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Historical Sketches of St. Nicholas Parish


During the first quarter of the nineteenth century when the primeval forests of northwestern Pennsylvania were slowly yielding to the pioneers ax, a few resolute Catholic families with a desire of bettering their condition, and acquiring an independence not then enjoyed by them were urged to leave their respective and comparatively civilized homes, bid adieu to relatives and friends and go where no one had been before them, to improve uncultivated nature and convert the wilderness into the peaceful, productive, agricultural region, which is now our heritage to enjoy.

No sooner had these sturdy and upright Catholics erected their log cabins, applied the ax to the forests and the shear to the virgin soil, than the indefatigable missionary appeared among them, to minister to their spiritual needs.

The first missionary priest to visit the pioneer families of Redbank was Father Galitzen (Prince Galitzen) who at that time resided at Mt. Loretto, Cambria County, Pa.

He was attracted here through the knowledge that members of his congregation had penetrated the wilderness farther westward and were enduring the hardships and perils of pioneer life among the wild beasts and savage Indians, without the consolation of Holy Mother Church, so dear to every Catholic.

From this time 1820 until 1828, they were visited only occasionally by a missionary who chanced to make their cabins his resting place, while he ministered to their spiritual wants, cheered them in their discouragements and then journeyed on in pursuit of others, who were isolated from civilization in their endeavor to conquer the wilderness.

At times, months would elapse between the visits of these missionaries and it was necessary for parents to carry their infant children as far as Erie, Butler, Indiana or Pittsburgh, that they might be washed in the cleansing waters of Baptism.

In 1828, Rev. John O'Neill, a missionary priest who resided at St. Patrick's parish near Buffalo Creek, about sixteen miles from Butler, Pa., and whose ministry extended to Erie County, recognized the efforts of this little band of pioneer Catholics and organized a congregation which has been referred to as the church at Redbank or Arondale.

From this time missionary or journeying priests visited them more regularly, though their journeys were attended with extreme hardship and much danger, as the roads were only narrow trails through the forests which were still infested with Indians and wild beasts, such as panthers, wolves and wild cats, and the only means of travel was horseback or afoot and the streams and rivers were then not spanned by even the rudest bridges.

Through Father O'Neill's intercession and in company with him, June 5, 1834, Rt. Rev. Francis Patrick Kenrick, Administrator and Bishop of Philadelphia, visited this little colony, acknowledged their devotion to the faith, celebrated Mass, confirmed twenty-five in the home of Solomon Cyphert and rewarded their endeavors with permission to the people to build a church.

In 1835, by united efforts this minature [sic] congregation selected a site on the hill near the center of what is now the cemetery and deeded for that purpose by Joseph Aaron.

Here they felled the trees, hewed with axes the logs and erected a log chapel thirty-six feet in length which was dedicated to the service of God under the invocation of St. Nicholas of Tolentino, by Rt. Rev. Patrick Kenrick, Bishop of Philadelphia, September 9, 1835.

From his Visitation Record and Diary, we find that Mass was celebrated and the Sacrament of Confirmation administered by him in the Church of St. Nicholas, September 9, 1935 [sic], September 25, 1836, August 10-17, 1836, July 16, 1840 and August 1842.

For some time this rude chapel was unornamented, poorly heated and without seats. But later the interior was beautified, seats were installed and for nearly a quarter of a century this chapel on the hill was the scene of many of their joys and sorrows.

As the congregation increased in numbers the log chapel became inadequate. The need of a larger and more modern building was recognized, together with the inconvenience of climbing the hill and in 1854 a modern frame building fifty feet long and thirty-six feet wide was erected on land deeded by George Aaron and Charles Crate, the site of the present church edifice.

The second church building was modernly furnished, dedicated in 1854 by Rt. Rev. Bishop Young (First Bishop of the Erie Diocese to visit the parish) and served as a place of worship until 1892, when it was decided to remodel and repair it, but on closer inspection and due consideration, under the prudent leadership of Rev. John Ruddy, the second church was razed and on its site was erected by the congregation, the third and present church of St. Nicholas of Tolentino, dedicated in 1893 by Rt. Rev. Tobias Mullen, Bishop of Erie.

