1836 - 1936

Pope Pius XI
Our Holy Father


DIE 10 SEPT., 1936
Nihil Obstat


Gum Permissu Superiorum

Edward Mooney
Most Reverand
Bishop of Rochester, New York


John F. Byrne, C. SS. R.

Rev. Kuhn
Very Reverand
Superior Provincial of the Baltimore Province


tree IN ORDER to understand the early history of St. Joseph's Church, Rochester, one must know what is meant by Trusteeism.

Trusteeism may be defined as the system whereby not the Bishop, but laymen elected as trustees by the congregation held the deed of the church property. In itself this system was not wrong, provided it in no way involved the denial of the right of the Church to acquire, possess and administer property, real, personal and mixed. It is a truth pertaining to our Holy Faith that Christ founded His Church as a perfect society, and as such she must of necessity enjoy this right, all the laws of the State to the contrary notwithstanding. The denial of this right springs from the false principle that the Church is subject to the State, but as a divine institution she can never be thus subject, either in spiritual matters or in temporal matters connected with her spiritual authority. However, in a given case the Church may, for sufficient reasons, cede the exercise of her right to hold property, but not the right itself, because this is necessary that she may properly fulfil her spiritual mission.

Now since Trusteeism was not wrong in itself, the venerable Archbishop Carroll, Founder of the Church in the United States, authorized and instituted the system of lay Trusteeism in Catholic congregations, because he wished, as far as possible, to harmonize the outward administration of church property with the democratic principles on which our government is founded. But Trusteeism soon led to the gravest abuses in practically every section of the country in which the Church was established:

"From St. Peter's Church in New York City to the Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, then down the Atlantic seaboard to Baltimore, Norfolk, Charleston, and Savannah, and then westward to New Orleans, the standard of rebellion had been raised by groups of laymen who were fighting for a principle which would have ended, as Carroll once told them 'the unity and Catholicity of our Church'." (1)

This principle was the right of lay trustees to interfere in the spiritual jurisdiction of the Church, especially to choose and to dismiss their pastors at will. That the Church could never for a moment countenance or tolerate such an utterly unwarranted assumption of authority, follows from the fact that by divine institution she must be governed by the hierarchy, that is by the bishops, not by the laity, as is clear from the acts of the Apostles:

"Take heed to yourselves, and to the whole flock, wherein the Holy Ghost has placed you bishops, to rule the church of God, which he bath purchased with his own blood." (XX, 26).

Therefore in her Canon Law (No. 1184) the Church lays down explicit and detailed prohibitions against any intrusion on the part of lay trustees in matters which pertain to her spiritual authority.

On the other hand the Church does not exclude laymen, chosen in the right manner, from all voice in the temporal administration of her temples of worship. On July 29, 1911, the Sacred Congregation of the Council declared that the method of holding church property in vogue in the Archdiocese of New York might be taken as a model. According to that method each church is incorporated as a distinct legal entity, the members of the corporation being the Ordinary of the Diocese, the Vicar General, the pastor, and two laymen proposed by him and approved by the Bishop.

In view of the many abuses which arose from Trusteeism in the early days, the First Provincial Council of Baltimore, in 1829, decreed that in the future wherever possible, no new churches were to be erected unless the deeds were made out in the bishop's name. But the State of New York has passed a law, April 6, 1784, though usually dated under the Revised Statutes of April 5, 1813, which enabled "all Religious denominations in this State to appoint trustees, who shall be a body corporate for the purpose of taking care of the temporalities of their respective congregations and for the purposes therein mentioned." (2) In accordance with this law St. Joseph's or St. Mary's congregation, as it was then called, elected trustees on August 7, 1836, who shortly afterward had themselves incorporated, thus becoming the legal holders of the church property. In view of the fact that the First Provincial Council of Baltimore had inserted the words "wherever possible," in its decree prescribing that no new churches were to be erected unless the deeds were made out in the bishop's name, we may hold that the trustees in Rochester did not culpably violate the ecclesiastical law, because the civil law in New York State was that the trustees should hold the deed of the church property, and it could be presumed that the Church would tolerate such an enactment.

