HISTORY OF THE CHURCH
The Catholic settlers of eastern Connecticut in the Colonial period were, for the most part, descendents of the early Irish settlers of New England, many of whom were indentured servants in the service of Protestant masters. These early settlers suffered much injustice at the hands of the Puritans. Victims of intolerance in their native land, the Puritans were themselves equally intolerant when clothed with power. Despite this hostile atmosphere, devoted Catholics secretly attended Masses celebrated by itinerant missionary priests in private homes, public halls, and even barns.
Unfortunately, this hostile attitude persisted well beyond the Colonial period in eastern Connecticut and was particularly active in the first half of the nineteenth century where it was promoted in the public press and in published books. In the political arena, one of the objectives of the Know Nothing Party formed in 1853 was to resist the perceived “insidious policy” of the Papacy against democratic institutions in this country. During the same period Connecticut witnessed the resurgence of Protestant ministerial participation in politics, and this found its way directly to the state level.
These impediments, not withstanding, the Catholic population continued to grow. This growth, not surprisingly, correlates with the accelerated development of industry in eastern Connecticut, particularly in railroad building and textile manufacturing and, to a lesser extent, in other industries and farming. The first two industries, in the form of the Norwich and Worcester and the Hartford and Providence railroads, and the Ashland Cotton Company and the John F. Slater Mills, impacted directly on the Catholic growth in St. Mary Parish. This economic development created job opportunities for immigrants—a need that could not be filled otherwise.
The resultant growth of jobs, coupled with the unfavorable conditions for the poor and downtrodden outside of the United States, beckoned waves of immigrants to fill these jobs, most of them from Catholic countries. First, in the 1840’s, came the Irish fleeing the Potato Famine; then, a second wave of French Canadians drawn by the higher wages in the years surrounding the Civil War. Finally, the third wave, consisting of Poles and ethnic groups from southeastern Europe and the Middle East, came in the pre- and early - 1900’s seeking a better life. The first two waves answered the call of the railroad industry, particularly, and to some extent the textile industry. The last responded most emphatically to job opportunities in the textile industry and small businesses.
The Catholic Church was officially established in Connecticut in 1829 with the arrival in Hartford of the Reverend Bernard O’Cavanagh, the first pastor assigned to the Catholics of that city, with the state as his field of missionary effort. There was no parish, church, or resident priest in Connecticut before this time. In 1835 there were 720 Irish in the entire state. In the following quarter century that number increased to 55,000! During this period, in 1843, the Diocese of Hartford was established.
Between 1877, five years after our parish had been established, and 1924, some three million Poles immigrated to the United States. Their goal was to save their earnings, return home, and reestablish their families’ landed-peasant status. Many, however, as some in our parish, found work in American urban factories and remained.
Thus it was the influx of immigrants from Catholic-based regions, responding to the needs of the economic development in eastern Connecticut, that played the key role in the growth of our parish and the building of our church one hundred years ago.
Our parish celebrated the Centenary of the dedication of our beautiful St. Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary church in 2007. Bishop Michael Cote of the Norwich Diocese officiated at the concelebrated mass.
Below we trace the development of our parish, with particular emphasis on the church edifice, from the early mission days to the present.
1829-1872 The Mission Days
About the year 1835, the residents of Jewett City were mostly native born and Protestant in religion. The construction of the Norwich and Worcester Railroad, completed in 1839, was the beginning here of an influx of people of the Catholic faith, predominantly Irish and some early French Canadian immigrants.
The first Mass offered within the boundaries of Jewett City was celebrated in 1857 by Reverend Michael McCabe, a Franciscan friar from Danielson. Tradition implies that this first Mass was offered in the stone house situated next to the present rectory on North Main Street. The Catholic population at this time numbered twenty five families, all Irish.
After the death of Fr. McCabe in 1859, Father Philip Daly, who had established his residence in Moosup, ministered at the Jewett City “mission station”.
During and after the Civil War, great numbers of French Canadians emigrated to the New England states and a number of these families settled in Jewett City. The French Canadians were mostly all Catholics and greatly strengthened the Church, so that on September 25, 1865, Reverend James Quinn,the missionary priest who had succeeded Father Daly, purchased the stone house for the use of the growing Catholic congregation. The house was sold eight years later.
