On Friday 2 December 1955, Saint Theresa’s, of New Berlin, New York, was incorporated by filing the required papers with the county clerk. The first board of trustees included: Bishop Walter Foery, president; Bishop David Cunningham, then vicar general of the diocese and later its ordinary, vice president; Father Lawrence Bassney, treasurer; Dr. James Hoyt and Dr. Angelo Franco, lay trustees. The new Catholic parish honored Saint Theresa, the Patroness of Catholic missions, a name suggested by one of the founders, Mrs. Elizabeth Novak. Then on Tuesday 18 March 1958, the name of the parish was changed to Saint Theresa of the Infant Jesus, New Berlin, New York, by filing the required papers with the county clerk..
Early History of the Area
Evidence shows that our area was heavily populated in the early days by Indians, who had a junction of trails where the Unadilla River, Morris Brook, Columbus Creek, and Wharton Creek joined near our village. “Shacktown Pond,” later known as Silver Lake, was a well populated Indian center.
Later on, these waterways were harnessed by various industries, as a tannery, tavern, cooperage shop, chain-forging shop, tailor shop, blacksmith shop, and many others over the years.
New York State was one of the original thirteen states; it ratified the United States Constitution and entered the Union Saturday 26 July 1788.
In 1791, “Chenango Twenty” towns were created by law in an area which is now Chenango and parts of Madison and Oneida Counties. On Thursday 15 March 1798, Chenango County was created with land taken from Tioga and Herkimer Counties. On Friday 3 April 1807, the Town of New Berlin was formed from the Town of Norwich, and given Number 16. On Wednesday 9 May 1821, the Town of New Berlin became known as the Town of Lancaster, but on Friday 22 March 1822, it reverted back to the Town of New Berlin, as it is known today. The Village of New Berlin was incorporated Tuesday 16 April 1816. Many names of those listed who settled in this area have descendants still located nearby..
Early Catholic Activity
Records show that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse purchased land in an area between what is now Lake Street and South Main Street near the present village garage in the hope that sometime later there would be enough Catholics in New Berlin to warrant having a parish. Deeds from neighboring properties refer to boundary lands “of Saint John’s Roman Catholic Church.” The deed to the Diocese was executed Saturday 22 September 1945 by LeRoy Fish on behalf of the Estate of Cora A. Fish, who had originally deeded the land to the Diocese in October 1912, but that earlier deed was lost and never recorded. The Diocese eventually deeded the property to Herman Strain on Monday 10 October 1955.
For many years, the few Catholics here did attend mass and receive the sacraments in Norwich and Sherburne in the Diocese of Syracuse, and Morris and Edmeston in the Diocese of Albany. However, the distance they had to travel going to and from Mass each Sunday imposed a hardship on those Catholics. In the winter months, snow and ice and the hills of this area combined to make travel most difficult and dangerous and many times impossible.
Despite these obstacles – obstacles not known to the urban and suburban dwellers in our diocese – they remained strong in their Catholic faith. In fact, if anything, their faith grew stronger and the hunger for religion and their own Catholic church became more intense..
Organizing Saint Theresa’s Parish
As the need for a Catholic parish in New Berlin became more evident, a petition was circulated to see how many would support a parish in New Berlin. When enough signatures had been gathered, on Monday 26 April 1954 a group of Catholics in and surrounding the village wrote a letter to Bishop Foery. They asked to see the bishop to arrange to have mass celebrated in New Berlin each Sunday. In response, the bishop asked the Catholics to contact Reverend Theodore F. Shannon, pastor of Saint Mary’s Church in Hamilton. However, the distance from Hamilton led Father Shannon to reject the bishop’s proposal and refer it to Father Lawrence H. Daley in Sherburne.
Father Daley, pastor of Saint Malachy’s Church in Sherburne, was asked to help the people in New Berlin. He in turn contacted the priests in Norwich, who were unable to help. However, the bishop had the Diocese of Syracuse purchase about two acres of land with a 440-foot frontage on NYS Route 8 from Arthur and Marguerite Boice by deed dated Monday 1 August 1955. The Diocese deeded this land to Saint Theresa’s on Saturday 18 October 1958.
