One hundred and fifty years ago, on the 3rd of April, 1849, a hardy band of Irish immigrants greeted Father Edward Dillon as he arrived by horse from Batavia, New York, to say mass for the first time in LeRoy. The mass was said in a public building then known as the Round House, later to be the site of the Masonic building on West Main Street, which still stands today. At the close of the mass Father Dillon told his congregation that he would come to LeRoy one Sunday a month, whereupon Dennis F. Butler gladly offered the use of his home on Pleasant Street for the monthly service. In July of 1849, Bishop John Timon, C.M., came to LeRoy to encourage the efforts of the small congregation. In September, Father Dillon purchased a lot on Pleasant Street from William Sherman. A small wooden church was built and became known as Saint Francis Church. The first High Mass in the new church was said on Christmas Eve.
In 1850 Father Thomas Fitzgerald who remained until the spring of 1852 succeeded Father Dillon. Father Francis O’Farrell succeeded Father Fitzgerald in June of 1852. Father O’Farrell found the church much too small and began to collect money for an enlargement known as the T addition, which was completed and occupied on January 14, 1854. Mass was now celebrated twice a month. Father Brown who stayed only for a few months succeeded him.
In 1857 Father James McGlew was appointed to Saint Francis Church. The first devotion known as the Forty Hours Adoration was held in November of 1857. Father McGlew started a catholic school in the basement of the wooden church on Pleasant Street, with Mary Ann O’Donoghue as the first teacher. In 1858 the Sacrament of Confirmation was first celebrated. The congregation had grown so numerous in its first decade that Father McGlew saw fit to build a new church. He bought a lot on Myrtle Street and moved the school from the church basement to the building on this lot.
In 1860 Father Thomas Cunningham who was also given an assistant, Father John Castalo, succeeded Father McGlew. Mass was now said every Sunday and twice on two Sundays of each month. Father Cunningham purchased eight acres of land on Exchange Street which was to become Saint Francis Cemetery. The first burial was on July 16, 1863. Prior to this time the deceased were taken to Batavia for burial at Saint Joseph’s Cemetery. Another addition to Saint Francis Church was completed in 1867 and Father Cunningham then started a fund for a new church.
In December of 1868 the Batavia Mission including Batavia LeRoy, Attica and Pavilion was divided by Bishop Stephen V. Ryan of Buffalo and LeRoy was given its first resident pastor in the person of Father Daniel DeLacy Moore. Saint Brigid’s Church in Bergen was attached as a mission church to the LeRoy congregation. In 1869 Father Moore purchased a house and lot on Brockport Street (now known as lake Street) from Erastus Witter for $3,500. He then had plans drawn up for a stone church and signed a contract for the building with John O’Flanagan of Buffalo for $27,000. The cornerstone for the new church was laid in September 1870. Father Moore was not in the best of health when transferred here from the Cathedral Parish in Buffalo and the huge undertaking of the new church proved to be too much for him. His death occurred on January 10, 1871. His funeral was held from Saint Joseph’s Cathedral in Buffalo.
Father Lambert W. Vanderpool came to LeRoy in December of 1870 as assistant to Father Moore and was appointed pastor upon Father Moore’s death. Father Vanderpool was born in Arnhen, Holland in 1838 and came to the United States after his ordination to the priesthood. The congregation of the parish was now made up of German and Italian immigrants along with the early Irish parishioners.
Father Vanderpool saw to the construction and furnishing of the new church. The Witter house was moved to the back of the church and served as the first rectory. It remained until the present rectory was purchased in 1909 from the Nicholas B. Keeney estate for $4,400. Father Vanderpool had the old rectory moved across the street where it still stands today (number 37 Lake Street). Father Vanderpool maintained it for his residence from his retirement in 1911 until his death in 1921. The Myrtle Street property was sold in October of 1871 to John Brown for $1,200.00. In April 1877 the old church property on Pleasant Street was sold to Jake T. Warren for $500. No trace of the original church can be found today as it was destroyed by fire in 1906. On December 14, 1873 the church bells were blessed and on December 21st Bishop Ryan of Buffalo dedicated the church for divine worship under the invocation of Saint Peter the Apostle. From this day forward the parish was known as Saint Peter’s, no longer Saint Francis. In 1875 Saint Brigid’s Church in Bergen was separated from Saint Peter’s in LeRoy. On July 10, 1881 Bishop Ryan consecrated St. Francis Cemetery. In 1889 a contract for a new wooden school was signed and the cornerstone laid. On September 2, 1889, Saint Peter’s Parochial School was opened and the Sisters of Mercy from Batavia were put in charge. In July of 1890 the property north of the church was purchased for $1,450. On this site a new convent was built and the Sisters finally had their own home. For the first years the Sisters commuted from Batavia by train.
The new side altars were installed in the church in 1893 and the church was hooked up to electricity in 1899 along with the erection of a new main altar. By 1910, the two side vestibules were added to the church and two small recesses were constructed to receive the confessionals. The entire eastern end of the church was enlarged to provide for additional facilities.
