1836 - 1936

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Rev. Burger
Founder of St. Francis De Sales Deaf-Mute Chapel

"And they bring to him one deaf and dumb; and they besought him that he would lay his hand upon him.

And taking him from the multitude apart, he put his fingers into his ears, and spitting, he touched his tongue:

And looking up to heaven, he groaned, and said to him: 'Ephpheta,' which is, Be thou opened.

And immediately his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke right." (30)

The cure of the deaf-mute by Our Divine Lord naturally suggests the subject of the spiritual care of these afflicted people. In this regard St. Joseph's has shone conspicuously for the past twenty-eight years. In 1908 the Rev. William Kessel, Rector, organized the "St. Joseph's Ephpheta Society," in their interest; and twice a month he and the Rev. Aloysius Engelhardt gave an instruction to about twenty-five Catholic deaf-mutes in the sign language. They were followed by the Revs. Joseph Schnorr and Aloysius Strauss.

But in February, 1926, this work assumed a wider scope, when the Rev. Charles Burger, who had just been assigned to St. Joseph's, was appointed chaplain of all the Catholic deaf-mutes in the Diocese of Rochester by the Most Rev. Bishop Hickey. Father Burger came to his apostolate, a mature man of fifty-three, with about fourteen years experience as a missionary among the deaf-mutes. In November, 1914, he received high commendation for his remarkable zeal in this field from the Most Rev. Bishop Canevin of Pittsburgh. The following March he gave a mission to the Catholic and non-Catholic deaf-mutes in St. Philomena's Church that city, which was so successful that the Rev. Thomas F. Coakley, pastor of the deaf-mutes in Pittsburgh, sent a syndicated letter to all the Catholic papers in the country, calling attention to Father Burger's splendid work. After such nation-wide publicity his fame preceded him to Rochester, and Bishop Hickey told him that he must continue his work until a diocesan priest could be found to take his place. Such an order was really superfluous, because Father Burger was only too willing to devote the rest of his life to his beloved deaf-mutes; and as a matter of fact he continued his work with unfailing enthusiasm and unflagging zeal until mortal illness laid him low. He began his task by getting, as far as possible. The names of all the Catholic deaf-mutes in the diocese, and it was his constant endeavor to keep in close touch with all of them, on the principle laid down by Our Lord; "I know mine and mine know me." (31)

During the Lent of 1926 he conducted the Stations of the Cross on Sundays in St. Joseph's for his silent flock. On Low Sunday, April 11. Easter Communion was held at the nine o'clock Mass, about thirty-two people receiving. Father Burger explained the Mass to them and led the usual Communion prayers-all in the sign language. Pentecost Sunday, May 23, was First Communion day for one boy and seven girls from the Rochester School for the Deaf. Ephpheta Sunday, August 8, 1926, was celebrated by a General Communion, at which forty-one people approached the Holy Table. On December 12 the Sacrament of Confirmation was administered to twelve persons: two men, two women, three boys and five girls. After the services Father Burger assembled those who had been confirmed and other deaf-mutes to the number of twenty-five in the presence of the Bishop, and showed him how they prayed by signs and finger-spelling. On the first Sunday of every month he preached to them in St. Joseph's, the average attendance being twenty-five. On October 17 and 24 he addressed the deaf-mutes in St. John's Church, Elmira, ten being present on each occasion.

Besides Rochester Father Burger established centres for his work at Canandaigua, Auburn and Elmira; and when he found it impossible to reach these places regularly, he adopted the practice of sending the deaf-mutes a monthly circular, which combined the advantages of a sermon and an instruction. In one of these letters, February 21, 1930, he says:

"As usual I shall pay the travelling expenses every Sunday, to and fro, of those who come a distance of 5-200 miles to attend our Lenten services."

