16 April 2017

Our Lady of Angels, Albany, NY

A brief history of the now closed Our Lady of Angels church follows; prior to 1867, the spiritual needs of Albany’s Catholic Germans were served by the priests of Holy Cross Parish- the only German-language Catholic parish in the city.  It soon became evident that another parish was needed.  Holy Cross church had become too small to accommodate all of its numerous parishioners.  The church was close to the South End, but many German Catholics lived a great distance from the church, in the Bowery section of Albany.  In 1867 the Very Reverend Edgar Wadhams, Vicar-General of the Roman Catholic diocese, requested the Franciscan Fathers to organize a parish for German Catholics in the western section of the city of Albany.[1]  Father Francis M. Neubauer of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual (OFM) was named the first pastor of the new Catholic-German congregation, Maria Königin der Engel, or Our Lady of Angels, for the western part of Albany on June 19, 1867.  At this time Father Neubauer had a congregation of only 150 families, no money, property or plans.  In time the parish grew and became the city’s largest German Roman Catholic parish, including over six hundred families before the turn of the century. 
Through the kindness of the neighboring pastor for the Irish Saint Patrick’s Church, Father Francis was allowed to offer Mass in Saint Patrick’s Hall, since he did not have a church.[2]  Father Francis immediately sought a building that would be suitable for use as a church until a permanent structure was erected.  Within two weeks he rented Coulson’s Factory at 328 Central Avenue.  At this locale the first mass was offered in this temporary church on July 14, 1867.  Soon a lot was purchased on the northeast corner of Central Avenue and Robin Street, formerly Perry Street.  The existing building, an old malt house, was razed, and work began on the new church’s foundation in September 1868.  Within two months, on November 29, 1868, the cornerstone was placed with impressive ceremonies conducted by the Most Reverend John J. Conroy, D.D., Bishop of Albany.  A parade from the bishop’s residence to the site of the church inaugurated the event.  Numerous Catholic societies from the city took part in the procession.  Historian and antiquarian Joel Munsell noted in his Collections on the History of Albany that,
The German Catholics laid the corner stone of a new church, to be called Holy Queen of Angels, on the corner of Central Avenue and Robin Street… The notice [that was] published, [stated] that the ceremonies would take place, and be attended with a grand procession, called out one of the largest crowds we ever saw on any similar occasion.[3]

Finally on March 26, 1871, Bishop Conroy, together with pastors from other city churches, blessed the new church with imposing ceremonies and dedicated it to Our Lady of Angels.  The participants and onlookers of the ritual included fully six thousand people who assembled around, outside, and within the church.[4]

