Published by St. Francis de Sales Church circa 1975

This article was contributed by Paul McLaughlin son of Dennis J. McLaughlin, and permission to reprint it on line was graciously given by St. Francis de Sales Church of Herkimer, NY.

The Observer Dispatch, Utica, New York, kindly granted us permission to quote from articles that appeared in their paper on unknown dates. These quotes tells us more about Dennis J. McLaughlin's involvement in construction of the church's magnificent ceiling when they say:

"Under the direction of Rev. Daniel J. McCarthy, the ceiling was especially designed in 1931 by Henry G. Emery, a famed New York architect. It was constructed and installed by the Mohawk firm of McLaughlin-Stevens, Inc. under the personal supervision of Mr. McLaughlin, 'a man of stupendous ability'."

"In 1951, a national magazine wrote that the ceiling 'is one of the finest pieces of architectural workmanship in the nation ... the likes of which cannot be found on the American continent'."

View from Sanctuary toward Choir Loft
View from Sanctuary toward Choir Loft
(Click on image to enlarge)

Published by St. Francis de Sales Church circa 1975


The Mohawk Valley, in which the town of Herkimer is located, is an historical center of the Roman Catholic Faith in this country. It was the home of the Mohawk Indians among whom the French Jesuits conducted early missionary work on what they considered the southern border of the New France.

In 1642 the Mohawk Indians captured Father Isaac Jogues, a French Jesuit Priest, and his two companions on the shores of the Saint Lawrence River and marched them to the lower Mohawk Castle, then located at Ossernenon, which is now known as Auriesville.

Here Father Jogues and his companions were cruelly tortured. In 1644, with the help of the Hollanders at Fort Orange, Father Jogues escaped to France. Undaunted by the horrors of his Mohawk captivity, this intrepid priest returned to Ossernenon in 1646 to resume his missionary labors and here he was slain.

The shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs at Auriesville commemorates the martyrdom of Father Jogues and his missionary work among the Indians.

The story of St. Francis de Sales Church in Herkimer began about 135 years ago when the few Catholics scattered throughout the area of the village traveled the 15 miles to attend services in St. John's Church in Utica. At this time, in 1839, it was a common sight to observe them as they walked along the Erie Canal tow-path or over the stage coach roads on their way to St. John's, then the "Mother Church" for both Oneida and Herkimer Counties.

The priests from St. John's served the needs of the Catholic families scattered from Rome to Fonda, including those in Herkimer, until it was set up as an out mission of the newly-founded St. Mary's Church in Little Falls in 1847.

Among the best-remembered priests serving the mission was the Rev. Bartholomew McLaughlin, who visited Herkimer once a month and celebrated Mass in various private homes, one oft-used site being the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Manion. A short time later, arrangements were made for services to be held in the Court House on North Main Street.

The martyrdom of the French Jesuits at Auriesville planted the seed of Christianity in this part of the New World. Who could foretell that one day this area would be a vibrant center of the faith?

About fifty miles to the west of Auriesville along the banks of the Mohawk lies the present day village of Herkimer. Let us glance at the early history of this section of New York.

The Mohawk Valley, nestled between the lofty Adirondacks to the north and the gently rolling Catskills to the south, appears peaceful today. Yet, this quiet river ran red with the blood of French and Indian, of patriot and rebel, of Tory and Traitor. For two hundred years this sheltered valley witnessed conflict, history and legend to rival that of ancient Rome and Greece.

The importance of the Mohawk Valley lies in its strategic geographic position. Long before the white men came, the Indians recognized this value. They had given the name "The Gate" to the mouth of the Mohawk River where it empties into the Hudson. Through this gate many succeeding waves of European immigrants were to pass, for it led to the only water-level route through the mountains of the eastern seaboard to the vast riches and resources of the western lands. In addition, the Valley contained the crossroads of the North and South. The Mohawks and their brothers of the Iroquois Confederacy realized that whoever controlled this region, could control the entire eastern half of the North American continent. Later the Dutch, French, English and Palatine settlers were to likewise recognize this significance.

