Brief History of St Leo’s Parish in Tully, NY

Compiled by Louise Lutz in 2015

A summary of St Leo’s history was written for the Centennial Album in 1991. Some of what follows was taken from this record. The very early history of St Leo’s Church was taken mostly from a 1906 publication called “History of the Catholic Church in Otisco, Tully, Apulia, Spafford, Preble.” According to this little book, St Leo’s parish embraced Apulia, the Town of Preble and part of the Towns of Fabius and Tully

The first Catholics to live in this area (Tully, Preble, Apulia, and Fabius) were the family of Edward Dobbins, who came to Preble from Ireland in about 1844. Edward Dobbins was the great-great-grandfather of John and Joseph Long. The Kellys, Fitzpatricks, Daleys, Longs, McCormicks, Fannings and Ryans, came about 1850.

It is believed that the first Mass celebrated in the area took place in the village of Preble in the home of Edward Kelly. This Mass was celebrated by Rev Bernard McCabe on January 1, 1853. Thomas Long of Tully took a sleigh load of people from Tully to Preble so that they could attend the Mass. The next Mass that we know of took place on January 1, 1855 – again at the home of Edward Kelly. Quite a few other Masses were celebrated in various places during this time, mostly in homes, but not at all on a regular basis.

There is no account of Mass being celebrated in the vicinity of Tully prior to the summer of 1865, when Rev Edward Coleman (who was resident pastor of Cortland from 1864 to 1867) said one Mass at the home of John Lahon, near Green Lake and another Mass shortly afterward at the home of John Norris.

As a rule, before St Leo’s was declared a parish by the Syracuse Diocese, Mass was said on a week day, as the priests had regular charges which demanded their attention on Sundays. Some of the Catholics in the Tully area would occasionally attend Mass in Syracuse, often walking the entire distance while fasting (rules for strict fasting before Communion were in effect).

On June 28, 1891, Rev Daniel Doody was appointed by Bishop Ludden as the first resident pastor of Tully, with Otisco as an out-mission and with Preble and Apulia as stations. Fr Doody said his first Mass in the hall of the Disciple Church on the following Sunday, July 12th. (This building, although no longer a church, still stands on State St between the library and the elementary school). Even though there was no church building at the time for St Leo’s Parish, 1891 is considered the establishment of the parish.

Services were held regularly in the Disciple Hall for about two months, then in Earle Hall (now the Masonic Temple on State St) until the completion of St Leo’s Church building. The first child baptized by Father Doody in Tully was Mary, daughter of Martin Long.

In May of 1892, the present site of the church and house was purchased from Martin Vail for the sum of $600. Construction was completed at the cost of $4,000, which included all the furnishings. The first Mass in St Leo’s Church building was celebrated by Father Doody on Palm Sunday, March 26, 1893. The church was dedicated on Tuesday, July 25, 1893 by Bishop Ludden.

Confirmation was administered for the first time in St Leo’s Church on October 24, 1893, by the Rt Rev Ludden, DD to a joint class from St Leo’s and the out-mission of Otisco. The class consisted of 145 parishioners. On June 29, 1898, Bishop Ludden administered Confirmation in St Patrick’s Church in Otisco to a class of 114 parishioners of both St Patrick’s and St Leo’s. Confirmation was again administered to a joint class of 87 in St Leo’s Church on October 4, 1904.

After a successful pastorate of over four years, Father Doody was succeeded on October 20, 1895, by Rev John F McLoughlin who worked zealously among his people and added to the beauty and extent of the property by frescoing the church, by erecting a new rectory at a cost of $2,000, and by laying cement walks. In 1898, two and one-half acres of land lying one and one-half miles south of Tully Village were purchased from Martin Vail for a cemetery at a cost of $300.

On June 1, 1901, Rev John V Byrne became pastor of St Leo’s in Tully and St Patrick’s in Otisco. One of the improvements that Fr Byrne made was the erection of an icehouse, and also a barn for the priest’s horse and carriage.

Building improvements and repairs necessarily are an ongoing activity. The multi-colored opalescent windows of the church were installed in the mid-1920’s. In 1941, the original tower on the church was replaced with the present golden cross. The siding on the church and rectory was also replaced at this time. Later, the barn was taken down and a garage built adjoining the rectory. In the late 1950’s, seven acres of land south of the church was acquired. A portion of this was later cleared for a parking lot.

The Catechetical Center and Hall was completed in 1964, then dedicated on March 26, 1965. An addition of several classrooms was made to this building in 1988. The new Hall provided an appropriate environment for religious education classes as well as social activities.