On seven successive Sundays, March 2-April 13, 1930, Father Burger gave his parishioners from the whole diocese a simple, practical instruction on some phase of the Holy Eucharist, thus preparing them for their Easter duty. Every Friday afternoon he had the children from the Rochester School for the Deaf brought to St. Joseph's for instruction. On June 7, 1931, he opened, in St. Joseph's Hall, St. Francis de Sales' Chapel for deaf-mutes, where Mass is celebrated every Sunday at nine o'clock.

De Sales
St. Francis De Sales Deaf-Mute Chapel

Father Burger even provided silent "movies" regularly for them. Some non-Catholics attended them, thus affording him an opportunity to get in touch with them.

In addition to his labors in the Diocese of Rochester, he also gave missions, retreats and tridua to the deaf-mutes in Cincinnati, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Hartford, Conn. Everywhere his labors were abundantly blessed.

In 1931 the Rev. William Doherty was sent to St. Joseph's to assist Father Burger; and in 1933, when the veteran deaf-mute missionary became incapacitated by the ravages of disease, Father Doherty succeeded him as chaplain of the deaf-mutes of the diocese. In 1935 he was joined by the Rev. Gerard Kuhn. Filled with the energy and enthusiasm of youth these two Redemptorists are faithfully carrying on the work so nobly done by Father Burger and his predecessors.

Through the courtesy of Father Doherty we are able to present the following summary of the deaf-mute apostolate at the present time: Number of deaf-mute adults in the City of Rochester: seventy-eight; number elsewhere in the diocese: twenty-three; total of adults: one hundred and one; number of deaf-mute children in the city: fifty; number elsewhere: twelve; total of children: sixty-two; grand total: one hundred and sixty-three. Average attendance of adults at Sunday Mass in St. Francis de Sales' Chapel, between twenty-five and thirty; but here it is to be remarked that those living at a distance usually assist at Mass in their respective parish churches; average attendance of children at Sunday Mass about fifty. They are brought from the Rochester School for the Deaf on the street car. About ninety children and adults receive Holy Communion monthly in the Chapel; others approach the Holy Table in their own churches. On special occasions, such as Easter and Ephpheta Sunday, the attendance at Mass in the Chapel is between fifty and sixty. Since 1933 there have been four marriages, one of which was mixed; during the same period there have been three converts. Lenten services, Holy Week services and Forty Hours' Devotion are regularly held for the deaf-mutes.

In January of this year Father Doherty organized a social club for the Catholic deaf of the city. It began with twenty-five members. The primary purpose of the club is to wean the Catholics away from non-Catholic social gatherings, and thus eliminate or at least minimize the danger of mixed marriages and the loss of faith. However non-Catholics are not excluded from the social affairs.

In the Catholic Courier, Rochester, N. Y., January 19, 1933, a lengthy article appeared on the deaf-mute work at St. Joseph's. It said in part:

"Although the work among the deaf is progressing, yet it is not progressing at the speed it should. Much of its tardy progress is due to the parents of these afflicted people. Sad to say, parents of the deaf are as a rule ashamed of their deaf offspring and therefore hide them from public view, until it is impossible to do so any longer. They consider the deafness of the child a reflection on themselves. Others again will not take the full interest in their children that they ought to take, with the result that their grown-up sons and daughters become shiftless. When, however, the parents are solicitous, helpful and zealous, then you have deaf men and boys, women and girls, of whom any chaplain will be proud. It is pitiful and sad to see parents careless in the spiritual education of their deaf offspring A soul is a soul, dear to God and created to His image, be it united to the body of a deaf, of a mute, of a blind or a crippled person. Heaven is its true home, as well as it is the home of your or my soul."

Before closing this article it is proper to mention that Father Burger died a most edifying death on August 20, 1934, in the Bon Secours Hospital, Baltimore, his native city. His funeral was held on the 24th from St. Michael's Church, and the interment took place in Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery. Followed by the heartfelt prayers of hundreds of Catholic deaf-mutes, to whom he had been a friend and father in Christ, this noble and zealous priest, this true Redemptorist sleeps the sleep of the just. Peace be to his ashes! Eternal rest to his soul!