Prior to 1720 the present village of Herkimer was a wilderness occupied only by Indians. The town of Herkimer or Fort Kouari, was settled by Palatines from the lower Rhine in Germany. Queen Anne of England had permitted them to emigrate to English territory in New York and provided for their support for one year. The original settlers built a town from the Burnetsfield Patent, dated April 30, 1725, consisting of five forts. They tilled the land and worshipped God in relative peace for nearly 35 years. In late October 1757 friendly Oneida Indians brought warning that a French expedition was on its way to attack the settlement. On November 12, 1757 a group of three hundred French, Indians and Canadians made an assault on the tiny village burning houses and tomahawking the fleeing residents. Many were killed while others escaped to Fort Herkimer across the river. The next April the settlement on the south side of the river was attacked. Captain Herkimer gathered within the fort all the families he could collect. Once more some were unable to reach safety and were scalped. Following this, the capture of Forts Frontenac and Kingston, the surrender of Quebec and Fort Niagara and a general pacification of Indians restored calm to the settlements. The inhabitants took up the thread of their lives and started to rebuild.

Tryon County was organized and divided into four districts. The Palatine settlement of Herkimer was one of these.

Upon the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the settlers constructed two strong forts for safety and protection - Fort Herkimer on the south side of the river and Fort Dayton on the site of the present Herkimer County Court House. It was from Fort Dayton that General Nicholas Herkimer set out for The Battle of Oriskany with 600 patriotic farmers. This battle, the bloodiest of the Revolution, foiled the plan of the British for dividing the colonies and has been termed by some as the turning point of the war. It has served to immortalize the bravery of the injured General Herkimer who requested his troops to carry him back and prop him against a tree so that he might still command his men.

Exactly four years later, on August 6, 1781, the courageous members of the John Christian Shell family displayed their fortitude against an attack by British sympathizers. There are many other incidents which attest to the gallantry of these early settlers.

In the early 1800's New York State found itself with the quickest, easiest and by far the best route to the western territories which the young nation had won in the Revolutionary War. Westbound travelers poured through the Mohawk Valley in mighty streams and the riches of the West poured back down the valley on their way to the sea.

The building of Clinton's "Big Ditch," the Erie Canal was responsible more than any other event for expansion in the valley. The great potato famines of 1846 and 1848 caused thousands of Irishmen to leave their home and seek a new life in America. Many of these people worked on the construction of the canals and railroads of New York State and established homes in their new land. By 1830 the village of Herkimer contained almost 120 dwellings, five general stores, eleven hotels, eight law offices and a printing office. Nearly all travel was overland by stagecoach. These stages carried passengers to and from the West by way of the Turnpike Road on the north side of the Mohawk River - thus Herkimer hotels enjoyed a thriving business. A relay of horses was kept at a local tavern for each stage. It was part of daily life to hear the driver of the stage sound his horn as he approached the village as a signal to prepare fresh horses to replace his tired ones.

This is only one of the elements which added local color to the blossoming little village. The local histories are replete with anecdotes which trace the growth of the expanding area. Farming and dairying have always been the principal occupations of the outlying districts. Within the village itself furniture making was the main industry. Many Canadians were attracted to work in these factories. With the dawn of the 20th Century, new waves of Italian and Polish immigration contributed to the mushrooming growth of the community. The establishment of The New York Central and Hudson River R. R. and the Mohawk and Malone R. R., followed by the West Shore and Buffalo R. R. completed a system of transportation.

As industries developed, the population of Herkimer increased by leaps and bounds. Compared with 800 in 1840, by 1870 the population had reached 1220. Within the next decade, the one in which St. Francis de Sales Parish was founded, the number of residents nearly doubled to 2300 citizens. In 1900 the population was approximately 5500. Now in 1975 it is close to 9500.

Small local industries have brought world renown to the area. Down through the years, Herkimer County cheese has enjoyed great popularity. The Remington Arms plant in Ilion manufactures sporting guns of universal fame. The Quackenbush nut cracker factory is the only one of its kind in this country. Today Mohawk Data Sciences manufactures data processing equipment and is international in its manufacturing and sale of electronic data equipment.


