.S.J. (Marion Varley)

Sister Mary Blanche, CS.J. (Elizabeth Varley)

Sister Lawrence Louise, C.S.J. (Elizabeth Constanzo)

Sister Ruth Anne, C.S.J. (Ruth Rowland)

Sister Clement Marie, C.S.J. (Monica Reynolds)