When Governor Thomas Dongan, an Irish Catholic, established Dutchess County in 1683; there were few of his faith in the colony of New York. The first Priests in the Hudson Valley were French Jesuits, led by Saint Isaac Jogues, who about forty years earlier preached the Gospel to the Indians in the Mohawk Valley. It is believed that Father Jogues traveled through what later became Dutchess County before he and his companions were captured and martyred at Auriesville in 1646. Father Ferdinand Farmer reported visiting Dutchess County in October of 1781. His records mention Fishkill where he baptized 14 Canadian and Acadian Catholics. He again visited the area in November of 1783. As early as 1810, a number of Irish Catholics had settled in Wappinger Falls and by 1820 other Catholics appeared in the Poughkeepsie area. Reverend Philip O'Reilly, a Dominican, was authorized by Right Rev. John DuBois, third Bishop of New York, to form missions and build churches on the banks of the Hudson wherever the number of Catholics made it possible. Father O'Reilly ministered to congregations at Rondout, Cold Spring, Saugerties, Newburgh and Poughkeepsie. Pastors riding circuit to serve multiple congregations continued in Dutchess until the 1940's. In 1832, a number of Catholic families in Poughkeepsie organized the Catholic Association with the objective of raising funds for the erection of a church and the establishment of a permanent parish. On November 24, 1837 Bishop DuBois appointed Rev. John Maginnis to serve the congregations of Poughkeepsie, Rondout and Saugerties. In the same year, the church of St. Peter in Poughkeepsie was erected. The founding of the church of St. Denis on Beekman Road was intimately connected with Daniel DeLaney. Born in County Kilkenny, Ireland in 1801, history has it that DeLaney had been pressed into service in the British Navy, jumped ship in South America, made his way to New York City, married Katherine Doheny and, at some time prior to 1852', arrived in Beekman, evidently as a farm hand. The story is told that DeLaney was digging one day (to bury a cow?) in the vicinity of Sylvan Lake and observed iron ore, which he recognized by virtue of having worked in an iron mine in Ireland. Iron ore had been mined on both sides of the Hudson from earliest times. Tradition has it that Mrs. DeLaney had saved $600 and made it available to her husband who thereupon purchased land around Sylvan Lake and went into iron mining. He prospered. To obtain workers for his mine, DeLaney periodically traveled to New York City where he recruited Irish immigrants straight off the boat and brought them to Sylvan Lake. Soon the miners had wives and children and the colony of Catholics in Beekman started to grow. DeLaney was not alone in open pit iron mining in and around Sylvan Lake. Mining boomed until the 1890's and many of the small ponds scattered about today were originally open ore pits which filled with water when mining was abandoned following the discovery of the great iron ore deposits in the Midwest. The development of new furnace techniques for refining the ore caused a shift of ore processing to areas such as Pittsburgh. The remains of one of the furnaces used to refine iron ore from mines in Beekman still stands on Furnace Road just north of Route 55 off Dutchess Route 9.
The DeLaney monument in St. Denis cemetery lists his daughter, Catherine DeLaney, age 2, as having died February 12, 1852. Before long, the expanding group of Catholic families at Sylvan Lake felt an urgent need for a church. In 1858 or 1860, DeLaney donated a plot of land and, with the assistance of his miners, the first St. Denis was built on a knoll on Beekman Road just over the line in East Fishkill. We have no record of a priest being regularly assigned to St. Denis until 1874 when St. Denis became a mission church of St. Mary's in Wappinger Falls which had itself been founded in 1845. According to the history of St. Mary's, Father George Brophy, its first resident pastor, served not only the parishioners of St. Mary's but also the workers at the "ore beds" at Sylvan Lake as well as the Catholics at Fishkill Landing. Considering the travel conditions over primitive dirt roads in those days, it is unlikely that Mass was offered at St. Denis on a weekly basis. In the "History of Dutchess County 1660-1909", Father William Patrick Eagen, described as Rector of St. Denis, states that the first St. Denis was built in June 1858 [sic] with "Father Powers" as Rector. Father Powers is not otherwise identified and it is unlikely that Father Powers was stationed fill time at St. Denis in those early days. Father Eagen also reported that St. Denis became a parish in 1874, although it appears that 1874 was the year St. Denis became a mission church of St. Mary's in Wappinger Falls. Father Eagen stated that when first established, the territory served by St. Denis encompassed 600 square miles and included all of the land East of Wappinger Falls to the Connecticut line, running from the parish of Mattewan on the South to Amenia on the North. By 1909, the parish of St. Denis had shrunk to 400 square miles with churches at Sylvan Lake, Hopewell Junction and Clove, as well as stations at Moores Mills and Poughquag (2) A station was likely a private home where Mass was said from time to time.
