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Dec 16

The Mission – Conesus, NY

Some would argue that the phenomenon of the religious revivalism that took place here can easily be accounted for by the fact that the land in Upstate NY is in itself inherently spiritual. The terrains once graced by continental glaciers dating as far back as two million years ago have been home to numerous societies and cultures, many of whom have attributed some great spiritual association to the lands that we call home. When those ice sheets moved their way south from the Hudson Bay about 12,000 years ago they carved valleys and left hills in parts of Central and Western NY and a few of those striations would later earn the area its moniker of the Finger Lakes Region.

Looking South on Mission Road, Conesus, NY

Looking South on Mission Road

A region that spans the Central to Western part of NY, the Finger Lakes are commonly known for many of the lakes and towns and proper names that are still used today that make reference to a time when the Iroquois tribes ruled the land. The tribes that were each part of the Iroquois knew the land was special and particularly fertile. That same fertile land is now used to produce some of the top rated wine in the entire United States and though this blog is particularly about the religious movements in NY, wine is exactly how the story of The Mission begins.

Luke and I had read and found pictures of a particular set of grottos and a mission property once bustling with movement that lay perched atop a green sprawling hilltop overlooking Hemlock Lake, one of the minor Finger Lakes that now serves as a water supply for the City of Rochester. Everytime we came across a morsel of information we became a bit more enamored with a story that seemed to be devoid of any easily accessible history. A few personal friends have mentioned it to us as something that we might be interested in, but no one has ever been able to give us any information other than the little that appears to be online. One unseasonably warm Saturday in early November we decided it was a perfect day to go exploring an area we weren’t familiar with and to attempt to locate this mission house whose status appeared to be somewhat of a mystery. The day ended up being way more than we had bargained for, and our expectations of just doing a little reconnaissance turned into a pretty incredible adventure and a brief (but thorough) look into a slice of spiritual history that helped shape the Finger Lakes in the latter portion of the 20th century.

O-Neh-Da Vineyard sign

O-Neh-Da Vineyard sign

The story of The Mission actually begins in 1865 when Reverend Bernard McQuaid purchased land on a hill located on the Western bank of Hemlock Lake. His vision for the property soon became a reality and he founded one of the first wineries in the entire Finger Lakes region for the purposes of supplying local churches with altar wine. McQuaid named the winery ‘O-Neh-Da Vineyard‘ to honor the Seneca tribe’s original name for Hemlock, as it is the only of the eleven Finger Lakes to have been given a European name. Just a few years later in 1868, McQuaid would become Bishop when the Diocese of Rochester formed, and then in 1872 the final works were put in place and O-Neh-Da would begin its first round of wine making with Ed Mulvaney as the foreman. Soon thereafter the Rochester Diocese inherited the winery and property from McQuaid and took over operations. When Prohibition laws kicked in, sacramental wine producers were allowed to continue operations, but O-Neh-Da ceased its wine production until 1934 when the Repeal made alcohol and its production once again a legal business model. The winery is still there today though when we visited, we were told that nearly nothing at the winery was original except the tradition and the long standing history. O-Neh-Da is one of the two oldest wineries in the entire Finger Lakes Region and still produces a long list of sacramental wines. It was cool to check out and be on the property, but there were way bigger things for us to checkout just up the road.

Looking at the Mission from the South end

Looking at the Mission from the South end

We drove North on Mission Road past countless men in camouflage and bright orange vests carrying rifles and we wondered if the start of hunting season was the best time to go exploring the back roads of Upstate NY. We had wondered about these underground grottos and sprawling mansion houses for a long time, so we weren’t to be dissuaded. Suddenly the tall, leafless trees and landscape opened up and we both were stuck on seeing precisely what we had set out to find. We parked on the side of the road totally unknowing of what to do next. Luke and I definitely take risks and probably sometimes go where we’re not exactly supposed to, but we are constantly conscious of wanting to be respectful and mind trespassing laws accordingly. We had no idea what to do here with this one. Standing on the side of Mission Road, looking up at what seemed like millions of windows on 4 floors of a huge campus, we kind of expected to see one drape in a window high up pulled aside and a creepy, ghost face look out and then quickly move out of sight. But, as I said, we are not easily dissuaded. Luke told me, ‘Go knock on a door.’ and I immediately thought out loud, ‘Which one!?’

South Building (This building is lived in during the summers)

South Building
(This building is lived in during the summers)

North building (Not hospitable and in need of major renovations)

North building
(Not very hospitable and in need of major renovations)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We approached the building in awe of its size and history and incredible view overlooking the region and we began to ascend the steps and passed the ‘No Trespassing’ sign and ‘No Hunting – Don’t Ask’ sign. We got a little braver and walked to the side of the building and then around the back just as in the distance someone fired what seemed to be a cannon. Behind the South building was a newer car with a door to the garage open, and then we saw other cars and then people! With a few vehicles and a trailer backed up to a rear door, people seemed to be moving furniture out, which was a surprise to us since everything we had read online said no one lived there. A couple smiles and friendly waves from them told us they probably weren’t stealing furniture and it was cool to approach. After settling some confusion about the nature of our visit, and assuring them we weren’t the extra sets of hands they were expecting to show up, we got an opportunity to talk with a few people who explained a bit more.

