KEESEVILLE - One of the North Country's oldest churches is heralding a major milestone with a special day of events.
Keeseville's Immaculate Conception Catholic Church will host a special mass Sunday, Aug. 15, at 2 p.m., followed by a fellowship dinner to celebrate its 175th anniversary.
More than a dozen priests from around the North Country will join Bishop Terry LaValley in the celebratory mass honoring the oldest church still in use in the Ogdensburg Diocese.
Built in 1835 as a missional church to the Adirondacks and Champlain Valley, Immaculate Conception predates the diocese itself, which wasn't established until 1858.
"It's part of the history of the town," said Jon Lucero Jr., one of the volunteers helping to organize the celebration.
Lucero explained how the church sprang from the influx of Irish immigrants to the region in the early 19th century, many of whom served mass in their own homes until Father John Rogers, an oblate from Montr al, helped establish the parish in Keeseville. It originally served an area that stretched from Wilmington to Moriah.
"Nothing has been done to it other than the entranceway on the front and the belltower 10 years later," Lucero said. The rest of the church, both inside and out, represents the original 1835 structure.
A second church, St. John the Baptist, was later built on the other side of town to serve the many French-Canadian families in the area. Both churches remain in use in the parish, which boasts a membership of more than 750 families, all served by Father Leo Poissant.
Immaculate Conception also boasts a connection to a local saint. Brother Andr , a Montr al-based devotee who lived 1845-1937, was canonized in October 2009. Lucero said he has uncovered part of Brother Andr 's journals that mention a visit to the church in Keeseville in the 1930s.
Brother Andr is also known to have had major influence in the decision of Clintonville native Frank Cornish to enter the priesthood. Cornish would later serve as pastor at Immaculate Conception for several years.
The Rev. Peter Riani, who now serves as pastor of St. Elizabeth's Church in Elizabethtown, grew up in Keeseville and was five years old when he attended Immaculate Conception's 100th anniversary in 1935. He will be delivering the homily at the Aug. 15 mass.
"He had lived across the street and served as an altar boy here," Lucero said.
Choir members from St. Philip of Jesus Church in Willsboro, led by Penny Martin, will join the choir in Keeseville, where Lucero has led volunteer efforts to recondition the choir loft, which has been out of use for more than 30 years.
Following the mass, a dinner will be held at the Keeseville Knights of Columbus hall. Only 150 tickets are being sold at $10 each and may be purchased by calling 534-1585.