During his first year in Rochester Father Prost had no trouble at all with the trustees; in fact he says that they "were always docile to the pastor's wishes." Under such circumstances the Church would have no complaint to make; but after he announced his intention of building a new church on property of which he held the deed, he met with determined opposition, and in 1837 trustees hostile to him were elected. Their attitude was that if he built a church on his own property, he would be the lord and master, and they would have no rights at all except to contribute money. While they did not in so many words claim jurisdiction in spiritual matters, their language admitted of that construction, and their hostile spirit made it morally certain that they would hamper their pastor in the full and free exercise of his sacred ministry, and try to usurp his spiritual rights over his flock. Trustees of that type came under the ban of the Church; therefore Father Prost could not yield to them, and accordingly left Rochester. The fact that Bishop Dubois would not even answer the letters which the congregation wrote to him, asking to have Father Neumann appointed their pastor, would seem to indicate that the prelate fully upheld Father Prost. However, the trustees eventually saw the light, and concord took the place conflict.


original church
St. Joseph's Church, 1836
Ely Street


The founding of St. Joseph's Parish, Rochester, New York, July 10, 1836, brings us back to the pioneer days of the Catholic Church in this country. At that time there were only twelve dioceses in the United States, including one metropolitan see, Baltimore. To-day there are 104 dioceses, embracing 15 metropolitan sees. Then there were only about 370 priests in the country, now there are about 31,300. A hundred years ago there was in the whole State of New York only one diocese, with about 35 priests; at present there are 7 dioceses with about 4500 priests. In 1836 the Catholic population of the country was estimated at about 900,000; now it is about $20,650,000.

One of the most pressing problems of the Church in the United States a century ago was to provide a sufficient number of priests for the steadily mounting German Catholic population. Official government statistics for the Port of New York alone show that during the decade 1820-1830, there were only 7698 German immigrants; but during the next decade, 1830-1840, the number rose to 153,454. We have no reliable statistics to prove how many of them were of our faith, but we do know that during the latter decade the Catholic population of the country more than doubled; (1) and judging from the many appeals for German priests made by the Bishops at that time, we may conclude that a very large number of these immigrants were Catholics.

The history of German Catholicism in Rochester begins with John B. KIem, a native of Marlen, Baden, who, after a short stay in Montreal, Canada, came here with his family in 1816, the year before the village was incorporated. In 1834, when it became a city, the population was about 14,000, of whom between four hundred and five hundred were German Catholics.

At first they attended St. Patrick's Church, built in 1823, which, as time advanced, naturally became overcrowded. On Feb. 23, 1833, a group of Catholics belonging to this congregation: Messrs. Patrick Kearney, John Sheridan, William O'Neil, and Patrick O'Mailey, of Rochester; and Messrs. William Tone of Chili and Nicholas Read of Greece, bought for S3000.00 a building on St. Paul Street, formerly occupied by the First Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal Congregation of Rochester, which they converted into a Catholic church, calling it St. Mary's. The German Catholics then frequented this church and were considered part of the congregation. In 1834, when the Rev. John Raffeiner, of New York, the great German pioneer, was in Rochester with the Most Rev. Bishop Dubois on episcopal visitation, he advised his countrymen to get a church of their own; but as most of them were poor and as they had no immediate prospect of obtaining a German priest, they took no steps to follow his suggestion. Unfortunately St. Mary's Church soon became involved in financial difficulties, and on Feb. 22, 1835, the trustees were compelled to reconvey the property to the Methodists for $3600.00. Once more all the Catholics of Rochester had only one church in which to worship, St. Patrick's; and the congestion was so great that the problem of a separate church for the Germans became acute.

In October, 1835, the Rev. Joseph Prost, C. SS. R., Superior of the Redemptorists in this country, while on his way to Green Bay, Wis., was forced by a break in the canal to stop off at Rochester. Addressing the Germans in St. Patrick's Church, he urged them with all the eloquence at his command to establish a church of their own as soon as possible, at the same time assuring them in no uncertain terms that at the earliest opportunity he would either return to them himself or send another Redemptorist to be their pastor.