(2)According to local history, Sylvan Lake was called "Poughquaich" or "round water" by the Wappinger Indians; hence, comes the name Poughquag. Why the area of Beekman currently called Poughquag is separated by some miles from Sylvan Lake is not known.
Father Eagen's report states that in 1874 Father McSwiggan (3) had two assistants, Rev. W.H. Murthy and Rev. Charles McMullen who served mission churches at Pawling and Dover, both of which later became full parishes. In 1909, according to Father Eagen, the parishioners at St. Denis numbered 300, of whom 75 attended Mass in Hopewell Junction.
From the founding of St. Denis, its priests served the Catholics in Hopewell Junction. In the early years, Mass at Hopewell Junction was said in private homes. The coming of the railroad in the latter half of the 19th century caused Hopewell Junction to thrive and led to the construction of the Clove Branch Railroad serving the iron mines at Beekman and Sylvan Lake as well as the furnace at Clove Valley. The railroad was incorporated in 1868 and constructed shortly thereafter with stops at Clove Branch Junction, Adriance, Sylvan Lake and Beekmanville. It is reported that it took one hour to travel the line, not by reason of the length of the tracks but because of the slow speed of the engine. When the iron mines closed in the 1890's, the Clove Branch Railroad was abandoned and the tracks removed.
Daniel DeLaney, who played a key role in the founding of St. Denis, had retired by 1876. His substantial farmhouse is said to be still standing near Sylvan Lake. He had six children. Two daughters died in childhood; a daughter, Mary-Anne, died at 30, a spinster. Three sons are said to have given him 25 grandchildren. Members of the DeLaney family still reside in the parish. Daniel DeLaney was considered a millionaire at the time of his death on February 8, 1880. He is buried in the old section of St. Denis cemetery where his monument is the tallest.
(3) Father Eagen's dates are sometimes in conflict with dates given in other sources. Father McSwiggan appears to have been pastor from 1877 to 1884.
(4)Richard DeLaney and Anna May Hill are great grandchildren and Diane Zipprich is a great, great grandchild of Daniel DeLaney.
Gravestones in the parish cemetery record the names and birth places of many Irish-born parishioners who died in the 1800's. The parish financial records of 1880 show the Peter's Pence collection as $44.00 and the collection "For the Poor of Ireland" as $119.50. The disparity in amounts likely indicates not a lack of affection for the Pope but a keen awareness of the harshness of life for those left behind in the "Old Country". The total parish income that year was $1,540.00.
But the parishioners were not all Irish. Joseph Scheer, who died in 1891, recorded his birthplace as Westphalia, Germany. By 1904, Hopewell Junction had its own church near the railroad tracks. The church building is reported to have been relocated from Tivoli. Folklore tells us that the parishioners who were doing the moving accidentally dropped the building in the Hudson. Resourceful as any St. Denis parishioners of today, the movers fished the building out and brought it to its site. The new church was named St. Columba, the patron saint of Scotland.. Tradition holds that the name was chosen because it was the middle name of the then pastor of St. Denis. The parish was thereafter referred to as St. Denis-St. Columba.
In the 1930's, Emandine Hall was purchased for $2,500 as a new church to accommodate the expanding congregation at Hopewell Junction. Father McElhinney, Pastor of St. Denis-St. Columba proudly advised the Cardinal Archbishop of New York that he had the money on hand to pay for it. He also enclosed a picture of James Ett who had been received into the Church as a convert at age 73. That report to the Cardinal Archbishop confirms that the spiritual welfare of the parishioners continued as the center of parish life.