Mission Chapel

Mission Chapel
(in between the South & North buildings)

Unfortunately, no one person seems to have the exact history of the property, and different sources seem to have different information. A newsletter from 1997 called ‘Yore Links’ by the Ganeasos History Keepers says that in 1924 the property was purchased by a group called the Society of the Divine Word (Societas Verbi Divini), but in checking with the headquarters, their information says the purchase occurred in 1936. The folks we talked to in the parking lot didn’t have any dates at all and it began to occur to us that the mystery of this place was in part due to the fact that the history and it’s story was already gone. It hadn’t even been a hundred years yet and just a select few seemed to know the story of the Mission.

The Society of the Divine Word (aka. “The Divine Word Fathers” here in the U.S., “Divine Word Missionaries”, “Societas Verbi Divini” and also just “SVD”) is a Roman Catholic order for men founded in 1875 in the Netherlands by Arnold Janssen. The group first came to the U.S. in 1895, but sometime in the early 1920′s acquired the property and began construction on what is today a sprawling 170 room complex. With the South building’s construction in 1936, the mission now had its high school, and many of those in attendance would study between four and fourteen years in that very building. In the 1950′s enrollment hit its peak as about 250 were in attendance at once, and that allowed the SVD to build another building, the North wing, in 1957. Originally the plans called for a gargantuan cathedral between the two wings, but it was later determined that a modest chapel would be best suited to fill the space and the plans were greatly downsized. As it turns out, it was only a decade later that the SVD would begin to feel a financial weight setting in, and in efforts to maintain as much as possible, they sold the winery in 1968 to a group in in California. Unfortunately, the group never recovered financially in Conesus and made multiple attempts at leasing the property to various groups like the Livonia School District and then a holistic health center, (which remnants still exist from in the North wing) and even an alcohol rehabilitation unit. While standing talking to our new friends, we learned that later on the SVD sold the entire 110,000 square foot building and property in 1985 to a group called the Christ’s Church of the Restitution. These new owners intended for the property to be a vacation retreat for spiritual leaders needing a break. When that too didn’t pan out, it was donated to a church somewhere in the mid-2000′s, and the mission leaders of that church were who we found ourselves talking to.

Inside chapel looking towards former Altar

Inside chapel looking towards
what was once the Main Altar

Inside chapel looking the other way towards former main entrance

Inside chapel looking the other way
towards former main entrance

 

Creepy hallway

Creepy hallway

It was somewhat ironic that I had been in Colorado Springs the week previous, and now we were face to face with residents of Colorado Springs who call The Mission home for a certain number of months out of the year. The group known as The Vision for Nations Fellowship is based in Colorado Springs and they inherited the Mission as a donation, and now use it as an all purpose destination for mission work. The Mission is housed year round by caretakers, but the summer months see groups of people from around the country coming to stay and study with other like-minded evangelical Christians. One of the folks we talked to assured us he didn’t mind taking a bit time off from moving furniture and the three of us split off from the group to continue chatting and exploring the property.

He explained as we walked that before they inherited the property, the Catholic Diocese of Rochester basically pillaged the entire property taking anything of worth or value, so much of what we were about to see was bare bones walls and floors. As we entered the rear of the chapel, it felt as though we were in a building that had been abandoned forever, and just recently someone was making an attempt to renovate it. There were brand new looking rooms with fresh drywall and paint with a newly outfitted kitchen which all looked fantastic, and then on other floors were rooms that would’ve made perfect locations for the shooting of a horror movie. Many of the rooms and halls were in various states of renovation, and it was an odd idea to try and imagine that just 70 years ago the building was new, pristine and bustling with hundreds of people seven days a week!

From the basement gymnasium to a rooftop perch, the three of us walked and talked and explored nearly every area that was accessible. Our new friend explained that their church based out of Colorado Springs intends to make use of the property by offering tours, retreats, training and conference space, educational opportunities while partnering with other like-minded groups and communities to achieve their mission.

Another smaller chapel in the North building

Another smaller chapel in the North building

What once was a barrack style bedroom on the top floor of the North building

What once was a barrack style bedroom on the top floor of the North building

 

Former lockers lining basement wall


Former lockers lining basement wall

Former gymnasium

Former gymnasium
(this is as far as we were let in)

Before Luke and I had ever learned any other history about the Mission, we learned of a number of grottos that had been built, maybe even underground, by a Priest residing at the community. Admittedly, we were hoping to find them even if the property had been abandoned and even though we were loving a full tour of the buildings, we had to bring them up. With a tight lipped look of fear that seemed like he was concerned about ruining our good moods, we were told that the previous organization also had entirely removed all statues and remnants from the grottos, but he agreed to show us the remainders.

School bus shed!

School bus shed!

The three of us walked out the back of the complex of buildings and then behind the garage toward the wooded area surrounded the complex and and stopped short in our tracks. Just behind the garage, years and years ago, the SVD group had taken a full sized school bus and plopped it down and built stone walls around it, effectively turning a bus into a shed. It obviously wasn’t directly related to the history of the property or even religious history, but when Luke and I are out exploring NY, finding fun little gems like the school bus are really fun.