Desiring a more formal house of worship, Father Quinn purchased a small fieldstone church from the Congregational Society on April 10, 1866, for $1,700 ($23,500)*. The church was built by the Episcopalians in 1815 and was located on a parcel of land now known as Fanning Park, facing the point.
Father Quinn had the church renovated for Catholic worship. On June 3, 1866, the consecration of this building was celebrated. The enterprising pastor then demonstrated a flair for fundraising by beseeching each person, including visitors, who attended the services on that day to contribute the sum of one dollar. Approximately $500 ($7000) was thus raised, nearly a third of the purchase price of the church.
The mission at Jewett City, for an unknown reason, then came under the temporary administration of the St. Mary Parish in Norwich between 1867 and 1870. It was returned to the jurisdiction of the Moosup parish in 1870. In 1872 the mission was raised to the status of an independent parish.
1872-1902 The Early Parish Days
The first pastor, Rev. James B. Reynolds, arrived in Jewett City in the summer of 1872 to administer to the members of the newly established parish popularly known as “Our Lady of the Rosary”, although the official name was “St. Mary”. He would be followed by three other pastors, Rev. John P. Russell (1875-1878), Rev. Thomas P. Joynt (1878-1883), and Rev. Francis P. O’Keefe (1883-1902).
The first thirty years of the parish were marked by a nearly fivefold increase in the number of parishioners from 360 in 1872 to 1650 in 1900. Illustrative of the changing demographics during this period, most of the parishioners were of Irish descent in 1872, but only a third by 1900, the rest being of French-Canadian descent.
Also characteristic of this period was the significant addition to the assets of the parish, a recognition of the foresight and vision of the early pastors. In the first year the Samuel Cole estate on North Main Street was purchased for $3000 ($51,000). The building located on this site served as the first rectory. This site would continue to serve this purpose in later versions of the rectory up to the present time.
Three years later in 1875, the seating capacity of the small stone church was enlarged and its stonework was boarded over and covered with white-painted siding. In addition, a wooden vestry was added to the back of the structure.
Five years later, the parochial residence on the Cole estate was replaced by a newly-constructed rectory. Then two years later, in 1882, a tract of land was purchased in Lisbon to serve as the parish burial ground and to be known as St. Mary Cemetery. Prior to this, the deceased were interred in Norwich.
In June 1883, the mission relationship that existed between our parish, Taftville, and Occum ceased when those missions attained the status of independent parishes.
By 1891, the rapid growth of the parish membership signified that the future would require a corresponding increase in the landed assets of the parish. And so it was then that the Enoch Hawkins estate, located to rear of the little white church, (the land on which our present church is situated) was purchased for the sum of $2000 ($45,000).
At last, the parish was in a prosperous condition and well-positioned for the future.
1902-1911 Rev. John H. Fitzmaurice
Reverend John H. Fitzmaurice succeeded Father O’Keefe as pastor in 1902. By this time, the church was more cosmopolitan. Numbers of emigrants from Poland and other eastern Europe and Middle East countries, who had left their homelands in search of religious and political freedom as well as economic betterment, had settled here. The influx of Poles reached its apex during the years 1904-1905.
This remarkable growth of the parish necessitated the continuous employment of a curate to assist the pastor, particularly one with language skills. This procedure was to be followed at St. Mary Parish for the next half century or so.
By 1905, there were 550 Irish Americans, 1100 French Canadians and an unspecified number of Polish Americans in the parish.The little white church no longer could accommodate all the parishioners, and it became imperative to build a new and much larger house of worship.
The new church was to be a magnificent building with a high steeple, typical of the times. An ambitious fund drive was organized by Father Fitzmaurice to raise $55,000 ($1.4 million). A site was chosen at the rear of the small church on land acquired earlier for this purpose. Ceremonies of the laying of the cornerstone took place on Sunday afternoon, August 19, 1906. This was preceded by much fanfare, parades, and participation by various societies of the parish. At the church, His Excellency Bishop Michael Tierney, passed through the receiving line to the new church site, blessed the foundation and laid the cornerstone.