By 1983, St. Denis parish, including its mission church of St. Columba in Hopewell Junction, encompassed over 200 square miles and ranked as one of the largest parishes in the Archdiocese.
Life was never easy for a pastor in St. Denis in the 1800's or thereafter. Because of poor roads, the pastor rode circuit to offer Mass at the various missions. Although mining brought prosperity for a time, many of the parishioners earned their living farming and, while food might be plentiful, money was scarce.
For the period December 1877 to January 1879, Father McSwiggan reported parish income as $1,461 and expenses as $1,918 with a deficit of $457. The mortgage on St. Denis was $3,000. One of the larger expenses in those years was for the pastor's horse and carriage.
In 1894, the total income of the parish was $1,279 with a deficit of $292. Horse feed cost $60 and hay and straw $40.
In 1888, Father Charles Mullen reported receipts at $937 and expenses of $1,131, with a footnote that he had not received any salary for four years and owed the housekeeper four year's wages. The expense for horse and carriage that year was $200.50 and for horseshoes $24. But he also reported 19 baptisms in the parish and one marriage.
Father Andrew Corsini Mearns was born in County Kildare, Ireland and was ordained here in the US in the NY Archdiocese in 1897. Father Mearns was appointed pastor in 1901 and the following year reported 17 baptisms and 3 marriages. 502 confessions were heard and 710 communion hosts were distributed. Three catechism classes were held with 18 boys and 34 girls in attendance. There was a Vesper service and Benediction every Sunday evening but few were in attendance "on account of the distance between their home and the church". The average attendance at Mass at St. Denis was 109, the average at Our Lady of Mercy at Clove was 31 and 35 at Hopewell Junction. He reported that the farmers would not drive their horses to church when the weather was inclement since there was no shelter for the "poor beasts", nor a way of keeping the conveyances dry. He estimated it would cost $875 to build sheds to accommodate 35 horses at Sylvan Lake and 10 at the Clove. It appears that the sheds were built.
In 1902 Mass was said in Clove on the first, third and fifth Sunday and in the "schoolhouse" in Hopewell Junction on the second and fourth Sunday. This was in addition to the services at St. Denis so that the pastor spent a good deal of time on the road which accounts for the expense for horseshoes in the parish budget.
After the turn of the century, bungalow colonies started to spring up around Sylvan Lake. The advent of the automobile, together with improved roads, made travel easier. St. Denis, which was described as a "poverty stricken" parish in 1916, became more prosperous.
In 1935 calamity struck when "the church at Sylvan Lake", then 75 years old, caught fire. The building erected through the efforts of Daniel DeLaney was a total loss. But Father McIlhenney, who had purchased Emandine Hall for use as a church in Hopewell Junction and paid cash, was up to the challenge. The pastor and his father braved the flames and carried three statues to safety. The Hopewell Fire Department responded together with two truckloads of men from Sylvan Lake and Poughquag, but they were hampered by a lack of water. Newspaper accounts state that they concentrated on saving the parish house and an adjacent carriage shed, assumedly the shed which Father Mearns had suggested building in 1902 to shelter the parishioners horses.
With the wooden church erected in 1860 destroyed, plans were made for the erection of a new church. Before the embers had cooled, Father McIlhenney was arranging for Mass to be said in the carriage house the following Sunday.
By June 14, 1936, the new St. Denis was dedicated by Cardinal Patrick Hayes. The building cost $16,000 and has room for 300. Father McIlhenney had been pastor for 9 years, one of the longest tenures as a pastor in the history of St. Denis, and the dedication of the new church coincided. with the pastor's celebration of the 25th anniversary of his ordination.
The new church was an old English design with cast stone trim and brick walls. Newspaper accounts said that the pews came from St. Peter's in Poughkeepsie and that they were over 100 years old. They have since been replaced. In 1936 there were two Masses at St. Denis on Sunday. Mass was also being offered at Hopewell Junction and in the "little church in the Clove".