While all this was going on, after some persistent persuasion, Rev. Edwin Donovan, from the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin in Edmeston, began to celebrate mass in the Grange Hall in Pittsfield, NY, a small community in Otsego County east of the Village of New Berlin. The first mass was celebrated Friday 5 August 1955. Mass continued through spring 1956. Kathryn Franco has an entry in her diary for Sunday 25 March 1956, “No palms for Palm Sunday.” Catholics of the area attended these services regularly, but Father Donovan insisted that they keep in touch with their own bishop in Syracuse to establish their own parish in the Village of New Berlin.
After many months of work, on Thursday 3 November 1955, Father Bassney, working with the representatives of the Catholics in New Berlin — Dr. James R. Hoyt, Dr. Angelo Franco, Mr. Verner Shafer, Mrs. Elizabeth Novak and Mrs. Martha Deforest – formally presented their request to establish a parish to Bishop Foery. On Friday 2 December 1955, Saint Theresa’s, of New Berlin, New York, was incorporated by filing the required papers with the county clerk. The first board of trustees included: Bishop Walter Foery, president; Bishop David Cunningham, then vicar general of the diocese and later its ordinary, vice president; Father Lawrence Bassney, treasurer; Dr. James Hoyt and Dr. Angelo Franco, lay trustees. The new Catholic parish honored Saint Theresa, the Patroness of Catholic missions, a name suggested by one of the founders, Mrs. Elizabeth Novak. Then on Tuesday 18 March 1958, the name of the parish was changed to Saint Theresa of the Infant Jesus, New Berlin, New York, by filing the required papers with the county clerk.
Getting a Church Building for Saint Theresa’s
Early in Spring 1956, Father Bassney called a meeting at the American Legion to organize and discuss finances for the new parish. At this meeting, it was learned that the former Church of the Nazarene in the Village of New Berlin was available as a possible home for our parish.
The Nazarene Church owned the building and wanted to sell, but they would not sell to the Catholics. Roxy Gould, a Nazarene member, contacted Martha Fluery and said she would buy the building and then sell it to the Catholic Diocese, and this she did.
Members of the new church donated money to finance this purchase. The Diocese of Syracuse received this property by deed executed Saturday 5 May 1956. In turn, the Diocese of Syracuse transferred this property to Saint Theresa’s by deed executed Saturday 6 December 1958. Saint Theresa’s Church had become a reality to serve the Towns of New Berlin and Columbus in Chenango County.
The land on which the structure sits was deeded as a separate parcel by Mary C. Peck to her husband, William G. Peck on Wednesday 28 May 1890 from their lot on the corner of Academy Street and North Main Street. William G. Peck, whose grandfather, Alvin Peck was one of the first settlers in Pittsfield (nicknamed Pecktown after him) built this building as a shop for his tailor business. In 1912 the building became a butcher shop and then, in succession, a grocery store, a temporary school, and a lawyer’s office. The Church of the Nazarene received the property by deed from Bertrand and Josephine Ackerman Monday 18 October 1948.
The two-story structure was to be used as a church and rectory with the church on the first floor and, eventually, living quarters for the pastor on the second floor. Bishop Cunningham and Msgr. David C. Gildea, then Secretary of the Diocesan Building Commission, inspected the property after its purchase and authorized the beginning of essential repairs. Wile the second floor has always been occupied as living quarters, the first floor has run the gamut of uses. A photograph taken after the great New Berlin fire of Tuesday 7 March 1899 shows the front of the building with tow large store windows on the first floor and three windows flanked by shutters on the second floor.
On Saturday 19 May 1956, Bishop Foery appointed Reverend John J. Burke as first resident pastor of St. Theresa’s. This appointment took effect Friday 1 June 1956. Father Burke arrived at Saint Malachy’s rectory in Sherburne to take up temporary residence until the rectory in New Berlin was renovated.