Former station of the cross marker, with burial sites behind it

Former station of the cross marker, with burial sites behind it

Further into the woods on the South end of the property, we were guided down an unkempt path into a small ravine overgrown with brush and trees. Immediately we began to spot a number of stone columns, and it was pointed out to us that those columns once were part of a large ring of the Stations of the Cross. The Catholic Diocese had taken almost anything on them that could be removed back in 1985, so the ravine was filled with basic, bereft stone columns that told only a story of what used to exist. We crossed a small stone foot bridge that looked as though it once offered a picturesque promenade through the ravine but now almost didn’t even seem safe to cross. Just past the bridge were a couple burial markers, which for me made this ravine even more sad. This ravine was once a spectacular work of art dedicated to peace and tranquility, which probably made it a perfect place to bury a loved one, but now it made me wonder if anyone remembered the stories of the people who called the hill home for forever.

Just past this spot was the first of the grottos that we had seen pictures of. Sitting up a bit on the side of the hill, it was now crumbling and falling and there was absolutely no indication of what grotto it may have been because the only thing that hadn’t been taken was the stone walls themselves. We came to another grotto with a large cross that once had a crucified Jesus, but now was a stone structure with a few marks indicating what used to exist. We now understood why we thought there were ‘underground’ grottos on the property. We approached a collapsing stone structure with wide eyes. Our guide warned that they were condemned so we couldn’t go in, but it was too difficult for us to not stick our heads in some of the windows. A walk-through shrine had been built with multiple rooms and even two floors where once a number of different scenes from the Bible all existed. Occasionally scattered you could see broken terra cotta tiles or a fake flower that had once adorned part of the grotto. We were told that the group that now owns the Mission wants to fix up the area and make them once again a beautiful hillside setting. They have a tremendous task in front of them.

First Grotto (Grotto of Agony)

First Grotto (Grotto of Agony)

Inside of the Grotto of Agony

Inside of the Grotto of Agony

 

 

Random altar being lost to time

Random altar being lost to time

We kept walking a bit and came across another larger foot bridge, which we were told is often a common setting for class photos from when the SVD group was operating, but now most likely wasn’t even safe to walk over. Avoiding the bridge, we crossed back over the stream and had almost come entirely around which would have been the Stations of the Cross, but now was just a ring of those stone tablets. Maybe the woods were too overgrown, maybe we were too much in awe of standing in front of the grottos we had just seen, maybe we were overly concerned about strays from the hunters in the area, but Luke and I hadn’t seen where we were being led, which was to an entirely other grotto that was about the same size and style as the one we had just left. The Rosary Grotto was closer to the Mission buildings and still pretty much in tact. A couple murals painted on walls and a spot for offerings were all that had remained. I won’t speak for Luke at this part, but I had to admit I had a lot of feelings here. Someone had gone to a tremendous amount of work to plan and build this entire ravine. I was feeling a bit excited about exploring a new place and was wide-eyed at all the really incredible things that most people probably don’t realize exist. Then I was struck by a bit of sadness that most people probably don’t realize this all existed! The artisan dedication and hard work that went into creating a sacred space for SVD was quickly becoming a memory, and I’ve wondered how many of the students that attended even still remember (or, are even still alive).

Second Grotto (Rosary Grotto)

Second Grotto (Rosary Grotto)

Inside the Rosary Grotto

Inside the Rosary Grotto

The other feeling I had was around the fact that Luke and I had set out entirely unknowing of what the day would bring and not only did we cross off an item on our list of things we wanted to see, we also managed to make a couple new friends in the process. I didn’t mention it earlier, but everyone we talked to that day was about our age so it felt pretty natural to hang out with them. We were grateful for all the people we met at the Mission that day for being super cool and hospitable. Though the Mission seems like it has seen better days, it appears that the current group calling it home is dedicated to making it the incredible gem it was once was.

It’s not the first time that Luke and I had coincidental timing on one of our adventures, but while we were walking around touring the buildings and woods, there are a few people who were building a new website for the Mission and a Facebook page to provide both updates and historical photos of the Mission. Go check both of them out, and if you decide to visit, tell them Luke and Chris say hello!

Two handsome guys!

Two handsome guys!

88 comments

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  1. Katreader

    I remember when I first came upon this place-I was unable to find out much about it. Thanks so much for sharing your discovery,

    1. Chris

      You got it! It seems like more people than we realized are in the same position you are. This was a fun one to discover for ourselves as well!

  2. mike c

    Another great article.
    I remember being there probably 60 years ago.
    An aunt lived by the corner of Mission Rd. and so we would visit, and then once we went up the road to St. Michael’s Mission. That’s what it was called then.
    And I remember walking around through the grottos, I thought of them as caves, and seeing the religious items that were there.
    My mother was pretty religious so we looked at everything.
    I somehow think I may have some photos in all the stuff from my parents but could never find them now.
    It was a unique place. And your article adds a lot to a forgotten history.

    1. Chris

      Thanks Mike! It looks quite different today than it did 60 yrs ago of course. I wish I could say I had the same memories that you seem to have. I’m sure it was fantastic back then!