THE MISSION CHURCH AT CLOVE
By the 1880's, iron mines were operating at Clove and the Catholic families needed their own church since a trip of eight miles to St. Denis was a challenge, even if you owned a horse and wagon and many of the miners likely did not. Father McSwiggans' financial report of 1883 shows he purchased one half acre in Clove from John Ross for $57.50. The chapel, named Our Lady of Mercy and seating about fifty at most, must have been erected shortly thereafter, likely by the miners themselves. Fr. McSwiggans' 1884 statement shows receipts of $379.62 from the church at Clove.
The Clove chapel, with its small steeple intact, still stands on Dutchess Route 9 about 3.7 miles north of Route 55. It is now occupied as a residence by Diane Bandler.
Elinore DeForest, 93, has lived in St. Denis parish since 1925. She recalls playing the organ in the choir loft of the chapel in Clove. That choir loft is now the master bedroom, reached by the original steep and narrow stairs.
Our Lady of Mercy at Clove was still functioning in 1945 according to the parish calendar for that year. Mass was offered every Sunday at 9:30 AM which shows what the advent of paved roads and the automobile has accomplished. In earlier times, Mass at the Clove was held only on alternate Sundays. The Chapel at Clove was closed shortly after World War II. Folklore says the property deed from John Ross stipulated that title would revert in the event the property ceased to be used as a church. On closure, title evidently went back to the Ross family.
Although one tends to trace the history of a parish by church buildings, a parish centers on the spiritual life of the congregation. In 1876 St. Denis reported 85 baptisms, 67 in 1877 and fluctuating from 50 to 64 in the years through 1883. Baptisms then dropped steadily to 12 in 1901, reflecting, no doubt, the closing of the iron mines and the drop off of employment opportunities in the area. The numbers turn up in the late 1950's and by 1960 baptisms were in the 80's and continued to grow as southern Dutchess again started to prosper.
The Pastors in the 1800's had a role to play beyond riding circuit over dusty roads to offer Mass and the Sacraments, keeping the church in repair, shoveling snow when needed, keeping the horse shod, balancing a meager budget, instructing the children and baptizing the new arrivals. The Pastor had to console. The old cemetery headstones record the harshness of life in those years. John and Mary Barry lost John at age 2 in 1876, William at 8 months in 1881 and Michael at 16 in 1902.
Lawrence and Catherine Whalen lost Margaret, age 8, on Christmas Day 1870 and lost her sister, Johanna, age 5, two days later. Margaret, the 23 year old wife of John Barret, died on June 2, 1882 and their daughter Annie, age 5 months, died on October 11, the same year. These poignant gravestone stories stand as witness to the role the pastors played as shepherd over the years.
In 1899 St. Denis ceased being a mission and became a full fledged parish.
1950's - 1990's THE YEARS OF GROWTH
By the late '50's, Cardinal Spellman was urging that property be acquired in Hopewell Junction adequate to accommodate a new church, a convent and a school. In 1958, Father Francis X. Harper, the new pastor of St. Denis-St. Columba, acquired the parcel of land on Route 82 at the junction of Route 376. In 1959 Father William Brady was assigned as pastor and during his four year term the "All Purpose Room" at St. Columba was erected for use as a site for Masses as well as meetings of Church societies.
Msgr. Joseph F. Tracy served as pastor from 1963 to 1968 and during his tenure the St. Denis-St. Columba School and Convent in Hopewell Junction became a reality. In August 1965, Dominican Sisters of BIauvelt arrived to staff the new school which opened in September of that year with 260 students. Four nuns, Sister Grace Imelda, Sister M. Lucille, Sister Maria Eudes and Sister Eileen Charles were assisted by three lay teachers, Mrs. Columba Ianelli, Mrs. Amelia Kavanaugh, and Mrs. Elsie Potter. Mrs. Marion Nichik was assigned to the school as nurse-teacher by the Wappinger Falls School District.
On September 18, 1966 the new school and convent were formally dedicated by Cardinal Spellman who complimented the parishioners of St. Denis-St. Columba for their sacrifices which made the school and convent possible.
In June 1967, Msgr. Tracy was elevated to Prothonary Apostolic and Bishop Pernicone presided at his installation.
