A Treasure in our Midst

March 28, 2023

Nestled in the hills of West Peru, called “the Patent,” with its small yet sturdy steeple prominent among the trees, lies St. Patrick’s Church.   Solemnly beside the Church, amid a park-like setting with fourteen Stations of the Cross, is a Shrine to the founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini.  The late Gordie Little from Home town Cable described this Shrine as a “spiritual spot.”  Many people have found it so and have left mementos for the spiritual gifts they experienced when visiting. The shrine was dedicated in 1947, just one year after Mother Cabrini was canonized by Pope Pius XII. She was the first saint with American citizenship. Much has been written about Mother Cabrini, the Italian born Catholic nun, who was directed by Pope Leo XIII to go west instead of east. She left her mark in New York City and Chicago, and many communities in the United States, Europe and South America can claim her influence.  As it happens, St. Patrick’s church in the Peru Patent became the site of one of the first shrines dedicated in remembrance of her, and it was clearly her first shrine in Northern New York.

The story of St. Patrick’s Church begins in the 1840’s with the small Irish community that settled west of Peru village to farm and work in the mills and iron mines.  The church itself went through many openings and closings and upgrades through the years, all supported by the local parishioners and their resolute priests. Descendants of these families are still in the area, families who worshipped and worked to keep the small church as a focal point for baptisms, weddings, funerals, and celebrations. The names of those original families are inscribed on the church bell.

Photo by: John Ryan

In 1945, Father Harold McCabe was assigned as pastor to St.Patrick’s Church, which was a mission of the St. Catherine’s parish in Clintonville.  Born in Port Henry and assigned over the years to a number of parishes in various areas of Clinton,Essex and St. Lawrence Counties, he was, according to the Plattsburgh Press Republican, “well known around Northern New York as an able speaker.” Father McCabe had his own radio show and was particularly devoted to Mother Cabrini. Educated at the Wadhams Hall in Ogdensburg and St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto, Canada, he was ordained in 1936. Under his direction and with his encouragement, the local parishioners of St. Patrick’s made plans for the creation of the Shrine, raised the necessary funds, gathered the stones for the grotto, and hired local stonemason and carpenter Phillip Duprey to build the Shrine. Michael Langlois in the North Country Catholic noted that Phillip Duprey was second generation French-Canadian, constructing a shrine for an Italian born saint, beside a church built by Irish immigrants. As fitting with our story, Mother Cabrini would later be designated as patroness of immigrants. Mr. Duprey would go on to build the fourteen Stations of the Cross which dot the setting and were at the time the only outdoor Stations of the Cross in the North Country. Photos of Father McCabe and Phillip Duprey are in the shrine’s enclosure. Phillip Duprey is buried in the cemetery behind the church.

Father McCabe was known as the founder of the shrine and later as director of the shrine and through his efforts the shrine attracted thousands of visitors from the United States and Canada. He held services at the Shrine regularly until he was transferred in 1955.  

Photo by: John Ryan

Today, the quiet setting that Gordie Little visited in 2012 would still enchant him, would still have that spectacular scenery, and possess the “magic” he felt, and would still be on his list of special places with the original view restored through the efforts of Father Schnob and landowner Grace Lucia whose dream it was to restore the view before she passed.  The grounds include trails, a pond, and a cemetery and are handicapped accessible. The area is special because of the generations of friends and parishioners who worked over the years to keep the church open and expand the surroundings. All are welcome at the Mother Cabrini Shrine on the hill in West Peru on 51 Patent Road.

A thank you to Deacon James Crowley, John Ryan, Hometown Cable, and Joyce Lucia-Kolb for sharing their information with the author.

Helen Allen Nerska

Helen Allen Nerska is Director of the Clinton County Historical Association and Museum and historian for the Town of Peru. She is the editor and author of the Clinton County Suffrage Story and speaks regularly on local history topics. She is also the editor of the Heritage Corner published monthly in the SUN Community News and co-President of the League of Women Voters of the North Country.

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