  3. Jim

    I believe that some of the old grotto statues have been purchased by the Mercerdarians in LeRoy. who, by the way, will be closing their house in LeRoy, but will continue to staff the parish. Sad.

    1. Chris

      Jim,

      Thanks for your comment about this! We hadn’t done much research on the Mercerdarians, but since you’ve tipped us off, it’s been some interesting reading. We also gave your tip about them possibly owning some grotto pieces to the current owners of the Mission. It’d be great if they could make it back to their original home!

  4. Rev. Eleanor Celentani

    I did not recognize the name, the Mission, but when one of your readers commented that it used to be called St. Michael’s Mission, that did ring a bell. I had heard of this place but had not visited myself. I once knew a priest from the Society of the Divine Word and I think he might have stayed there for a while. Your story was extremely interesting and informative. I understood the feeling of sadness too. You are right that probably very few people now would know this place existed at all. Quite a lesson in letting go. Good to know that another spiritual group is working on recycling and renewing it. Thank you for another great article.

    1. Chris

      Hadn’t thought of this as a lesson in letting go. As always, you offer a great perspective that I hadn’t considered.

      Part of the reason we’ve enjoyed doing this project so much is because so many communities have had to let go of some great parts of their history. We’ve had a lot of wonderful experiences in checking these places out before they’re gone!

  5. Lara

    Thank you for this information. I grew up basically right around the corner from the mission on Marrowback and it was nice to finally find out what had been going on with the mission. Tho’ I did not attend services regularly at the Mission, I had been to a few. It was a beautiful chapel and well taken care of the brothers who resided there at the time. The grotto that you can see from the road was just as lovely, coming back as an adult it was sad to see that everything had been removed from the grotto. My brothers and I and many of the “neighborhood” kids played little league baseball across the street in the field for a couple of years before practices were moved to another location.
    Thanks again for the information! Truly and adventure to get a tour of the place!

    1. Chris

      Thanks Lara!! So glad you found this post and it brought up so many great memories for you! We appreciate the comment and feedback greatly!!

  6. Dan Matteson

    My family and I grew up 2 houses down from the Mission. My brother and I spent a lot of summer days in the Grotto’s and inside the mission playing with some of the kids living there. A lot of memories! Thanks for the research.

    1. Chris

      That sounds awesome Dan! Seems like it would’ve been a beautiful area to have grown up!

  7. Chris Matteson

    Great article and thanks for the pictures. As my brother stated we would spend our days running and playing in the grottos which at the time was full of statues. My brother would always go across the street and grab grapes from the winery and throw them at myself and some of the children that lived there. He hit one kid in the eye, Justin I believe his name was, I never saw him again.

    1. Chris

      Thanks Chris!

      I’m sure it was fun playing back in the fields and exploring back then. Hope Justin never had long term vision trouble due to that grape!

  8. greg

    This is a great article and apparently spreading on facebook like crazy today. I remember paintballing with friends who lived right across the road from there and exploring the grottos late at night. I’ve never seen the inside before today. It was always rumored a crazy cult lived there. I’m actually glad you dispelled that rumor that has been with me for ages.

    1. Chris

      Greg, we’ve gotten a TON of hits in the last 24 hours. I know they were coming from Facebook but not sure what pages on FB–I’d LOVE to know cause because on our hits it was clearly being shared like crazy as you mentioned!!

      Really glad that so many people are finding great memories here with this!!

      1. greg

        just the power of this social media i guess … also because everyone from this area knows about the mission yet few know actually what it was/is ….. its a landmark we all know and are interested in …. i guarantee you guys will hit gold again like you did here ….. i was looking back at other sites and comments and i think the comments you got from here blew away all the others …. you may consider a revisit and get together some of the people who were here in its heyday and get some good stories

  9. Helen Wiedemann

    When the Mission was a school for boys the property was called Saint Michael Mission. There is a farm that was connected to the mission. The milking barn is now a private residence.

    1. Chris

      Thanks Helen!

  10. sarah

    good times..you know who you are

    1. Chris

      From the looks of the comments here, it sounds like EVERYone had good times!

  11. Carole

    I am so happy yo see so much about St Michaels Mission. When I was a child in the late 40s or early 50 my family visited the misson and we walked the grottos and the stations of the cross.It was awe inspiring even for a little girl around 10 years old. I am thrilled someone is doing some refreshing work. I live within 50 miles of the mission so I will be watching

    1. Chris

      Thanks Carole! I bet it was a fantastic to be there back then! We are just as thrilled that someone is working on restoring it. Glad you found us!

  12. Shana

    Wow! Finally an article online about the mission! My mother worked at the Eagle Crest Vineyards across the street form here. She did extensive research on here as well being the former town historian. I remember the story of the child who had died from a tooth infection because the church did not believe in formal medical treatment. We went to the grottos when we were younger and I re beer being terrified of the grotto of agony. It had a the crucified Jesus along with a huge snake sculpture around the entrance. Inside was a statue of Mary lit up with red lights. For me being young, it scared me! Over on the winery side there are cave like structures that are still visible. Broken statues still lay in the debris of a fallen she’d.I believe there is a record of true history kept here, but no one really wants to share. It’s kind of a hidden town secret.

