Photo circa 1902 from the Rush Historian’s Office collection.

BY Susan Bittner Mee, Town of Rush Historian

Many are probably aware of the closure of St. Joseph’s Church in the Rush hamlet. The church was formally decommissioned as a Catholic Church by Bishop Matano on January 16, 2024. The rectory was sold this past Fall and the Diocese is now in the process of obtaining an appraised value for the church property.

The church was closed in November of 2022, due to ceiling damage and safety concerns. The ceiling is a dropped ceiling and the plaster had developed some cracks around the cross beams. The cracks have increased over the past 16 months. The Diocese hired an engineering firm to assess the overall condition of St. Joseph’s Church and it was subsequently decided to decommission St. Joseph’s Church as a Catholic Church. A final mass to celebrate the legacy of St. Joseph’s Church will take place in the parking lot on Saturday, April 27th at 4:30 pm.

St. Joseph’s holds strong memories for many in our community. Those memories include attending mass, baptisms, marriages, first communions, confirmations, funeral masses, Sunday school, CYO, Parish Council, other committees and volunteering at church events including the annual chicken barbecue and bazaar.

A group of concerned parishioners and Rush residents have met and are interested in trying to repurpose the church. If you are interested in doing so, have ideas for a future use of the church, or would like to be included in the group email list, please send an email to: . A community forum will be held on Friday, April 12, 6 pm, at the Town of Rush Pavilion to share ideas about creating a path forward.

Following is a History of  St. Joseph’s Church in Rush:

“Besides your faith, which you inherited from the pioneers of this land, you have this beautiful church, a jewel in the heart of the village of Rush.” ……Father George Vogt, 1964.

St. Joseph’s Church has a long and important history in our community. There were a number of early churches in Rush including a Baptist Society, Lutheran Church, Evangelical Lutheran Reformed Church (known as the German Church), the Methodist Episcopal Church in West Rush, the Rush United Methodist Church and the North Rush United Church of Christ.

By the 1820s, immigration to western NY was no longer confined to the predominately Protestant settlers from New England the mid-Atlantic states. German Catholics were arriving from Europe and then, in larger numbers, the Irish Catholics began arriving to the US. Congregations were organized as the Roman Catholic population grew. St. Patrick’s in Rochesterville (Rochester), was raised about 1823. By the mid-1800s, Catholic churches were being built in some of the larger villages. Those in the country could journey to their local or nearby village to attend mass. In smaller, rural areas, such as Rush, there was no Catholic church and it was customary for Mass to be said in the home of a Catholic family. A priest might be assigned to travel to multiple rural villages to perform mass so mass in these smaller communities sometimes took place every couple of weeks or perhaps only once a month. In those early years, priests traveled from Catholic churches in Scottsville, Avon, Lima and Honeoye Falls. Families often travelled significant distances to attend mass, too. Travel from the East Rush Hamlet to St. Agnes in Avon is 9.5miles; 4.4 miles to St. Paul of the Cross in Honeoye Falls; 7.4 miles to St. Mary’s in Scottsville, and 12.2 miles to St. Mary’s Church in Rochester. These distances may not seem far today, but when traveling by horse and buggy or wagon, it was a time-consuming trip.

There were 17 founding Catholic families in Rush with the family names of Behan, Brennan, Connor, Doran, Fagan, Fox, Gleason, Kavanaugh, Lyons, Maher, Nolan, Quinlan, Rice, Spellman, Quinn, Whelehan, and Moran. The home of William Fyle, located at 1172 Rush West Rush Road is believed to be the first home in which Mass was offered in Rush. The house is shown on an 1858 map as being owned by Dr. Socrates Smith but appears to have been torn down and not shown on the 1903 Rush map. Mass was also offered in the home of John Doran who lived at the southwest corner of West Henrietta and Rush-Henrietta Townline Roads.

Bishop John Timon (1797-1867) was the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Buffalo. The Buffalo Diocese was established on April 23, 1847 and it included the 20 counties of Western New York. Bishop Timon came to Buffalo in October of that same year. He spent the remaining 20 years of his life building the Church there. He began with 16 priests for 16 counties, and he immediately began to build churches and establish schools. In the Spring of 1863, Edward Rice, Thomas Lyons and Thomas Behan wrote to Bishop Timon requesting a resident priest for Rush. They promised that the families would build a church.

Bishop Timon consulted with Father Greg from Lima who was planning to build a church in Honeoye Falls. It was proposed to build a church in Sibleyville in order to better accommodate both Honeoye Falls and Rush. That proposal, however, was abandoned due to the objections of an influential Honeoye Falls resident. Bishop Timon assigned Father Joseph O’Donohoe of Scottsville to assess the needs of the Rush community. Father O’Donohoe was responsible for parishes in Scottsville, Chili and Mumford at that time. After meeting with the 17 Catholic families of Rush, Father O’Donohoe recommended to Bishop Timon that a parish be formed in Rush and the Bishop agreed.

Bishop Timon established the St. Joseph’s Catholic Society of Rush with a certificate of incorporation on March 25, 1863. It was traditional for the founding priest to recommend church names to the Bishop. As founder, Father Joseph O’Donohoe, probably named St. Joseph’s after his patron saint.

The history of St. Joseph’s Church will be continued in next week’s Sentinel.

Note: The information above is a summary and not every person or event has been included. The information was compiled from the following: Highlights of a Century: 1864-1964; Marianne Cope Roman Catholic Parish; The Road to Yesterday by Jeanne Yawman; Rush in Retrospect by Bessie Hallock and St. Joseph’s Church History.

©2024 Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel

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