Fr. Neal’s final homily at St. John The Evangelist
The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ
June 6, 2010
For more than 30 years now this parish (SJE) has specifically reached out to refugees who have come to our shores looking to begin a new life ---- before that St. John’s was the first Cathedral when the diocese was cut off from the Albany diocese.This building has hosted the ordination of Bishops and Priests and Deacons. Some of you celebrated your first communion, confirmation and were married here. There was a school with Srs. of St. Joseph and a vibrant neighborhood.Sunday mornings saw cars double parked up and down State Street.This whole area was vibrant. This parish for over 157 years has more than fulfilled Jesus’ challenge in the gospel today to DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME.
As we begin this month we sadly realize that much has changed in this neighborhood and our ministry from this particular building is coming to an end --- but the challenge of Christ to be bread and wine for others continues.The refugees – our vibrant Asian community will move to Our Lady of Pompeii/ St Peter’s and they who have been welcomed by you will now be the ones to welcome the new refugees coming to our shores.Many of you will gather with other parish communities to respond to the challenge of the feast that we celebrate this weekend --- to make the real presence that has been experienced in this building for 157 years, a real presence in the world.This building has been a wonderful sacred space for all of us -----but when it comes down to the essence of the Christian message -- we don’t need any buildings to live out the challenge that Christ gives us in the scriptures today.
Cardinal Suenens said it best
“Christ cannot live his life today in this world without our mouth, without our eyes, without our going and coming, without our heart. When we love, it is Christ loving through us. This is Christianity.”
Some of you have chosen to join the community of the Cathedral.The way that the members of that faith community try to live out this message is through its Food Pantry – its Emergency Services for the poor and the Amaus Health Services responding to the needs of the under or non insured.These three ministries give the Cathedral credibility as a faith community ---- that as we come together to worship and share bread and wine we leave that Church to be bread and wine to the poor and disadvantaged in our midst.
I know that some of you have been concerned as to the use of the reserve funds that we have at St. John’s.We have those funds due to the generosity of a bequest and the selling of the rectory, which also saved us for the last ten years --- about $36,000 per year.My commitment to you is to use these funds to maintain this sacred structure until such time it is sold and to support the ministry to the poor and the disadvantaged that the Cathedral is committed to with our CES,and Amaus Health Services.Three years ago I announced a ten-year plan at the Cathedral to consolidate and utilize space that is empty in order to save money and bring in consistent revenue to support the ministry of the Cathedral.Bishop Cunningham has approved of this plan and is working with me to downsize the administrative offices in order to continue the most essential ministry of Christianity – service to the needy in our midst. Thus we are in the process of establishing a collaborative ministry to the poor that is ecumenical.My plan is that some of the funds leftover from St. John’s will help to inaugurate an Ecumenical Food Pantry, Emergency Service to the poor and Free Health services to the underinsured.Thus the moneys given by those generous parishioners and the money saved by my not living in the rectory will go to furthering the essential ministry that we are called to from the gospel today.
I am sure that you are also concerned as to the future of this beautiful structure.We have had two offers to buy the Church.We are hoping to accept a proposal from a gentleman who wants to lease with the option to buy and create a stained glass studio.We are in the process of working out this deal as I speak.
I want to thank you for all that you have done for me in these past 11 years since I have been here at St. John’s.These have been a wonderfully happy years for me.Your faith and friendship have been inspiring.I know that many of you will be worshiping closer to your homes but I want you all to know that you are always welcome at the Cathedral and if I can be of any assistance to you please do not be afraid to call on me.
DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME – as we share the bread and wine that becomes the Christ today ------- the challenge for us- as this parish has met for the past 157 years – to be bread and wine --- to be the Christ.
“Christ cannot live his life today in this world without our mouth, without our eyes, without our going and coming, without our heart. When we love, it is Christ loving through us. This is Christianity.Thank you for your fidelity in living out this message.”
A Little Bit of History
The Reverend John McMenomy was named first Pastor of the fourth Catholic Church in Syracuse in September of 1852. After a groundbreaking in 1853, the first mass was celebrated in the basement of what was to become St. John's, on easter Sunday 1855. The church was constructed with the volunteer help of hundreds of Irish and Polish immigrants who were working on the Erie Canal in Central New York, and when Father Guerdet replaced Father McMenomy in 1867, the exterior remained unpainted, and the steeple had not been completed. But by the end of his term in 1883, Father Guerdet had completed the church, built a new rectory across the street, converted the old rectory at the rear of the church for the Sisters of St. Joseph, and purchased the land at State and Hickory Street for the new St. John's School.
When the Diocese of Syracuse was created in 1887, Bishop Ludden selected St. John's to serve as the first cathedral in his new Diocese. Under his rectors, the Reverend Dr. Lynch and Reverend Michael Cluse, the sanctuary and vestry were enlarged, the school was doubled in size, and the Christian Brother's school was moved from Pearl Street to the northeast corner of State and Willow Streets. By 1904, when the first parish in Syracuse, "Old St. Mary's" was selected to become the new Cathedral, St. John the Evangelist had taken its place as a prominent north side parish. Renovations continued, and in 1907, a third floor was added to the rectory, then in 1916, the altar and sanctuary were redecorated, the "Panels of the 12 Apostles" were completed and the slate roof was relaid.
After the Oswego Canal was filled and the proximity of the railroad became a concern, the rear of the church was reinforced, and steel girders were added to the floor in 1939. During the 1940's, the roof was repaired, the steeple regilded, and the exterior brickwork was repointed. The 1950's brought new interiors to the church and the rectory, terrazzo floors, new entrance doors, and the basement hall and kitchen. And finally in the 1980's, the gold, brown and purple interior of the church was replaced by the present gray, green and mauve.
The classic Gothic structure and inspiring steeple have graced the city skyline for nearly a century and a half, and the people of St. John's remain fiercely proud of this beautiful building. The nave is enriched with ornamental plaster and carved oak, and is home to magnificent stained glass windows that describe the historical growth of this religious artistry from the traditional 19th century craftsmanship found in the windows of the nave, to the great Tiffany styled Sanctuary window behind the main altar. This masterpiece describing the great mysteries of the Christian world in deep, rich colors comes alive in the splendor of the late afternoon sun.
Although the school has passed into history, many graduates still recall the years when this north side neighborhood included not only St. John's and the original Chrsitian Brother's Academy, but also the public Prescott School.
Still remaining at the intersection are the renovated (former) Nettleton Shoe Factory, and the Archimedes Russell designed (former) rectory with its three story bay windows and bracketed cornices.
The rectory was sold in 2003 to lawyers who are renovating and restoring this magnificent landmark to its original beauty.