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A LOOK BACK: St. Aloysius Parish

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The 1879 St. Aloysius Church about 1910. The house in the middle was moved back in 1953 to make room for the new church.   The 1904 school building is the right.  In 1948 an addition was made to the back of the school to help overcrowding.  Note the stables to the old Springville Hotel in the background.  In addition to the properties on Franklin Street.  The parish also owns the former Tanner house on Main Street that was used initially as a parsonage. Today it is home to the sisters that served the Parish and St. Aloysius. 

By Derek M. Otto

Today we are discussing whether or not the groundhog saw his shadow this week.  I find it interesting that the roots of our animal prediction are something that was brought here by our German ancestors. Believe it or not, the groundhog tradition started with the Candlemas services held on Feb. 2. Parish priests would bless the candles used for the rest of winter.  It also marked the period when hedgehogs in Germany would be leaving their dens in the midwinter.

An old German poem says:  For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl until May, for as the snow blows on Candlemas Day, so far will sunshine before May.

It didn’t take much to combine the two and if the hedgehog saw its shadow, the last six weeks of winter would be determined.

In the early days of the republic, most of the German population was centered in Pennsylvania.  The woodchuck would replace the hedgehog in the United States.  Ironically, the male woodchuck leaves his den in early February to find a mate.  So, he was a perfect replacement.

By the early 1840s, German populations were moving into western New York; Springville was no exception.  The tradition of Candlemas and the groundhog would come to Springville with the formation of St. Aloysius Parish.

As early as 1845, Fathers Dolan and McKeaver would travel from Ellicottville to Springville to provide the sacraments to the Irish and German settlers near here. In 1853, Bishop Timon authorized the fathers to purchase the original Congregationalist church property on Franklin Street.  The first resident priest in Springville was Father Uhrich, who was appointed in 1868.   

At the same time the church was forming, something else was happening in the Springville area. Large numbers of German immigrants were coming here.

In the early 1850s, Germans were coming to Springville and southern Erie County en masse.  And unlike other settlers, the Germans would buy a large farm with other families from their hometown, and families would come from that town and live on the same farm until they could be better established.   

Even more interesting was that these German families were Roman Catholic, and therefore, would have many children; these children would marry the other families’ children and the congregation of St. Aloysius Parish grew immensely.

I mentioned that they would come from the same hometown in Germany; in Springville’s case, the German town of Wiesental, Baden, Germany was that town.  Many of this new German Catholic population was from this town; the Ammans, Bremillers, Gentners, Schuhmachers, Mahls, Schwiekerts, Reuters, Salzlers, Zimmermans, Seiders and Scharfs were all families the emigrated to Springville from Wiesental.   

So much growth in a short time led the congregation to build a new church in 1879.  Designed by Springville resident Thomas Lincoln, the new wooden edifice was dedicated in September 1879.   In 1883, the parish opened a parochial school to respond to the fact that the Methodist Church operated the public schools.  A new school was built in 1904. There were some discussions about building a new parsonage in the 1920s.  However, it was decided to remodel the existing parsonage.  An ever growing church, in 1953, the parish broke ground on a new church.   The beautiful stone church, that seats 650 people, was dedicated in 1955.   

In 1973, the old Griffith Institute was raised and the St. Aloysius Parish bought the adjoining property.  In 1978, Bishop Head dedicated the new Msgr. Zimmerman Hall.  The new Parish hall was named in honor of Msgr. Herman Zimmerman, who served as parish priest from 1922 until his retirement in 1969.

Father Larry Cobel is the current pastor of St. Aloysius and has served the congregation of St. Al’s and St. John the Baptist Church for nearly a decade.  If you wish to attend mass, weekend masses are 4 p.m. Saturdays and 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.   

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