Our Lady of the Lake

Catholic Church

Dad was responsible for the construction of this church.

Dad's story and the history of the church is told in the official web site linked below. But because the text of the parish history is written in a font that is so difficult to read, it has been copied and reproduced here. But first, a few pictures of the

"House that Dad built"


Official Web Site

Our Lady Of The Lake .... The story of a church This history was composed for the 25th anniversary of Our Lady of the Lake Parish which occurred in 1975. A revision has been commissioned for our 50th anniversary to be celebrated in the year 2000. Some minor grammatical corrections have been made for publication on the Web.

Aime Doucette came to Edinboro with his family in 1923 for the purpose of teaching art at the Edinboro Normal School (presently, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania). He is described by those who knew him as the first "active Catholic" in Edinboro. His wife was not Catholic. However, she took instructions in the faith while her husband was away at school one summer and surprised him, on his return, by becoming a convert. There were other Catholic families in the area, a few Catholic students at the Normal School, and some Catholics among the annual summer vacationers. They attended Mass at either St. Anthony's at Cambridge Springs (where Fr. Simpson was assisted by his nephew Fr. Dwyer) or at St. Philip's at Crossingville. Hazel Snyder recalls loading her car with children and carting them all to St. Anthony's for catechism.

To facilitate attendance at Mass and catechism for the Catholics nearby, Mr. Doucette arranged to have them at his home for a time. As the attendance outgrew the space, the "altar" was transported to his classroom at Loveland Hall. Several priests from the Diocese, along with Fr. Dwyer from Cambridge Springs, took turns at celebrating mass. This arrangement continued as a missionary stop up until 1949 when William. "Pat" Flynn, Al Hermann, and Mr. Doucette as an official delegation, sought permission from Bishop John Mark Gannon of Erie to initiate the construction of a church. Having thus obtained the necessary consent, their first purpose was to obtain appropriate land site.

Mr. Harry Engh who was the owner of the Culbertson Hills Country Club and not a Catholic, having been approached by the committee, saw fit not only to donate the considerable property on Maple Drive but to give them an additional one thousand dollars toward the construction costs. Much later, when the church was completed, Mr. Engh wondered at the absence of church bells on Sunday morning. When he questioned Fr. Dwyer about this and was told that the small congregation was still in its crawling stages, he proceeded with the help of some personal friends to provide the bells himself.

After the initial excitement created by the acquisition of the property quieted, the families were faced with the unavoidable and arduous task of raising money to continue. Large donations, several of one thousand dollars, were collected among the members themselves and the townspeople. Some of the vacationers who were responsible for some very generous contributions were the Ed Bittner family from Allison Park near Pittsburgh, Mrs. Minnie Spahn, also from Pittsburgh, and Miss Agatha Decker. To subsidize the contributions, the women of the member families involved themselves in the usual money-making projects of bake sales, card parties, and such until most of the fifty thousand dollars needed was raised.

On May 28, 1950 ground was broken for a church building of "concrete block construction along New England colonial architectural lines with a seating capacity of 325".

Edinboro has always been primarily a farming area. In the springtime one can see along the countryside, ground being broken and turned over in preparation for planting. This is done so that the older, more seasoned soil can serve to nourish the new seedlings to be planted. When the Rev. Harry A. Simpson consecrated and broke the ground that spring in 1950, he, in similarity to the farmer, was repositioning the past ideas and ways that they might give impetus to new beginnings.

Fr. Simpson commissioned his assistant, the Rev. G. Harold Dwyer to oversee the mission project. The general contract was let to Joseph Rey of Meadville who had already begun preliminary construction work. Completion of construction was hopefully set for August 15 in order that the edifice dedicated to Our Lady might be blessed on the feast day of her Assumption. Nelson Jones of Edinboro was the plumbing contractor and Hank Harrison of McKean did the electrical work. The church was designed by architect Oscar Brenot of Erie after William Flynn and Fr. Dwyer had visited hundreds of churches all over the state looking for ideas. It was decided that the ground plan was to be in the shape of a cross and there would be a steeple with a cross on the top. It was most important that the design be as authentically colonial as possible to coincide with the general design of most of the buildings and homes in the town.

