In the 1600’s, the area above the Mohawk River was occupied by Native Americans from the Mohawk Indian Tribe. Land was purchased from them, and after a time, farms and homes made their appearances.
Crescent, part of the Halfmoon Township, is one of the oldest communities in Saratoga County. Moving through this area were several Native American tribes, explorers, Revolutionary War and Civil War soldiers, our first President, George Washington, and many Erie Canal entrepreneurs.
The history of our church begins in 1868 and has been compiled from various documents on file at the church and in historical archives from the Town of Halfmoon and Clifton Park.
“In the year of our Lord, 1868, a half dozen or so of Catholic families living in the Crescent area worked to start St. Mary’s Parish.” This quote was taken from an early history of our church, author unknown. Our parish was established in April 1868 by the Most Reverend John Conroy, the 2nd bishop of Albany and was known as The Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish. It was an out-mission to St. Patrick’s Church in Cohoes, NY, from 1886 to 1927.
There is much research but no true explanation as to how the parish was originally named The Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Feast of the Expectation of Mary had its roots in Spain where it originated in the late 600s. The Feast Day is celebrated on December 18.
EXPECTATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
A small church was built on the site of our current church where 6 families attended Mass. In 1885, Rev. Brady, the pastor, wrote a document describing this first church as a two-story wooden frame with the church attached. It consisted of a main altar, a picture of the Sacred Heart, a cabinet organ, the Stations of the Cross, a stove, and one and a half dozen cane bottom chairs. He and his sister lived upstairs above the church. They were able to access their residence by climbing the stairs to the choir loft. There was a barn behind the house/church which had horses, a buggy, a sleigh and blankets.
People traveled to church in wagons and sleighs to which bells were attached to warn pedestrians of their approach. Some of the roads were covered with wooden planks to make travel easier, especially on muddy springtime roads. In the 1800’s, Mrs. Ella Rioux and her sisters, Katie and Elizabeth Holihan rode to church in their father’s market wagon, and picked up parishioners on the way to church in summer and used a sleigh in winter.
The early church congregation covered a wide area: Crescent, Halfmoon, Rexford, and Clifton Park, as they are known today. In 1886, the seat of the parish was transferred to the newly established St. Patrick’s Church in Cohoes, NY, thus making the church an out-mission from 1886-1927.
During that time, in 1915, Rev. Leo O’Haire founded St. Leo’s Church, a separate parish with its mission at Dunsbach Ferry. Mass was celebrated at St. Leo’s once a month and at The Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the other three Sundays. Marriages and confirmations were held at St. Bernard’s Church in Cohoes.
The first baptismal register dated October 1, 1927, shows that the name of the parish changed from The Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Mary’s Church at that time. A resident pastor was appointed even though there were only 25 families.
The second church, with the rectory and church joined by a breezeway, was started across the road in 1922, completed in 1928, and dedicated on November 4, 1928. The first church building was used as a meeting hall until it was demolished in 1963 to make way for the building of the third church, which is the present church building. By 1936, there were more than 50 families attending the church.
The second church (demolished in the late 1990’s) became known as the Rev. Leo P. Brady Memorial Hall. Scout functions, plays, dinners, and several church affiliated group meetings were held there. The Altar Rosary Society, Holy Name Society, CYO, and Girl and Boy Scout Troops were formed in the years from 1960 to 1967.
In 1963 and 1964, new housing developments along the Northway brought more people to the area, thereby changing it from a rural area to a suburban community. Plans for a larger church to accommodate the growing parish were moving faster.
The third church, which is our present building, was built on the site of the first church and was much larger than the second one, seating about 400 people. Ground-breaking took place April 5, 1964, and the dedication of the third church took place on December 20, 1964.
The number of families had grown to 570. In 1967, it was necessary to divide the parish by forming a new parish at Elnora, now known as St. Edward the Confessor, because of the increase in housing developments in this and other parts of Saratoga County.
St. Mary’s Parish Center was completed in 1974 and included a gymnasium, kitchen, classrooms and office space. Although some Sunday School (CCD) classes had been held in the Leo P. Brady Memorial Hall, now all Faith Formation classes were able to be held at St. Mary’s. Prior to this, children were bused to the Parochial School at St. Mary of the Assumption of Church in Waterford.
A Nursery School was established in 1975 to accommodate the growing population of the younger members of the parish and surrounding community.
During the 1980’s, the layout of the church was changed to a more open floor plan. A courtyard was added with the church entrance in the rear of the church, a chapel was installed and stained glass windows depicting the seven sacraments were put inside the interior church. The stained glass window of the Blessed Virgin Mary was added over the location where the original entrance of the church and choir loft once existed.
From 1994-1998, renovations were made to the interior church such elongation of the altar space, addition of a new octagonal-shaped altar table made of oak, and installation of stained glass windows depicting the Corporal Works of Mercy. The stained glass Palladian window which illuminates the baptismal font in the gathering space of the present Church was reinstalled. It had been behind the altar of the second Church and overlooked the Mohawk River. It stands as a symbol of endurance and resilience of the parish and parishioners of St. Mary’s.
St. Mary’s always exhibited a strong sense of community and commitment to developing the ministries within the parish, however during this time our focus turned outward. The parish began to focus on stewardship. The annual Book Sale was a very popular event that attracted people from all of over the Northeast and continued for 15 years to raise funds to support various programs. The Pyramid Lake weekend was introduced to build a deeper sense of community within our parish.
The Building Bridges Committee was created, forming a special relationship with our Sister Parish, San Pedro Jocopilas in Quiche, Guatemala for almost 20 years. Today we are working with a new Sister Parish, San Gaspar, in Chajul Guatemala. Proceeds from the sale of Guatemalan coffee and a portion of our Lenten Almsgiving is sent to help with the needs of their parish community.
From 1998 to the present, many improvements have been made. When the second church building was demolished in the late 1990’s, a new garage was added next to the renovated rectory across the street from the third church. The rectory is the original building with updated interior and exterior changes. The former gym and kitchen in the parish center have also had new lighting fixtures, painting and equipment and a stage area. Many meetings, social gatherings, and adult bible study classes are held in this former Christian Youth Organization area.
In 2001, a major renovation took place to accommodate a growing population. The number of families in the parish was now over 1000. A connector between the church and the parish center, an additional seating area, the gathering space in the connector which houses the baptismal font and an air-conditioned chapel with the Holy Tabernacle where Daily mass is offered. A statue of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a tribute to our founding, stands in the foyer. It was sculpted by artist, Joseph Faul of Albany, NY. The piece weighs 2000 pounds and is made of Indiana limestone. It was dedicated August 24, 2004.
In 2004, the people of the parish came together to renovate the House on the Hill, a two family home that now houses two retired priests from our diocese. The project took two years to complete.
In 2008, a new sculpture was installed. The Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha sculpture was done by Sr. Loretta Hoag, DC. Kateri Tekakwitha is known as the “Lily of the Mohawks.” She was born in 1656 in Auriesville, NY (about an hour west of the parish) and is the first Native American to be beatified. After she was baptized at age 19, she devoted herself to the Eucharist and spent her life ministering to children, the elderly and the sick. Her feast day is July 14.
For over 150 years, in spite of all the interior and exterior changes, the warm and generous spirit of St. Mary’s lives on in its parishioners and the ministries in which they serve. From the six founding families that worked together to build a church so that they could worship together, to the over 1300 families in the parish that are active in the many ministries of our parish today, St. Mary’s continues to be an active, vibrant, welcoming community.