With pardonable pride the Redemptorists of Rochester can point to ten parishes which they were largely instrumental in founding. St. Joseph's has therefore been a fruitful mother, truly blessed in her progeny.

The first of these parishes was St. Mary's, Rochester, for French Catholics. In 1840 Father Saenderl gathered the native French and French-Canadians in a dance-hall and began to minister to them; but in 1848 the old church on Ely Street was handed over to them by Bishop Timon; and as they still had no priest of their own, the prelate called on the Fathers of St. Joseph's to look after them. The Rev. Francis X. Masson then took charge of the church until December, 1849, when he was succeeded by the Rev. Edward Van Campenhout. Three years later a diocesan priest, the Rev. A. Saunier, was appointed pastor; but in 1854 the charge again devolved on the Redemptorists, who retained it until February, 1858, when a permanent pastor, the Rev. B. F. LeFevre, took up the work. In 1868 a new French church, Our Lady of Victory's, was erected on Pleasant Street.

In 1856 the priests of St. Joseph's began to make semi-annual trips to Elmira in the interest of the German Catholics. But they were so few that it was not until ten years later that any steps were taken to build a church. In 1866 the Rev. Dominic Zwickert took up a census, which showed ninety families, numbering three hundred and ninety souls, in Elmira proper; and within a radius of six miles, six families embracing forty souls. If these four hundred and thirty souls were to be saved to the Faith, a church was an absolute necessity. In June of that year Father Zwickert secured a piece of property, and on November 26, 1866, the corner-stone of a church was laid by the Very Rev. Peter Bede, pastor of Saints Peter and Paul's Church, Elmira. In August, 1868, when the Diocese of Rochester was established, Elmira, remaining in the Diocese of Buffalo, began to be attended by the Redemptorists of that city, who had the German church, a frame building, dedicated in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1871 a diocesan priest, the Rev. Bartholomew Gruber, was appointed pastor.

Among the mission-stations visited in 1857 was Auburn, where the Germans had a simple unpretentious church heavily in debt. Continual dissensions had disrupted the parish, and the church was about to be sold by the sheriff, when the Rev. John DeDycker, pastor of St. Joseph's, went there and promised the people to send them a priest every month, if they showed any disposition to profit by his ministrations. This was practically the beginning of the present parish of St. Alphonsus, which the Redemptorists attended until 1869, when the Rev. Charles Vogl, of the diocesan clergy, became pastor.

Until 1859 the German Catholics of Penfield, Webster, Walworth, Ontario and the surrounding country, regarded St. Joseph's as their parish church. But as the distance caused many of them to miss Mass, the Rev. Maximus Leimgruber, Rector, decided to send a priest from St. Joseph's every three months through this territory to look after the spiritual wants of the people. On the second Sunday after Easter, May 8, 1859, the Rev. Nicholas Van Emstede said Mass in a private house in Webster;, and in the afternoon a meeting was held, at which forty-five families were represented, to discuss the possibility of building a church. For this purpose they subscribed three hundred dollars. On May 26, 1861, the corner-stone was laid, and on August 9, 1863, the edifice was dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity by the Rev. Lawrence Holzer, pastor of St. Joseph's. The Redemptorists administered the church until 1867, when the Rev. A. Hechinger, a diocesan priest, was appointed pastor. Again in 1869 the Fathers assumed charge, but in 1871 the Rev. Peter Schmal succeeded them.

In 1860 the increasing number of German Catholics in South Rochester made a new church a matter of convenience if not of necessity. On April 22 Father Leimgruber called a meeting of the men of that locality to devise ways and means of building a church. The movement made rapid progress and on June 17 he laid the corner-stone. On June 9, 1861, the church was dedicated in honor of St. Boniface, Apostle of Germany. It served also as a school. The Rev. J. P. Klein, a diocesan priest, was named pastor, but he remained only a short time, and the Redemptorists took charge until November 16, 1862.

