Kathy Daley | Democrat
Cardinal Timothy Dolan congratulates pastor Father John Tran as the cardinal addresses a packed church last Sunday in Kauneonga Lake.
Church woven in community’s fabric
Story by Kathy Daley
KAUNEONGA LAKE September 20, 2013 Inside Saint Anne of the Lake, choir members prepared to sing joyful hymns in honor of the Kauneonga Lake church’s 100th anniversary.
Outside, Bethel Constable Darryl Yates directed traffic arriving for the celebration as he chatted about what the area must have been like a century ago, when the church across from the lake was dedicated.
“At that time, the train was still coming through from New York City to Fallsburg,” said Yates. “Horses and buggies would pick up people and bring them here to the lakes and hotels. This was a booming area at one time.”
The area boomed again on Sunday, Sept. 15, when parishioners, friends and community members flocked to the 2 p.m. Anniversary Mass celebrated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
“I love this little church,” said parishioner Nosita Hyacinthe of Kauneonga Lake. “When I was raising my daughters, we would walk here from home. I love the authenticity of it.”
Hyacinthe teaches religion to adults who wish to be baptized Catholic, and she does that work at St. Peter’s Church in Monticello the “mother” parish to both Saint Anne’s and St. Joseph’s Chapel in nearby Mongaup Valley.
Catholic residents of the Smallwood-Bethel-White Lake area attend church in the winter at St. Joseph’s, and then, from Father’s Day in June to Labor Day, report to Saint Anne’s for Sunday Mass.
“We know summer is here when we’re in Saint Anne,” said parishioner Kathleen Healy with a smile. “And we know summer is over when we’re back at St. Joe’s.”
St. Peter’s pastor, Father John Tran, noted that the congregation at St. Joseph’s on a winter Sunday numbers from 60 to 80 people. That crowd swells to almost 200 attending the 10 a.m. Mass at Saint Anne in summertime.
Cardinal Dolan told the centennial-celebrating crowd that he was delighted to share the occasion with them.
“You all look so radiant you are beaming with pride,” he said. “I understand that this church has been in some of your families for a long time. It’s in your heart and soul.”
St. Anne’s history began in 1913, when the Bethel area was growing in leaps and bounds as a vacation destination for New York City residents. The Mass at St. Joseph’s Chapel could not hold the throngs.
The church bought land in what was then North White Lake (now Kauneonga Lake), and Timothy Driscoll donated the piece of land leading onto the soon-to-be church property from the main road. Driscoll’s brother-in-law, John Dillon both men were Catholic financed the church construction.
Dillon was born on a dairy farm in Mongaup Valley, and served as editor and publisher of the Rural New Yorker, which wrote about farms. He served as first Commissioner of what is now the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, crusading to protect farmers most of his life. He also wrote books on frauds practiced on farmers and on the history of the milk industry in New York State.
Timothy Driscoll and his wife Rose Dillon (John’s sister) were the first couple to be married in St. Joseph’s Church in 1900. Their daughters and grandchildren were all married at St. Anne of the Lake.
Timothy and his wife opened the Hotel Rita near the church property, with produce and dairy provided the hotel by the adjoining family farm. Priests serving Mass often ate a hearty post-Mass breakfast at the hotel, a particularly welcome meal because, at the time, Catholics observed rules of fasting before attending Mass.
“This church has so much history attached to it,” agreed parishioner Tom Bowes of Bethel. “And the people here are wonderful.”
Father Tran noted that parishioners worked hard to ready the church for its big birthday. But, he said, the centennial represents more than the founding of an historic structure.
“What we celebrate today,” Father Tran said from the altar, “is not only the 100th anniversary of a church of wood and stone, but of a faithful community who, for 100 years, have worked together on a journey of fidelity.”
Cardinal Dolan, who remained for a celebratory dinner at Bethel Woods, agreed with the pastor.
“Something tells me that with your enthusiasm and your loyalty, your best years are still ahead,” he said to the congregation of Saint Anne.