Nine months later, in the Spring of 1907, the building was nearing completion. It was an impressive edifice! The interior was a fine example of English architecture. The exterior structure was of selected red brick, Indiana limestone and Portland brownstone with terra cotta trimming. The front gable boasted a large rose window of stained glass that was situated above the organ in the spacious choir gallery. The tower on the southwest corner soared 120 feet above the cornerstone and was capped by a large gold cross. The bell that had been installed in the small fieldstone church by the Congregationalists in 1838 was moved to the steeple of the new church. Today that same bell still rings out from the belfry of St. Mary Church!
The Dedication ceremonies took place on Trinity Sunday, May 26, 1907 and were performed by His Excellency Bishop Tierney. There were addresses in English, French, and Polish. In the evening, Solemn Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was attended by the parishioners and guests.
Three years later the residence and grounds of the Alfred Brown estate, nearly opposite the church on North Main Street, were added to the parish holdings. Fr. Fitzmaurice intended to convert the Brown house into a parochial school and convent for the Daughters of the Holy Spirit, an order of nuns who had recently fled France because of persecution. However, it would be his successor who would carry out his wishes since Fr. Fitzmaurice was transferred to his next pastoral assignment.
1911-1915 Rev. Edward M. Hayes
The teaching nuns did not arrive until Labor Day of 1911. The new pastor, Reverend Edward M. Hayes, welcomed the five French-speaking “White Sisters” as the nuns were called because of the color of their habits.
The building acquired earlier from the Brown estate by Fr. Fitzmaurice served as the first convent and school. The two front rooms were converted into classrooms serving three grades. In addition, the wooden vestry that had been added to the old stone church about 1876 was moved to the rear of the convent and converted into a third classroom. The first week following the opening found the school at its capacity of fifty students.
The initial First Communion class of sixty boys and forty six girls, instructed by the nuns, received the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist on June 2, 1912. Prior to this time, the children had made their First Holy Communion privately or in small groups.
On July 12, 1912, St. Mary Parish sold the one-fourth acre of land and the small church for $4000 ($84,000). David Hale Fanning of Worcester, Massachusetts, who had been born and brought up in Jewett City, purchased the property for the Borough of Jewett City and also supplied the funding for the extensive landscaping of the site.
The title to the land was transferred to the Borough by Mr. Fanning on the condition that the church be removed within three months and that the land would always be used as a public park and soldiers’ monument site. If ever it were used for any other purpose, the land would revert to the parish. In appreciation of his generosity, the town named the lovely area Fanning Park.
1915-1932 Rev. John J. McCabe
On April 10, 1915, Reverend John J. McCabe succeeded Father Hayes, who had been forced to leave because of illness.
Father McCabe had but one goal, and that was to build a new parochial school. However, the parish finances did not permit that. The next best decision was made.
On August 21, 1920, the parish acquired for one dollar ($10) the house adjacent to the church on North Main Street (which still exists). Father McCabe remodeled the building as a parochial school, installed classroom equipment, and increased the teaching staff to nine nuns. The property was sold in 1953 for $14,500 ($147,000)
The growth of the parish had been phenomenal. Since 1900 the number of parishioners had nearly doubled to 2,500. There were more than 150 students attending the parochial school. More expansion was inevitable.
In 1928, the dream of Father McCabe was realized. The construction of a new parochial school, costing approximately $150,000 ($1.8 million) was to commence. It would be a two story building of tapestry brick in the Italian Renaissance style, and would contain twelve rooms. Earle E. Gilbert of Jewett City was awarded the contract to build the school.
The contract also called for the moving of the convent, situated on the former Brown Estate adjacent to the rectory, to a new site north of the new school on Main Street, on land now used as the school playground. The convent was remodeled, its porches removed, and the interior renovated with new furnishings all donated by Catholics and non-Catholics of Jewett City and vicinity. A lovely chapel was added to the structure.
November 4, 1928, witnessed the laying of the cornerstone of the new school by His Excellency Bishop John J. Nilan of Hartford, and the blessing of the convent. The events were accompanied by much fanfare with parades, marching bands, and automobiles carrying distinguished guests from all levels of government and industry.
On May 5, 1929, the new school building was blessed by Bishop Nilan before an assemblage of over three thousand persons. Following the blessing, addresses were delivered in English, French and Polish.
School began the next day in the new building. By September 1929, the enrollment had attained a new high of 275 pupils.
