Parishioners and neighbors gathered Sunday afternoon at St. John’s Roman Catholic Church on Soule Road in Clay to celebrate a momentous occasion: the church’s 40th anniversary. Many of the church’s 850 families gathered along with guests to enjoy food, games, music, a video retrospective and more in recognition of the momentous event.
“[The parish] has a unique spirit in the sense of its commitment and generosity towards people [that dates back to] long before I came,” said Father James T.O’Brien, who has been pastor at St. John’s for four years. “There’s a commitment toward human development. I think it’s an example of the spirit of the people here. They’re very generous. There are a lot of young people here. The thing about this party is that we wanted to celebrate our anniversary not just by ourselves, but we wanted to share it with the neighborhoods that have been supportive of this parish. I know a few have come that were invited by their neighbors.”
Population boomed in the northern suburbs in the late 1950s and early 1960s, prompting the Catholic diocese to call for the establishment of another parish in Clay. St. John’s was founded on July 1, 1971 and headed by Father James O’Connell.
Before the church was built on Soule Road, services were held in the meeting room of the Onondaga County Water Authority building on Route 31 as well as the movie theater in Bayberry. Longtime parishioners remembered having confession by the popcorn machine and having to be out by noon so that movies could be shown.
The church was built with the aid of donations from the Diocese of Syracuse and the O’Donnell family. Construction was completed in the fall of 1973; the building was dedicated on Christmas Eve of that year.
Since those early days, the church has continued to grow and thrive. O’Brien attributes that to a deep-seated community spirit.
“I think there’s a natural faith-filled connection, people recognizing that they need community to express their faith and to be nourished in it,” he said. “It’s been sustained by that over the years. A lot of people, even some here today, have been here all 40 years. They’ve found the glue of a community.”
There’s also a certain pride and affection that comes with building a parish from the ground up, according to those parishioners who’ve been there since the beginning.
“It was very exciting to start this,” said Judy Stark, one of the original parishioners who still attends St. John’s. “We were starting a new parish. This was a growth area. None of this was here. When this church came up, there were no houses across the street. There was nothing. We got in on the ground floor.”
Pat McLaughlin was an original parishioner who left a few years ago due to what she called “ideological differences” with a previous pastor, but she said she and her husband Don will likely return. She had high words of praise for St. John’s.
“It’s always been a wonderful community, a very beautiful spirit,” McLaughlin said. “Like Judy said, we came in on the ground floor. This was our parish. We built it.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.