Corning is a small city nestled in the Southern Tier of New York State where the Conhocton and Tioga Rivers join to form the Chemung River. The earliest recording of the European explorer, Steven Brule, indicates he traveled through the area in 1616 assisted by the Huron Indians. The native Iroquois Indians were not welcoming to the early explorers as the Huron Indians and the Iroquois were at war. In his travels, Brule was captured and tortured by the Iroquois. When they were about to kill him, they discovered a medallion around his neck. They asked him what it was, but disregarded his answer. He said to his captors, “If you take it and kill me, you yourself will die immediately, and your whole household as well!” They were unimpressed until suddenly a violent storm began to brew. It saved the day and his life. He was now their honored guest. Leaving the area he eventually chose to settle with the Hurons. Unfortunately, due to an unknown dispute with his hosts, they killed and ate him in 1632. For the next century and a half, mostly varying nations of Native Americans inhabited the area, including the Delaware Indians who had been cheated out of their land. In 1789 the first European settlers arrived in the Corning area.[1]

Growing transportation helped spur growth and interest in the area. As the canal systems of New York developed, the state built a canal in 1833 to connect the rivers in Corning to Seneca Lake. Combined with stage coaches which made the area a stopping point six days out of New York for westward bound travelers, the canal system caused the neighboring town of Painted Post to grow. The primary commerce at this time was lumber. Finally, the speculation Corning Company, founded by Erastus Corning,[2] president of the Bank of Albany, purchased 340 acres on the south side of the river and shortly thereafter incorporated the village. He had a variety of holdings in railroads, iron, insurance and banking. By 1849 the population was about 1,800.[3]

Corning first appeared on the ecclesial radar in 1842 as part of the Diocese of New York (City) under the direction of Bishop John J. Hughes. Learning of the growing presence of Catholics in the area he assigned Corning as a mission territory to Fr. Patrick Bradley, pastor of St. Francis de Sales in Geneva and Holy Family Church in Auburn, NY. Because of the distance to Corning (over 50 miles) is was difficult to visit frequently. In 1847 Pope Pius IX divided New York State into three dioceses adding Albany and Buffalo, with Corning falling to the jurisdiction of Buffalo. He assigned Bishop John Timon to head the diocese. In February 1848, Bishop Timon charged that a church, initially called “Our Lady Help of Christians,” and commonly called “St. Mary Church,” be built in Corning which would be dedicated July 24, 1849. Thus, the formal foundation of the Catholic Community in Corning was laid. Fr. John Sheridan based in Owego, NY was charged with the pastoral care of the Corning area, and eventually took up residence in Elmira, NY.[4]

During these early years, Catholics struggled to establish themselves as full members of the community. In 1850, Fr. John Boyle replaced Fr. Sheridan and continued to serve St. Mary Church as a mission site. In 1854, St. Mary Church received its first resident pastor, Fr. Thomas Cunningham who led the parish until 1860. While several Protestants actually pledged financial support for the building of St. Mary Church, this initial decade was fraught with significant anti-Catholic sentiment. With Catholics establishing a stronger identity and permanent presence, some felt threatened. In 1857 a great flood struck Corning, devastating the poor neighborhoods of the lowlands where many Catholic Irish lived. The Ladies’ Benevolent Society led fundraising efforts, but resolved to withhold relief from any Catholics. The action triggered a hot community debate which served to lift some of the darkness surrounding these religious prejudices. By the time the next pastor arrived, who would serve for thirty six years, much of this animosity would wane.[5]

The thirty six year long pastorate of Fr. Colgan helped strengthen the Catholic community. Except for the six months of illness that Fr. Colgan faced when Fr. McMullen took over, Fr. Colgan heavily formed the early identity of the parish. He shepherded the community through the Civil War years. Since much of his congregation was made up of immigrants, during this time he publicly encouraged patriotism and allegiance to the Northern cause. Immediately following the war, Fr. Colgan began a building fund for the erection of a new church and rectory that stands to this day. The community broke ground in 1866 and celebrated its first Mass in its new church in June 1870. With the dedication of the new church came a new name, St. Mary, Mother of Mercy in honor of the Sisters of Mercy who served the community.[6]

The conviction of the day was that public schools were predominantly controlled by Protestants and would not be the best influence on young Catholics. As was a common tradition and strategy for new Catholic parishes, building a school was the number one priority. The parish started a school in the 1850’s. Initially it was completely parish funded, but at some point in the early 1860’s, it ironically came under the jurisdiction of the Corning Union School system. However, the parish completely controlled the curriculum. The collaborative approach continued until 1898 when eventually New York State Board of Education forbade such collaborative works. It was then run mostly by the Sisters of Mercy. During this time Fr. Colgan also oversaw the acquisition of a new convent and school building.[7]