    1. Chris

      Shana,

      What a great connection to the history! I wish we had access to some of your mom’s info while we were trying to do research–there wasn’t much that we could find that was easily accessible! Sounds like she would’ve been THE person to chat with!

      The ‘Grotto of Agony’ definitely even just sounds scary. I imagine it would’ve put fear in to the mind of a child!

  13. Judy Keysa

    I remember St. Michael’s Mission well – As a child I lived in Rochester and was a member of St. Boniface Church. When I was a teenager in the early 80′s I attended retreats hosted by the Rochester Catholic Diocese thru our church for a couple summers. I remember walking the beautiful grottos where you said a special prayer at each statue, having evening bonfires (across the street from the mission we followed a path that lead to Hemlock Lake and there was a permanent fire pit), eating our meals in a grand dining room, sleeping in a room with three other girls (we all had little cot type beds). After I married and moved away from my childhood home, my parents moved to Conesus Lake, that is not far from the Mission. Some time near 1990 they read where the mission owners were having an estate type sale and everything would be sold. My parents bought a beautiful teak wood chandler that hung in the great room, several large wooded mirrors and other various items. Still today at 82, my mother enjoys the chandler that illuminates her cathedral room that over looks Conesus Lake.

    1. Chris

      Judy! What a great story! My father and aunt went to St Boniface school and lived there in the South Wedge as well. It’s on our list to visit someday for the purposes of this blog. In fact, I even have some photos that my grandfather took when it burned down in the 50′s–looking forward to sharing those.

      The chandelier sounds like an absolutely wonderful keepsake!

  14. Paul

    Thank you for this great summary on the Mission. It is a remarkable sight from the road and I would love to see the grottos and buildings.

    1. Chris

      Paul–the current group is looking to provide tours in the future, hopefully they’ll be able to get those up and running soon!!

  15. Marie

    I went to Jr. High at the mission. My school district rented the buildings for a short time. I loved going to school there and so did most of my peers. There seem to be fewer episodes of difficult behaviours, many believed it was due to the location as students with difficult behaviours were sometimes allowed to walk the grounds to “cool off”. I have some great memories of that time and not just because of my age as I, like most people at that age, was going through my own growing pains. It obviously brings peace to many. Great article, thanks for the walk down memory lane.

    1. Chris

      Marie,

      I can definitely see how the grounds at the Mission at one time would’ve had a tremendous calming affect on anyone in need of a tranquil experience. Glad you came across the piece and enjoyed. And, we’re glad you commented and said hello!!

  16. Steve

    I also attended Jr high at the mission and before and after that I worked part time at the vineyard and got to know a number of the Catholic Brothers who were studying to be priests who ran the farm operation. If I remember correctly the brothers pretty much supported themselves with their own food from the farm. I enjoyed many a lunch with the brothers and have some great memories of “the Mission”

    1. Chris

      Steve, that sounds like an absolutely incredible set of memories to have. Sounds like it would’ve been an honor to have been in their company!

  17. Sheila

    I lived near the Mission as we called it, and my husband and I built a home, raising our four children there for 19 years. The Mission was a beautiful place with well kept grounds.We also attended a few of the services there and some of the brothers were very special and we had become friends with them. They also let us cut some firewood on the property of the tress that were dead. . When I was 20, I worked at the winery in the vineyard. It was quite an experience. When I was a teenager and lived in Hemlock, I remember the young boys who went to the Mission which schooled the boys and I remember they would make the very long trek into town, by my home about once every three months or so. I am very glad to know the history of such a beautiful place. Thank you for a wonderful and enlightening article .

    1. Chris

      Thanks for your memories and history Sheila! It must’ve been a really neat place to be around back then. Really glad you enjoyed reading this piece!

  18. Sadie Grace

    I see the Mission every morning because I live directly opposite of it on the lake. I never knew the history or about the grotto’s. I moved here in 2000. I can’t wait for spring to go explore. Can anyone just go see it?

    1. Chris

      Sadie,

      Is it private property, so we wouldn’t recommend just going and exploring on your own. The caretakers that are there now are pretty friendly, I would recommend getting in touch with them. The grottos have technically been condemned due to safety reasons so even once you have permission to be on the property, you’ll still want to tread gingerly around them.

      1. Sadie Grace

        Ok. Thanks.

  19. Anne frances tubbs

    I grew up in Lima, member of St. Rose of Lima Parrish. In the early 70′s we had retreats and classes at St. Michaels Mission in class rooms, chapel and the beautiful grotto’s. Remember going up to the mission with my father who loved to travel back roads checking out things exploring. We would do the station of the cross at Easter and walk the grotto’s. At X-Mas went up to the tree farm cut down a tree. We always had good memories of that time so sad when we back in the late 80′s & 90′s how it changed. So nice to see that someone is going to try to save it.

    1. Chris

      Anne it sounds like your dad is just our kind of guy! So great that you have such fond memories of that time and all those places.

