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St. Mary's Church
St. Mary's Catholic Church
Florence, Oneida County, NY

Preserving the past for future generations

1845 - 2003

Queen Central News newspaper, Camden, NY
Published: November 6, 2006
newspaper article, page 1
Page 1
newspaper article, page 29
Page 29
Courtesy of Dorothy Fey

Demolition...Definitely Not The Answer!

church and sign

In an Oct. 20 letter to "Friends of St. Mary of the Mount Carmel Church in Florence Auxiliary" Bishop Thomas J. Costello of the Diocese of Syracuse suggested that due to "structural deficiencies that appear to be beyond repair" that " demolition seems to be indicated" for this Florence landmark. Former parishioners and those in support of keeping this house of worship as part of the Florence landscape can send comments to Auxiliary Bishop Costello at 240 East Onondaga St., PO Box 511, Syracuse, NY 13201-0511, call him at 470-1460 or direct e-mail at The publisher of this newspaper finds it hard to believe that demolition would even be considered of one of the oldest churches in our state. Note: to learn more in the history of St. Mary's turn to page 29 in this issue.


Half-Shire President Shares History
Of St. Mary's Catholic Church In Florence

By Shawn Doyle

Members of the Tug Hill Catholic Community have been called to arms (or rather pens) by the unbelievable decision of the Syracuse Diocese to tear down St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Florence. News of the decision was conveyed to this writer by several emails on Friday, October 27, after an article appeared in the Rome Daily Sentinel that day. The church hierarchy cite deteriorating lower supports to the building, and insurance company recommendations as the basis of this incredible move.

Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Costello authored a letter to former parishioners that is being passed around. Costello also has ties to the church, with a great-grandfather buried there.

St. Mary's structure was built as a Baptist Seminary in 1835 with funds provided by Peterboro Abolitionist Gerritt Smith. Smith was a land developer who assisted many communities with construction of their public and religious buildings. One such Smith structure, the Oswego City Public Library, has been in the midst of a major reconstruction, aided by grant monies secured due to its historic significance.

The growing Roman Catholic Community of Florence and the surrounding area acquired St. Mary's in 1845, establishing a parish of their own, consecrated as St. Mary's of Mt. Carmel. The church served as a beacon to the regions catholic immigrants, and a cemetery was laid out surrounding the picturesque site. Many of the stones in the cemetery tell stories of the individual immigrants to the area, noting their place of birth in Ireland. This writer has a couple of uncles (one, Michael Spellicy (1854-1902) stares down from my living room wall) and many cousins in St. Mary's graveyard. I also attended the church as a member from 2000-02. In June 2003 the church was closed, yet due to its popularity has retained its consecration and is designated as a shrine, available for use in funerals and weddings, along with a hugely attended mass once a year. Members of the Clark family of Florence have continued to maintain the grounds immaculately, and watch over the sanctuary, which in good weather is often open for meditation and prayer.

This writer has been part of the closure of two Catholic churches of the Irish Experience for the western Tug Hill region. One cannot imagine passing through Florence without seeing St. Mary’s on the hill. Frantic Emails to Half-Shire have been coming in asking “what can we do?”

One of our valued members, a former St. Mary's communicant, Sue Archibee Hemmings has researched the history of the church through several books and articles she has saved. According to what Sue has found, this structure is the oldest Catholic Church in the Syracuse Diocese. Sue has passed on to us much information, and also the contact information for Bishop Costello. He can be reached at Dioceses of Syracuse, 240 East Onondaga St., P.O. 511, Syracuse, NY 13201-0511 or on the web at:

I encourage all friends of St Mary’s, and all those interested in preservation to get involved and let your feelings be known. We will be updating you in future columns as events unfold.

In other news, on Saturday October 28, the Oswego County Fair Association met for their annual meeting and election of officers at the Sandy Creek Masonic Temple. At the conclusion of the meeting the following new officers were elected: President, Fred Potter; Sr. Vice Pres., Carol Sweeney; Jr.
Vice Presidents - Shirley Rice, Paul Glenister, George Comins and Nancy Weber. (By motion from the floor the rules were changed for this 150th year to allow for four vice presidents.) Other officers elected include: Secretary, Sue Crandall and Treasurer Kathy McPhearson.

Half-Shire can be reached at P.O. 73, Richland, NY 13144 or on the web at our next meeting will be at noon on Saturday November 11, at our Richland headquarters.

This page last updated: February 28, 2008

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