Thursday, July 30, 2009

SVD Seminary, Conesus



I originally intended to get this out before I ever left for Rome, but things got pretty busy during those last few days and this post kind of fell by the wayside. Still, I thought some of the Rochester readers would find this kind of interesting.

In the town of Conesus, about a 45 minute drive south of Rochester, lie the mostly abandoned buildings of what once was a booming seminary for the Societas Verbi Divini (SVD).

The Divine Word Fathers, as they are called here in the US, were orginally founded in the Netherlands in 1875 as a missionary order. When they arrived in the Rochester Diocese and started their seminary on the slopes of Hemlock Lake, the Conesus area already had some claim to fame among Rochester Catholics. Just down the road was the former “lake cottage” of Bishop McQuaid and the O-Neh-Da winery which he founded to produce valid altar wines for his parishes (the D&C recently ran a story on the history of this winery). By the time the seminary was up and running, Conesus must have been something of a “hidden niche” of Catholicism amidst a Diocese which was itself growing and expanding.

In addition to the pictures I’ve included below, the seminary had ball fields and other grounds across the street, some other type of workshop down the road (I forget exactly what for) and I’m pretty sure even an outdoor, wooded “rosary walk” with large statues depicting each mystery.








Unfortunately the seminary itself closed in 1965, though I think several SVD Fathers continued staffing the building (for retreats, etc) into the 80s. Today, I think some of the rooms might be used for apartments, though as far as I can tell, the buildings seem almost totally empty.

I actually have something of a personal connection to the Societas Verbi Divini. Two of my great-uncles (my grandmother’s brothers) entered the order in the Netherlands, where they grew up, and were ordained priests some time in the 1950s. Today, one serves in Papua, New Guinea, and how’s this for an interesting side-note: I heard that in recent history, he was working in a local seminary teaching young seminarians how to speak Dutch so that they could be sent over to the Netherlands to serve there. Imagine that, a missionary priest who starts his life as a missionary to New Guinea working amongst the natives, and then lives to see the day when his home country has become the “missionary territory” with the original mission territory supplying the vocations! Sad, but true. It’s a reminder that evangelization never stops. Each generation which receives the inestimable gift of the Faith is also entrusted with the obligation to pass it on to the next. (This is an important lesson we learn from the Old Testament. The nation of Israel frequently failed to teach their children about the True God and His mighty deeds. When this happened, things fall apart afterward.)

The other of my great-uncles in the SVDs did his work in Indonesia. He had been quite sick recently, and actually, we received news just a few days before I left home that earlier this month he died. If you are reading this, would you in your kindness say a Hail Mary or an Our Father for the repose of the soul of Fr. Marinus Krol, SVD?

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On another note, just a few miles away from the seminary buildings, there’s a pretty neat little hill that I try to drive past from time to time.

If you look really close, I bet you can faintly see a familiar skyline!

19 comments:

  1. What skyline is that, Dallas?

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  2. very cool post. I love hearing about local stories like this.

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  3. I remember the SVD place. It was called Saint Michael's Mission. I made a retreat there in the mid 60s when things weren't so crazy liturgically. I think it would be awesome if the traditionalist could reopen the place as a seminary. There was an inside grotto to the left of the main buildings. In the grotto were all kinds of amazing statues. Hope all is going well, Peter, especially con la lingua italiano. Molti anni fa, quando ero giovane, ho studiato l'italiano per tre anni.

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  4. Here is a link to an old postcard of St. Michael's Mission.

    http://www.billyspostcards.com/ccp0-prodshow/28409.html

    http://www.wemett.net/pics/mission1.JPG

    http://www.wemett.net/hemlock/beautiful_hemlock.html

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  5. A thousand times thank you. I visited an uncle at St. Michaels Mission in the late 50s early '60s - @ age 5. Much later in life, I found myself back there for an Engaged Encounter retreat in 1981. Now many years later - I have been unable to recall exactly where or what it was. Have googled many times, to no avail (obviously before this blog posting). I will take one fine autumn day - soon - to take a drive from Rochester.

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  6. When I was a lad of 9 and 10 (early 70's) I attended Camp Stella Maris on Conesus Lake. I remember taking a hike to a grotto near the camp. After reading the information here I am sure that it is the same place. A group of friends were talking about this last week and it sparked my interest. I will have to take a jaunt over there soon, maybe this afternoon. I now live in Geneseo, just west of Conesus. Thanks for the information and rekindling some great youthful memories.

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  7. Ray did you get there? I went today. how sad. the building is still there. It must have been a magnificent place. Now, mostly closed down. it looked like some people were living in the southern most wing. a few cars in the back, even a children's play set. the pavilion and field across the street all overgrown - and the grotto nearly gone and overgrown. barely visible. you had to fight your way thru brush and thorns to get to the entrance arch with "rosary grotto" still clear in painted raised letters. no statuary. a few spots which must have been the stations, stripped bare. even came across a couple of graves - surprised to see 1993 and 1994 as dates of death. If you peek thru the church doors you can see the worship area - all pews are gone.