In July, 1865, Father Holzer, as the representative of Bishop Timon, went to Penfield, to select a site for a church and a school. A parish was to be organized there as an out-mission of Webster, as it was thought that the two places could support a resident pastor. A house was bought to serve as a temporary chapel, where on September 30, 1866, the Rev. Bernard Klaphake, of St. Joseph's, said Mass for about twenty German Catholic families. In March, 1867, the Rev. A. Hechinger became pastor of Webster and Penfield; but in 1869 the Redemptorists were placed in charge of the latter mission, and continued their ministrations for nineteen years, until Easter Sunday, April 1, 1888, when the Rev. M. J. Hargather was appointed pastor of Penfield. In 1873 the Redemptorists built a church there in honor of St. Joseph, where until 1884 they said Mass once a month, and for the next four years twice a month. In 1882 they established a parochial school, a frame building thirty by twenty feet, which cost four hundred and sixty dollars, the labor being furnished gratis by the parishioners. Again in 1906 the Fathers of St. Joseph's attended Penfield for some time.

In the summer of 1866, at the request of Bishop Timon, the Rev. George Ruland, Rector, took steps to organize the parish and build the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, Rochester. On September 16 the corner-stone of a combination-church-and-school was laid, and the St. Joseph's Orphan Asylum Society, all members of the parish, inaugurated a campaign to collect the necessary funds. On July 21, 1867, Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer, the edifice was dedicated. The Redemptorists took temporary charge, saying Mass there every Sunday. On September 9 the school was opened with about one hundred and fifty pupils. On October 28, 1869, the Rev. Fidelis Oberholzer became permanent pastor.

In 1872 the German Catholics in the northern part of St. Joseph's Parish, asked Father Ruland to form a new parish and build a church, for which they had purchased a suitable site. As they were living at quite a distance from the mother church, he willingly consented; and on September 14, 1873, the corner-stone of the new church was laid by Bishop McQuaid. On March 8, 1874, it was dedicated in honor of St. Michael Archangel. As the Redemptorists could not take charge of a second church in the city, the Rev. Fridolin Pascalar was appointed pastor. Eighty families from St. Joseph's and about one hundred from the Most Holy Redeemer Parish constituted the nucleus of the new congregation, the sixth German Catholic one in Rochester.

In Coldwater, one of the mission-stations attended by the priests of St. Joseph's, the Germans, in 1864, built a school on a plot of ground donated for this purpose by Mr. L. Vogel. In 1875 the Redemptorist Father Charles Rosenbauer, who attended Coldwater regularly twice a month, built a church there in honor of the Holy Ghost. In October of that year he was transferred to Chicago, and Bishop McQuaid made Coldwater an independent parish, with the Rev. Augustine Kraus as pastor.

In 1876 the Fathers began to visit Naples. on Lake Canandaigua, where Mass was said once a month in the house of the Dinzler family, who later donated a piece of property for a church, which was dedicated in honor of St. Januarius. In September, 1878, Naples was confided to the care of the Rev. Frederick Rauber, of the diocesan clergy.

Besides organizing the above-named parishes the Redemptorists of Rochester attended so many mission-stations in former years that it would be tiresome even to list them. In the sixties and seventies especially the number was very great, but not too great for the zeal of the Fathers, whose Holy Founder, St. Alphonsus, is known as the "Most Zealous Doctor."

St. Joseph's Church to-day rejoices at the thought that the daughters whom she has brought forth, are still vigorous, still doing God's work still garnering into the heavenly store-houses multitudes of immortal souls to sing an eternal Hosanna before the throne of the Most High God.

Present St. Joseph's Church
Franklin Street

Interior View of St. Joseph's Church

Rev. Nastvogel
Rector, St. Joseph's Church


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