A statue of the Blessed Mother in a grotto surrounded by roses that soon will be in bloom stands outside St. Mary’s Church in Kingston, the words “Pray for Us” etched on the front. She is there with her arms outstretched in welcome.
St. Mary’s has welcomed the faithful for 175 years. Cardinal Dolan was the principal celebrant of an anniversary Mass April 1.
There are 430 families registered at St. Mary-St. Peter; the two parishes merged in 2015.
“This Mass, first and foremost, is an acknowledgement of the history of the people who have worshipped before us and made our beloved parish what it is today,” said Father Robert Bubel, pastor of St. Mary-St. Peter parish.
That history began in 1842, when the parish was founded along Rondout Creek. The area where St. Mary’s is located was formerly the Village of Rondout, which merged with Kingston in 1872. Immigrants from Ireland, Poland, Germany and Italy, settled in the Ulster County region, with many working on the Hudson Delaware canal. Work was readily available in construction as well as hauling and transporting coal, ice, concrete and lumber to Pennsylvania.
“This area was hugely prosperous in the 1800s and 1900s,” Father Bubel said. In recent decades, the area has suffered economically, particularly with the closing of IBM in 1995.
“It’s harder for young families to find work in the area,” the pastor said.
The most recent immigrants are Hispanics and Latinos. “Our Spanish Mass is the fastest growing Mass in terms of attendance,” Father Bubel said. To accommodate the needs of the new parishioners, religious education classes are offered in English and Spanish. There are 210 students enrolled from first through eighth grade. The coordinator of the English program is Roseann Swart.
Veronica Ramirez coordinates the Spanish-language religious education classes, which include 87 children. “We still have people who come here and their first language is not English,” Mrs. Ramirez said.
She and her husband, Pedro, attended Masses at St. Peter’s until the parishes merged. “We were very emotional at first,” she said regarding the merger.
They were very attached to their former church. St. Mary’s parishioners made the transition easier. “The community is so nice and welcoming to us,” she said.
“Every year, more and more Spanish-speaking families are coming. We are working together, both communities,” she said. “We feel so happy we have some place to pray and feel welcome.”
Parishioners extend that spirit of hospitality to members of the community. “There is such a wonderful devotion to pray the Rosary and to reach out in the parish to those who aren’t able to come to Mass because they are homebound or in the hospital,” Father Bubel said. Visits are made to residents of three local nursing homes and to patients at Kingston Hospital.
“That is a ministry we do particularly well here,” he said. “So much of what the parish does comes from our devotion to the Blessed Mother.”
The atmosphere inside the Gothic church is comforting and inviting, with an earthy color palate throughout. “There is a warmth in the church and it has a welcoming feel,” Father Bubel said.
Two murals created by artist Filippo Costaggini in 1901 hang in the sanctuary above the high altar. One depicts the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and the other, Finding of the Christ Child in the Temple.
The beautiful marble high altar serves as a reminder to stay focused on God, drawing the gaze upward, Father Bubel said. Another striking feature is a Killian pipe organ.
Father Bubel, 39, who was named pastor of the merged parish last year, has many hopes and plans for its future development. “I do feel called, because of my youth, for ministry to young people. Because I’m a young priest and a young pastor, I ought to be able to strengthen the youth programs in the parish.”
With his background in engineering, Father Bubel started a technology club for junior high school children. “I teach them how to work simple electronics, take apart and build computers, and some basic coding.
“But I also approach the subjects of ethics and moral pitfalls in technology,” he added.
His primary focus remains on the sacramental life of his parishioners and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Eucharist.
“We want to continue to be as important to history as those who’ve gone before us and remain a strong, vibrant parish that most importantly serves to bring folks to heaven,” he said.
Bernie Redmond, 84, is a lifelong parishioner. He and his wife, Patricia, married at the church and their four daughters celebrated their sacraments there. Redmond serves an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and a lector. He also assists with collections and helps out whenever he can. “It’s my other home,” he said.
“It’s a wonderful parish. We welcome everyone. We have people who are Irish, Italian, Spanish and German, and I’m sure some others I don’t know of,” he said.
“It’s a great feeling knowing it’s lasted this long, and I hope it lasts longer,” he said. “We are very blessed.”