"First Catholic Church in Allegany County"

From a plaque at St. Joseph's Church in Scio, N.Y.
Transcribed by Karen Meisenheimer.
Special thanks to Larry Browning.


Scio, New York

The First Catholic Church in Allegany County was built in Scio on the site of the present church in 1846, a year before the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo was formed. All of New York state was then one Diocese under the leadership of Bishop John. J. Hughes of New York City.

St.Joseph's Church Scio N.Y. 

St. Joseph’s founders were Irish immigrants some of whom arrived in their adopted country half a century before there was a welcoming statue in New York’s Harbor. The early congregation was composed mainly of farm families, although there were some who worked on construction of the Genesee Valley Canal, hand dug from Rochester to Olean in the 1840’s, and others who worked on the Erie Railroad, for which Scio was the terminus for two years.

In 1843, when Buffalo was 11 years old, and had but 3 Catholic churches, Scio farmer Hugh Riley, born in Ireland about 1792, deeded to Bishop Hughes for $75, land for a church and cemetery. This 1843 date is sometimes cited as the year the parish began rather than 1846.

The Riley site was strategic because it was located on the road leading to the Cheney Bridge, the only bridge in Scio spanning the Genesee River at the time, and it bore all traffic between the west side of the river and the business community on the east side. The Cheney Bridge was built in 1840 and was used until 1945, when the road became a dead end. Today the road is known as Cottage Bridge Road.

As early as 1839, a priest from Rochester made his way to Scio and other Southern Tier communities two to four times a year to minister to the increasing number of Catholic immigrants, but there was no Catholic Church in Allegany County to accommodate him. In Scio, he offered Mass at the William Clancy home, located just over the Cheney Bridge on what is now State Route 19.

In 1844, Bishop Hughes assigned newly ordained Brooklynite Rev. Thomas McEvoy the awesome task of ministering to Catholics in all of Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Genesee, and Wyoming counties, as well as part of Steuben County. When Fr. McEvoy made an infrequent visit from his residence in Java, NY, county of Wyoming, to the Scio community to offer Mass, the liturgy was celebrated in a private home, schoolhouse, village courthouse, or any other shelter from the weather. As many as 200 worshippers sometimes assembled from farms and communities as far away as 20 miles.

The Scio church, built in 1846, was a crude 20’ by 30’ frame structure. Brian Coyle, born in Ireland 15 years earlier, was the builder. Perhaps the construction was done under supervision of his father, Hugh, born about 1768, and his many other brothers. Thomas was the first of the Coyle’s to arrive in the United States. He came from County Westmeath in 1832, the year Buffalo was incorporated, and is Scio’s first recorded Irish Catholic. Timothy Culbert, born in Ireland in 1797, was also a founder of the church. Two of Timothy’s great-great-grandchildren, Nancy Norton, and William Culbert, are presently members of St. Joseph’s. A third great-great-grandson Dennis Culbert passed over in 2008.

Three of the stained glass windows in St. Joseph’s are in memory of brothers Bernard, John, and Peter Coyle. There are windows dedicated to land donor Hugh Riley and the Culbert and Clancy Families.

The first trustees of the church were Hugh Riley and Terrance Brady. Terrance’s great-grandson, Frank O’Brien, carried on the tradition and was trustee for 45 years, the longest acting trustee of the Church. Frank followed in his father’s (Terrance O’Brien) footsteps who was Trustee before him.

John Keenan from County Louth, Ireland, was another founder of the parish. His son, Major Peter Keenan, was the Civil War hero for whom the monument in Veterans Park, located in Wellsville, NY, was erected. Major Keenan and his parents are buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, which was the first Catholic Cemetery in Allegany County, and therefore also the site of many of the early Catholic burials.

Other parish founders were B. Brady, (apparently unrelated to Terrance Brady), James and Lawrence Cline, James Crosby, David and John Magner, M. O’Leary, J. Quinn, and Jeremiah Sheehan. These men and the parishioners they represented lived in the towns of Amity, Andover, and Ward, as well as Scio.

In August of 2007, St. Joseph’s RC Church was merged with Sacred Heart RC Church in Angelica, NY, which was closed. It also merged with St. Mary’s RC Church in Belmont, NY. The newly merged parishioners chose a Parish name and became known as The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. St. Joseph RC Church was re-established as an Active RC Oratory. As an Active Oratory, Masses can be said for Marriages, Christian burials, the Vigil of the Feast Day of St. Joseph (March 19th of each calendar year) and for special family reunion gatherings. It can also be used for other services outside of a concelebrated RC Mass.