There were problems, of course. There was the inevitable faction who balks at change and who were discontent with or perhaps opposed to the need for a Catholic church in Edinboro. There was the truck that caught fire en route from Wisconsin with a load of laminated beams. The result was a total loss of the truck and beams and a three week delay in construction. Those laminated beams, supporting arches that were bolted beneath the floor, were an innovative structural design then and this church was to pioneer the use of them. However, problems being the rule in most endeavors rather than the exception, they were dealt with by one member or another as they came up.

Although the actual construction work was contracted, most of the labor was done by the men, women and children of the parish family. The Doucettes, Al Herrmann and his boys, the Flynns, Jack Egloff, Joe Ondrey, Bill Lang, Mike Onda, Mike Leskanic, the Floreks, Snyders, John Banco and also Lou Andrews, John Adams Electrical, and Wayne Skelton just to name a few, spent every spare minute there. Helen Vanco insisted that "many a concrete block has her name on it!"

The summer was fair and dry so that work proceeded swiftly. On August 6 of that year the cornerstone was laid by Bishop Gannon. By autumn the shell of the church was completed. The knotty pine interior had been hand finished by the men. Attention turned to the furnishings.

As this structure was being built, St. Severin's at Drifting near Morrisdale (Clearfield County) was being torn down. Since they had plans for building a new church and had no further need for much of their furnishings, St. Severin's parish donated them to Our Lady of the Lake. Bill Lang took his trucks with Larry Herrmann and some of the other men, and making a couple of trips, brought back pews, lights, a collection box and a beautiful antique crib set, hand painted in Germany, which is still used to decorate the church during Christmas season. From St. Bridget's Church in Meadville, which was in the process of being remodeled, William Flynn obtained two statues that had been donated originally by the Flynn family. These he brought up to Edinboro, repainted and put in the church. He also repainted a statue of Jesus that had come from Drifting. All of these statues are still in the church at Edinboro although they have since been refinished.

Mr. Bloom, a wood craftsman who lived on the Lake, made the lectern, Bible stand, first bench used by the altar boys and the crucifix which is still in the Sacristy. Plans for the altar came from Baltimore and the altar itself was hand made and hand carved by Tellers Organ in Erie. It was funded by a friend of Fr. Dwyer. The first organ, a pipe organ, was also made at Tellers. Al Herrmann donated the Stations of the Cross and William Keyser built the frames around them. William Keyser donated and built the intricate cabinet, with all the tiny drawers, that is in the sacristy and still used for storing the vestments and altar linens.

The first altar cloths were hand made by Mr. Doucette and subsequent ones were made by Mrs. Flynn. The first vestments were given to Fr. Dwyer by his friend in Ohio. A second set was made by Hazel Snyder and Mary McLaughlin.

The work continued day and night so that it might be finished in time for the first mass which was celebrated by the Rev. G. Harold Dwyer on the Feast of Christ the King, Oct. 29, 1950.

At that time, the building was designated to be a chapel which constituted a mission of St. Anthony's Church, Cambridge Springs, with the Rev. Harry A. Simpson as pastor.

It was just five months from the groundbreaking to the first Mass in the new Our Lady of the Lake Chapel. Appropriately, Robert Doucette and William Flynn III served as altar boys. Mrs. Flynn played the beautiful new pipe organ.

The Chapel, equipped to seat over three hundred people, had parishioners, students, townsfolk and guests squeezed to overflowing into the vestibule and the side aisles. Outside, the wind blustered against the canvas were the windows had yet to be placed. The front of the building had not yet been given its final coat of paint and the floor needed a few more days before it would be completed.

Work on the church continued. Parishioners and students who, under the guidance of John Wright had worked all summer toward the construction of the church, seeding and landscaping the grounds, and finishing the interior, with help and supervision of Mr. Doucette, found that there was still much to be done. Besides the families mentioned previously, others were equally involved. They were: The Adams, Hosey, Dalbec, Jennings, Kutz, Rock, McCoy, Krause, and Kaylor families. Fr. Dwyer secured the home adjacent to the church to serve as rectory. This enabled him to work with his parishioners when he had time out from his other duties.

The church was now functional and Mass was celebrated regularly. The Usher's Club, the Altar and Rosary Society, and the Newman Club were being organized and future activities were in the works.

With the onset of winter and bad weather, it was soon apparent that the existing parking facilities were inadequate because of the mud which was constantly being tracked into the church. The full amount for the cobblestones for the driveway which was laid donated by Mrs. Spahn.

