Kathy Daley | Democrat
Cardinal Dolan, dressed in "civilian" clothes, offers grace before the picnic, with Father William Scully, who is the pastor of St. Francis Xavier on his right, and far right, Father John O'Connor, Minister Provincial of the Holy Name Province of Franciscan friars.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan
By Kathy Daley
NARROWSBURG The Narrowsburg fire department mounted a welcome sign, and the local Lutheran minister enjoyed a seat of honor in the front row of the church.
Balloons were purchased, a full choir with trumpeters imported from Hancock and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York City was invited to drive from New York City to celebrate Mass in his own ebullient manner.
That the parish of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church on Bridge Street, Narrowsburg is now 150 years old empowered a true community-wide celebration on Sunday, with an 11 a.m. liturgy and a free picnic afterwards, both open to the public.
“When you consider how small Narrowsburg is and that this little church has been here for 150 years, it is amazing,” said parishioner Eileen DeVagno, one of a raft of event organizers. “And it’s so nice to have the Cardinal come to affirm our existence.”
Church pastor Father William Scully, O.F.M., noted how proud he was to head the parish, and grateful to the community that continues to support the church.
He read aloud a letter from St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church signed by the Rev. Phyllis Haynes, pastor. Down through the ages, the St. Francis community “has blessed the lives of men, women and children. We rejoice with you on this special occasion,” wrote Haynes.
The Cardinal made his presence known by entering the church early through a side door, dressed in plain black clerical garb and holding aloft a white 1890s-style straw hat. To a delighted, applauding throng, Dolan waved the hat, crying out, “See you in a minute I’ve got to get the suit on,” referring to his more formal robes, shepherd’s staff and tall bishop’s hat.
“For 15 decades,” said Dolan during the Mass, “people in this parish have come here to baptize their babies, for Holy Eucharist on Sundays, to have their sins forgiven, to be married, to be buried. They came when they were sick and searching, to help the poor, to pray.”
“Why, this parish was founded in the midst of the Civil War!” Dolan said.
The little church on a knoll in Narrowsburg owes its beginning to the construction of the Erie Railroad.
It grew during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, and actually benefited from governmental anti-Catholic sentiment during the 1890s era of Otto von Bismarck in Germany, when German-speaking Franciscan priests were expelled from the country and came to America.
In the 1840s, Catholic German and Irish workers on the Erie Railroad settled the area and began meeting for informal worship in homes and storefronts. In Narrowsburg, they met in a house owned by the Koferl family and later on the upper floor of a tannery building near Deep Hollow Brook.
The first St. Francis Xavier church was constructed in 1862 by an Austrian priest, Rev. Joseph Roesch, who was also responsible for Sullivan County’s oldest church, St. Mary’s in Obernburg.
A bigger St. Francis Xavier church had to be built in 1876 to accommodate the growing number of people. Then, in 1892, the archbishop of New York asked the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province in New York City to take over the churches in western Sullivan. Brown-robed friars who spoke German assumed leadership at Narrowsburg and elsewhere.
By the early 1920s, the Narrowsburg Catholic community had grown three times larger, making necessary a new church, which is the current structure on Bridge Street.
Today’s parishioners say they are delighted to be part of such a historic church community.
“I grew up in this church,” said Peter Zaccari, son of longtime parishioners Anthony and Lorraine Zaccari. “I was an altar boy here, and now I’m active again.”
Zaccari and others lauded Father Scully for his care and concern, his humor and his humility.
“Father Scully has a way of taking you in and keeping you there,” said parishioner Claire Tinari.
The crowd gathered after the Mass at Fireman’s Field for a picnic of hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken and salads. The Lava Firehouse provided tables and chairs, a deejay donated his time, Landers gave the space for free, and people donated flowers and brought food.
“The beauty of God’s creation and the beauty of God’s people are here, in Sullivan County,” Cardinal Dolan said. “There’s a magnificent tradition of hospitality and friendliness, and history fourth and fifth generation families that make me rejoice and relish the time I spend here.”