ST. PATRICK ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH 
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Submitted  by PHGS Brenda Painter Foley 


 Taken from a booklet prepared and edited by Family Life Committee of the Parish Council  in 1983
 

The early Catholic families located in this part of Cattaraugus County in the 1850's because they had been attracted by the forests with their possibilities for lumbering and by the river for shipping  goods.  Consequently, lumbering was the principal occupation and some of the younger men worked as Allegany river pilots. 
If we could look back at West Salamanca as it was over 100 years ago, we would see a little settlement called Bucktooth.  In  the settlement we would see some frame and some log houses, a couple of stores, a tavern, sawmills, and a ferry across the river  that was used when trading with the Indians.  At that time the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad extended it's road  from Jamestown on to Bucktooth to form a junction with the Erie Railroad which had completed it's road from New York to Dunkirk.  Many more people came to live in Bucktooth, among them quite a number of Catholics. 

Father McKeevers, from Ellicottville , visited the families occasionally and attended to their spiritual wants.  The pastor of the Catholic Church in Jamestown became very interested in the little settlement.  So, occasionally , a priest would  come from Jamestown , say Mass in a private home, or a bit later in a small public hall.  As a result of  that missionary work, Bishop Timon, first bishop of our  Diocese, in 1860, directed that a parish be organized in Bucktooth, (by that time renamed Salamanca), to be served by Jamestown clergy. 

The first pastor was Father Patricio Byrne or as usually called, Father Patrick Burns.  He came for services regularly once a month from Jamestown where he resided.  In 1862 a neat church  edifice of wood, 32 ft. by 50 ft. was erected in the northern part of the village, just beyond the Indian Reservation limits.  It was called St. Joseph's Church and served about 300 parishioners. 

Catholics from Killbuck and Little Valley began to attend Mass there.  Need was now felt for a resident priest; and a parsonage was built.  The entire church property had a valuation of about $3,000. 

Other priests who served in the parish each for a short time were Fathers Cahill, McMullen, Bloomer, and Baxter.  Then in 1870 Rev. John Byron was assigned as pastor.  West Salamanca, as it is called today, was beginning to decline and Salamanca, formerly called Hemlock and then East Salamanca, began to grow because the railroads, desiring more yard space, had transferred their business up to town.  Also, a tannery had been established and two lumber mills were operating, one in the vicinity of today's lower Sycamore Ave.  and the other at the end of River Street. 

Consequently, in 1875 Father Byron leased  a plot of land on River St. and, in 1876, erected St. John's Church.  It was a plain, wooden hall 34 ft. by 72 ft. with a seating capacity of 400.  The entrance was on Williams St. Services were held there regularly and the West Salamanca church was closed.  A neat parsonage was purchased near the church (where the convent is now). In 1879 the property valuation  was $4,000 and there were 130 families in the parish, with 50 attending Sunday school. 

By 1882 the Catholic population had so largely increased that St. John's Church was no longer suitable.  Therefore, during that year, the present St. Patrick's Church was erected at a cost of $18,000.  A newspaper item stated…."It is a brick structure and one of the finest churches in the county.  It is patterned, in a small  way,  after St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City." 

There was very little money in  the church  treasury at that time, less than $25.  However, Father Byron  had complete trust in God's help and there was a good staunch  Catholic faith.  Farmers in the vicinity brought their horses and stone boats, men  who were stone masons came, and, refusing any pay, they and other men laid the foundation for the new church.  The brick work was done by Martin Maloney and his helpers.   The 6ft. by 10ft. cross for the top of the steeple, and also the interior woodwork  was done by the O'Connor Brothers, a contracting firm.  The former St. John's Church was then turned around with the entrance on River St. and, for some time, was used as a parish hall for entertainments, etc. 

Under the supervision of Father Byron, a frame church was erected in the village of Little Valley. Also a frame church was built at Killbuck, in what is now the Killbuck Catholic Cemetery.  That church was later closed and the people attended St. Patrick's. 

Father Byron was very saintly, worked tirelessly and was often spoken of  by the old settlers as "the man of the poor", for shopkeepers told of the many pieces of clothing , baskets of food, etc. that he paid for and had delivered to those families in need, regardless of their religion.  His health failed and he died in Buffalo on May 31, 1889. 