On Dec. 7 following, Messrs. Bernard Kiem, Ignatius Eichhorn and John Wegmann purchased for $1600.00 a piece of property at Ely Street and Minerva Place, on which the First African Methodist Episcopal Church had been built in 1827. In the deed this property is thus described:

"all that Tract or parcel of land situate in the City of Rochester, in that part thereof lying on the east side of the Genesee River … being the same lot on which stands a brick building and the lot being forty feet on Ely Street, and extending back southerly from Ely Street, the said width of forty feet for the depth or distance of seventy-one feet." (2)

The purchase was made for the new German Catholic congregation, but as Mr. Wegmann many years later declared:

"We took the deed and gave our mortgage on the premises, with bond of personal liability. We collected with hard labor $372, and borrowed of the late Patrick Kearney the balance to make a payment of $400." (3)

Shortly afterwards they wrote to Father Prost about the transaction, informing him that they would transform the building into a Catholic church, with residential quarters for the pastor.

In his Sketches of Rochester, 1838, p. 290, Henry O'Reilly thus describes the building: "external area in square feet: 1530; area of audience room in square feet: 1359; pew room in running feet: 359."

Late in the spring of 1836 Father Prost, despairing of establishing a Redemptorist foundation in Green Bay, left there for Rochester to become pastor of the German congregation.

At this point another priest appears on the scene, the Ven. John Nepomucene Neumann, C. SS. R., D. D., Fourth Bishop of Philadelphia, whose virtues were declared heroic, Dec. 11, 1921, by Pope Benedict XV. Father Neumann was ordained priest June 25, 1836, in old St. Patrick's Cathedral, N. Y., by Bishop Dubois, and at once assigned to the Niagara region. When he was leaving New York, June 28, the Bishop instructed him to stop off at Rochester and minister to the German congregation. In his diary he says:

Tuesday, July 5—I arrived here (Rochester) yesterday. … The church trustees here are really good men, especially Klem and Eichhorn. The German church will cost them $1000, of which sum they owe over one-half. The Germans want by all means to have me here. To-day or to-morrow they are going to write to the Bishop to grant their request. … On next Sunday I shall preach for the first time in America, and perhaps as the first priest in the German church here.

Wednesday, July 6— … Before next Sunday no one will make a move to come to confession to me. Yesterday I undertook the instruction of the children. Things look sad. Most of the children have not attended any school. They have only a meagre knowledge of English and German. As the result of scant cultivation many weeds have sprung up, and there is no thought of a German school.

Thursday, July 7—To-day Rev. O'Reilly received a letter from Father Prost. He will arrive here in 14 or 16 days. … To-day I administered the Sacrament of Baptism for the first time.

Saturday, July 9—To-morrow I shall preach and hear confessions for the first time.

Wednesday, July 13, Buffalo: My two sermons on Sunday consoled me very much. … Father Prost arrived the same day, July 10, late in the evening. He is really a holy, lovable man, who greatly excites in me a desire to enter his Order. On Monday I left Rochester, where for the first time I baptized, heard confessions and attended the dying; and yesterday at 3:00 P. M. I arrived here. (4)

Father Prost received a cordial welcome from the people, who were delighted that at last they had a pastor of their own. However, there was one great drawback: the church would be owned and controlled by lay trustees, and as long as this state of affairs lasted, it would be impossible for him to establish a Redemptorist foundation, which was the end he had in view. Nevertheless, in all other respects the situation was encouraging, because his parishioners were really devout and ready to correspond with all his efforts for their spiritual welfare. When he began his ministry, the church was nearing completion, and although he does not tell us just when he said the first Mass therein, the writer hazards the guess that it was on Sunday, July 17, the Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer. "The opening of the church," he says, "was celebrated with great ceremony. … Joy beamed on every countenance." On July 24 and 31, as the following document shows, announcement was made that on Aug. 7, an election of trustees would be held in the church.