  20. Dave

    My father Dr. David Redding and a fellow chiropractor — Dr. Al Cera bought the mission around 1980 in an attempt to convert it into to a health spa and retreat center. They had a all natural health restaurant there. It didn’t take off like they thought and had to close.
    My father has much more information if you are interested in contacting him.
    Thank You!
    Dr. David Redding Jr.

    1. Chris

      Dave that’s a great connection!! We were in the very rooms where the health spa existed, and even some of the landscape-looking wallpaper is still up and ‘in tact’. Maybe we’ll be in touch soon to uncover more of that part of the story!

  21. Mark Schuster

    I remember this fondly. As a young adult and alter boy we would travel all the way from Dansville to the SVD Mission for Retreat – a 25 minute ride. The beautiful Gregorian Chats could be heard echoing throughout the buildings. We would walk the grottoes and pause and reflect at the many stations. It was a time of quiet reflection that, today, is sorely missing

    1. Chris

      What great memories Mark! Glad we were able to stir them up for you. The chants are something I wish there were recordings of somewhere. Reading all of our new visitors’ memories here make me wish I were alive back then to have experienced the tranquility so many are sharing!

      1. Mark Schuster

        Yes, Chris, they are. I did a google search for “svd mission Gregorian chants” and came across this website: http://www.svdvocations.org/Meet-Our-Seminarians—Missionaries/Priest/Fr–Dave-Mayer,-SVD.aspx Fr. Dave studied here and it may lead you to additional information about the Mission.

        Here is another link, “SVD Newsletter,” that may lead you to additional photos and information about the Mission: http://www.divineword.org/assets/1/AssetManager/SVD%20Alumni%20East%20Newsletter%20June_2012.pdf

        P.S. Fred Holmes, Sam McRae is a cousin of mine and my parents were married at St. Michael’s in Livonia Center in 1948.

        1. Chris

          These are great links–Thanks Mark!!!!

  22. Fred Holmes

    I lived on the Niver farm (now Begy’s) with my two brothers John and Ed from 1942 until 1954 when I went off to college. Ed and John were born on the farm. My father and mother (Harold and Winnie) were practicing Catholics and although we attended the church in Livonia Center, many times, the all male choir came to our church and sang the high mass. My Uncle Bernie, who lived with us worked in the vineyard when we moved to the farm until he retired. I went to summer school at the St. Michael s Mission and served as an altar boy at St Michaels in Livionia Center. Many times filling in as an altar boy with traveling priests from the mission as they said mass in churches too small to have a full-time priest. Fond memories of the mission. I remember the Iten’s, the Goerings. (Mr Goering was my godfather) and Sam McRae was my best friend. . AS a point of interest the Misssion only trained brothers not priests. Brothers served the church but were not ordained to say mass.

    1. Chris

      Thanks for these memories Fred, it’s awesome that you had such great experiences there growing up and have the memories of it all.

      Thanks for the clarification on the brothers/priests part–that’s good info!

  23. Pam

    I am VERY interested and anymore “stories” of Saint Michael’s Mission! Very well written article!

    1. Chris

      Thanks Pam!! We’re just as interested as you, this was a fun research project!

  24. Kathy

    Thank you so much for sharing this research. It has generated many comments, sharing memories by those who experienced Saint Michael’s Mission during the active years. This area has always intrigued me – each of the comments sheds a little more light.

    1. Chris

      Kathy,

      Our site has blown up the last day or so with people seeing this post so I figured it got posted somewhere popular recently. It’s great that so many people are enjoying this!!

  25. Norma

    Thank you for the wonderful story. Back in the sixties we attended Saint Mary’s School in Dansville & they took us there once or twice.

    1. Chris

      Thanks for reading and commenting Norma!!

  26. Fran Button

    I remember picking grapes in the Fall once when the seminarians were there running the winery and people were asked to volunteer to help harvest the grapes. I used to play the organ at St. Michael’s Church in Livonia Center (1969-1971) and there was a young priest from the Mission, Father Elmer Nadicksbend (sp?) who use to say Mass every other weekend alternately with Father LeFrois (Pastor of St Michael’s Church). He took some of the seminarians on a sledding trip to Letchworth Park and two of them went over the edge and were killed when they fell into the gorge. They weren’t recovered until May. That was a very sad time. I will never forget that when I think of the Mission. Still, it is a very beautiful, meaningful place.

    1. Chris

      Wow Fran, that’s an interesting piece of history but also really sad. It sounds like you had quite a connection to the Mission, we’re really glad you came across our site and got some enjoyment in reading this post. We’re grateful for you commenting and sharing this history!

    2. Laureen Sherner

      I remember St. Michael’s Mission. My parents took me there, I believe it must have been the late 50s, and I remember the grottoes intrigued me. We purchased rosaries and holy cards there. I feel that the grottoes were across the street from the two large buildings and feel that somewhere in my parents’ slides there may be pictures of St. Michael’s.

      I also have a memory of the seminarians from St. Michael’s who died at Letchworth Park. It was prominent in the news of this area.

      It was a very holy place and a wonderful memory!

      1. Luke

        Laureen,
        Thank you for sharing this memory with us. We are pleasantly surprised by all of the comments we have received of all of the people whom St. Michael’s Mission has touched and affected.

