Total Pageviews

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Church I Can't Visit: St. Dismas at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York

Generations of my family have worked at Clinton County Correctional Facility as Correction Officers.  From my Uncle Jimmy to my cousins who currently work at the prison, there are many stories to be told.

Terry, a retired officer, told me about Saint Dismas, the Church of the Good Thief, inside the walls of the prison and sent me this youtube link about the church.  Because of its location, this church is not open for public tours

So... Who was Saint Dismas?  He was one of the good thieves crucified with Jesus Christ at Golgotha. Never canonized, Saint Dismas is referred to as Jesus Christ's saint.  Second question: How was this church built?

Reverend Ambrose Hyland came to minister to the prisoners at Dannemora in 1937.  Building a church was part of his mission.  The New York League for Separation of Church and State opposed the church's construction.  The court ruled against the NY League on grounds of the Constitutional right of religious worship.  Reverend Hyland started gathering building materials.

Inmates started to build a church
with stone from buildings that had
been torn down within the prison's
walls, including the prison's
first cell block.

The Reverend relied on donations from everyone and anyone.  He gathered materials from torn down barns and other sources that are lost to history.  Former prisoner, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, donated the Appalachian Red Oak wood used to construct the church's pews.  Descendants of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, donated two angel carvings rescued from a ship that sank in the Philippines in the early 1500s.  Inmate Carmelo Soraci taught stained glass making and crafted the church's colorful windows.  Many of the stained glass windows feature the faces of prisoners.

It's hard to get pictures of the church.  I am crediting every source I found on the internet.

This inter-faith church was

Saint Dismas, the Church of the Good Thief was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1991.

The interior is beautiful.

Saint Dismas is in an alcove,
on the right when entering
the church.

Sometimes the most unique, interesting places are inaccessible, and must be written about.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Do you know if there is a list of inmates that participated in the building of the church? I know someone who's great grandfather was there during the time it was built and I believe he was a brick layer or mason by trade