FORT EDWARD — Gayle Smith pointed at the first wooden pew at St. Joseph’s in Fort Edward.
“The first pew, that was the children’s side. The girls’ side and the boys’ side,” said Smith, who has been attending the Catholic Church since birth.
She goes back to before Vatican II, when girls had to cover their heads before walking into church. She would leave school and walk down the hill to attend Stations of the Cross with a Kleenex on her head.
“You were not going to miss going to Stations because you didn’t have something to cover your head,” Smith said.
She recalled sitting in pews with the nuns and attending church school in the basement of the building, which she admitted was a little scary. Smith and her siblings received their sacraments at St. Joseph’s – baptism, first communion, confirmations, weddings.
“It was very faith centered, family-faith centered,” said Smith, who is now a trustee of the church.
St. Joseph’s is celebrating its 150th anniversary celebration mass, which will be at 1 p.m. Sept. 15 at the brick building at 166 Broadway. The mass will be followed by a celebration in the school hall with church tours, children’s activities, food, music and a history display.
“We’ve pulled together a lot of artifacts from the basement of the church, the basement of the rectory, and people have brought things in, pictures and artifacts form the older days,” Smith said. “So we’re going to have a mini museum set up.”
The church was built 102 years ago by French and Polish immigrants, but the congregation worshiped at a church on East Street before that. The marble for the current church was imported from Italy and carved by craftsmen, said The Rev. Thomas Babiuch.
When he first started preaching at St. Joseph’s 13 years ago, older parishioners told stories of their fathers and grandfathers coming home from work, eating dinner and then leaving again to go help build the church.
“So pretty much it was a communal effort to build the church and improve the church and do something,” Babiuch said. “So it tells you what kind of community this is to this day.”
In May of 1917, the congregation boasted 1,200 communicants and the building on East Street was just too small. On May 14, 1917, James McEwan turned the first sod in the building of the new St. Joseph’s church.
And on Aug. 5, 1917, in the presence of about 3,000 people, the corner stone of the new church on Broadway was blessed and laid.
Today, about 300 people attend Sunday mass and 600 families are registered with the church. Many young families attend the 9:30 a.m. Mass on Sundays. Multiple generations often attend church together.
“I cannot tell you how many times I’ve baptized a fourth generation of that family in this church, because they’re so proud of it,” Babiuch said. “This community’s unique in its own way.”
All are invited to celebrate the 150th anniversary. The church has invited all former congregants as well as former priests, including James Rosch, who was the priest at St. Joseph’s when he was ousted from the Catholic Church in 2002 amid allegations of sexual abuse.
“It was a very painful time. He was very well loved,” Smith said. “Unfortunately it happened.”
Babiuch said the Catholic Church is trying to make changes and humanize. He said the church is healthier and stronger because of the scandal.
“Before we are priests, let’s not forget we are human,” he said. “And, you know, we’re sinful. That’s what we’re trying to tell ourselves, that no matter who we are, we all have something in us that is imperfect. Nobody’s perfect.”
Smith said Rosch has been invited, but she didn’t not hear back from him. She said he now lives out of state.
All are welcome to the celebration and to church in general, Babiuch said.
Up until last year, the church had a substantial Mexican immigrant community.
“Because of the politics and the ICE changes, some of them have been removed, some of them are in hiding and they aren’t here anymore,” he said. “So there was a big loss.”
The 150th anniversary will celebrate the beauty of the people, the beauty of the church and the beauty of Christian faith in them, Babiuch said.
“When you look at it, 150 years, that’s six generations of people, and how uncommon that is in our mentality to be devoted, dedicated to something like that,” Babiuch said. “People come and go and ideas come and go as well and our needs and desires, and we’re still here. It’s a great testament to who these people are here.”
Call me the good news girl. Send me your church functions, your library events, your school honor society induction photos – I’ll do my best to get it into the Sunday Hometown section of the paper. Are there special people in your community worthy of recognition? Tell me about them. Drop me a line, a tip, a note, or send a press release and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org or simply call my desk at 518-742-3206. I look forward to hearing all your good news.