Thus on Sunday 3 June 1956, the Catholics of the Village of New Berlin and the surrounding area gathered in their new church and participated in the holy sacrifice of the mass. On that Sunday, one hundred twenty-eight Catholic men, women, and children were gathered to behold the miracle of their dream-become-reality. Following mass, the sacrament of baptism was administered by Father Burke for the first time in the new parish. About sixty people remained in church to see John Frederick Harmuth, son of George and Elizabeth O’Connor Harmuth, become a Christian, the first new member of Saint Theresa’s parish. In his diary, Father Burke wrote: “The people were so happy that they stayed around about forty-five minutes after mass. It seemed as if they were afraid to walk out of church for fear they would wake up and find that it all had been just a wonderful dream.”
Yet, this was not the end of the struggle, but only the beginning. Extensive repairs were necessary to convert the building to an adequate church and rectory; a new roof, chimney, and heating system were immediate necessities. Plaster, plumbing, painting and many other projects including the enlargement of the sanctuary and an addition built to be used as a sacristy required the attention of volunteer parish workers. The same spirit that kept them strong in the difficult years before continued to show itself as they went about doing the work of renovation. Their faith, spirit, and efforts have not gone unnoticed. Volunteer workers from Norwich, Rome, Syracuse, Utica, and even Cohoes and Albany joined their specialized efforts in redecorating and furnishing the church and rectory. Others helped in a material way by their charity and alms.
The formal dedication of the church was held Sunday, 14 September 1958. At the same time, Bishop Foery confirmed the first class, assisted by Father Guyder. Servers were Joseph Franco, Thomas DeForest, and Gerald Kennedy. Thirty-one young people and five adults received confirmation; Dr. Angelo Franco and Mrs. Elizabeth Woodard acted as sponsors.
Future projects to enhance the appearance of the church began in July 1959 with the repairing and refacing of the front of the building. On Saturday, 24 December 1960, the purchase of a permanent two-manual organ from the Conn Instrument Company was authorized; it was installed in the rear of the church where the old pump organ had been. Later it was moved back into what was the crying room to allow for a larger seating capacity. During Father Mirabito’s pastorate it was moved into the sanctuary. During Father Wright’s tenure, on Sunday, 6 June 1982, the purchase of a new Rodgers organ was authorized; the organ was put in the sanctuary. Father Sterner had it placed in the back of the church as it is now.
It was still in the minds of the people that the time would come when it would be necessary to build a larger building. With this in mind, the property of Dr. William J. Mann, just north of the Masonic Temple at 46 North Main Street, was purchased by deed dated Tuesday,
20 June 1961. The house was removed through the efforts of Carson Emhof and Bill Greco, and the lot has been used over the years for many projects such as picnics, sales events, and chicken barbecues. As a confirmation project for the class of 1995, Carl Houghton came up with an idea of a crucifix to be carved in wood which would be used in a shrine on this church lot. On visiting Albert Alfaro, Jr., the project became one of creating a model for a crucifix, which Mr. Alfaro would cast in a permanent material.
The project was designed by Mr. Houghton but was soon to be developed by his students. Each student in the confirmation class had at least some part in the modeling. The project was taken into the classroom and finished within a couple of weeks.
The main art students working on the major parts of the Christ figure were: Emelinda Houghton – sculpted the head and thorns; Shannon Turner – reworked parts of the head and neck and thorns to fit the style; Robert Walker, Raimond Braithwaite, Dwan Petit, Joey Ritchey, Mark Joubert, and James Tuttle – sculpted the body.
The actual erection of the crucifix came about through Mr. Alfaro’s casting, Gary Potter’s constructing the wood portion of the cross, Michael Houghton’s figuring out the physics for permanent mounting, and Keith Wilcox, Zane Mahar, and Robert Off helping in the final state. Other parish members beautified the area with flowers and shrubs. The crucifix was formally dedicated on Tuesday, 6 August 1996.
