Advent 2002 Vol. I Issue 1
HISTORY OF THE PARISH
Part I: A Church is Born
… “New Catholic Parish Here – To Be Created in Eggertsville-Snyder. Father Tobin Rector.”
These were the words that headlined an article in the November 25, 1920 edition of the Amherst Bee and which were later recalled in that same paper in November 11, 1970, by a writer covering the 50th anniversary of St. Benedict’s and its consecration.
Upon publication of that original article in 1920, there was a church to be built but one with no name. The article written and published in the Amherst Bee in 1970 noted that while Catholic churches were named arbitrarily at the discretion of the Bishop, no set rules were yet in place that specifically pertained to giving a new parish its name. Enter Benedict XV, Pope in 1920, whose obvious guiding spiritual figure and founder of the Benedictine order was St. Benedict (later named Patron of Europe) – and you have the history of how St. Benedict’s got its name.
Monsignor William F. Tobin, a native of County Waterford, Ireland, served as the first pastor of the parish, having been appointed to his position in October 1920 by Bishop Turner. From the moment when he celebrated the first Mass in the Eggertsville Fire Hall on November 21, 1920, along with the 18 parish families who made up the parish congregation, he would pave the way for the Church of St. Benedict as we know it today.
With fondness can the parishioners of St. Benedict’s look back upon the history of those men and women who built the church with a spirit of commitment and service. Names such as Wesley Crittenden; Mrs. Charles Magrum; George, Frank, Joseph, Gerald, Eugene, Peter and Paul Bruan; Charles Krantz; Perter Lauchran; J.P. McCarthy; Joseph Meyer; Philip Ronecker; Mrs. Peter Lauchran; Oscar Sauter and Michael Sauter Jr.; Jerry Sullivan; Jacob Schwam; William Schultz; Howard Wix and of course, Msgr. Tobin; are only a few of the many, many people who are responsible for the growth of the parish throughout the years. These are the individuals who donated countless hours of service to working on construction of the church after a demanding work day. As the story goes, Msgr. Tobin kept a prized photograph of those who helped build the church, which was known as the “Twilight League.” The name was intended to be reflective of the transition these workers performed from their day jobs to their night jobs. That work involved construction of the original wooden structure of the church, completed in 1921 at a cost of about $5,472.55, and which in its original form, provided a seating capacity of 300. That Structure would serve the parish for the next ten years until 1930 when a new combination church and school were built, complementing the first rectory that was built in 1928 for the three parish priests who would reside there.
The first open house at the school and the first parish drive took place in 1941. With the onset of the parish’s Jubilee Year in 1945, it became apparent that the parish needed to expand once again. Plans were therefore formulated for a larger, more ornate church, which now stands on the northeast corner of the property. On June 3, 1950 ground was broken for the present-day church and a new school addition that would include seven new classrooms, a nurse’s office and a cafeteria.
By 1950, over 2,200 families belonged to St. Benedict’s, despite the formation of several other parishes in the immediate diocese including Christ the King, St. Christopher’s, St. Aloysius and St. Leo the Great. Thanksgiving Day of 1952 marked the dedication of the present Church of St. Benedict.
Msgr. Tobin retired as Pastor of St. Benedict’s three years after celebrating the 50th anniversary of the parish in 1970. At the age of 83, he had dedicated more than 53 years of service to the parish – one of the longest in the Diocese’s history. Msgr. Tobin died in 1976, but he and his early counterparts left a legacy that remains untouched by the hands of time.
The Benediction-Lent 2003 Vol 2 Issue 2
History of the Parish: Part II
A School Is Born
In September, 1921, two Franciscan sisters and their 34 pupils met what is now Brunner’s Tavern on Main Street for daily classes, marking the beginning St. Benedict School. Enrollment increased rapidly and by the end of the 1920s, there were 226 students in the school.
In 1930, a new combination church and school was built with the help of many parishioners and other dedicated workers, who were know to as many as the “Twilight League,” a name given to them by Pastor, Monsignor William F. Tobin. Within that permanent church/school building, there were ten classrooms located below the church and an auditorium that was located on the same level as the church. It was in that same year that the Sisters of St. Francis of Williamsville turned over the daily administration of the school to the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity and to the school’s first principal, Sister M. Bertrand. The school continued to progress throughout the 1930s and in 1941, the first open house was held. This year also marked the introduction of a cumulative record card that included pictures and records of the enrolled students.
As the 1940s progressed, it became evident that both the school (now with an enrollment of 393) and the church needed to expand. A library was established in 1947, and then in the 1950’s, ground was broken for the present-day church and a new school addition, which was the primary wing. It consisted of seven new classrooms, a nurse’s office and a cafeteria. An auditorium, located adjacent to the church was divided up into classrooms. The first Kindergarten classroom with a capacity for 61 students was established in 1951 and by 1959, a record 1,000 students were enrolled at St. Benedict School. Outside of the school building, changes were also going on to provide a larger playground to accommodate the many students. This involved the removal of a large house on the property and the respectful removal of a cemetery on the school grounds.