Our Lady of Angels 

By 1890 the Our Lady of Angels congregation consisted of six hundred families and included numerous parish societies.  Parish organizations included the German Young Men’s Catholic Union, or German YMCU, which was founded before 1897.  Its offices were located at 410 Sheridan Avenue, next to the school of Our Lady of Angels.  The YMCU first appeared in Albany city directories in 1899- the year the writer assumes the society might have been created.   The Altar-Rosary society was founded on June 30, 1867, and fostered devotion to the rosary and provided furnishings for the altar.  The Saint Johannis Verein was established on June 9, 1878, as an Unterstützungverein.  The society joined the German Roman Catholic Central Verein in 1885.  The Verein had ninety members as of 1897, and its capital totaled $2,969.88.  Members paid quarterly dues of $1.25 for a $5.00 weekly sick benefit, a $100 death benefit, and a $75 benefit for the death of a member’s wife.[5]  The Holy Name Society was established in 1910 to promote proper respect for the Holy Name of Jesus.  The Saint Elisabeth Society for the Poor was organized on June 21, 1895, with forty members that conducted acts of charity within the parish.  The Saint Elizabeth Frauen Verein, the Männer-Unterstützungverein, the Saint Franciscus, and Saint Antonius Vereine were all founded before 1897.  The Catholic Mutual Benefit Association, Branch 230 was formed in the parish, circa 1903.  Other societies included the Knights of Saint John’s, Saint Francis Commandery, No. 102.  The Knights are an American Catholic fraternal order which was founded in 1879.  The men of Our Lady of Angels parish established the order in November 1899.  The Our Lady of Angels Council, No. 145 of the Catholic Benevolent League, or CBL, was organized circa 1888.  A choir group, the Liszt Chorus, was established on September 1, 1891, with thirty-eight members that met in the school house.[6]  Additional parish societies included the Sodality of the Blessed Sacrament, containing 320 members; the Little Sacred Heart, including ninety members; the Order of Saint Francis, counting 250 members; and the League of the Sacred Heart, numbering 1,000 members[7]
Our Lady of Angels, interior
Nineteen acres of land in Colonie were purchased in 1877 for the creation of a parish cemetery.  More acreage was later purchased in 1948 to increase its size.  The cemetery is located east of Colonie Center shopping mall on Central Avenue.  In traditional German manner the parish made an early provision for the education of the children.  On June 29, 1867, a parochial school was opened under the care of lay teachers, who were replaced two years later by religious instructors.  The parish purchased a building on Washington Avenue for use as a school on January 3, 1866, and then sold it on June 9, 1868.  A frame house next to the church on the southwest corner of Robin and Sherman Streets was acquired for use as the school.  Shortly thereafter, a new school was built in 1874 on Sherman Street and was in use until 1927, when a new modern school was built in its place.  By 1870 there were 200 children in the parish school under the direction of three Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis.  In 1957, with an enrollment of 822 pupils, Our Lady of Angels School was ranked as the fourth largest elementary school in the diocese.[8]  Regrettably, the school closed in 1986 due to dwindling enrollment.  The church served the community for 138 years until it held its final mass on April 3, 2005.[9]  (For a list of the Pastors of Our Lady of Angels Church, see appendix II.) 
Our Lady of Angels
convent & school
Pastors of Our Lady of Angels Church
Francis M. Neubauer, 1867-77
Pius Kotterer, 1877-79
Maurice Bierl, 1879-83
Anselm Auling, 1883-89
Louis Miller, 1889-92
Fidelis Voight, 1892-99
Alphonse Lehrscholl, 1899-1912
Henry Thameling, 1912-1919
Sylvester Ahlhaus, 1919-1926
Camillus Eichenlaub, 1929-32
Innocent Dressel, 1932-35
Stephen Korthas, 1935-42
Gerard Stauble, 1942-48
Dominic Rapp, 1948-51
Denis Gallagher, 1951-57
Cuthbert Dittmeier, 1957-63
Matthias Manley, 1963-66
Crispin Fuino, 1966-76
Camillus Murray, 1976-77
Conall McHugh, 1977-82
Giles Van Wormer, 1982-88
Alvin Somerville, 1988-2001
Sister Margaret Walker (Parish Life Director) 2001-05

[1] Leary, The History of Catholic Education in the Diocese of Albany, p. 269.
[2] One Hundred Anniversary Celebration, 1867-1967 Our Lady of Angels Parish (Albany: 1967), pp. 14-17. Our Lady of Angels Church, 125th Anniversary, 1867-1992 (Tappan, NY: Custombook, 1992), pp. 20-22.
[3] Joel Munsell, Collections on the History of Albany from its Discovery to the Present Time, Volume II (Albany: J. Munsell, 1867), p. 38. It was inconceivable for German Catholics to celebrate a religious festival without a colorful procession. Dolan, The Immigrant Church, p. 79.
[4] One Hundred Anniversary Celebration, 1867-1967 Our Lady of Angels Parish, pp. 16-17. Our Lady of Angels Church, 125th Anniversary, 1867-1992, pp. 20-22. Anne Roberts and Marcia Cockrell, eds., Historic Albany: Its Churches and Synagogues (Albany: Library Communications Services, 1986), p. 217. Albany Argus, March 27, 1871, 4:1. n. a., Geschichte der Deutschen in Albany und Troy, pp. 133-137.
[5] n. a., Geschichte der Deutschen in Albany und Troy, p. 97.
[6] n. a., Geschichte der Deutschen in Albany und Troy, pp. 177-179.
[7] Louden, ed. Catholic Albany, pp. 242-257. Times Union, August 7, 1914, 8:6. n. a., Geschichte der Deutschen in Albany und Troy, p. 137.
[8] Leary, The History of Catholic Education in the Diocese of Albany, p. 49. History of Our Lady of Angels School, 1867-1986 (Albany: Our Lady of Angels Church, 2002), pp. 1-5.
[9] Times Union, March 8, 2005, 1:2, April 4, 2005, B1: 2.