The next priests assigned here were Fathers Dunn, Haire, and Connery.  Then, on May 1, 1890, Rev. Peter Berkery  became the pastor.  Like Father Byron, he was a hard worker and a good business man.  In 1892 he built a parochial school at the cost of $10,000 and he bought the Sisters of St. Joseph from Buffalo  to staff the school.  Grades 1 through  8  comprised the set up.  From that time on, boys and girls of St. Pat's Parish have received a splendid secular education as well as a thorough knowledge and training in their Catholic faith. 

The parochial residence was given to the sisters as a convent and a new rectory purchased for the pastor and was used until October 1981 at which time is was completely demolished due to the overall deterioration and run down condition and high operating costs.  Interesting is the fact that it was the first brick house in this part of Salamanca.  It was erected around 1894 as a home by Andrew Krieger who was an early hotel owner here.  One of the Krieger family, John, became City Attorney in later years. 

Rev. Thomas Barrett succeeded Father Berkery.  In 1903, he built our present convent.  The old wooden convent had partially burned and was moved back on Allegany  St. and later used as a parish tenant house.  The new convent of brick and stone, with fine woodwork and a beautiful chapel, was and still is, considered one of the finest convents in the Diocese. 
 

During the time Father Barrett was here, a fine young priest, Rev. John Weismantel, was appointed our first assistant.  He did a great deal for the young people of the parish, strengthening the organization of the Children of  Mary, etc. 

When Father Barrett was changed to St. Stephen Parish in Buffalo, Rev. John Dealy became our pastor.  He was not well and died in 1915. 

When the new pastor, Rev. Robert Walsh arrived, he found everything in good shape, being cared for by the fine young assistant, Irish born Rev. Lawrence O'Farrelly.  During World War I Father O'Farrelly took a very active part in community affairs, especially the work of the Red Cross.  He was loved by both non-catholics and catholics, and he, in turn, loved Salamanca second only to his Ireland.  Before he died on July 22, 1924, at the age of 41, he requested that he be buried here in Calvary Cemetery, and that is where his grave is.  Father Leo Geary then became our assistant. 

In 1928, Father Walsh was changed to St. Mark,s Parish in Buffalo.  The new pastor , Rev. Charles Maxwell, was here but a short time.  He was succeeded by Rev. Peter Berkery, who as a young lad, had often visited his Uncle, Rev. Peter Berkery, and was called "Little Peter".  He, like his uncle, was a sincere priest and a good business man.  However, he suffered a severe illness.  Apparently regaining his health, he went South for a brief visit and died very suddenly in Atlantic City as he was returning to Salamanca (May 24, 1929) 

In July 1929 the Bishop assigned Rev. Michael Colligan as pastor here.  The assistant was Rev. Richard Deasy, who within a few months was changed.  Then, for  short periods, Father LeBlanc and Father Norman O'Meara served as assistants. 

In the spring of 1930 Rev. James J. Kirby was changed from assistant in Jamestown, to assistant at St. Patrick's.  During that year plans were drawn for a new school building facing Allegany St.  This addition was deemed necessary because the enrollment in our school had greatly increased. 

The parish tenant house was moved across the street to the rear of the church and construction of the new building was begun.  It was of brick, one story in height, and contained two classrooms and a large hall  which could, when needed, be converted into two classrooms.  The building was opened for use in January 1931. 

In 1932, while Father Colligan was on a trip to Rome and the Holy Land, Father Kirby had some landscaping done on the church grounds and some rooms in the rectory repapered.   For Christmas of 1938, a new pipe organ was installed. 

Father Kirby was deeply loved by the elderly and people who were ill because of the encouragement and pleasure he gave to them  by his frequent visits.  In the course of time,  Father Kirby was transferred to St. Louis Parish in Buffalo.  He died on  June 18, 1949 at the age  of 52.  Like Father O'Farrelly, next to his native Ireland, he felt that Salamanca was his home.  He wished to be buried here.  His request was granted and he was laid to rest in Calvary Cemetery next to Father O'Farrelly. 

It is noteworthy that this first parish history was researched and written by Helen Wright, a long-time parishioner of St. Pat's who ended her research with this little verse: 

"A better parish there never was,
Nor better people in it.
Whatever fault this parish may have, 
Don't say a word agin' it"

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