By Christmas of that same year a choir had been formed under the direction of Louis Varricchio, assisted by Mrs. Flynn at the organ, and the first Midnight Mass was celebrated by Fr. Dwyer with the choir singing the Mass of St. Basil. The church was elaborately decorated with the traditional Christmas Crib and a large lighted tree and wreaths. A Christmas party was held the following morning for all the children of the parish. This marked the beginning of many projects and activities of the parish, the church having been built with the idea of having social functions in the body of the church by closing off the altar with a curtain and moving the portable benches to the front or outside.

Vivid accounts of the special events which took place in the years following are lovingly recorded in the memories of those who took part in them. For example, the first venture of the Altar and Rosary Society in the new church took place under the chairmanship of Betty Egloff on April 6, 1951. It was "a very successful card party attended by over 160 people." Fr. Simpson did not really mind being a prizewinner for the lowest score in Canasta.

The things that go wrong are, with the passing of years, very often regarded with good humor as being comical. One such tale is told about an apple pie which someone forgot to bake before serving it to parishioners at one of the dinners held at the church.

There were a number of dinners to mark various occasions or to bring the parishioners and guests together for a good time. A small but adequate kitchen was built in the room on the left of the church. The room was used as a library in subsequent years, and is now a storage space. Of special note is the participation of the young men and women of the Newman Club who worked hand in hand with the parishioners on all of the projects form construction work to special dinners and bazaars.

On May 26, 1953, Bishop John Mark Gannon raised the Mission of Our Lady of the Lake to the canonical status of a parish and the Rev. G. Dwyer was named its founding pastor.

The unifying force of the love which bound Fr. Dwyer and his parishioners together molded the character of the little church. The direction it took was one of hope, pressing forward to embrace the future. This remained constant amid change. There was little time to ponder the years begging around 1932 when Bishop McManaman, Msgr. McDonald and later Fr. Latimer, aside from their position as Superintendent of Schools, offered Mass on Sundays and Holy Days and administer to the spiritual needs of more than two hundred students a well as the handful of Catholic families scattered about the Edinboro area.

As the construction work was winding down the social calendar was getting into full swing. it was with great joy that Holy Days and Seasons were observed in the new church. Attendance was flowing in the individual organizations. They were well under way with their meetings and activities. Year round "family-style" dinners and bazaars brought families from many miles away to enjoy the wonderful home cooked food prepared by the ladies of the parish. The smorgasbord sponsored by the Altar and Rosary Society became a famous annual tradition.

By 1960 the parish, consisting of only a few dozen families when the church was erected, had grown to 165 families. It was by that time serving almost 700 Catholic students registered at the college and an increased number of summer vacationers. An active Newman Club was being supervised by Rev. Joseph Petulla at the pastor's request. They held regular meetings at the basement rectory.

But Fr. Dwyer's health was failing. He could no longer keep up the pace his responsibilities demanded. So, in June, 1959, Msgr. James Gannon assumed the duties of administrator and in Feb. 1960, was appointed pastor of Our Lady of the Lake.

It was evident that the seating capacity of the church was no longer adequate to meet the needs of the number of worshipers attending mass. Plans were made for an addition to the church which would serve as a parish center and greatly enlarge the seating facilities. Under the direction of Msgr. Gannon, ground was broken in May of 1961 for a 60 by 125 foot block building. The building trustees were Hugh Jennings, William Lang, and John Adams. On October 29, the dedication ceremonies took place with Msgr. Wilfred Nash as the guest speaker. A dinner catered by the girls of the Newman Club followed the dedication.

During the years form 1960-1965, Fr. Gannon, in his role as pastor, saw many changes occur in the face of the church. A mother's room was added at the left inside the front entrance. A new choir loft was built on the second floor. A new side altar was built where the organ and choir had stood previously to house the relic of the true Cross which Fr. Gannon had brought back form Rome. The statue of the Infant was placed there on an Italian marble pedestal which was donated by Fr. Dwyer's mother.

Although Msgr. Gannon stayed a relatively short time he was greatly loved by his parishioners. They reluctantly let him go in 1965 to assume a new position in the Erie Diocese, pastoring St Andrew's in Erie.

Fr. Francis Tushim who replaced Fr. Gannon as pastor found it necessary to oversee many alterations in the church due to the changes in the Liturgy. Perhaps the most difficult change involved the transition from the standard Latin Mass to the English with more participation on the part of the congregation. These changes were not always understood or welcomed at first by the parishioners who loved the traditional Latin mass. Consequently, Fr. Tushim had the double task of incorporating the changes and reconciling the traditionalists to the new ways.