The Rev. William Howard from County Cork, Ireland was named pastor of the parish in Ilion, N.Y., in 1867 and also took care of the needs of the Catholics in Herkimer. In 1875, 30 dedicated Catholic families, with the help of Father Howard and the approval of the Most Rev. Bishop McNierney of Albany, purchased the then unused Methodist Church at the corner of North Washington Street and Green Street for $2,000.

This first St. Francis de Sales Church in Herkimer was dedicated on Sunday, June 6, 1875. The Rev. Thomas Daly of St. John's Church in Utica preached the sermon, based on the text painted on the wall of the vestibule. "My House is a House of Prayer." Services were held by Father Howard every third Sunday of the month at 8:30 a.m.

Father Howard, due to his age, resigned his pastorate in Ilion, and with permission of the Bishop, was named pastor of the small congregation in Herkimer and moved to the newly-purchased house on the northeast corner of North Washington and Mary Streets. Father Howard was a tireless worker and devoted all his energy to his struggling congregation until 1884 when he retired.


For a short time following Father Howard's retirement, Herkimer again became an out mission of Ilion. This ended in December 1884 when the Rev. James H. Halpin, STB, of St. John's, Albany, was appointed pastor of St. Francis de Sales.

Soon after coming to Herkimer, Fr. Halpin realized that his rapidly expanding congregation was outgrowing its present quarters. He made arrangement for the church to purchase the Palmer property adjoining the present church property on Green Street. This addition to the original frame church doubled the seating capacity and is still standing today. The next progressive step was the establishment of Calvary Cemetery adjoining Oak Hill Cemetery in the western part of the village.

In 1897, following the advice of then Bishop Burke that a new church be erected, the parish purchased the corner site at North Bellinger Street and Bellinger Avenue, and two years later the present rectory was built on this site, paid for with money received from the sale of the previous rectory.

Bishop Burke laid the corner stone for the present church building on June 10, 1900. Constructed of brick at an initial cost of $30,000, the new church was solemnly dedicated on October 31, 1901, boasting a congregation of over 1500 parishioners. Father Halpin remained pastor of St. Francis de Sales for 22 years.

At the time of Father Halpin's death in May 1906, he was greatly mourned, not only by his own congregation, but by the whole community, in whose affairs he had taken such an active part. Though his Church work had taken most of his time, he had also served as president of the Herkimer Board of Trade, as a trustee of the Herkimer Library, and had been a member of both the Historical Society and the Herkimer Literary Club.


Following Father Halpin's death, the Rev. Patrick F. Harrigan, a man noted for his superior mental ability, was named pastor. St. Francis de Sales parish, at this time, was not only one of the largest congregations in Herkimer, but also the most cosmopolitan - Catholic in name as well as in fact - because within the confines of this one parish could be found almost every nationality in Christendom. During the 13 years of Rev. Harrigan's pastorate, many embellishments were added to the church property and, under his direction, Calvary Cemetery developed into a modern cemetery.

In June 1919, Father Harrigan became too ill to continue to administer the affairs of this vigorous and active parish.


With the retirement of Father Harrigan, the Rev. James J. Dasey was sent to Herkimer. Though his stay was brief - less than two years - it was during this time that the parochial school was constructed and property secured for a convent to house the Sisters of St. Joseph who directed the school program. Father Dasey decided to relinquish his duties as pastor of de Sales to enter the Abbey of Gethsemane, a Trappist Monastery in Kentucky.


The Rev. William H. White replaced Father Dasey in September 1921, and during the seven years he served as pastor a large part of the church indebtedness was cleared, and the final approaches at the front of the church were constructed. But with a personality as friendly and outgoing as Father White's, it is not surprising that his greatest interest was in the people of his congregation and his community. He maintained close relations with the school and civic officials of Herkimer in an effort to benefit the youth of the community and never neglected to make a daily visit to the school. No one ever knew or will know of the many acts of charity that Father bestowed on the poor, aged, young and neglected, though there are probably few who were not asked to contribute to one or another of his projects that he was financially unable to meet alone. To the deep regret of the parishioners and the community, Father White was transferred in 1928 to the pastorate of St. Columba's Church in Schenectady.


