Monticello’s Church of Saint Peter: history written in stone
Sullivan County and the surrounding region are well known for many reasons, including our rich history. As Americans healed from the wounds of the Revolutionary War, folks began migrating to the wide open spaces of what had been dubbed the “Catskills” by Dutch settlers who had arrived in the 17th century. When the population increased, churches began to dot the landscape to support the growing community, and by 1803 the Town of Thompson had been formed. Nearly 30 years later, the village of Monticello was incorporated. The history of St. Peter’s Catholic Church closely follows the growth and development of Sullivan County.
Passersby can’t help but notice the beautiful stone church standing at 10 Liberty St., and while I have admired the gothic architecture from afar, I only recently stepped through the doors, having called upon Fr. John D. Tran, to request an interview regarding the history of the church itself.
“It is a beautiful building,” the pastor said, “and has been here since the late 1800s.” Having never attended a Catholic Mass, I arranged to do so and chat with Fr. Tran afterward in the rectory next door. Upon my noticing that the main floor was overflowing with wrapped gifts, he explained, “It’s our annual Christmas giving tree. We begin collecting children’s names in November and each gets three gifts, one outfit, a jacket and a toy. It is the generosity of our parishioners” Tran said in conclusion “that makes this possible.”
When asked how the church first came about, Father Tran provided some paperwork for me to peruse. “The Hudson River played an important part in the development of the county,” I read, “so the history of the Catholic Church, along the river, dates back to the middle of the 1600s.” As time passed, immigrants, many of whom were accustomed to attending Catholic church services, made their way to Sullivan county to work in the quarries and tanneries, In 1864, Father Daniel Mugan of Ellenville began coming to Monticello regularly, and “it was apparent that a church should be built to accommodate its growing congregation.” Consecrated in 1867, St. Peter’s Parish consisted of 400 members by 1872.
Tran, who has presided over St. Peters for 14 years, is well versed in the story. “The original church was a block away,” he explained, “and was built of wood, not stone.” In the paperwork, I read that toward the end of the 19th century, Sullivan County “was growing and changing, seeing the end of the tanning industry and ushering in hotels and summer visitors.” As summer guests and an influx of Catholic families followed, the need for a larger church ensued, and the property where St. Peter’s now stands was purchased.
“One Parishioner,” the written history informed me, “stood out in his effort to get the project started. John O’Neil gave a substantial donation to begin a long list of contributors,” and donated all of the grey stone from his estate on Colonial Hill with which to build the beautiful church.
Services at St. Peter’s then became tradition for generations. By the time Monsignor Robert Brown became pastor in 1972, St. Peter’s had stood for 100 years, and to celebrate the anniversary, he had the church refurbished for the centennial in 1974. On May 26 of that year, His Eminence Terrance Cardinal Cooke, Archbishop of New York “was the principal celebrant of a Pontifical High Mass honoring St. Peter’s Parish.”
While attending Mass prior to my conversation in the rectory, I observed that the service was well attended. “We have about 800 families presently,” Father Tran said, “and Masses in both English and Spanish.” While acknowledging that there has been a shift in church attendance over the years, Tran shared that he speaks with community members frequently. “I tell people to still love the church, even though some think it’s failing,” he said. “After the storm, the strong will rise.”
Noting that more services were scheduled during the holidays, Trann also pointed out the Religious Education program and the church’s mission statement: “We are dedicated,” it reads in part, “to the spreading of the Gospel message of love, which offers justice, peace and understanding to those in our homes, at work, and in service to the spiritual, educational and social needs of all individuals.” Little wonder then, that the Church of Saint Peter has stood the test of time.
For more information call 845/794-5577, like the Church of St Peter on Facebook or visit www.discovermass.com. A complete Christmas season schedule can be found on page 18.