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March 19, 2012

St. Mary's Church of Oneonta dedicated 55 years ago

"With solemn, historic pageantry, the Most Rev. William A. Scully, bishop of Albany, yesterday dedicated the new St. Mary's Church."

It was Sunday, March 24, 1957, in Oneonta as about 1,000 gathered for the celebration of the new church on Walnut Street, making front-page news in Monday's Oneonta Star.

"Escorted by the Holy Name Society as guard of honor, and led by a large group of clergy, the solemn procession was formed in St. Mary's School, proceeding across Walnut Street to the new church.

"The procession was led by Joseph P. Molinari, bearing the Crucifix flanked by two acolytes bearing lighted candles. Altar boys, clergy and chanters preceded the bishop between his two assistants, followed by his miter-bearer, crosier bearer and other aides."

Before anyone else except this procession could enter the building, the exterior and interior walls of the church were sprinkled with holy water, among other rituals of dedication.

The doors were then opened to those waiting outside, in what was described as a chilly but sunny March morning. The first Mass was then celebrated in the new church, replacing a much smaller Catholic Church found at the corner of Main and Grand streets.

The pastor, the Rt. Rev. Arthur A. Cunningham, in a brief talk expressed his thanks to the many who had aided in the building of the new church.

"There has been," he declared, "a remarkable growth of this parish in the last 73 years. The old church was inadequate and crowded. A church is built that we may adore God." From what had begun with one service Sunday, five had been needed in recent years.

Bishop Scully then pointed out it had been about 75 years since the cornerstone of the old St. Mary's church was laid.

The bishop had been in Oneonta nearly a year earlier, when the cornerstone of the new church had been laid Sunday, June 24, 1956. Bishop Scully placed the first trowel of mortar on the stone, which was then moved into position by contractor Neil R. Nielsen, who erected the structure.

The stone contained various documents and other mementoes. More than $250,000 had been pledged to defray the costs of the construction of the new edifice.

The March 1957 dedication ended with a solemn recessional, with the bishop giving his blessing to the people kneeling as he passed while leaving the church.

Acolytes were Joseph Zacharias and James McGuinness, and the holy water bearer was Richard Bartoloti.

Later that afternoon the first baptism was performed in the new church by the Rev. John Caldara. The baby was named William John Keable, the son of Mr. and Mrs. William Keable of Gardner Place, Oneonta.

St. Mary's is said to be a duplicate of design of a church in Boston. The architects were Gander, Gander & Gander of Albany, the general contractor was Neil R. Nielsen of Oneonta, the electrical work by Utter Electric Co. and the plumbing was by American Plumbing of Schenectady. The interior was planned and executed by Louis Lualdi of Boston.

The first major renovations were made to the church during 2011. The parish now enjoys ample natural light at the altar from a new cupola as well as a warm, dry ceiling resulting from the roof replacement and increased insulation. New lighting by the sidewalks and a new handicapped accessible front entrance plaza were also added.

This weekend: There was a college for a day at the Oneonta D&H Railroad depot in 1912.

City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at His website is His columns can be found at

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