In 1968, Father James McCarthy was assigned as the first Parochial Vicar at St. Denis-St. Columba and he stayed for what he describes as "eight wonderful years". Father McCarthy was later elevated to Monsignor and served as Secretary to both Cardinal Cooke and Cardinal O'Connor.
In 1969, St. Denis-St. Columba school graduated twenty-nine boys and girls from the eighth grade and the school continued to grow.
In July 1976, Father Gennaro Gentile was assigned as a Parochial Vicar to replace Father McCarthy and in December of the same year Father Paul DMoch arrived as second Parochial Vicar to assist with the needs of the constantly growing church in Hopewell Junction. Two curates plus Father Meehan, the pastor, far outstripped the capacity of the Cape Cod rectory on Beekman Road with the result that the Pastor moved to St. Aloysius Novitiate, leaving the two curates in the tiny rectory with no cook, no housekeeper, no washer or dryer. But they survived and the combined parish continued to grow.
In 1977, Mrs. Tony Mora was hired as parish secretary, working in St. Denis Rectory. She is still employed as a secretary at St. Columba.
In 1981 a rectory was built on the grounds of St. Denis-St. Columba at Hopewell Junction and in the same year a shrine to Our Lady was erected adjacent to the church of St. Denis on Beekman Road. In 1987 Cardinal O'Connor presided at the groundbreaking for a new church of St. Columba which was dedicated on April 16, 1989. In the same year a new wing was added to St. Denis and the old section built in 1937 was renovated. Formal dedication of the enlarged St. Denis took place on October 6, 1991.
With the church at Hopewell Junction and the church at Sylvan Lake both growing rapidly, Msgr. Dominick Lagonero, pastor of St. Denis-St. Columba, proposed that the parish split into two.
On January 1, 1993, the split became effective with Father William Cosgrove transferred from St. Augustine in New City and assigned as pastor of St. Denis. Father Cosgrove arrived to find a church building and a cemetery. But no rectory. The Cape Cod building which had served as a rectory for years had been condemned.
Father Cosgrove moved into the rectory at St. Columba and parked a trailer behind St. Denis to serve as the parish office. By 1995, the old rectory was demolished, a new rectory and meeting hall was constructed and the trailer was gone. St. Denis was thriving. In 1997 a fundraising campaign was initiated for the construction of a new Parish Center and in 1998 the building was completed. It houses a Religious Education Program and a pre-school The Ark and Dove, all to serve the constantly expanding parish family.
The following is a listing of pastors who served at St. Denis. Many served a short tenure before moving on to another assignment. But each kept the spiritual flame burning despite hardship and challenge.
1860-1874 Fr. John Sheehan (5)
1874-1877 Fr. Patrick J. Healy
1877-1884 Fr .W.J. McSwiggan
1884-1892 Fr. Charles McMullen
1892-1896 Fr. Edward J. Byrnes
1896-1901 Fr. Eugene A. Shine
1901-1903 Fr. Andrew Corsini Mearns
1903-1905 Fr. John C. McEvoy
1905-1910 Fr.William P. Egan
(5) The names of all the priests who served St. Denis between 1860 and 1874 are not obtainable. Father Sheehan was one. There were likely many others who served the small mission.