"To all whom it may concern-We hereby certify that on the seventh day of August, 1836, the male persons of full age who had statedly worshipped with the Congregation known as St. Mary's Church in Rochester and who had formerly been considered as belonging thereto, met at the Church or place of worship of said Congregation in Rochester, County of Monroe and State of New York for an election of Trustees pursuant to the public notice of the time when and the place where given by the minister of said Congregation fifteen days and upwards before the day of said Election; that said notice was thus given for two successive Sabbaths preceding the day of Election: there being no elders or Church Wardens belonging to said Congregation, we, the Subscribers, being two of the members of said Church and Congregation, were duly nominated by a Majority of the members present to preside at said Election and to do all the other acts then necessary, and we accordingly did thus preside:-

And further we certify that at said Election Bernard Klem, Ignatius Eichhorn, Frederick Menges, John Wackermann, Jacob Erdle, and Jacob Ringeistein were by plurality of voices duly Elected to serve as Trustees and their successors shall forever hereafter be called and known b the name or title of Trustees of St. Mary's Church in Rochester, all which we certify under our hands and seals this seventh day of August, l836

Ignatius Eichhorn (L. S.)
Jacob Erdle (L. S.)" (5)

On August 16 the church property was transferred to the trustees by the three men who had held it in trust for the congregation: Messrs. Bernard Klem, John Wegmann and Ignatius Eichhorn; and on the 20th the certificate of incorporation was duly recorded in the office of the County Clerk.

The trustees voted Father Prost an annual salary of four hundred dollars, and assigned to him, in the basement of the church, living quarters free of rent. The pew-rent and the offertory collections were sufficient not only to pay the pastor's salary but also to liquidate in a short time a large part of the debt. The trustees, says Father Prost, were "upright and trustworthy men, who were always docile to the priest's wishes." Temporally and spiritually the church seemed to be on the high road to prosperity. In July, 1837, the Most Rev. Bishop Dubois conducted episcopal visitation in Rochester, and was so pleased with Father Frost's achievements that he twice celebrated Pontifical Mass in the church, which at this time he dedicated in honor of St. Joseph.


Several months previous to this event Father Prost received two donations: the one of 5000 forins (about $2400.00) from the Leopoldine Society of Vienna through Bishop Dubois; the other of 5000 forins (about $2880.00) from the Most Rev. Roman Sebastian Zaengerle, of Gratz, Austria. Of the former sum $1000.00 went to pay off the debt on St. Joseph's Church; the balance served to do likewise for St. Patrick's. With the money received from Bishop Zaengerle, Father Frost bought, Feb. 7, 1837, for $1400.00, lots 84 and 85 on Franklin Street, in the Atwater and Andrews tract, each four rods in front and in rear and ten rods in depth, containing one fourth of an acre of land each. (6) "With the remainder of this money, $1480.00, he purchased two lots in the vicinity of the church on Ely Street, lots 21 and 24 in the subdivision of the Ely homestead." (7)

The purpose of the gift from Bishop Zaengerle was to build a church in America in honor of St. Joseph, or at least to have an altar in his honor erected in such a church. In buying the lots on Franklin Street, Father Frost's plan was to construct thereon a church of which he would hold the deed, for only with such a church could he establish a Redemptorist foundation. In explaining his purchase of the two lots on Ely Street, he says:

"In this way I endeavored to make my money productive, as I could not trust the banks on account of the business panic. In case no house of the Redemptorists were established in Rochester, I could easily convert this property into cash with advantage; for the rapidly increasing population of the city raised the value of land, and every day there were calls for houses and building lots." (8)

When it leaked out through some of the officials of the Bank of Rochester that Father Frost had received large subsidies from Austria, quite a few of his parishioners began to show themselves less liberal and to lose confidence in him. The high tide of his popularity began to ebb, and when he announced to the people that he intended to build a new church on Franklin Street, he met with great opposition, some favoring his plan, others, who seem to have been the stronger, opposing it.