This church is modernly furnished, artistically decorated, comfortably heated by gas, supplied from a well, financed by members of the congregation and located on the church property.

Interior of Church

Interior of Church, 1928

The parochial buildings are electrically lighted from a plant installed in 1924 and now in 1928 the congregation views with pride and admiration a beautiful grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes erected under the judicious supervision of their esteemed pastor Rev. John Ring, whose nephew James Ring donated the statues of Our Blessed Lady and St. Bernadette.


Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes



Rev. Suibert G. Mollinger 1859-1865 -- Father John Koch Aided during 1865-1869 -- Monsignor H. Clement Wienker Pastor 1869-1871 -- Rev. J. P. McCloskey 1880-1887 -- Rev. Michael Fitzgerald 1910-1920 -- Rev. John Ring 1920-1930 -- Rev. R. L. Simendinger 1930-1936 -- Father Simendinger spent much time in beautifying the cemetery and establishing perpetual care that has made "Crates Cemetery" a lovely place for Christian burial -- Rev. Raymond A. Geiger 1936-1938 -- Father Geiger -- Rev. Paul I Wursch 1939-1944: Father Paul Wursch was deeply devoted to the youth. He established the Newman Club, teaching each Sunday in order that stalwart Christians would continue the Catholic heritage. -- Rev. Ernest F. McIntire 1945-1946 -- First Communion Class 1945 -- Fr. McIntire Eddie Carlos, Richard Aaron, Jerry Skidmore, Carol Keck, Mona Crate, Ann Kerr -- Rev. Joseph E. McTague 1946-1947 -- Rev. Charles J. Hacherl 1947-1950 1951-1954: In 1947 Father Charles Hacherl came to our parish, at once he secured an organ, bought new vestments, tiled the church floor and modernized the social center. Father Hacherl returned to St. Nicholas parish to establish a summer school of religion program, founded the Men's Club and Rosary Altar Society. -- Charles Crate, Rev. Joseph J. Grode, Charles Skidmore 1950-1951 -- Rev. Joseph T. Barry 1954-1956: Father Joseph Barry came in June, 1954. He purchased new altar items and also modernized the social center. -- Rev. Joseph W. Burke 1956-1970 -- Rev. Casimir A. Bogniak 1971-1972 -- Rev. Edward Bula 1972-1975

During the initial years of St. Nicholas congregation while their spiritual needs were ministered to by missionary priests, no books were provided for them in which to record births, marriages or death and many of their priests names cannot be recalled.

Some of the earliest records have been returned from older parishes where they were entered before a register was opened at St. Nicholas Church.

From 1828-1835, Rev. John O'Neill rector of St. Patrick's parish at Buffalo Creek ministered to the spiritual needs of the congregation in 1836 Rev. Martin Kundig is cited as having pleased all with his zeal and piety.

In 1844 a Liber Baptisatorum appears and from it are taken the names of the following priests and the dates of their having been in attendance here. 1844, Rev. P. A. Cody; 1845, Rev. Peter Brown; Rev. Robert Kleinerdam and Rev. John B. Hoy; 1847, Rev. Andrew Skopez and Rev. H. P. Gallagher; 1848, Rev. J. F. Deane; 1850, Rev. James Slattery; 1851, Rev. Thomas Ledwith, who resided in the parish and boarded with members of the congregation, no rectory having yet been erected. 1859, Rev. S. G. Mollinger; 1865, Rev. John Koch, attended from Clarion. In the meantime, Rev. C. L. Lemagia and Rev. W. Pugh's names appear, who were here only a short time.

The same register shows that Rev. D. Snively, was here for a brief period and 1867 Rev. John Daly's name appears. 1868, Rev. N. LaMarque came and resided at St. Ann's, Corsica, Pa. Until 1869 when Rev. B. M'Givney was in charge, during whose pastorate, the first rectory was erected. 1875, Rev. P. Cosgrove was stationed here and remained until 1877 when Rev. James C. M'Philemey and Rev. Michael Flood assumed charge and remained until 1880 when he succeeded by Rev. Thomas Clark and Rev. James P. M'Closkey, during whose pastorate the St. Nicholas Academy was erected; 1887 he was succeeded by Rev. John Smith who in a few weeks was removed by the angel of death and laid to rest in the cemetery among the deceased members of the parish.