1910-1915 Fr. James Corridan
1915-1917 Fr. James MacDonnell
1917-1921 Fr. John P. Hines
1921-1928 Fr. Edward L. Baxter
1928-1936 Fr. Francis E. McElhinney
1936-1940 Fr. James A. Dunnigan
1940-1945 Fr. Thomas B. Brown
1945-1947 Fr. Andrew F. Carney
1948-1958 Fr. Florian G. Wermuth
1958-1959 Fr. Francis X. Harper
1959-1963 Fr. William J. Brady
1963-1968 Fr. Joseph F. Tracy
1968-1973 Fr. John J. Gannon
1973-1976 Fr. William J. McGann
1976-1989 Fr. Joseph Meehan
1981-2009 Fr. John Leonard (Weekend Associate)***
1989-1993 Msgr. Dominick J. Lagonegro
1993-2008 Fr. William B. Cosgrove
2008-2010 Fr. Stephen P. Norton
2010-2012 Fr. Vincent DePaul Howley
2012 - present Fr. Robert Porpora
The following Pastoral Vicars served St. Denis over the years:
1968-1976 Fr. James McCarthy
1976-1982 Fr. Gennaro Gentile
1976-1987 Fr. Paul DMoch
1982-1987 Fr. Fred Kempfril
1987-1987 Fr. Gerardo Colacicco
1989-1992 Fr. John Carson
1999-2000 Fr. Francis Gunn
2001-2004 Fr. Philip Persico
2004-2006 Fr. Joseph Faraone
2009-2010 Fr. Peter Ekanem
2010-Present Fr. Patrick Dunne
Father McElhinney, who built the present St. Denis following the 1935 fire, was transferred to St. John Chrysostom, a then thriving middle class parish in the Bronx where he succeeded Father James Corridan who had served St. Denis as pastor from 1910 to 1915. In 1993 the Bronx reciprocated by sending Father William Cosgrove, a Bronx native, to St. Denis Father "Bill" Cosgrove serves as pastor with unlimited energy and zeal. He is assisted by Deacons' Walter Dauerer, Stanley Aviles, Enrico Messina and Robert Pelech. ***Father Jack Leonard*** drives up from Fordham College each Sunday to offer two Masses as visiting priest.
For many years, Father Bruce Bowes served as visiting priest in addition to his duties as director of the Religious Education program when it was jointly operated with St. Columba. Our present Director of Religious Educaton is Mrs. Laura Esposito, we have over 1700 children in our religious education program. The Ark and the Dove pre-school and kindergarten is also located in our Parish Center facilities.
In June 2008 we were notified that our beloved Pastor Father Bill Cosgrove was being re-assigned back to his previous Parish in New City, St. Augustines. Father Bill accomplished many things here at Saint Denis during his 15 years as Pastor. He will be missed very much and we are grateful for the many things he did for the parishioners of St. Denis. The Lord blessed us with a wonderful replacement the Rev. Stephen P. Norton, he spent time here at Saint Denis before his Ordination. His past assignment was President of John F. Kennedy High School in Somers N.Y. We are sure that Fr. Steve will bring the same unlimited energy and zeal that Fr. Bill did for the people of God at Saint Denis.
On Sunday, September 20, 2009 the end of an era came to St. Denis parish. **Fr. John Leonard** celebrated his last Mass here at our parish. For over 27 years Fr. Jack has faithfully served our parish community as our Weekend Associate. He traveled each Sunday from Fordham Prep (on the Fordham University campus) in the Bronx to celebrate Mass. We have been blessed as a parish to have had him for so many years. We will continue to love him and pray for him as he takes a well deserved rest from his over an hour, one way, journey to us each Sunday.
We are blessed to have another Permanent Deacon assigned to St.Denis, Deacon Frank Munoz who came to us in 2010. At the end of August 2010 we were notified by our Pastor, Father Steve Norton that he would be re-assigned to St. Benedicts in the Bronx. Our loss is as they say, St. Benedicts gain. Fr. Steve's love for all the people of God and especially the youth will be a wonderful blessing for St. Benedicts we wish him well.
Our parish prayerfully waited for a new appointment from the Archdiocese for a replacement for Fr. Steve. We were blessed to recieve notice that the Archdiocese has appointed Rev. Father Vincent Howley from St. James the Apostle Church in Carmel New York.
On Sunday June 28, 2012 we were in formed by the Archdiocese that Fr. Vincent would step down as Pastor of Saint Denis due to illness. Even though we did not see much of Father Vincent in recent months the parish always prayed for his complete recovery and return. We were told that he was doing much better and was on the road to recovery, we will miss his wonderful sense of humour and his outlook on life.
We were informed our new Pastor would be Fr. Robert Porpora from Holy Cross Catholic Church in Middletown, New York.
The shed for the horses has disappeared but the parking lot is full to overflowing on Sunday, well populated with cars for Mass on weekdays and partly full most evenings for meetings of AA or other parish organizations.
St. Denis, the little church on the knoll on Beekman Road, built primarily to serve the needs of the iron ore miners and their families, is thriving and ready for the challenges of its second century as a full fledged parish.