"If our pastor, 'said his opponents,' builds a church on his own property, the church will be his; he will be the lord and master, and we shall have no right to say a word. Our only right will be to open our purses, and contribute money. We shall have to dance as he fiddles." (9)

At the annual election of trustees in 1837, men opposed to Father Prost were chosen by a great majority, because most of those who favored him were strangely indifferent about the matter and quite a few of them absented themselves from the election. Furthermore the choice of the new trustees was really the result of an underhand conspiracy, and therefore Father Frost denounced it, maintaining that it ought to be declared null and void, as opposed to the spirit of the Church, and notifying the parishioners that unless they elected new trustees within eight days, he would leave Rochester. On hearing this announcement his friends regretted that they had stayed away from the election, and those who had allowed themselves to be persuaded to vote for his opponents, were ashamed of their disloyalty. Another election was held, at which those very men were chosen who had previously been excluded by the conspirators. Nevertheless the opposition was so aggressive, determined and stubborn that in the end they succeeded in weakening Father Frost's hold on a very considerable part of his flock.

Seeing that he had lost favor with so many of the people, he summoned another Redemptorist from Peru, Ohio, to Rochester, the Rev. Peter Czackert, who arrived here in February, 1838. Still the trouble continued, and Father Prost, realizing that with a divided congregation he could not succeed in building a new church, left Rochester at the end of May. However, in order to soften the blow of his departure for those who remained loyal to him, he allowed Father Czackert to remain until the middle of August, 1838, when he also set out for Peru, where Father Prost was then struggling to establish a Redemptorist foundation.

The drastic step which he had taken in leaving Rochester, was not intended as a final measure, but rather as a temporary expedient. Deep down in his heart Father Prost cherished the hope and expectation of returning to his once faithful people when the skies would clear. He reasoned that time would likely bring a change for the better, that many of those who had opposed him, would in the retrospect regret their conduct and would be glad to have him return. He justified his leaving them on the ground that they would not be entirely abandoned, for they still had Father O'Reilly, pastor of St. Patrick's, to say Mass for them and minister to their urgent spiritual needs. Of course it would be a hardship for them to be without a German priest, but this, he considered, was a just penalty for their contumacy.

After Father Prost's departure Father Neumann visited them from time to time for about a year. In December, 1838, he wrote to Father Prost, in part, as follows:

"Last week, at the repeated request of the congregation in Rochester, I undertook the task of paying them a visit. The Germans several times asked our Most Rev. Bishop for me, but for reasons well known to you, they received no answer. If the decision rested with me alone, I should never think of leaving my own people, because if once abandoned, they would remain so on account of their extreme poverty.

On the other hand such is the condition of the congregation in Rochester that we may presume that no priest would of his own volition refuse to take care of them. They have this advantage also, that until the arrival of their own pastor, they always enjoyed the consolations of religion, and they can assist at divine service in the Irish church, which they have actually done since Father Czackert left them.

Shortly before my departure I was requested by both sides to visit them, if possible, once a month. As this surprised me and as I considered it imperative to do nothing without the consent of Father O'Reilly, I deferred my answer. The thought occurred to me that perhaps I should explain conditions to you. If Father O'Reilly does not object, I shall visit them, but only on condition that the Trustees renounce their claim to administer the church funds etc., but approve of the dismissal of the school teacher.

But as I am not sufficiently acquainted with the respective parties, I request you, Rev. Sir, to advise me in this matter.

For the rest I gladly state that this short stay in your abandoned congregation afforded me much spiritual profit. The Lord be praised for this! The respect which you instilled into these people for the House of God, but still more, the ardent longing with which hundreds come forward to receive the Adorable Body of Christ, filled me with admiration, because in my congregations, which are about as numerous, I seldom have the consolation of beholding such great love for God. Therefore I hope for certain that the Lord will again visit them after a punishment so grievous. The majority of those who believe that they are in any way the cause of this misfortune, would most likely do everything to have either you or one of your confreres return to them. Should it be possible for you, Rev. Sir, to help this congregation along in any way, I renew my request with theirs. Do help them!" (l0)

