Pastor Set Sights on 50-Year-Old Otisville Parish From Boyhood


Otisville is a rural village with a little more than 1,000 people near Middletown in Orange County known for having neighboring state and federal prisons and a 153-year-old Catholic church nestled in a parish cemetery.

Holy Name of Jesus opened its doors in 1866 as a mission church and is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a parish this year.

Cardinal Dolan celebrated Mass to mark the jubilee Sept. 21, which was followed by a reception in Brennan Hall. A parish dinner-dance is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 18, at Villa Venezia in Middletown.

The anniversary celebration began Jan. 3 with retired Auxiliary Bishop Dominick Lagonegro celebrating Mass on the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.

“It’s a perseverance of faith which dates back to just after the Civil War that a Catholic community has been here,” Father Mike Palazzo, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus, told CNY.

Holy Name of Jesus parish has 450 families and an average Sunday Mass attendance of 200, including the 30 inmates who attend the weekly Sunday Mass Father Palazzo celebrates at New York State Otisville Correctional Facility.

Holy Name of Jesus offers three weekend Masses: 5 p.m. Saturday and 8 and 10:45 a.m. Sunday. Daily Mass is 7 p.m. Monday and 9 a.m. on Tuesday through Friday.

Parish ministries include altar servers, lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, food pantry and weekly thrift store. Sister Nancy Elizabeth Doran, S.S.C., is the director of the religious education program, which has nearly 150 children.

Father Palazzo, who was raised as a parishioner of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Highland Falls, is the only priest at the parish. Since being appointed pastor in 2012, Father Palazzo added Eucharistic adoration each week, recruited some men to join the Knights of Columbus council at St. Joseph’s in Middletown and hopes to assist Sister Nancy Elizabeth increase membership in the parish’s adult faith formation.

Father Palazzo recalled his first interest in being a pastor of Holy Name of Jesus.

“It was something I was drawn to as a youth,” he said. “Catholic News put out a several page bulletin with Mass schedules for Orange and Rockland counties. One year, they put photos of picturesque churches in Orange and Rockland counties, and there was a snowy day picture of Holy Name of Jesus. I said if I do become a priest and the opportunity to be a pastor there presents itself, I’m going to put my name in for consideration. So it happened seven years ago.”

The current church, which seats 255 people, was a mission church under the Order of Carmelites from Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Middletown from 1912 until it became the first new parish under Cardinal Terence Cooke in 1969. It also was the first of five Our Lady of Mount Carmel mission churches under the Order of Carmelites to become a parish.

Masses were held in Brennan Hall on parish grounds as the church was closed in 1970 for renovations and expansion, reopening on Christmas Eve in 1970 and later blessed by Cardinal Cooke on May 8, 1971.

A parish center with classrooms and offices opened in 1988 and was attached to a new rectory. Resident priests previously lived in a mobile home on parish property.

Dianne Gersbeck, 59, moved with her family to Howells in 1991 from Suffolk County where she was a member of a much larger parish. She schedules and helps train lectors and altar servers, and assists the director of religious education.

“It was small, intimate and welcoming in a small village where our children went to school,” Mrs. Gersbeck said. “The parish offers so much. Most of our friends are from our parish.

“Since we’ve been there, I believe we’ve had five different priests and all were special in their own way. We like Father Mike because he’s a great homilist and introduced us to many new forms of worship with morning and evening prayer, pilgrimages and Eucharistic adoration. We feel we’ve benefited spiritually from having him as pastor.”

Donald Fitzpatrick, 88, came to Otisville in 1977 to work at Otisville Correctional Facility. Now retired, he keeps busy by being a lector, Eucharistic minister and catechist, which he’s been doing for 23 years. He attends daily Mass.

“I have the opportunity to go to Mass now. When I was working, I had to be at work,” said Fitzpatrick as he was heading out to Eucharistic adoration.

“(Being an active parishioner) is a part of my life. Each parish has its own characteristics and I have no reason to look around someplace else when Mass is right here. The opportunity is there and I take advantage of it.”