The Rev. John J. McCann, who had served as a chaplain in World War I, was assigned to the church as pastor and was at de Sales only two months when his pastorate was terminated by his untimely death in December 1928.


June 22, 1929 marked the day that the Rev. Daniel J. McCarthy left Blessed Sacrament Church in Mohawk to become pastor of St. Francis. During his fourteen years as pastor many projects were completed, but his main achievement was undoubtedly the installation of the new oak ceiling, believed to be one of the finest pieces of architectural workmanship on the American continent.

Henry G. Emery, a New York architect, was responsible for the ingenious design; McLaughlin-Stevens Inc. of Mohawk was responsible for the construction. The contractor used over 32,000 feet of red oak and 26,000 feet of veneer in turning out the finished product, all of which was manufactured at a mill temporarily installed on the church property.

Father McCarthy, who was well-known for his masterful use of the English language, said at the dedication, "Oak was chosen because of its durability and symbolic significance of strength. The Christian is not a reed shaken by the wind, but should be like the oak that stands full square to all the winds that blow."

Following the installation of three bells in the church tower, which had been empty up to this time, a rededication ceremony was held in November 1931 presided over by the Most Rev. Edmund F. Gibbons, Bishop of the Albany Diocese.


Father McCarthy's 14-year pastorate at de Sales ended in February, 1943. In 1943 he was replaced by the Rt. Rev. Msgr. John R. Kehoe. Father Kehoe had previously replaced Father McCarthy at the parish in Walton, New York and again at Blessed Sacrament Church in Mohawk, N.Y.

Father Kehoe was a native of the area, having been born near the border of the Albany and Syracuse Diocese. Father Kehoe's stay in Herkimer was marked by a succession of repairs to the properties of the church made necessary by pressures from state and local officials. It became necessary to install fire escapes in the school, the convent and the rectory; as well as a sprinkler system and steel stairways in the school.

Father Kehoe's term at St. Francis de Sales was not however restricted to these necessary renovations. Through his efforts the "Parish Club" was organized and many attended the monthly dances held in the church hall. He also contributed to the success of the Holy Year Pilgrimage, in which over 2,000 people marched from St. Joseph's Church to St. Anthony's and then to St. Francis to mark this year. He was also successful in organizing the Catholic Men's Demonstration, in which men from 18 parishes in the area would meet in May of each year in a different village to march through the streets praying the rosary and then gather in the local church for a Holy Hour. Another of Father Kehoe's projects was the Nocturnal Adoration, now completing its 25th year of meeting monthly for an hour of adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Father Kehoe was also responsible for one of the greatest assets to the parish, a parish recreational site named in his honor - Camp Kehoe. In 1956, he purchased 10 acres of land on the West Canada Creek. With the help of friends and parishioners, a lodge was built on this site and in 1958, Father Kehoe celebrated Mass at the camp. The Scouts have made great use of it since its inception, and of late, it has been the site of many joyous parish picnics.

Father Kehoe during his lifetime served almost 50 years as a priest, but it was during his years in Herkimer that he was named Dean of Herkimer and Hamilton Counties by the Bishop and named Domestic Prelate (in 1961) by Pope John XXIII with the title of Right Reverend Monsignor.

He resigned as pastor of St. Francis some years before his death on July 5, 1970 at the age of 82, but he never lost interest in his parishioners or his church and remained active in religious affairs from his home in Ilion, New York.


In July 1965, the Rev. Edward A. McManus, who had previously been pastor in Margaretville and Middleburgh, was named to succeed Father Kehoe at St. Francis de Sales. Father McManus was noted for his patient and kind disposition and his deep interest in ecumenism. He had an important influence on the ecumenical climate in Herkimer and participated actively in many ecumenical events.

During his brief four years as pastor, he managed also to motivate the parish to raise the funds for many necessary renovations of parish properties. The front and side steps to the church were repaired, the rectory and convent received a new face lift with aluminum siding, and the school a new heating system and fire escapes.