1932-1941 Rev. John H. Quinn
The next pastor, Rev. John H. Quinn, who succeeded Fr. McCabe in 1932 had the heavy burden of contending with both the Depression and the Hurricane of 1938. The latter’s effect is still evident. On that fateful day of September 21, 1938, sustained winds of 121 miles per hour battered Jewett City, leaving extensive damage to buildings in its wake. The high velocity winds buffeted the 55-foot spire of St. Mary Church so severely that it was displaced almost a foot off its base. Father Quinn feared greatly for the safety of pedestrians passing beneath. He engaged a crew of steeplejacks to remove the weakened steeple on September 29, and thus changed the facade of St. Mary Church.
By 1939, there were nearly 500 students attending St. Mary School. During the ten years following the building of the new school the enrollment had nearly doubled. This growth in students reflected itself in a corresponding increase of the teaching staff.
1941-1957 Rev. Msgr. Alred F. Driscoll
On August 1, 1941, Reverend Alfred F. Dris-coll succeeded Fr. Quinn as the new pastor. Fr. Driscoll inherited a parish heavily in mortgage debt attributed to the church and school buildings. Furthermore, no significant renovations of the church interior had taken place up to this time, and this situation too, needed attention. Fortunately, the new pastor was up to the task and many milestones were achieved during his sixteen year tenure.
One of his first actions took place in 1942 when he purchased land for a future convent (now the site of our Parish Center). Three years later, he had the old pipe organ in the church replaced by a modern electronic version.
Recognizing the need to position the parish in a more viable financial condition, Fr. Driscoll energetically introduced numerous fundraising events such as a parish supper the Sunday before Ash Wednesday (still practiced), ham and bean suppers on Sunday evenings, strawberry festivals in summer, carnivals, bingo, and a Ferris wheel and games for children extending over weekends, to mention a few.
A most notable milestone was attained in 1952 with the ceremonial retirement of the church mortgage. The occasion was blessed by the presence of His Excellency Bishop Henry J. O’Brien, Bishop of Hartford. On August 6, 1953, St. Mary Parish, formerly a part of the Diocese of Hartford, came under the jurisdiction of the newly created Diocese of Norwich.
By 1954 the major parish debts having been retired, Rev. Driscoll, with his characteristic determination, turned his efforts to the matter of church renovation. The original high altar was replaced by a low, gracefully-shaped oak altar. New kneelers with padding were installed and terrazzo covered aisles were laid.
The Stations of the Cross were gold-leafed, then removed from their large surface-mounted bas relief frames and recessed into the walls. A new lighting system was installed with chain lamps hung from the centers of the interior arches.
The renovation was supervised by the Alba and Ellis Company of New York City and was completed in 1955. Subcontracts were awarded to two local contractors: Leo E. Methot for painting and decorating, and James Spellman for electrical work.
Another important event occurred this same year when Rev. Driscoll was vested with the robes of domestic prelate and thus became the first pastor in our parish to acquire the title of “Monsignor.” A testimonial dinner was held in his honor by the parishioners.
A rededication of the church was held on November 15, 1955 to recognize the renovations. A Solemn High Mass was said by His Excellency, Bernard J. Flanagan, Bishop of Norwich, with Monsignor Driscoll as the co-celebrant. A dinner was given for the attending clergy following the Mass.
One of the last financial transactions by Msgr. Driscoll was the purchase of approximately thirty eight acres of land on Lily Pond Road for the sum of one dollar in April 1957 for future use as a second cemetery. St. Mary Cemetery in Lisbon had by this time become too small for the future needs of the parish.
Msgr. Driscoll, in spite of his many renovation projects, still managed to achieve his goal of leaving the parish in a debt-free condition. This fact is an evident recognition of his success as fundraiser and administrator.
1957-1976 Rev. Msgr. Vincent D. Murphy
On July 2, 1957, Reverend Vincent D. Murphy arrived in Jewett City and assumed the duties of pastor of St. Mary Parish. Five years later in March 1962, he would be elevated to the rank of domestic prelate with the title of “Monsignor”, the second pastor in the parish to achieve this rank.
Soon after assuming office, Fr. Murphy embarked on a program to continue the work of his predecessor in upgrading the structural assets of the parish. Fortunately, he also displayed a religious zeal, combined with a spirit of enterprise, and the ability to engage the whole-hearted support of the parish members to finance his efforts.