The economy of Corning and the area fluctuated. Life during the 1870’s and 1880’s was not easy and was mixed with strikes and challenging times of unemployment. The great flood of 1889, followed by an epidemic of influenza that took many lives, did not stem the tide of growth in Corning. The general industrialization of the economy and the development of railroads served to bring new economic prosperity in the 1890’s.[8]

As the city of Corning grew, in 1886 the pastor of St. Mary Church recognized the need to develop a second worship site to accommodate the growing number of Catholics in the city of Corning. The parish purchased the old Salvation Army barracks on the corner of Market and Steuben streets and remodeled it into a chapel. It was dedicated to St. Patrick. In 1902, Bishop McQuaid announced that the community associated with St. Patrick chapel would become its own parish. He appointed the assistant pastor at St. Mary Church to be its first pastor.[9]

With the death of Fr. Peter Colgan in 1896, Fr. James Bustin became the new pastor. His pastoral style was very different. He was less personable, and more of an intellectual. As such he had a strong commitment to education, especially for the children. This commitment would prove vital for the continuation of the parochial school when the state withdrew its financial support. He was able to generate support from parishioners to keep the school financially sound and independent. His building projects included the expansion of the school with a large new addition and the construction of a new convent for the religious sisters serving the school.[10]

Unlike today, Catholic Church leadership was not collaborative or particularly consultative with the congregation. On April 15, 1900 Fr. Bustin announced at Mass that the entire church was going to be remodeled and that the bid for construction was already awarded. Such was the time that the pastor could make a monumental decision like the renovation of the church without a word of consultation with the congregation. Just as amazing was the expectation of support for the project as well as actual getting of the finances.[11]

By 1909, St. Mary Church School had started to become overcrowded. In an effort to advance Catholic education and alleviate the problem of overcrowding, the pastor of St. Mary Church purchased property to build a new school for the children on the north side of the river. By this time, Catholic parishes often started with the establishment of a school followed by the building of a church. Also, the Catholic philosophy around the education of youth and the Counter Reformation mindset put providing education for youth at the forefront of the mission of the church. This had become the standard operating procedure for the first Bishop of Rochester, Bernard McQuaid, and his successor, Bishop Hickey. As was the case with both St. Patrick Church and St. Vincent Church, the schools were built first and provided shared space for worship. As the community grew along with revenue, they built the proper church later. Even at this time the establishment of Catholic churches and schools was seen by some as unpatriotic, not supporting the public education system, especially since nearly all Catholic schools were tuition free.[12]

By 1912, St. Mary parish had grown to about 725 families (3,480 people). Therefore the community determined that the establishment of another parish in Corning would be helpful. This new parish (St. Vincent de Paul) would include the territory north of the east-west Chemung River and the towns of Erwin (west) and Hornby (north). On July 19, 1913 (feast day of St. Vincent de Paul at the time) Bishop Hickey appointed Fr. John A. Conway pastor of the new parish. Support for the new church came from St. Mary Church in the form of finances and material.[13]

Even after WWI in Corning, Catholics were generally among the working class, and from their point of view they experienced bigotry and prejudice. In 1923 Bishop Hickey transferred Fr. John A. Conway from St. Vincent de Paul to Auburn and appointed Fr. Augustine F. Temmerman as pastor of St. Vincent. During the years of the Great Depression, Fr. Temmerman did much to defuse the anti-Catholic bigotry through his charitable work to the poorest in the community regardless of their denominational affiliation. On one occasion an individual came to make a contribution to the church thirty years after the death of Fr. Temmerman because he paid their coal bill once during the Great Depression.[14]

As was in vogue for the times, people joined clubs and associations. It was the thing to do. If you wanted to be involved in parish life beyond attendance at Mass you joined a group. These consisted of groups like the Knights of Columbus, the Rosary and Scapular Society, the League of the Sacred Heart, and the Holy Name Society to name a few. These groups served certain segments of the congregation and provided a forum for community development. Little is known about the details of the early pastoral ministries of the parishes. However, the leadership embraced a basic three-fold vision. First was the providing of the sacraments and chaplaincy services. Second was the provision of a Catholic school. Third was advocacy in following the teaching of the church. Beyond that there were some social services like the development of an orphanage that never gained great numbers and was eventually closed. Music was important to the community in these early years with the use of concerts and the development of various choirs, although the choir’s capability was somewhat limited. Concerts, balls and large scale social functions were often used for fundraising.[15]