    Spoke to a woman at the winery down the road (the original Bishop McQuaid sacremental winery!). she thinks the diocese still owns the mission property.

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  8. Philip! Yes, I did drive over there last Sunday. It was so strange to see it after forty years. You were more adventurous than me as I just drove past it several times.

    When I was a camper at Stella Maris we camped overnight in the field across from the Mission and grotto. I was saddened to see that field, pavillion and the entrance to the grotto overgrown. What a scary and adventurous place it was for a 10 year old boy!

    Would have liked to get out and explore a little bit with you if I knew you were going. If you ever go again let me know. Would love to get into the grotto again.

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  9. It is actually privately owned now...by a humanitarian company, not by the diocese. They were in the process of restoration. I am not sure where it stands now.

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  10. I went to school there in 1964 and 1965. It was an awesome place... so peaceful. The "rosary grotto" was a man made cave system that contained the stations of the cross. It was so unique. We would snow ski from the Mission down to the lake in the winter. Behind it was the shop building and down the road was the Barn for the live stock. Down the road from there was the wine fields and the winery. ONEIDA, I think the name of the wine was... The years I spent there really made me who I am.

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  11. I also went to St. Michael's in 64-65 and was one of 3 who I guess were the last to graduate from the seminary. Robert Kelly, Mike Hewitt and myself, Bill Caudullo. I was studying for the Benedictines in Jersey where I returned.
    We played sports in the fields in front, skied down to the lake and play hockey on some back pond. It seems to me the grotto had a passage that lead back up to the church...

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  12. Fond memories come to mind when thinking about Divine Word Seminary, as it was called, also called St. Michael's Mission. My family used to go there 3-4 times a year especially in the summer. It was the early 60's and I was about 6 years old. I remember it vividly. They had a summer festival with chuck-o-luck and all the traditional games. Featured was a huge chicken barbeque with roasted corn. We'd always take a hike down a sttep path to Hemlock Lake. The property featured wonderful grottos with prayer candles one could light for a donation. There was a dairy building where the brothers would milk cows for the residents. They also butchered their own Angus beef. Behind the large buildings in the photos was a wood working shop and pottery shop where the brothers made a variety of statues for churches around the world.

    It was a wonderful place with many memories. I wish I could share the tradition with my children!

    Sam T.

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  13. Above poster is correct, the Mission has been privately owned since around 1985 by a non secular church, which is now affiliated with a humanitarian organization. Since 1985 the Mission has only had around 30 permanent residence living there at any given time.

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  14. Can anyone give me more information about who lives there now..i drove past the other day and saw a few lights on..just curious

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  15. I remember going there with my mother in the early 1960's. My great uncle Charles Erb was an SVD priest as was my mother's cousin raymond Quetchenbach. May they rest in peace.
    -Jeanne Van Epps

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    1. I attended the Society of the Divine Word as a freshman during the scholastic year 1956-57. I have wonderful memories working In the winery, the farm, attending classes and of course, the entire concept of preparing for Brotherhood. The Rector at the time was Father C F Muranski, SVD. I, as most of the seminarians, did the Stations of the Cross in the Grotto. After all these years, St. Michael's has never left my thoughts, and I am sure any successes I have had, were formulated from my year at St. Michael's.

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  16. I grew up going to the Mission ever Sunday we drove to Springwater to see my grandparents..I loved the grottos..Amazing it was and so peaceful..I wanted to go tomorrow & take my husband, then introduce it to my children also..Last time there, I could only get into a couple of the grottos and they were being destroyed by people..I was hoping it was in repair by now...I really need the peace the Mission & grottos gave me..Sad to know they are now gone..So many people missed seeing the beautiful grottos & mission whe it was open and now they will only read about it..It did not matter to the Monks who you were or what religion..They shared there walk, prayer place with the public...I saw it in its beautiful state when the path was in full bloom and ALL the grotto stations were open..Very disappionted to hear the condition it is in now..I will not even drive by as I would cry to see it now like this..I'll keep all my wonderful memories of my many trips there instead...Wish everyone could have seen it as I did & my family..We all still talk about it and it has been over 40 years ago ( ok closer to fifty )lol..Memories like this area cherished forever...Sad my children won't have the same chance as I did when it was in its glory..The farm was in full operation too... ;(

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  17. I grew up in St. Michael's Mission from 1993-1999. It is indeed owned privately now, mostly by the few people who live there. I think the group of Christians living there (which I grew up as part of) originally planned to fully restore it and use all of its facilities. However their numbers dropped sharply after their leader passed away about 20 years ago, and so I believe that those have been shelved indefinitely.

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  18. If you wish to learn more about the Mission and what it is used for now, some info can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/TheMissionConesus

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