His first major project was the complete renovation of the church basement or Church Hall as it is called today. A new entrance was built, the floor and ceiling were retiled, the walls panelled, a new kitchen installed, and the stage enlarged and modernized. The renovation was completed in December of 1959, at a cost of $46,000 ($332,000).
Fr. Murphy next turned his attention to the convent and the rectory, both of which had been converted from former residences and had limitations in size and convenience. In 1961 he came to the conclusion that modernization of the ninety-year old convent and the eighty-year old rectory was not financially feasible. The only solution would be to demolish both of these structures and build new ones. (Recall that this convent had already seen one renovation after it had been moved north of the parochial school location during Fr. McCabe’s pastorate.) The new convent would be positioned next to the rectory, on land purchased in 1942 by Msgr. Driscoll for this purpose.
His Excellency Bishop Hines gave his approval for both projects. In September 1961 an intensive fundraising campaign was initiated with donors being offered the opportunity of memorializing their gifts by having their names inscribed on a memorial tablet. Over 200 volunteers participated in the fund drive. The estimated cost of the construction program was $308,946 ($2,048,000). To pay this heavy cost, each wage earner in the parish was asked to pledge one day’s wages per month for 30 months, in effect, over one month’s wages!
The convent and rectory were to be of contemporary design with white brick to blend in with the color of the school. The convent would be an L-shaped building of two stories, with a walled-in cloistered garden, chapel, library, kitchen, dining room, refectory, community room, three visitors’ rooms, two offices, and sixteen sleeping rooms. The new rectory would feature four offices, a common room, kitchen, dining room, pastor’s suite and study, two curate bedrooms with adjoining studies, two guest rooms, two rooms for domestic help, a three-car garage, and a basement meeting room.
On May 13, 1963, the newly completed convent and rectory were dedicated before a large assemblage of parishioners. His Excellency Bishop Hines officiated at the ceremonies. Participating in the dedication were the secretary to the bishop, Reverend William J. Ziegler; Monsignor Murphy; our curates, Reverend Edward F. Frigault and Reverend Aloysius J. Kisluk; the Sisters of our parish; and nine Sisters who were natives of Jewett City. After the ceremonies there was an open house and tours of both buildings.
During the remaining thirteen years of Monsignor’s pastorate no significant changes to the physical structure of the church were made except those mandated by the Vatican II directives. One notable change was the replacement of the oak altar at the rear wall of the sanctuary, dating back to 1955, by another from which the priest would be facing the congregation.
A very important milestone was celebrated in 1972, the centenary of the parish. This lasted from Sunday, Oct. 1 through Sunday Oct. 8. The week started out with an outdoor Mass at Griswold High School Field preceded by a procession. During the week several other special masses were held, followed by the highlight event, a concelebrated mass with the Most Reverend Vincent J. Hines, Bishop of Norwich as principal celebrant. Priests who had served the parish and “native sons” participated. Following the Mass, a Centennial Banquet was held in the Church Hall. Many other celebratory events took place during the week involving parishioners of all ages.
In 1976, the Monsignor’s devoted service to St. Mary Parish came to an end, though he continued his residence as pastor emeritus for a period of time.
1976-1985 Rev. William A. McNulty
The incoming pastor, Rev. McNulty, was the first of the five pastors of the La Salette order who would serve St. Mary Parish during the next quarter century. This was not the first time that the La Salettes had made an appearance at this parish. Over eighty years earlier in February and March of 1893, the Fathers had conducted Lenten missions in French at the small stone church referred to then as Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Jewett City.
It wasn’t long before the new pastor was confronted with structural issues concerning the church and other parish property. One of the first of these was replacement of all windows in the school in 1977-78. The contract for this large project was awarded to Architectural Sash of NY and NJ for $38,500 ($120,000).
The last major renovation of the church interior had taken place over twenty years earlier during Rev. Driscoll’s time and the condition of the walls was evidence of this fact. The seventy-year old plaster had surrendered to age and had developed cracks. Furthermore, it was proving to be inadequate as a barrier to heat loss during the cold winters.
Action had to be taken. The simplest and most practical approach was adopted. First the loose plaster was removed and the areas patched after which the walls were covered with a layer of insulation followed by installation of sheetrock. This meant that the recessed stations either had to be removed and the resulting cavities filled with an insulating barrier or be covered up. (It is not recorded which approach was followed.) Upon the completion of this step, the entire interior of the church was repainted. All wood paneling was cleaned and re-varnished.