Two great accomplishments marked Fr. Bustin’s pastorate. In response to some of the contemporary needs, Fr. Bustin lobbied strongly for the establishment of a local Tuberculosis Hospital, which was successful. In 1915 he also established a Fresh Air Camp to provide summer care for families with who has members with tuberculosis. As he led the parish through the experience of WWI, he helped generate patriotism and charitable support for the war effort. In 1918 Fr. Gleeson at 62 years of age began leading the community through the end of the war and through the influenza epidemic that took 72 parishioners lives. His pastorate was short—two years—and his primary administrative success was to substantially reduce the parish debt.[16]

Fr. James Griffin, his successor, lasted 20 years. During his pastorate he enjoyed the assistance of five parochial vicars. Some highlights include the reorganization of religious education to accommodate the growing number of Catholics not attending parochial school, tactfully maneuvering through the adversity of the short lived local Ku Klux Klan, and managing a local schism.[17] Up until the turn of the century the predominant immigration population came from Ireland. At the turn of the century the new immigration was primarily from Italy along with smaller represented groups of various parts of Europe.[18] Along with multi-cultural diversity came nationality tensions and linguistic challenges. Since most of the Mass was in Latin, that part wasn’t the main problem. The challenge was in preaching and the sacrament of confession. Therefore, local priests of varying nationalities were imported periodically to hear confession. Linguistic and cultural barriers, especially between the predominant Irish and Italian groups created a degree of tension. St. Vincent De Paul Church would be the Italian community on the North side and St. Patrick and St. Mary Church on the East and South side would serve the Irish. This attitudinal separation would not see great breakdown until the great flood of 1972.

In 1936 Fr. Michael B. Groden became the pastor of St. Vincent Church for four years. His manner, while friendly, was more reserved and made it more difficult for people to get to know him. He was very involved in the school. Pastor Fr. Joseph V. Guilfoil (1940-1964) has been called the second founding father. People saw him as a great chaplain in times of great need (WWII) who was dedicated to serving the poorest in the community. His long tenure allowed him to develop strong relationships that he would later call upon for the contraction of a new church building. After the war, the parish, as did much of the country, began to experience relative economic prosperity. Affected by the great depression, Fr. Guilfoil was most reluctant to embrace any kind of debt, and was a prudent saver because he knew the construction of a new church would be needed in the future. In the early 50’s Fr. Guilfoil determined the parish was ready to support a campaign for a new church. His plans received a setback when in 1952 Bishop Kearney called for the establishment of a fourth church in the area (Immaculate Heart of Mary) using $40,000 from St. Vincent’s savings. Nevertheless, by 1955 he was able to build a new church for $385,000.[19]

Sisters of Mercy were present from the very beginning of St. Vincent School. Their order is dedicated primarily to serving the poor and the sick; however, in this particular community they functioned primarily as educators for those who were relatively poor. By 1980 there were only two members of the community left at St. Vincent Convent. Because most of the teachers were now lay people who were paid much higher salaries, the school began to struggle financially. Therefore, St. Vincent School was closed and merged into St. Mary School.[20]

While World War II presented the same kind of struggle for Corning as was typical most of the nation, the subsequent economic boom after the war greatly impacted Corning economy as well. The fifties were a prosperous time and the Catholic community in the Corning Painted Post area grew and enjoyed the establishment of Immaculate Heart Church and the building of the new St. Vincent Church. The winds of change blew strong as the Church moved into the culturally tumultuous time of the 1960’s and Vatican II. These changes impacted the church worldwide. All the parishes dutifully embraced the liturgical changes called for. St. Patrick Church represented the most progressive community with folk styled masses and innovative family ministries through the Seventies.[21]

Much of the archival history records from WWII to 1972 were lost in the flood of 1972 in the parishes of Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Patrick, and St. Vincent de Paul. However, this flood had a huge impact on the consciousness of the parishes, especially in their relationship with each other. St. Mary Church, located on the hill, was the only parish not devastated by the flood. However, it was these congregants who worked tirelessly to assist those in the valley. The disaster was tremendous and the material loss was great. However, the spiritual benefits and communal bond that rose from the devastation continues to this day. For most of the community who still live in Corning and Painted Post, the flood of ‘72 is a defining moment that changed everyone’s lives in the area.

In the 1970’s a group of parishioners (mostly from St. Mary Church), inspired by the Charismatic Renewal, developed a community call “Anawim.” This was a covenanted community that embraced a serous commitment to support each other in living out the Gospel. They established Bible studies, devotional practices, men’s and women’s prayer groups, and outreach to the poorest of the poor in the community. The Anawim commuity eventually moved their base of operation to New Jersey. They have established sister communities in Nigeria and the Philippines, both with their own seminaries.

