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Archives Church celebrates 150th anniversary

By David McNally
For the NCC

MINERVA – September 5 was a day of celebration at St. Joseph’s Church in the Olmstedville hamlet of the Town of Minerva. Following the celebration of Mass by Father Philip T. Allen, approximately 60 parishioners and friends celebrated the 150th anniversary of the church.

Before sitting down under a tent on the rectory lawn to share a meal and fellowship, parishioners gathered at the altar for a group photo arranged by JJ Raymond and taken by Erika Leigh. Betty LeMay, Diane McNally and Amanda Savarie organized the pot-luck brunch that included an anniversary cake made by Jan Hogan, former owner of Lil Nony’s Bakery and Sandwich Shop.

Though St. Joseph’s is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, records of a strong Catholic faith in town date back to the mid-19th century. In the 1830s, people were drawn to Minerva for jobs in the tanneries, in logging or for other opportunities for work in a burgeoning population. A preponderance of Irish families pioneered the area. Though not all were Catholics, many were.

As the book published for the 100th anniversary of St. Joseph’s Church in 1971 explains, “The task of these men was to blaze the trail of faith in the Adirondack wilderness and make homes for their families.”

There are no records of a priest visiting Minerva until 1842. Mass was quite infrequent, but when it was celebrated, it was done so usually in the homes of one of the parishioners.

In 1847, the Catholics in Minerva began erecting a church, St. Mary’s, that opened in 1848 in the Irishtown section of town. Within 20 years, it became clear the parishioners would need a bigger church. Thus, the cornerstone was laid in 1871 for a larger one a little over two miles from St. Mary’s. The new church was dedicated and named St. Joseph’s the following year.

The church – its congregation as well as its building – has been well maintained over the years. The building underwent extensive renovations in 1889, for its 50th anniversary in 1921, in 1949-55, for its 100th anniversary in 1971, and in 1982-83. The last extensive renovations in 2001-02 included removing some pews and part of the altar railing for better access and movement, the installation of a ramp into the church, and the construction of a gathering area and restroom.

Though the church has modernized through the years, many aspects of its interior, including the stained-glass windows, side altar murals, the large lighting figures and stations of the Cross, and the numerous statues, would look quite familiar to earliest parishioners.

A number of devoted priests have led and served the parishioners over the years. Father Frederick Hatch served as pastor the longest, from 1917-61. Father Richard Sturtz served for 19 years before retiring in 2014. Since that time, the parishioners of St. Joseph’s have felt blessed and thankful for the Reverend Philp Allen of St. Mary’s Church in Indian Lake who has faithfully served St. Joseph’s parishioners in Olmstedville.

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