The church was made more easily accessible from the parking lot, when a ramp was constructed in 1986 on the west side of the church in memory of Paul M Fenlon. That same year, Father Kilpatrick and hard-working volunteers refinished and restored the woodwork and pews to the original oak (Unfortunately they had been painted). Cathy Shaughnessy was a major contributor to this effort.

—Fr. James Cary and Fr. Bob StephensonMass and special services at St Leo’s have always been favored with musical talents and support. A unique aspect of the parish music program has been that five generations of one family have participated in it. Mrs. Lawrence Neugent served as organist for quite some time. Neugent’s daughter, Mrs. William Murphy was a long time choir member. Now, Murphy’s granddaughter, Mary Lou Gordona is one of the organists and has been since 1989. Mary Lou’s son Michael is also one of the organists and Mike’s son Brendan is now one of the cantors.

The first electric, two manual organ replaced the original reed organ in 1941. Since then, three other organ replacements have been made—one in the late 1950’s and another in the 1970’s. The present organ was purchased about ten years ago.

Five parishioners chose to dedicate their lives to serving God and the Church. Rev. William Sheehan, Rev. Gerald Reinman, Rev. John Fenlon were ordained priests and two women entered the Franciscan order in Syracuse — Sister Patricia (Catherine Sheehan) and Sister Michael Leo (Margaret Flaherty).

On Sunday, June 30, 1991, St Leo’s celebrated the centennial of the founding of the parish. A special outdoor liturgy took place with Most Rev. Joseph T. O’Keefe, Bishop of Syracuse, as the presiding celebrant and homilist. The beloved pastor at the time was Father Vincent J Kilpatrick, who left St Leo’s soon after. The next pastor, Father Louis Aiello, was welcomed at the centennial celebration.

As of 2015, St Leo’s parish has been served by 19 priests, 13 assistants and 4 deacons. Assistants were first assigned to St Leo’s in 1938 when Corpus Christi Church at South Onondaga was included with St Patrick’s at Otisco as an out-mission. Assistants continued to be assigned until 1963 when St Patrick’s and Corpus Christi were separated from St Leo’s because of growth in all the parishes. At this time, St Leo’s became a separate, independent church. Later, however, a shortage of clergy caused St Patrick’s and St Leo’s to again be served by one pastor.

Between 2005 and 2012, during a rather extensive reconfiguration of parishes in the Syracuse Diocese, St Leo’s was again separated from St Patrick’s and joined with St Joseph’s parish in LaFayette and Immaculate Conception in Pompey. This cluster of 3 parishes is known as the Church of the Nativity. At this time, St Leo’s and Immaculate Conception came dangerously close to being closed. The plan was to build a new church in LaFayette that would be a combination of all 3 parishes. Instead, fervent prayers and Divine Providence, supplying a unique set of circumstances in our favor, allowed all 3 parishes to remain open.

When Father Doody, the first resident pastor, began his pastorate at St Leo’s, there were about 25 Catholic families. Today there are about 500 registered parishioners.

As a sign that our parish would probably not be dissolved for some time, in 2013, permission was granted to repair and renovate St Leo’s Church. Some of the construction involved beefing up the structure of this old building. The floor was reinforced and even completely replaced in the sanctuary. The heating system was replaced by a new and more efficient one and air conditioning was installed.

The renovation aspect of this building project involved the moving of the tabernacle and an emphasis on an appropriate baptismal font. In order to do this, the side altars were removed and the statues of Mary and Joseph were moved to the side walls. Recently, a new altar and ambo were also purchased.

On November 10, 2013, the feast of St Leo the Great, Father Carey rededicated our renovated church with a most memorable Mass. Each person was presented with a special holy card and a candle as mementos of this celebration. As a continuation of the celebration of rededication, a Sacred Music Festival was held in the afternoon followed by a scrumptious reception in the church hall.

Inspired leadership and dedicated, faithful people have maintained the parish and continue to look to the future with faith and hope. The devotion of parishioners to serve the parish community has been demonstrated in many ways by many people over the past 124 years. It has been shown as officers of organizations, members of various committees, as workers for the annual bazaar, as participants in the music program, lectors, as Eucharistic ministers, as teachers of religious education, as trustees, as altar servers, as members of the Parish Council, as volunteers in our Outreach program, bakers of Leo’s Loaves, and in numerous unrecorded services.

We are all very proud of our parish and strive to fulfill our mission as a community of light and life.