From this time until 1889, Rev. Bernard M'Givney attended from New Bethlehem, Pa. Until he was removed and succeeded by Rev. John Ruddy, who resided at St. Charles Rectory, New Bethlehem, Pa.; in 1898 he was relieved of St. Nicholas mission by Rev. Patrick Dwyer, who was succeeded in 1911 by Rev. Michael Fitzgerald, who was in turn succeeded in 1921 by the present incumbent Rev. John Ring with Rev. Michael Robaczewski attending during his absence of two months, visiting relatives in the British Isles.

Rev. Donald J. Cooper

In June, 1975, Father Cooper was appointed pastor at New Bethlehem and its two missions, St. Nicholas at Crates, and Sts. Cosmas and Damian at Seminole in Greensburg Diocese.

A native of Erie, Fr. Cooper graduated from St. John's parish school and Cathedral Prep, then entered St. Mark's Seminary to attend classes at Gannon College for two years. His last six years of preparation for the priesthood were at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, Md.

Ordained in May 23, 1963, he taught for a year at Bradford's Central Christian high school while living at St. Bernards. In 1964, he moved to St. Titus in Titusville where for seven years he taught at St. Joseph's Academy. From 1971 until 1975, he was Assistant Pastor at St. George parish in Erie.

He was appointed, by Rev. John Kuzilla, as Secretary to the Deanery in 1975. In June, 1977, he was appointed by Bishop Watson as permanent secretary to the diocesan Finance Committee.

Rev. William D. Smith

In the short time Father Smith has been in residence at St. Charles, he has endeared himself to the parishioners by his gentle way, his witty and practical sermons, and his friendly interest in the affairs of the church.

Father Cooper was influenced by these same qualities when he apprenticed for seven years as Father Smith's assistant in Titusville, so it was Father Cooper's pleasure to invite his friend and teacher to share his pleasant rectory at New Bethlehem when Father Smith retired in 1976. Father Smith has traveled all over the world and has delighted in seeing things and meeting people.

Father Smith was born in Titusville, Nov. 8, 1904. He graduated from St. Titus High School in 1923, attended Niagara University and Seminary of our Lady of the Angels from 1923 till 1931. He received an AB in 1927 and an [sic] MA in 1931. He was ordained in St. Peter's Cathedral, Erie, Pa., May 14, 1931. He served as an assistant at Holy Rosary in Erie for eight and one half years and at St. Joseph's in Sharon for two and one half years. He was then appointed pastor of St. Philip's in Crossingville in 1942, and pastor of St. Lawrence in Albion in 1957, and pastor of St. Titus, Titusville in 1963.


Prior to 1871 all priests stationed at St. Nicholas parish were obliged to make their homes with members of the congregation, or at some neary-by [sic] church rectory.

During the pastorate of Rev. Bernard M'Givney, the necessity of a parish residence being more in evidence than before, and the congregation's financial condition having improved, they desired to remove the inconvenience and unjustness to the one stationed in their midst, giving his life for their eternal salvation, and with their able leader, sufficient funds were provided to erect, near the church and furnish a modern frame mansion house to be used as a rectory.

From time to time this building has been remodeled, enlarged and made more modern. It now contains eight rooms, two baths, two halls, a basement and a pleasant veranda.

It is equipped with a complete gravitation water system, gas heat, and illuminated by electricity.

With the advent of the automobile, a larger and commondious [sic] garage was added to the parochial buildings, which is not only a convenience but also increases the value and beauty of the church property.

St. Nicholas Academy

In the year 1880, Rev. James P. M'Closkey being in charge, recognized the need of a Parochial School.