Additionally, two reconciliation rooms were installed at the back of the church, one each between the central entrance and a side entrance. The entire project was contracted out in 1978 and completed that same year. The cost of restoration was approximately $33,000 ($89,000).
Renovations also were made to the exterior of the church. These consisted of repointing masonry joints, washing all of the exterior masonry with water and detergent under high pressure, reinforcing the belfry and rafter ties and removing decayed flooring in the tower basement. In addition, all decayed wooden eaves were replaced, as were the gutters and roof flashing. Selective replacement or repair of roof shingles was completed. All previously painted wood and metal were repainted. In addition, cosmetic repairs were made to the main external cross. The work was performed by S & J Renovating Contractor of Southington, CT at a cost of $70,000 ($215,000).
During this period municipalities finally were coming to terms with safety compliance issues in public buildings, especially those serving the elderly and handicapped. Churches were no exception. At St. Mary Church such matters were dealt with in an expeditious manner. An example of this was the installation in 1983 of a handicap ramp on the south side of the church. The architect was A. W. Mastronunzio. Burns and Valentine Co. of Jewett City performed the work for $21,841 ($44,560). A small asphalt parking lot abutting East Main Street was constructed the same year to complement the ramp.
1985-1988 Rev. Victor Chaupetta
The second of the La Salette Fathers, Rev. Chaupetta, arrived in 1985. By that time the church had been under renovation and repair for seven years. Although many problems had been addressed, a number of issues remained.
One of these was the condition of the three front doors. Dating back to 1955 (when they were installed during the period of Msgr. Driscoll), the much utilized oak doors were showing their age and were in need of attention. After some consideration, Fr. Chaupetta chose not to attempt repairs on the wooden doors but rather to replace them with metal clad doors, which would improve their durability.
The doors were designed to order and built in Germany. They were purchased through H.H. Enterprises of Braintree, MA and installed by that firm in 1987 at a cost of $17,250 ($30,810).
A fundraising drive was initiated to pay for the doors, and a handsome plaque, memorializing the contributors, was commissioned. This plaque is mounted on the interior wall of the church near the left front entrance.
1988-1997 Rev. John E. Welch
It was on August 30, 1988 that Fr. John E. Welch assumed the role of pastor of St. Mary Parish. Father John was not unfamiliar with our parish as he had been assigned here, twice previously, as the associate priest during Father McNulty’s tenure—once in 1979 and later in 1985.
It was not long after assuming the pastorate that Father John resumed the exterior renovation programs that his predecessors had started. The first of these was the re-roofing of St. Mary School in 1989.
Next on the list were several needed modifications to the exterior of the church, modifications that, again, were driven by safety issues. The first of these was the installation of an inclinator (handicap lift) at the northeast corner of the church in June 1990.
The second modification, and by far the most significant one, pertained to the deteriorating condition of the front entrance. Usage and weather had taken their toll on the front steps and terrace. The brownstone staircases had become worn and cupped and in this condition presented a safety hazard to parishioners, especially to the elderly.
After considerable deliberation and with input and advice from a committee of concerned parishioners headed by E. Malek and F. J. Sharkey, Jr., Fr. Welch concluded that the only practical solution would be a complete overhaul of the entire front entrance way. This meant that the stairway system and surrounding terraces would have to be removed and reconstructed with granite. Not only would this be a long-lasting solution, but it would also complement the stately beauty of the church.
After the removal of the old steps and terraces, the entire undersurface was excavated to permit installation of forms for a concrete foundation. Next the concrete was poured for the foundation after which the excavated fill was replaced. The fill and the concrete foundation together serve as a sturdy base for the granite steps and terrace. The project was completed on Dec. 20, 1990, only three months from the start of excavation on Sept. 20!
Actual cost of the project was $87,000 ($132,000). considerably lower than the true cost, because of the generosity of the American Sand & Gravel Co., which donated the concrete, and of the A. D. Tripp Co., then a local firm, which covered the cost of the delivery of the granite slabs.
Additional safety measures were taken early in 1991 with the installation of a system of attractive steel railings with bronze tops, serving each of the three front entrances. The railings added an additional touch of classic beauty to the granite entrance way. The contractor was Hageman Iron Works of Colchester, CT. The cost was $11,500 ($17,000).
