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The History of St. John’s Church
In the 1870’s as Catholic families began to move into the township of Newark Valley and a Roman Catholic congregation began to be formed. They began to gather for services in the home of Michael and Bridgett Fahey on Whig Street.
In 1880, Father James O’Mara and the Catholics of Newark Valley decided to build a church. Samuel Loring built the church with bricks from the Loring Brickyards. The brick structure, 36′ by 75′ was in use by 1881, dedicated to St. John the Evangelist on January 8, 1881. The parish started as a mission church of St. Patrick Church in Owego, and was administered to by the priests of that parish. In 1914 Bishop Thomas Hickey decided to give St. John’s a more independent status. He put Father John Hogan in charge of the congregation which at that time consisted of 30 families. St. John’s seems to have had an ambiguous status during the next two decades as to whether it was a parish or a mission of St. Patrick’s.
In 1929, the Bishop named a Polish Franciscan, Father Callistus Szpara, as assistant to St. Patrick’s to minister to the Polish newcomers in Catatonk. Father Szpara lived in Newark Valley and served the people of St. John’s and began the building of St. Francis Church in Catatonk. In 1931, the Bishop appointed a Polish diocesan priest, Father Ignatius Klejna to Newark Valley. Father Klejna was considered the full-fledged pastor in residence of both the Newark Valley and Catatonk churches. Upon his death in 1934, since there were no Polish speaking priests in the diocese old enough to be named pastor, the Bishop placed St. John and St. Francis under the pastor of St. Patrick, Owego, as mission churches. He did appoint in succession three Polish speaking assistance pastors to St.Patrick’s with the understanding that they would minister to the people of Newark Valley and Catatonk. The last of these assistants to be appointed was Father Alexander Stec, who was latter raised to full Pastor status of St. John and St. Francis in 1945.
During Father Stec’s time as pastor both parishes began to grow. In 1941, Father Stec, had the church extended 25 feet to form the present sanctuary. In that same year a parish hall was constructed to provide the parishioners with facilities for meetings and social events. It was also under Father Stec that the rectory was built in 1954 with the help of parishioners. Father Stec remained pastor until 1959 when he was promoted to the pastorate of St. Stanislaus Church in Rochester.
Succeeding Father Stec was Father Matthew Siudara. Father Siudara was in charge of St. John’s when the Second Vatican Council took place. Changes in the liturgy authorized by the Council demanded certain changes in the arrangement of the church sanctuary. Father Siudara saw to it that the necessary alterations were made in St. John Church with the help of Andy and Anna Hvisdos, who made most of the church furnishings for the sanctuary. Father Siudara remained pastor until 1973 when he retired.
He was succeeded as pastor by Father Robert Donovan. During Father Donovan’s pastorate the rectory was remodeled and the basement of the rectory was designed for office space. The classrooms for religious instruction were also installed in the hall basement with the help of Jack Clair and other parishioners. Father Eugene Weis followed Fr. Donovan as pastor in 1977. During his time as pastor the parish celebrated its Centennial. On November 7, 1981, Bishop Matthew Clark came to celebrate a special Centennial liturgy that was followed by a reception dinner.
Father Ralph Fraats followed Father Weis as pastor being installed on June 30, 1982. During his time in Newark Valley Father Fraats celebrated his 25th Anniversary to the priesthood. In 1986, Father Joseph McCaffrey was named Pastor of St. John and St. Francis. During the seven years that Father Joe was pastor the rectory was sided and a new roof was installed. The church building was also re-pointed and the inside of the church was re-plastered and painted with the help of over 60 parishioners. Father McCaffrey also hired the first paid Religious Education Coordinator, Anne Daly to administer the Religious Education programs at St. John and St. Francis. He also organized a lay volunteer staff to help carry out the pastoral work in the parish.
In 1993, Father William A. Moorby, followed Father Joe as pastor and remains until the present. Father Bill continued the remodeling of the sanctuary of the church that was planned during the pastorate of Father McCaffrey. The renovated sanctuary, including a new altar that was built by Jim Gullick, was completed by Holy Week 1994 will the volunteer help of many parishioners. Easter Sunday of 1995 saw the addition of the Risen Christ statue to the church sanctuary. Local artist Lee Bodie of Newark Valley carved the statue. In early 1996 the parish volunteers completed another phase of the interior renovation of the church when the choir loft overhang and back walls were restored. To mark the completion of the hard work of the parishioners, the church was rededicated on May 18th, 1996 with Most Rev. Matthew H. Clark presiding. The next day Bishop Clark celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation in the rededicated church. In 1997 St. John’s began the Pastoral Planning Process for the New Millenium, with the other parishes of our region, that led to new working agreements among the parishes and the Clustering of St. Patrick, St. John and St. Francis parish.