At that time the population centered near the parochial buildings. After an enumeration of the members of school age, of the several families within a reasonable distance, the parishioners with their judicious pastor decided to and did erect a modern frame building near the church and known as St. Nicholas Academy, containing a spacious class rooms, modernly furnished for students, comfortable apartments and a chapel for the Sisters in charge, and surrounded by an adequate recreation park, donated by George Aaron and Peter Ruffner, pioneer members of the parish.

In September of 1882, with the Sisters of Mercy from Titusville, Pa. in supervision the school was opened and for a score of years was in a flourishing condition, but being in a rural district where the population decreases rather than increases, the enrollment decreased and as these students grew to manhood and womanhood it was decided to close the school temporarily, until such time as s sufficient enrollment would again justify its reopening.

In the meantime, the congregation still retains the building, repairs it when necessary and are justly proud of it as of the other parochial buildings.

Recreation Building

Since the idle hours are the ones referred to as the hours of danger for the salvation of the soul, and the congregation had increased to such numbers that they could provide amousement [sic] for themselves, it was thought prudent to provide a suitable building for such purposes.

Subsequently a meeting was called and after due consideration, under the direction of Rev. John Ruddy, a recreation building was erected, in which church services were held, during the time the second church building was razed and the present one erected.

Since that time at the suggestion of Rev. John Ring, the Recreation Building has been moved, remodeled and enlarged -- the annex affording seating capacity for spectators during the progress of games and other amusements.

The basement is used as a dining room, where banquets are held and luncheons served.

A kitchen and serving rooms were also provided and equipped with ranges and dishes.

This building, as the other parochial buildings is heated by gas, lighted by electricity and supplied with graviation [sic] water system and has been a source of pleasure and revenue to the congregation, since its erection.

Musical Instruments

For thirty years the St. Nicholas Congregation was without a musical instrument in their church.

Then during Rev. S. G. Mollinger's pastorate, a melodeon was purchased, which was replaced by an organ in 1877.

Soon after a large bell was purchased by popular subscription, the condition being that the donor contributing the larger amount, was to have the privilege of choosing a name for it.

This honor fell to Peter Ruffner, one of the pioneers and on an appropriate day, with special service the bell was christened Peter.

Later a beautiful electric gong was installed as a memorial to the late Bernard Aaron.

Many other offerings of value, such as precious vessels, vestments, statues and other articles too numerous to mention, have been donated and are to be found in St. Nicholas Church at Crates, Pa.

St. Ann's

About the year 1854, Rev. Thomas Ledwith assumed the pastorate of St. Nicholas congregation and was deeply concerned regarding the salvation of the souls of a number of families, who had penetrated the wilderness a few miles farther north and formed a settlement.

His zealousness and desire to improve not only their spiritual and intellectual condition, but also to establish an institution of opportunities for future generations, prompted him to purchase land in addition to that donated by Anthony Reinsel, erect thereon, chiefly at his own expense together with money donated by friends and labor done by the parishioners, a large brick building, known as St. Ann's Academy, containing commodious class rooms for students, comfortable apartments for nuns and teachers, an adequate chapel and surrounded by an ideal recreation park on a beautiful elevation overlooking the village of Corsica, Pa.

The Sisters of St. Joseph assumed the responsibility of management provide an able corps of instructors and for a number of years the Academy flourished under the supervision of Mother Agnes Spencer.

The convenience of transportation not having reached this point as early as was anticipated the project was abandoned. The Sisters retired to their respective Mother House at Erie, Pa., the school was closed and henceforth the building was used a chapel until 1898 when it was partially destroyed by fire.

The present congregation salvaged the available material and to the proceeds added sufficient funds to erect in 1900 and furnished the present modern chapel known as St. Ann's Church near Corsica, Jefferson County, Pa., and under the pastorate of Rev. John Ring, who resides in the St. Nicholas Rectory in Crates, Pa.

During the summer months Mass is celebrated in St. Ann's Church the second and fourth Sundays and during the winter months, the second Sunday only, due to the condition, at that period of the years, of the unimproved roads existing in 1928.

St. Ann's, Corsica

St. Ann's Church, Corsica, in 1928

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