Over the years, a total of 18 principals have assumed leadership within the school, beginning with Sister Engracia and Sister Georgina who served between 1921 and 1930, ending with our present principal Dr. Michael LaFever. Prior to the arrival of Mr. Juan Ramos, Mr. June served as the school custodian from 1953 – 2002, Joseph Bolch served before him from 1928-1953, preceded by Joesph Boeck, who served as caretaker. A number of organizations and traditions have emerged over the years, including the St. Benedict’s parent Home School Association (HSA). The Spelling Bees have been a tradition since 1943, as well as the annual May Crowing ceremony, which was held for many years in the school parking lot and attended by scores of people. The ceremony was later moved into the church where it continues to be celebrated. Today, the school still celebrates many traditions which began in the early days, as it continues to look forward to creating some new traditions for all students and parishioners at St. Benedict.
Looking at Our Parish and Our History
A long time ago, in the early 1900’s, many immigrants were beginning the settle in our area, mostly German and Irish immigrants. Our area was mostly woods and farm lands. Catholics gathered in their homes for prayer.
A holy missionary priest traveled by foot and horseback to celebrate Mass and marry young couples who wanted to start their families. He had holes in his shoes from walking, and often, he fell off of his horse. He started many family groups of Catholics as far as Kenmore, Buffalo, and Tonawanda. He was St. John Neumann.
St. John Neumann later became Bishop of Philadelphia where he began an order of Franciscan sisters to teach the immigrant children and to care for the sick. He sent a group of these sisters to Eden and Williamsville. They became known as the Williamsville Franciscans. Our own Sister Virginia Judge is a Williamsville Franciscan.
As the number of Catholic families grew, they asked Bishop William Turner for permission to start a parish and to send a priest for their pastor.
Bishop William Turner appointed Father William Tobin to begin a new parish in the Eggertsville area. Born in Waterford, Ireland, he was pastor here for 53 years.
Our parish was named after Pope Benedict XV, who was pope at the time.
The first Mass was celebrated in the old Eggertsville Fire hall, on 11/21/1920. 50 people were in attendance.
Fr. Tobin began raising money to build a church in April 1921. He bought the property at Main and Eggert from Mr. Jack Brunner for $5,000.
The first church was a wooden structure, seating 300 people. This was built by the parishioners, costing 5,472.55 in 1921. This wooden structure lasted only 10 years because a bigger structure was soon needed.
A school, which was a converted Brunner’s Tavern, was started that same year, 1921, with 2 Sisters and 34 students. Sisters were Franciscan Sisters from Williamsville. The Williamsville Sisters had the school from 1921-1930.
Sister Virginia had a chance to talk to two Sisters who were the first pupils. Edna and Ernestine Fritz were both in their 90s. Ernestine talked about the first school in the old tavern and she said, “Sister, we could still smell the beer.”
A few years later, the Williamsville Sisters gave the school to the Stella Niagara Franciscans who wanted a grammar school and convent near their high school, Sacred Heart Academy. Franciscan Sisters have served at St. Benedict’s for 80 years.
On Oct. 18, 1926, natural gas was discovered on the property which was used to heat the buildings.
A second church, that could hold 500, was built in 1930. It was a combination church and school. The first level of the building was 20 classrooms. The second level was the church (gym) and auditorium. This church lasted 20 years.
A parish drive was needed. The first annual parish drive was in 1941.
In 1950, our present day structure was built. An addition was put on to the school consisting of 7 classrooms and a cafeteria. In 1959, 1,000 students attended the school. Religious education classes began in 1953.
Every Catholic Church has relics of the saints in the altar stone. St. Margaret May Aloque and Saint Columbian are the saint relics in our altar.
In 1957, the convent was built for the Franciscan sisters from Stella Niagara.
A church is consecrated by the bishop when it is paid for. The Church was consecrated on November 11, 1970 by the late Bishop James A. McNulty. Candles are lit around the interior walls of the church on that day every year to remember this great event.
Msgr. John M. Ryan came January 31, 1981. He was the director of education for the diocese. He was the pastor here for twenty years.
After the retirement of Msgr. Ryan, we were blessed with a new pastor, Father Gary Bagley, followed by Father Joseph Porpiglia and now the current pastor, Fr. Robert M. Mock who is joined by Deacon William Hynes and Msgr. Francis Weldgen as weekend associate.
Our parish has grown to 1,500 families.
Parish Mission Statement
St. Benedict’s parish is a community of baptized believers dedicated to the teachings of Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the Roman Catholic Church. We are called together as a Eucharist people and proclaim the word of God in our world. We accept the challenge to live in the gospel and to love others as Christ loves us.
St. Benedict, pray for us!
Information found about St. Benedict’s School and Community
The Sisters of St. Francis, Williamsville, started the school in 1921. There were two sisters and 34 students. The first school was a remodeled Brunner’s Tavern.
Our Sisters taught in the school from 1921-1930. The ten sisters who taught at St. Benedict’s were:
- Sister Engracia
- Sister Georgina
- Sister Borgia
- Sister Jane Francis
- Sister Agnes Clare
- Sister Kathleen
- Sister Laura
- Sister Evangela
- Sister Borremeo
- Sister Reginald
They commuted from the motherhouse on Pine Street.
The Stella Niagara Sisters asked us for the school because they had opened Sacred Heart High School nearby and wanted a grammar school. So, we gave it to them.
More information can be found in The History of the Establishment and Development of St. Benedict’s School 1920-1955, a thesis exploration compiled by Sister Mary Hilda, O.S.F in June 1954.