In 1990 the parishes of Corning and Painted Post took a monumental step in restructuring. They became a cluster called the “Roman Catholic Community of Corning-Painted Post.” A cluster is a leadership structure that sets up one staff to minister to a group of distinct parishes. Therefore, one pastor and one staff oversee the ministry of four separate parishes, each having their own incorporation and financial structure. At this time the four existing pastors resigned and the Bishop assigned one new pastor. Two of the four pastors took other assignments, while the other two stayed on in retirement status (pastors emeritus).

With the clustering, the Bishop of Rochester was pioneering a new approach to pastoral leadership that would eventually become commonplace. The decision came together as a combination of foresight (seeing the need to develop alternative leadership models because of the dearth of priestly vocations), financial needs (the parishes were struggling), and the close proximity of church buildings and communal affinity.

In 2000, Bishop Clark appointed Sr. Joan Cawley, SSJ as the Pastoral Administrator of the four church cluster of St. Mary, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Patrick and Immaculate Heart of Mary that had been formed in 1990 as the Corning-Painted Post Roman Catholic Community. In 2001, consistent with previously plans, the four parishes were suppressed (canonically closed) and reestablished by Bishop Matthew Clark as All Saints Parish with four worship sites. In 2003, St. Patrick Church was closed as a worship site and place of ministerial activity. The property was put up for sale. The decision was made for financial reasons and to partially fulfill the stretegic plan recommended by parish’s Implementation Oversight Board (IOB).

In 2006, Bishop Clark appointed Deacon Dean Condon as Pastoral Administrator. At this time the parish was facing serious financial difficulties. The 2006-2007 budget predicted deficit of $355,000. Fortunately, over the next two years, large bequests helped fill the financial gaps, saving the parish from financial peril. With the final sale of the St. Patrick Church, significant reduction of expenses, and an increased giving appeal, All Saints Parish now has a balanced operational budget.

Over the past several years, lay involvement in ministry and service has increased in a variety of ways. Enrollment in children’s faith formation classes have increased significantly and our attendance at our vacation Bible Camp is at an all time high. Our youth ministry has expanded to a full time youth minister, fully implementing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops vision and curriculum for youth ministry.

Among support ministries, there have been several great developments. In addition to more fully involving the Parish Pastoral and Finance Councils, Deacon Dean established a new Facilities Council, a Communications Team, and a Stewardship Team, all of which collaborate to strengthen our parish. A major accomplishment of the Communication Team has been the formation of this website.

Other developments include a new Healing Prayer Ministry Team through which the miraculous power of God has touched the lives of many people. The Pro-Life team has begun great work for the cause of the unborn. A recently established Visitation Ministry Team visits hospitals, hospice patients, nursing homes, and our home bound parishioners.

Underpinning these new developments has been the development of a strategic planning process that permeates every ministry. The parish has a very clear mission and vision with metrics for measuring progress in achieving our mission. The same process is being applied to every individual parish ministry. Each ministry has clear objectives and metrics for measuring progress and continuous improvement.

It is our mission to enthusiastically build up the kingdom of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. In achieving that mission it is our hope to serve you in the best way possible and to afford you every opportunity to serve others. As we look to the future, it is bright – even in the midst of the many challenges that face our culture. The best lies ahead and we hope that you will join with us as we serve God and His people together.

[1] Robert Francis McNamara, A Century of Grace : The History of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Parish (Corning, NY: St. Mary’s Church, 1948), 4-7.

[2] McNamara, A Century of Grace, 40.

[3] McNamara, A Century of Grace, 12-14.

[4] McNamara, A Century of Grace, 16-22.

[5] McNamara, A Century of Grace, 23-38.

[6] McNamara, A Century of Grace, 53-63.

[7] McNamara, A Century of Grace, 64-76.

[8] McNamara, A Century of Grace, 77-84.

[9] McNamara, A Century of Grace, 94-111.

[10] McNamara, A Century of Grace, 112-125.

[11] McNamara, A Century of Grace, 126-140.

[12] McNamara, A Century of Grace, 148-164.

[13] John S. Hayes, Diamond Jubilee Review: St. Vincent de Paul Parish Corning, New York, (Corning: St. Vincent de Paul Church, 1988), 10.

[14] Hayes, Diamond Jubilee Review, 20.

[15] McNamara, A Century of Grace, 143.

[16] McNamara, A Century of Grace, 165-177.

[17] McNamara, A Century of Grace, 192-195.

[18] McNamara, A Century of Grace, 127.

[19] John S. Hayes, Diamond Jubilee Review, 25-25.

[20] John S. Hayes, Diamond Jubilee Review, 30.

[21] John S. Hayes, Diamond Jubilee Review, 24-27.