On February 14, 1907, Bishop Charles Colton came to LeRoy to celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation. While present in LeRoy the Bishop was approached by some of the Italian parishioners and asked if they could have a church of their own. Two days later on February 160′ the Bishop sent Father Joseph A. Gambino to LeRoy to organize an Italian National Parish. Father Gambino established Saint Joseph’s Church on Lake Street and also Saint Anthony of Padua Church in Lime Rock. The first mass was celebrated at St. Joseph’s on June 9, 1907, and at Saint Anthony’s on September 6, 1908. Saint Anthony’s was a mission church of Saint Joseph’s until September 29, 1911. On March 9, 1925, Saint Anthony’s became associated with Saint Peter’s.
Father Peter J. Berkery was appointed administrator of Saint Peter’s in 1911 and continued in charge until 1918. During his administration he organized the Holy Name Society on May 4, 1913. Improvements were made at Saint Francis Cemetery as well as the interior of the church and school.
Father Thomas B. Milde was appointed pastor in 1918 and lived only a short time. At his death in 1919, Father Patrick J. Enright was appointed pastor. Father Enright promoted the spiritual and temporal welfare of Saint Peter’s during his short time as pastor. Father Enright died after a long illness in February, 1925.
Father John E. Mullett was appointed pastor on March 9, 1925. On March 30, 1925, Bishop William Turner appointed Father Mullett Dean of Genesee County. Under Father Mullett’s leadership many improvements were made on the church property.
In 1926, a new vault was completed at Saint Francis Cemetery as well as a new iron fence to replace the wooden fence in front of the cemetery. Also in 1926, new stained glass memorials and gift windows were installed to replace windows used since the church was built.
In 1928 the church roof was reslated, and in 1929 extensive redecorating was carried out, including new Stations of the Cross donated by Peter J. Burst. On July 6, 1926, the church steeple was stuck by lightning. Due to extensive damage the towering spire that stood for 59 years was removed in 1930.
In 1931 a new pipe organ was installed in the church and used for the first time to celebrate Msgr. Mullett’s Silver Jubilee. By 1951 Msgr.’s health began to fail and he died on January 5, 1956. From 1951 to 1952, Father Kenneth Mullen served as administrator. On November 3, 1952, Father Samuel McCoy was appointed administrator and was named pastor January 26, 1956. This was the second time Father McCoy had served at Saint Peter’s. (from 1939 to 1948 he had been an assistant at the parish.) Under Father McCoy’s leadership Holy Family School was built and dedicated in 1955. The name of the school had been changed from Saint Peter’s School and it included pupils from the three local churches, Saint Peter’s, Saint Joseph’s and Saint Anthony’s. Father McCoy was then transferred to Immaculate Conception Church in East Aurora, New York. Father John Mullaney served as administrator for a short time until Father John J. King was appointed pastor on March 7, 1957. Father King was in poor health and on October 30, 1958, Father Herbert Engelhardt was made administrator, he continued in this capacity until Father King could resume his duties. After his health was restored, Father King continued serving Saint Peter’s as pastor until September 16, 1962, when he was appointed Chaplain at Saint Jerome Hospital in Batavia, New York.
On September 16, 1962, Msgr. James A. Healy was named pastor of Saint Peter’s. In November 1968, he was appointed Dean of Genesee County. During the pastorate of Msgr. Healy the church underwent renovation to conform with the changes made during the Second Vatican Council. The entire church was rewired and new light fixtures were installed. The church bells were electrified and other various modernization and restoration projects completed. In 1971, Msgr. Healy was named pastor of old Saint Joseph’s Cathedral Parish in Buffalo. In September 1971, Father Samuel McCoy was named pastor. This was Father McCoy’s third assignment to Saint Peter’s. Father McCoy remained at Saint Peter’s until his death on May 6, 1978. Father Peter J. Carter was named pastor in 1978 and remained at Saint Peter’s for ten years. Msgr. Paul Cronin and Msgr. Edward Fisher both served as administrators during this short interim period until Father Robert Wardenski was appointed pastor on February 1, 1989. During Father Wardenski’s pastorate major renovation work was done in the church building. The church pews and stained glass windows were restored, the church painted and a new altar and pulpit were blessed. In addition a new sound system was added and new lighting in the church sanctuary. On October 25, 1999, Father Wardenski was named pastor of St. William’s parish in West Seneca, New York.
In late October Bishop Mansell met the Vicar Provincial for the Order of Our Lady of Mercy whose United States headquarters is based in LeRoy. He invited the religious community to consider taking over administration of the parish. The Bishop thought this move natural since the religious of the community had assisted celebrating mass at Saint Peter’s for the last fifty years. After consulting with his council and with the permission of his Provincial in Rome, the Order informed the Bishop that the community would be happy to serve at Saint Peter’s. The Bishop and his personel board accepted this nomination the Order made and the Order took over responsibilities on December 11, 1999.
The history of our parish has been filled with growth, change and renewal — all of which has been brought about by an openness to God’s graces poured out over the years and lived in the priests, religious and parishioners of Saint Peter’s parish. We have grown in faith, as a family in our service of the Gospel message.