The two-acre plot from the former Boice property was sold to Karl Jacobsen of New Berlin by deed of Saturday, 16 February 1963. In 1998 the property is owned by Sharon J. Brownell at 5077 State Highway 8 (“Penny’s Place” diner) (2005 it is “Mom’s” diner) and is bounded by Daniel H. and Inga Britt Neilsen to the north and Vincent C. Attardi to the south and west. The establishment of a mission church in Leonardsville on Thursday 12 March 1970 made the need for a larger building more remote than it had seemed at first.
Activity in South New Berlin
Because of the number of Catholic families in South New Berlin, religious instruction was given each week in various homes or churches, whatever was available. The need for a religious education center in South New Berlin was evident. Father Richard O’Neill purchased land from Walter and Cornelia Bagg by deed dated Monday, 4 March 1968. Work began soon afterward on the center. This was built at a very moderate cost, since all of the labor and much of the materials were donated. In later years, the local school district also used the center. Saint Theresa’s sold it to the Church of Christ by deed executed Friday, 14 October 1983.
Developments in Leonardsville
Our parish family continued to grow. The Catholics in Leonardsville had been attending Mass at neighboring churches such as Saint Joseph’s in West Winfield and Our Lady of the Nativity in Edmeston until 1968. These Catholics then began traveling to Saint Theresa’s for mass and became parishioners. Father Mirabito, who was pastor, offered to have discussion groups in their homes. From these discussion groups evolved the practice of celebrating mass in various homes.
In 1969, the Leonardsville K-12 school merged with Bridgewater and West Winfield to become Mount Markham Central School. Father Mirabito became involved with teaching released-time classes to several young Catholic students. Students met at the village home of Donald and Elizabeth Lewis. Because of the large number of people attending classes, a mobile classroom was purchased. Permission was given to put it on a lot owned by the late John Owens.
Father Mirabito recognized the need for a weekly mass in Leonardsville and requested permission from the bishop that the mobile classroom become a mission church. Bishop Cunningham granted permission on Thursday, 12 March 1970 for the establishment of Our Lady of the Valley Church. The first mass was celebrated in the new mobile church
Saturday, 4 April 1970 by Father Mirabito. The first trustees were Richard Williams and Edward McNamara. Since that time Our Lady of the Valley continued to serve the spiritual needs of the people of the Town of Brookfield, Madison County, with a Saturday evening vigil mass and a mass on the vigil of holydays. Unfortunately, Our Lady of the Valley Mission closed with the last mass being on Friday, 30 June 2000.
Saint Paul’s/Holy Family School
Saint Paul’s School originally opened in 1922 in an old mansion-type building on North Broad Street, Norwich. The Dominican Sisters taught there at the time. As registration
increased, a new building was needed and one was built in 1954 on Prospect street, next to Saint Paul’s Church.
Beginning with the 1989-1990 school year, all the parishes in Chenango County and Our Lady of the Valley in Madison County joined in supporting the school. The name was changed to Holy Family School to reflect this new reality. Saint Theresa’s has had students at Saint Paul’s/Holy Family School for many years.
Artistic Environment of the Church
In the early 1980’s, the Liturgy Committee at St. Theresa’s Church initiated a unique altar decorum to enhance the prayerful environment of our sanctuary. A series of artistic visual presentations were developed to reflect the weekly readings and seasonal themes of the Liturgical year. A large collection of materials and figures used for the displays are stored in the sacristy. Dorothy Hanley and Patricia Houghton serve on this committee.
Other visual improvements and artistic enrichments donated to the church include:
- Restoration of the Stations of the Cross by Carl Houghton before the 25th Anniversary of the parish in 1980.
- A painting “Madonna and Child” by Martin Maloney which hangs in the Church Hall.
- A painting “The Crucifixion” by Carl Houghton, in the mid 1980’s.
- The repainting of the Nativity figures by Carl Houghton in the mid 1980’s.
- A painting “Holy Face of Jesus” by Patricia Dawson in 2005