The altar was dismantled and replace by a simple oak table type altar. The altar railing was entirely removed. Sliding doors had already been installed behind the altar. They opened into the parish center. The platform was enlarged. Fr. Tushim replace a smaller electric organ with the beautiful large on that is still used. Eventually new lights were added, white oak benches were purchased and installed and the sanctuary, vestibule and aisles were carpeted. Mary Tushim, Father's sister, kept house for him, kept the altar linens laundered and did countless other jobs at the church for which the parish family will always be grateful.

Fr. Tushim and Fr. Robert Bower (his assistant who supervised the Newman Club) did a commendable job of administering to the spiritual needs of the ever increasing Catholic population in Edinboro. But the expansion of Edinboro College and the rapid growth of the town itself made a Newman Apostolate near the college imperative. So in the fall of 1970 a Newman Center was built on the campus thereby easing the pressure of numbers. Fr. Bower was assigned there as pastor.

Fr. Tushim remained as sole pastor of Our Lady of the Lake until May, 1972, at which time he left to become pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Mercer. Rev. John Daniszewski, ("Fr. Dan" as he was affectionately called) served but a short time as pastor of Our Lady of the Lake from May 1972 until July 1973.

Rev. Edward Q. Franz, Ph.D., was appointed in July 1973. He continued in the tradition of family-centered parish activities with a dynamic participation on the part of everyone including himself. The membership of the parish took a sudden leap in new membership in the years between 1973-1975 due to many new people moving into the Edinboro area. To make it easier to get acquainted with the newcomers as well as to keep in touch with old friends the parish successfully instituted a Coffee and Social hour following Sunday Mass. These Socials were held several times throughout the year and are always an enjoyable occasion.

Up until about 1965, the responsibility for the religious education of the children was solely that of the priests and sisters. Since that time qualified lay people have shared in this awesome and rewarding task. Classroom space has been provided by dividing the area in the balcony of the center. This work was done by Bill Nesbitt. Classes are also held on the floor of the center by using dividers to separate the classes. In recent years the entire church community of Edinboro has made use of this space in the ecumenical summer Bible school program for children.

Larry Hermann had been working on the construction of a brick base in the churchyard. It now serves as a permanent platform for a statue of Our Lady which was placed there in 1975. The Altar and Rosary Society recently purchased this statue with funds from individual donors combined with their own.

Our Lady of the Lake Church has been distinguished by a variety of occupations, nationalities, and vocations. From the very beginning, working together, have been farmers, artists, businessmen, those in the medical profession, laborers, authors, musicians, and educators of every discipline. It is believed that petty differences among people dissolve in hard work done in the servitude of God and cool to a precious unity of spirit and purpose. The result can be as in the instance of Our Lady of the Lake Church, a beautiful edifice which speaks gently of labor done for the love of God.

It is an appropriate coincidence that Our Lady of the Lake should be celebrating its 25th Anniversary concurrently with the Bicentennial Celebration of America in 1975. For it is due to those qualities of character that have come to be known as characteristically American - ingenuity and perserverance - displayed dynamically by those men and women who worked so hard for the establishment of the parish church in Edinboro that now in a matter of 25 years, there is not only one but two Catholic churches in the town.

It was somewhat of a revolutionary act by Pope John when he dusted off the old traditions of Catholicism and opened the doors to the fresh air of the Ecumenical Council. In willing obedience, the Catholic church has given up many of its precious ornamental furnishings and private modes of worship in the spirit of simplicity and more communal devotion. The youth, especially the young men and women of the Newman Club, has become a knowledgeable and progressive force in the church and the community. Their contributions of music and art have made the Folk Mass a moving religious experience.

Although still very much a part of the Church in Rome, the Catholic Church in the United States proudly emerges in the American Bicentennial year as distinctly American and Our Lady of the Lake shares in that distinction.

Addenda: Landscaping - lawn by Joe Ondrey, John Banke, Al Herrman, A. Doucette, Pat Flynn, Mr. Snyder. Frames for Stations-Cabinets in Sacristy by Kyser Brothers.

COMPILED AND WRITTEN BY: Mrs. Pasquale Angelo in 1975.

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