Irish community at St. Patrick’s Church thrives despite decline in Catholic population
Ally Moreo | Photo Editor
Naturally, the inside of St. Patrick’s Church in Tipperary Hill, Syracuse is a spectacle of Irish culture. Three-leaf clovers adorn the stained-glass windows. Green is used as an accent against the gold of the domed roof. Pillars in between benches are painted a dark green. A sign that hangs above the front door inside of the church reads “Pray Like a Champion Today,” just one letter’s difference from the slogan of Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish.
And when Father Kevin Maloney steps in front of parishioners for Monday Mass at noon, he stands below a stained glass window that features Jesus and Mary underneath a clover.
The church has proudly stood on the corner of North Lowell Avenue and Schuyler Street since 1871. And though Catholic Church membership rates have steadily declined across the United States since then, St. Patrick’s has seen an uptick in recent years. That’s due to the deep Irish culture weaved into both the church and Tipperary Hill’s tight-knit community. Maloney has helped cultivate it in recent years.
This St. Patrick’s Day, or Feast Day, will be the church’s 147th. Since March 17 falls on a Friday this year, the church will hold its regularly scheduled noon Mass, but will “do it up a little more,” Maloney said. As part of other festivities, a bagpiper and an organist will contribute a soundtrack in the form of traditional Irish music.
Though St. Patrick’s is still vibrant, nationwide, the Catholic faith isn’t. In recent years, the Christian population in the U.S. fell by 7.8 percent between 2007 and 2014, and within the Christian population, the Catholic population fell from 23.9 percent to 20.8 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.
Despite the recent decline of the nationwide Catholic population, Sarah Fisher, the St. Patrick’s Church bookkeeper, says that St. Patrick’s church added around 100 more families in the past three years, bouncing back from a low-point in their attendance rates.
Maloney, who has been at St. Patrick’s since 2013 and church’s 11th pastor, said he’s recently noticed that masses are fuller, with Saturday evening Mass at 5:15 p.m. being the most popular. He believes that knowledge of St. Patrick’s church is passed down through family members, as a large majority of modern parishioners have Irish heritage.
“It kind of helps that we’re a beacon for the people who like to share a beverage every once and a while too,” Maloney said. “There’s tons of bars within a half mile or so.”
The Irish are “a very, very proud people,” said Maloney. Faith and heritage is instilled within the Irish families of Tipperary Hill, and the roots that some of the parishioners have in the area draw them back to St. Patrick’s, he said.
Ally Moreo | Photo Editor
Some of the families who belong to St. Patrick’s today are fourth, fifth and sixth generation Irish families, said Noreen Driscoll, St. Patrick’s Church secretary.
Jim Satalin, whose mother is from Ireland, has attended Mass at St. Patrick’s since he was growing up on Emerson Avenue just a block away. As a kid, he attended St. Patrick’s School just across the street from the church itself. The building hasn’t been used as a school since 2006, but the old school sign still stands facing the church.
Now, Satalin lives on Onondaga Hill. He and his wife Kathleen Satalin attend the noon Mass on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as often as they can. One of their daughters brings her children when she can, said Satalin, and she attends St. Patrick’s Mass, she does so in the company of her entire family. Kathleen Satalin said that she’s been attending St. Patrick’s alongside her husband for 15 years.
After elementary school, Satalin’s family moved away, so he wasn’t a part of the parish. But later, he and Kathleen decided to move back and return to their roots, Satalin said.
“It’s been a great situation for us,” Satalin said. “It’s a great parish with great people.”
Father Maloney described the church’s community as a close one, as most churchgoers know each other, either from attending school together across the street or from bonding at Mass. Everyone looks out for each other, he said, adding that the parishioners are always willing to help one another and to celebrate with each other.
The active role that Maloney plays in the Syracuse community has contributed to the tight knit culture and the recent growth in the church’s members, said Fisher. The previous priest, Father John Fenlon, who was at St. Patrick’s from 2007 to 2013, couldn’t take as much of an active role because of health issues, Fisher said.
“People seem to really enjoy him,” Fisher said. “He’s young, he’s got a lot of energy. He’s very active in everything that we do.”
Said Satalin: “Father’s fabulous.”
After Mass on Monday, a few of the parishioners hang around to chat with Maloney. They exchange jokes and make small talk. Two of these parishioners, Mary-Beth and Peter Barclay, have only been attending St. Patrick’s for a few months. Mary-Beth’s mother’s family, as well as Peter’s entire family, is from Ireland. The area of Tipp Hill is familiar to Mary-Beth, as she grew up on Tennyson Avenue and graduated from St. Patrick’s School across the road. Some of her current fellow parishioners were her old classmates.
“I’m with so many people that I grew up with (when attending St. Patrick’s),” she said. “They’ve all come back here.”
Maloney locks the church doors once all of the parishioners leave. They will return for the next week’s Mass, just as parishioners before them did for 147 years.
“Life is short,” the church sign next to the front door on Schuyler Street reads in bright-green letters, underneath the bright-green listed times for Mass. “Pray hard.”
Published on March 8, 2017 at 11:35 pm