In September 1969, he was appointed pastor of Sacred Heart parish in his native Troy, New York. He has since retired due to failing health but is still living in Troy with his sister.

Rev. Peter J. Nabozny, the present pastor, has been with the parish since the transfer of Father McManus.


The most prominent feature of the church itself is the magnificent oak ceiling installed in Father McCarthy's term. Architecturally, it is reminiscent of the Romanesque, though it is gothic in detail. In the circular centerpiece, which required seven weeks to build, there is a wealth of gothic tracery. The four massive hips are gracefully curved and hanging at their ends are pendants, each of which contain 258 separate pieces of oak. The series of panels, perlines and arches with their circular and tri-circular heads, the excellent grain and the warm tint of the specially selected wood, all make the interior glow with a beauty of deep significance and rich symbolism.

In accordance with Vatican II directives on the Liturgy, the church was completely renovated in 1970. D'Ambrosio Ecclesiastical Art Studio from New York City worked on the project. The beautiful oak ceiling was cleaned and varnished, new carpeting was installed throughout the church, the pews were refinished, the entire church was rewired, and a new boiler and heating system were added. Many new works of art were chosen to enhance the beauty of the church; a new tabernacle and mosaic; a marble pulpit and baptistry; statues of Mary and St. Joseph; custom-carved sanctuary chairs; and wooden Stations of the Cross - from Italy, a new marble altar and a statue of the Risen Christ in carved wood. In the center of the church, two beautiful new light fixtures were installed.

The church hall was included in the renovation too; a new concrete floor was poured and covered with tile, a new acoustical ceiling and lighting, two rest rooms and a modern stainless-steel kitchen were installed, complete with two electric stoves and an automatic commercial dishwasher. New tables, chairs and dinnerware were purchased making it possible to seat and serve 300 people at a time. The hall was also air-conditioned and equipped with an electronic smoke filter. A new rear exit was opened leading directly to the parking lot. A new asphalt roof replaces the old slate roof which was leaking in various places. The new project was completed in 1970, Fr. Nabozny's first year as pastor.

The Finance Committee and the bingo workers contributed their efforts to provide funds for these extensive renovations. The total cost of the purchases and improvements was as follows: Church - $95,000; Hall - $55,000; School - $35,000; Convent (rewiring) - $6,000. The Albany Diocese expanded the funds raised by the parish with a loan of $65,000. As of October 1975, the parish will owe a balance of $52,000.

Plans for the Centennial of St. Francis de Sales parish began in October 1973. Walter E. Dourney was appointed Chairman of the Centennial Committee and Richard Hegeman, Edward Falk, Sister Janice Elizabeth, and Margaret Cogovan have served as aides. Fathers Nabozny and Colgan are Honorary Chairmen and Advisors. To raise funds for the centennial celebration each family was asked to pledge $100. The estimated cost of the project is in excess of $50,000. Included in the centennial plans are painting and pointing the exterior of the church and school (recommended by the Art and Architecture Commission of the diocese), and installation of an automatic, electric bell ringer to activate the three bells in the church steeple.

The last 100 years have seen St. Francis de Sales parish grow from 30 to 600 families. The old frame building vacated by the Methodists, which served the original congregation, has been replaced by the beautiful brick edifice which is its present home.

No one knows what the next 100 years hold in store for St. Francis de Sales. Let us put our faith in God that He will continue to bless each individual family as well as the Parish Family. It is only through trust, concern for others and dedication that we can fulfill our Christian vocation.

taken circa 1931 at the time of the installation of the ceiling
(Click on Image to Enlarge)

View from Sanctuary toward Choir Loft

View from Choir Loft toward Sanctuary

View looking directly up at center piece of ceiling

View from Sanctuary toward Choir Loft

View from right rear of church toward Sanctuary

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Created: 7/9/99
Updated: 3/7/06 - updated photos
Copyright© 1975 St. Francis De Sales Parish, Herkimer, NY
Copyright© 1999 - 1930s photos of church interior courtesy of Paul McLaughlin
Copyright © 1999 Paul McLaughlin/ Judy Breedlove/ Martha S. Magill/ Lisa Slaski
All Rights Reserved.