  27. Lorrie

    Enjoyed reading the article and all the posts!

    I attended an Engaged Encounter at St. Michael’s Mission in November 1980.

    Growing up in Springwater, and traveling over Bald Hill, almost daily, it was always a pleasant site to see across the lake.

    1. Luke

      Lorrie,
      Thank you for supporting our blog! The Finger Lakes are certainly a beautiful site to see.

  28. Betsy

    There is a home further down the road (on the right) that used to be a “nunery”.

    1. Luke

      Betsy,
      Do you know what the home is today? Is it still in use?

  29. Tricia

    I used to go there twice weekly to provide therapy services to a child who lived there. It was 6-9 years ago, and the place always intrigued me. The family occupied an area on the 3rd or 4th floor, and always had to send someone down to open the door. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Luke

      Tricia,
      Thank you for your comment. Having been on the 3rd and 4th floors, it certainly must have taken a long time for that person to walk all the way down to let you in!

  30. Peter

    I was there with my altar boy group as a twelve year old in 1964. We had lunch there with the brothers who were housed there, and even played a softball game against them and won. It was a beautiful building and the grotto was kept up…with statues and winding tunnels…we spent most of the day walking through those “tunnels” looking at the various statues of saints, etc. It was one, long continuous grotto….seemed like forever to a twelve year old….beautiful place.

    1. Luke

      Peter,
      While it is very overgrown and falling apart, it still has the sense of beauty you describe. I can only imagine how cool it must have been when you were 12-years-old and to be able to explore all of the tunnels. Thank you for supporting us.

  31. Brad

    I used to go up there a lot when I was a kid. Now that I’m living back in the area I might swing up there again. I always liked that place.

    1. Brad

      Oh, and this area is Western New York not upstate. Upstate begins just above NYC and doesn’t encompass everything outside of NYC.

    2. Luke

      Brad,
      It’s totally worth the visit!

    3. Luke

      Brad,
      We use the term Upstate NY because our blog as a whole encompasses religious places from Niagara Falls to Albany, which is where the religious revivalism of the Second Great Awakening occurred mostly during the early 1800s. Central and Western NY, which is where we identified the Mission to be is certainly smack dab in the middle of greater Upstate NY, so we agree with exactly what you said, so thank you for pointing that out!

  32. Linda

    In high school (in the 70′s) I used to spend some summer weekends at my friend’s cottage on Conesus Lake. Her father took us to walk the grottos at least once. I remember thinking that it was a pretty cool place. Then 15 years later my husband and I spent a weekend there on a retreat for engaged couples preparing to marry in the Catholic Church. We got to walk in one of the grottos together…..altogether a peaceful, lovely experience. Thanks for sharing the history.

    1. Luke

      Linda,
      We definitely wish we could have seen St. Michael’s Mission in all its glory. We have seen old pictures, but to have been there back then would have been awesome.

  33. Robert

    Received article from friends who live in the area. I attended St. Michael’s Mission House as a freshman Brother Candidate for the Society of the Divine Word, 1955-56. Kept my report card & rule book, along with two b/w photos of the Mission House & the playing fields looking down to Hemlock Lake.
    My wife & I plan on visiting St. Michael’s, part of my ” bucket list “, preferably during late summer, early fall.
    Thank you for sharing your visit.

    1. Luke

      Robert,
      That area of the Finger Lakes is certainly picturesque during the early fall so that sounds like a great time to go! Just take into consideration that the property is privately owned and anybody walking on it would be trespassing. However, the people there are very nice and as long as you just introduce yourself, they will welcome you with open arms. Thanks for reading.

  34. Mary

    Thank you for this lovely article, I didn’t know of the Mission’s existence and will become a place to visit. We hope the new owners won’t be deluged with visitors! I’m sure the Catholic Church, not knowing what the future held for the property, removed most religious items out of fear that they could be desecrated.

    1. Luke

      Mary,
      You are probably correct about the Catholic Church removing their items to keep them safe…because that’s what I would do! I am not sure the new owners would really mind being deluged with visitors because they certainly do want greater awareness of the services they offer, but they probably would appreciate people calling ahead :) Thank you for reading.

  35. Sammy

    I used to work at this mission before the church sold it…..
    some where not sure where I have photos of the grottos as they were and know very well how they were set up.
    The Father at the time I worked there told the story that when it was the school for the priest hood one of them could not pay for his schooling…and he build the grottos himself to pay for his way.
    They were really beautiful and very well carved out. they had candles lit in some of the stations.
    Yes it was very beautiful and I am glad that I learned what happened to them as I often wondered after the new owners took over…
    the photos of the upper floor do not look like they did when I worked there.
    Thank-you so much for the up date now I know
    :)

    1. Luke

      Sammy,
      You are welcome for the update and thank you for reading. We have not heard that story about how the grottos came to be and find that very interesting. If you ever find those photos please drop us a line, we would love to see them!

  36. Bob Flesch

    I have lived on Conesus Lake since 1963 and worked for Rochester Telephone Corp. for 37 years. Over the years the opportunity to work at the Mission installing telephones and systems was part of my job. Having complete access to the property and the Brothers I was able to experience the total area. It is ,as you have written, is extremely beautiful. My neighbor’s mother was the secretary there for many years.

