Rev. P. A. Neville, rector of St. Bridgets Church, East Bloomfield, New York, has been an indefatigable worker in the interests of his religion and the church of which he has charge, and his life is so closely connected with that institution that a history of the one must of necessity be a history of the other.
When the Rev. Bernard O’Reilly and his brother William, in turn, visited the village of East Bloomfield in 1846, the Catholics in that section numbered only about forty. Three years later, Father Quigley received permission to visit the section and minister to the wants of the poor Catholics of the vicinity. After his departure the little fold was attended by the Rev. Edward O’Connor, of Canandaigua, and in 1852 he prevailed upon the still small community of Catholics to subscribe for the erection of a frame structure, thirty by forty feet in extent, to he used for divine services, and this was accomplished in the course of one year. Rev. Nicholas Byrne became the first resident pastor in March, 1856, and ministered to the dependencies-Victor, West Bloomfield, Honeoye Flats and East Mendon-and the little building was enlarged in order to hold the increased congregation. Rev. Patrick Lee was appointed in the latter part of April. 1857, by Rt. Rev. John Timon, was successful in the discharge of his duties, and Rt. Rev. John Timon, July 1, 1861, appointed Rev. William Hughes to assume charge of the mission. The Catholics of this community had no cemetery of their own in which to bury their dead, and in 1864 Rev. William Hughes purchased a site for that purpose. This piece of land, consisting of five acres, was purchased of Benjamin Bradley, and in three years the sum of twenty-four hundred dollars was paid for it. The first burial in this consecrated ground took place April 17, 1866, the body interred being that of William Mountain.
Rev. Hughes made an earnest appeal to his congregation to erect a building worthy of their religion and themselves, and in February, 1874, commenced to solicit subscriptions to further this end. He paid a visit to each family at the homestead, and in four days had received promissory notes amounting to thirteen thousand dollars. of which all except two hundred were paid within the course of two years. This amount was subscribed by one hundred and five people, and bishops and priests have declared that it is exceptional in the largeness of the amount subscribed, the short time of collection and the small number of subscribers. The corner-stone of the brick church of St. Bridget’s, whose exterior dimensions are one hundred and ten by forty feet, was laid August 2, 1874, and the dedication took place June 13, 1875. At that time everything necessary for the proper performance of divine service according to the Catholic ritual was provided, and even the magnificent grand organ was in place. The young ladies of the congregation, who numbered thirty-nine, had contributed enough money to build the altar, provided the necessary adornments thereto, and the carpeting of the sanctuary, sacristy and the aisles of the edifice, at a cost of eight hundred dollars. A number of persons, not of the Catholic faith, assisted them in this worthy object by contributions, and it is to he hoped that their names will be held in reverence. In 1879 Father Hughes was requested by Rt. Rev. Bishop McQuaid to relinquish the charge of West Bloomfield, which has since that time been ministered to from Lima. A resident pastor was sent to Victor in 1882, and thus East Bloomfield alone remained in the charge of Father Hughes, and he administered the spiritual and temporal affairs of East Bloomfield parish until his death, November 21, 1891, a period of more than thirty years. His illness commenced in August of the last named year, and during its course and until the appointment of Rev. M. J. Garvey in 1896, the parish affairs were in charge of Rev. J. J. Donnelly, the pastor of Victor. Rev. M. J. Garvey took up the pastorate in May, 1896. He was a conscientious, strong and energetic young priest, the first to be sent from St. Bernard’s Seminary of Rochester, and he was received with warmth and good feeling by his new congregation. The first manifestation of this was their refusal to permit him to dwell in the old pastoral residence which had seen service for so many years, and which was destroyed by fire the following year. A subscription was immediately taken up in the parish, and from the money thus collected the present beautiful rectory was built. Father Garvey immediately had the interests of the church at heart. One of his first and very early steps towards its improvements was the substitution of a steel ceiling for the plaster one in use, which was a source of continual danger to the worshippers. Another improvement was the mode of heating, which the had changed from the old unsatisfactory furnace to the modern style of hot-water heating, which has been installed and which is as nearly perfect as it is possible to have. Father Garvey was in office but two short years when he was promoted to the larger field of Livonia and its dependencies, and July 7, 1898, Rev. P. A. Neville, the present incumbent, who was also a graduate of the celebrated St. Bernard’s Seminary, was appointed.
The first active work accomplished by Father Neville after his arrival was the erection of the present sightly and substantial barn, the building of a board walk, extending from the street in front and around the south side of the house, and thence to the church. This was much needed, as the grounds were newly laid out, and added much to the beauty and perfection of the newly made lawn. After seven years of service the walk was replaced by a substantial cement walk which was at this time extended all along the front of the church property, and at a cost in the neighborhood of three hundred dollars. About this time also, Father Neville installed a new and large hot water boiler in the church basement, and decorated the interior of the church, both improvements costing about seven hundred and fifty dollars. His attention was also given to the beautifying and decorating of the cemetery. The unsightly raised lots and mounds were leveled, the ground throughout plowed and worked, and newly seeded, and a beautiful, level, green lawn was toe result. Besides the many improvements he made and paid for, Father Neville reduced the debt of the church from three thousand two hundred dollars (two thousand six hundred of which was a mortgage held by the Cayuga County Savings Bank of Auburn, New York, and for over thirty years it had remained the same, with only the annual interest paid, and six hundred dollars of which was a floating’ debt), to one thousand five hundred dollars, the present indebtedness. The annual first communion for children is given on the first Sunday in July, and the Bishop visits the parish every third year for confirmation. The parish does not grow in membership for the reason that the young people as soon as they reach the age of maturity go elsewhere to seek employment, there being no means of livelihood except the farm, which many. especially the young men, exchange for the more attractive, but more often ill-paid positions in the cities. However, there are about five hundred members of the parish who are content to remain at home, and the farms which they do not disdain to till render them good returns and give to their tillers a free and independent life.