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St. Peter's was founded in 1886 as part of Bishop John Baptist Scalabrini's Pious Society of St. Charles, more commonly known as the Scalabrini Fathers. Under consistent direction of the Scalabrinians, the church grew from a modest, cement-block structure at State Street and Burnet Avenue, to a parish with a large Romanesque church at 701 James Street at the corner of Catherine Street which was constructed in 1953.
By November 1987, when the church celebrated its 100th anniversary, the complex also included a "modern" rectory and office building, a two-story parish center at 735-739 Willow Street, a residence for the Sisters of St. Francis and the Villa Scalabrini, a ten-story senior citizens housing structure.
The church was originally called The Church of Messiah and was built by the Unitarian Congressional Society of Syracuse in 1853 who sold it to the Lutherans in 1885. Between 1885 and 1895, it housed St. Mark's German Evangelical Lutheran Church. The building was torn down for the construction of Route 690 in the 1960s."
Twice a year, members of the church would set off firecrackers to celebrate St. Antonio's Day at the Italian church on Lock Street. The Italians "celebrated in royal style with big explosions of fireworks morning and evening." The pastor of St. James Church in James Street, complained that the "noise was so great Sunday morning that he was obliged to bring his services to an abrupt close, and many ladies in his congregation were badly scared."
An entertainment and ball were hosted by the Holy Rosary Society of St. Peter's at Armbruster's Hall at the corner of Butternut and Lodi streets on May 21, 1897. Proceeds went toward the purchase of a new church organ. Prior to the opening of the ball, the Italian Military Society paraded.
During September 1897, Rev. Gaetano Orlando, pastor of St. Peter's, was praised for his oratorical efforts which "produce a deep impression upon his hearers."
In June 1898, the Italians celebrated the annual celebration of the feast of St. Anthony. The morning Mass was attended by over 3,000 people. The church was "lavishly" decorated with Chinese lanterns and evergreens. In the evening, refreshments were served in the basement and the Columbia Band furnished music throughout the evening.
The solemn devotion of the Forty Hours opened in St. Peter's on November 23, 1902. The attendance of the Italians in the city was large. High Mass was celebrated by Rev. Eugene Ostino, pastor. The Forty Hours and its solemn ceremonial had a great attraction for the people of Italy and their marked devotion on such occasions is a "striking feature at the ceremonies."
In March 1904, a bell weighing 750 pounds arrived from Troy, New York to be placed in the church tower. The bell cost $350 and was the gift of parishioner Thomas Marnell. Rt. Rev. Bishop P. A. Ludden officiated at the bell raising ceremony and it was christened by Nicholas Marnell, son of the donor.
A parish house was erected at the rear of the church on corner of State Street and Burnet Avenue in the spring of 1904. Work was begun in early April 1904 for the residence which was constructed by Rev. Ostino on North State Street at a cost of $4,000. Since his appointment, the pastor had been living in rooms in the bell tower of the church. The plans for the new residence were prepared by John Young for a 2½ story structure of brick veneer. The house was erected on a lot between the church and the West Shore Railroad tracks.
When the Bishop and officiating priests left the church after the ceremony, Father Ostino invited all the congregation to go forward and ring the bell. There was a "scramble to the front." The inside of the bell was inscribed with the names of the trustees of the church; Bishop Ludden, Rev. Eugene Ostino, Frank Pelligrini, Thomas Marnell and Angelo Valentini.
Financial problems in December 1905 were realized when it was revealed that Father Ostino, who had since left the parish for New Jersey, had advanced $3,000 of his own money in the construction of the parish residence and had not been repaid. The new pastor, Rev. Morrassi was asked to move to the rooms in the bell tower until the issue was resolved and threatened to leave the parish. A contract was signed by Father Ostino that he would be willing to take $300 in repayment per year for 10 years with no interest, however, after several months, the congregation "refused to pay." Since church did not have the funds to cover the debt Bishop Ludden had discussed renting the facility to make the payment to Father Ostino. A deal was reached when Ostino agreed to forgive half the debt and reduced the amount owed by the congregation to $1,500 which it was agreed could be paid at "anytime."