    1. Luke

      Bob,
      My brother-in-law works for Monroe County doing HVAC and I am very envious of the places he has access to, so I can only imagine what you have seen during your time working for Rochester Telephone Corp. Please tell us if you have any suggestions of places we should check out!

  37. gary

    I remember the grottos and spending a weekend at St Michaels Mission back in 1966 for a retreat with my class from St Joseph’s school in Wayland. Spent time with the Brothers. Played baseball. Toured the winery. Got in trouble sampling too much wine. Father in charge of the mission scolded the brothers that were supervising the wine tour. The brothers all had to do penance for letting us drink.

    1. Luke

      That’s a great story Gary! I wonder if you were the only class allowed to “sample” as much as you did? LOL!

  38. Nicole (DeMoras) Puffer

    I met a lot of beautiful people at the Mission back in the ’80s. Fr. Dave held a few leadership retreats there and some of the attendees are now priests :). The grottos were more intact than they appear to be now and I remember candles in a few of them. Thank you for writing this article and sharing the photos.

    1. Luke

      Nicole,
      Thank you for reading. We are pleasantly surprised to have received such a response to this post and to inform people like yourself who have been to the Mission in the past as to what it is like now. Hopefully we can continue to bring similar experiences to you and others in the future.

  39. Linda

    Just discovered this site and found it very interesting as well as informative. I also was brought up not too far from the mission and used to go there as a place where I could talk to myself and put life into a new perspective. It was very relaxing and no one bothered me. Still go by there quite often and am very glad that it is being “put back together”. Thank you for researching this and it is great to see so much interest. (It was also pretty interesting to recognize some of the names of the people who have posted.)

  40. Cheri Seward Hillegeer

    My family attended St. MIchael’s church in Livonia Center in the 60′s and 70′s.My mom taught CCD at church and my family became friends with a lot of the brothers.They would often be at our house for dinner or parties or just hanging out.Both my brother and sister attended middle school at the mission and took guitar lessons from Brothers Bob Kelly and another who’s last name { i believe } was Callahan.Can’t remember his 1st name .I think of the brothers often and wonder what happened to them.Thank you for this article,brought back good memories !

  41. Barbara

    I remember Brothers from the Divine Word Seminary coming to the local churches to sing at midnight mass at Christmastime. I have some Pictures of the place taken in the 50′s and 60′s, but was unsure what had happened there in the last 40 years or so. It looks comparatively abandoned to the way I remember it in the 60′s, and I’m glad that it is still being put to use..

  42. Molly Gascon Baumbarger

    When I was a little girl my parents rented a house from the Mission that used to be an old school from what I am told. We lived at the end of Mission road and if you looked out from the driveway you saw the vineyards to the right and a field with horses to the left. Behind the house were apple trees filled with apples! Needless to say my mother was canning a lot and making pies, juices and jellies. I remember vividly the Mission, grottos and the brothers and Nuns who were in residence at there.
    My brothers and sister and I were all baptized at the Mission on the same day. I remember someone with a large white hat and long robes presenting my parents with a magnificent gold gilded bible that my parents still have to this day!
    I remember peeling apples in the kitchen of the Mission and helping the Brothers make pies. I was only 5 or 6 years old then. Too young to cut up the apples but old enough to put them on the peeler and turn the handle. I remember playing in the large gymnasium with my two brothers and sister Denise. The Brothers even let us explore the whole of the mission as long as we behaved and didn’t get to loud. I always said if I had the money I would buy the Mission and let all my friends live there.
    I looked forward to getting out of school because the first place I would go after school was the Mission to see the Brothers. I loved them all so! There were even times they would babysit us when my parents went out or had to work late . The grottos I knew like the back of my hand! My brothers used to blindfold me and see if I could navigate my way through from one end to the other and I succeeded every time with no peeking! My mother and father knew just where to find me when I had been gone too long. Either in the grotto or in the kitchen of the Mission.
    It was the early 70′s then. It was like a castle to me. My secret wonderland! I miss it so much. We lived there for a year or two before I started kindergarten until I was in the forth grade of Livonia primary school. I remember crying looking out the back window of my fathers car as we drove away from my castle. Although we moved to Florida then, we moved back to NY after only a couple years and I would go and visit the Mission as often as I could. I watched it slowly decay over the years and saw the grotto disappear much to my sadness. The Nuns that lived in the big house behind the Mission were gone and so were the Brothers.
    The last time I was there was just about 3 years ago and I stood in the Grotto of Agony and cried. I recounted all my carefree days as a child there and now I was looking at rubble. Just rubble. As I walked out with my eyes still filled with tears I became angry that no one had taken care of such a wonderful place and had just let it go to rot and ruin! To this day I still say ” If I had the money…!” The Mission is a place that is now and forever embedded in my memories and recalled with love and fondness. Your article and photos have brought back many memories for me, both good and, not so much bad as, sad at the loss of this remarkable and one of a kind place. Thank you for taking the time to bring it back to everyone if even for a moment.

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