The women especially deplored Father Prost's departure, and reproached their husbands for causing him to leave them. The men, thus put on the defensive, tried to excuse themselves by pretending that they never really meant to oppose him, and asserted that they were willing to make every reasonable concession to have him return. They wrote repeated letters to Father Prost, imploring him either to come back himself or to send another Redemptorist in his stead. The result was that in August, 1839, the Rev. Simon Saenderl, C. SS. R., who since 1836 had been laboring among the Ottawa Indians in Arbre Croche, Michigan, left there for Rochester to take charge of the German congregation. He reached here about the middle of September, coming just in time to save the parish for the Redemptorists, because the very day after his arrival, the Rev. Clement Hammer appeared on the scene with an appointment from Bishop Hughes as pastor of St. Joseph's.

On August 4, 1839, this prelate, as Coadjutor Bishop of New York, administered Confirmation in St. Patrick's, Rochester, and while here gave serious thought to the vacancy in St. Joseph's. On returning home he received official notice that on account of the physical and mental incapacity of Bishop Dubois, he had been appointed Administrator of the diocese. He now had authority to fill the vacancy, and his first choice was Father Neumann; but becoming convinced on second thought that it would be very difficult to find a priest qualified to fill his place in the Niagara region, he appointed Father Hammer, a Bohemian, as pastor of St. Joseph's. However, when the latter arrived at his post he found Father Saenderl in possession, and gracefully withdrew.


As the people of St. Joseph's had been chastened by their sad experience in being deprived of a German priest for a whole year, the great majority of them received Father Saenderl with open arms. Harmony again prevailed--at least for two years. But when in 1841 he proposed the erection of a new church on Franklin Street, on the site acquired by Father Frost in 1837, serious trouble arose. Those parishioners living on the west side of the Genesee River objected to this site, on the east side, as inconvenient for them. Moreover a small minority preferred to have a diocesan priest as pastor; but when this question was put to a vote, all but twelve men favored the Redemptorists.

On June 21, 1841, Father Saenderl purchased a piece of property adjoining that bought by Father Frost; and on September 6 the trustees resolved to hand over to the former the amount of money on hand, and to entrust to him the construction of the church. The actual transfer of the funds, $601.07, took place on November 8. Thus the Redemptorists at last obtained a permanent foundation in Rochester, but their troubles were by no means at an end.


"The party of malcontents in St. Joseph's Parish did not become reconciled to the Redemptorists' plans, and in the winter eleven German Catholics met at the house of Mr. Masseth to consider the possibility of building a Roman Catholic Church on the west side of the River. They sent Mr. Sebastian Zeug to New York to obtain the requisite permission to build from Bishop Hughes. This was readily granted in writing, but on condition that the Rev. Pastor, Simon Saenderl, give his consent. The latter permitted these Catholics to organize a meeting, which was held in School House No. 1, with Mr. Schweizer as Chairman and Mr. Zeug as Secretary." (11)

The sixty-four men present unanimously resolved, Feb. 23, 1842, to build a church on the west side of the river. When they began operations, trouble arose between them and Father Saenderl, who did not know that they had permission from Bishop Hughes to build. As both Father Saenderl and Father O'Reilly refused to lay the corner-stone, the men did so themselves, inserting therein the following notice:

"Whereas, we have been much deceived by the Redemptorist Fathers, we are going to build in spite of them a Catholic Church, not to be sold, alienated, or transferred, or given away to any person whomsoever as long as the church members, one to three, oppose it." (12)

When the Rev. Benedict Bayer succeeded Father Saenderl, in July, 1842, conditions did not improve. He refused to recognize the opposition church as a canonical institution, and at last Bishop Hughes went to Rochester to settle the trouble. He insisted that the deed of the property be delivered to him, and when this was done, January 26, 1843, he declared the church to be lawful. It was dedicated in honor of St. Peter, June 29 following, by the Rev. Ivo Leviz, a Franciscan, who had much trouble with his congregation and in May, 1846, resigned his charge. For the next three months the Redemptorists, forgetting past injuries, administered the church.


To Contents

To next chapter(s)

To On-line Books Page

Home To GenWeb of Monroe Co. page.