Trouble began in the parish with the culmination of church differences which had been brewing since January 1907, when Rev. Joseph DiNicolla came to Syracuse as assistant to Father Morassi, "a man well past middle age and somewhat conservative in his views." He was besides, a native of Northern Italy and most of the parishioners were from Sicily. The dialects of the two were very dissimilar, and it was said that people had trouble understanding the sermons delivered to them by their pastor.
When Father DiNiccola came to the parish, he instituted a number of new societies and made himself "extremely popular, particularly with the young people." Some complained because he was not allowed to perform some duties such as marriage ceremonies or christenings often enough to afford him much recognition, and that his salary was not enough to support him properly although he was paid board and rent and "several weeks ago a plan was set on foot to have him better cared for."
A committee of the parish "waited on" Father Morassi, and asked him to make Father DiNicolla more prominent in church affairs and to have him regularly installed as assistant pastor, however, the old priest disregarded, telling the people he would administer the affairs of the church as he thought best. Three weeks later, at a church meeting, the friction began. The younger church members "rose in open rebellion against their pastor and demanded that he should leave the parish altogether and leave the younger priest to fill his place."
Later, the young men of the congregation stood outside the church before high mass and created such a disturbance that it was necessary for Father Morassi to "leave the altar and give way to his colleague." Another committee called on Bishop Patrick A. Ludden and asked him to remove Father Morassi and appoint Father DiNicolla as pastor. The Bishop informed them it was not his decision, but rather, the Italian Bishop, living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the end of the meeting, the Bishop told the people that Father Morassi must remain as their pastor and the Diocese of Syracuse had no jurisdiction over Father DiNicolla.
The crowd went away "greatly dissatisfied" but later showed up at a financial meeting in the basement of the church, at which the work of the church was to be reviewed. Father Morassi made an address, telling of the financial condition of the church and the parish, and all the while he was talking, he was constantly interrupted by shouts, cat calls and threats.
A mob of more than 1,000 Italians surrounded the parish home of Rev. Francesco Morassi, pastor of St. Peter's, on November 4, 1907 in North State Street, united in an attempt to drag the priest out of the house and eject him from the parish by force. They were shouting "Kill him! Fire him out! Down with da Morass."
Not men alone, but women and children joined in the fray, armed with sticks, stones, cabbage stalks and in some cases, with more dangerous weapons. "There was a surging sea of humanity in front of and surrounding the church and the parochial residence, and the cries, yells and hooting could be heard blocks away." Shouts were uttered in both English and Italian and every window in the house was shattered by stones. According to the daily newspaper, "Such a strike has not been seen in Syracuse in years, if ever." The police were "compelled to use their clubs" in beating back the throng and a police officer was wounded by stones on the back of his head and neck.
Finally, two of the ringleaders were arrested and taken to the police station in the patrol wagon. "This was the signal for the crowd to rush toward the station, where the men were bailed out by their friends and escorted to their homes."
Both, Father Morassi and Father DiNicolla were taken to the Yates Hotel by two police officers where they spent the night.
Construction of a new church to replace the structure on Burnet Avenue which was 107 years old began in the summer of 1953. The new church was situated on the corner of James and Catherine Streets. The church had owned the property for seven years.
In order to defray costs, 150 members of the building fund committee called at homes of more than 800 families in the parish on February 22, 1953 to solicit pledge contributions. The pool for the drive was set at $50,000. At that time, the parish had a building fund of $200,000 and it was estimated that the final cost would be $300,000. The new church had a capacity of 550 persons.
Honorary chairman for the building committee were the Most Rev. Walter A. Foery, Bishop of Syracuse and the Rev. Louis Riello, pastor. Heading the committee were Charles H. Keene, chairman; Anthony Ross and Matt Amrose, co-chairmen; Nicholas Pirro, treasurer; and Bernard W. Sarno, secretary.
The old church at 128 North State Street was sold after the new church was finished.
The Northside parish, which long served Italian and Italian-American families, merged with Our Lady of Pompei Church located at 301 Ash Street. The final mass was held on June 29, 2008. The Rev. Paul Angelicchio was pastor of both churches.