Two years later, in 1993, an additional safety problem was resolved by the replacement of the back entrance steps to the church from East Main Street. Like the front entrance, the material used was granite. The cost of the installation was subsidized by a generous parishioner. At this point all major exterior safety issues had been addressed and resolved.
On August 8, 1996 Rev. René L. Parent joined Fr. John as a co-pastor in a team ministry that extended until Father John’s transfer a little over a year later.
1997-2001 Rev. Gerard Boulanger and Rev. Rene’ Parent
Fr. Welch was succeeded by Rev. Gerard Boulanger on September 15, 1997. Fr. Gerry, with Fr. René as pastor during his absence, administered to the congregation for the next four years.
The dwindling student enrollment at St. Mary School took its toll on the size of the teaching staff. Alas, July 2001 marked the departure of the remaining beloved teaching nuns of the Daughters of the Holy Spirit who had served so effectively at St. Mary School since 1911, a period of ninety years!
The Sisters had responsibilities in both the academic and religious lives of the families of St. Mary Parish. In addition to teaching, they prepared children for the reception of the Sacraments, assisted priests and performed various outreach functions, such as visiting elderly and incapacitated parishioners in their homes and those in hospitals. Hundreds of former students of the Sisters have fond memories of their devotion to teaching.
Following the departure of the nuns, the convent built in 1963 was converted into a multi-purpose Parish Center. Daily Masses are held there in the Chapel, meeting rooms are used for various parish functions and conferences and housing is provided for visiting priests and guests of the parish.
The departure of Fr. René and Fr. Gerry in September 2001 marked the last assignments of the La Salette priests who had served our parish since 1976. Our parish, however, retains ties to the La Salette order through a former member of our parish and a graduate of St. Mary School, the Very Rev. Joseph Bachand, M.S. who was elected in October 2006 to the position of Provincial Superior of the La Salette Order in the United States.
2001-2005 Rev. Peter Liszewski
Our next pastor, Father Peter B. Liszewski, arrived on September 18, 2001. Not long after that he began to address renovation issues in the church and in other parish buildings.
One of the first of these was the removal of a number of half-rows of pews at the front of the church to provide maneuvering space to accommodate various church functions and also at the back of the church. This area then was completed with the installation of beige carpeting, which also was installed at the back of the church.
Father Peter initiated a parish fund drive in order to purchase the beautiful gold processional cross and matching altar and sanctuary candlesticks which are in use now. The two stands for votive candles were moved to the back of the church and complemented by full-sized statues of saints. A sidewall alcove was renovated to accommodate a holy water font and an attractive cabinet for sacramental oils.
The unreliable condition of the rectory furnace was fast approaching a crisis situation and needed immediate attention. The decision was made to replace the original furnace with a new and more efficient system. A fundraising campaign was initiated to cover the estimated cost of $35,000.
The original electrical system for the church was showing its age and proving to be inadequate for the increasing demands for power. A major upgrade of the system to a three-phase 600 Amp service was necessary. This would involve considerable upgrading of the electrical system within the church basement as well as work external to the church. The latter consisted of an upgrade of the connections to the borough service lines across East Main Street.Permission to carry out the upgrade was granted in June 2004.
Fr. Peter was unable to complete these two major tasks before he left for his next pastoral assignment on January 5, 2005.
2005-2007 Rev. Joseph B. Whittel
The first order of business for our present pastor, Fr. Joseph B. Whittel, who assumed the pastorate on January 5, 2005, was to seek additional funding for the rectory furnace replacement. This was accomplished and a new furnace was installed early in 2005, just in time to handle the cold winter weather.
The condition of the nine small roofs on the perimeter of the church had deteriorated and demanded attention. Re-shingling of all asphalt roofs and installation of copper flashing was performed.
Phase I, the upgrade of the external underground tie-in to the town power lines, began in the Fall of 2005. Phase II was initiated in 2006. It consisted of the replacement of existing circuit breaker panels and the installation of four new ones distributed at various locations on the basement level serving the boiler room, kitchen, and church hall, and one large breaker panel in the sacristy serving the church proper. The total cost for this was approximately $15,500 and was completed by Bonner Electric Inc. of Uncasville in February 2006.
The interior of the upper church also received attention in 2006. This included a repainting of the interior, the installation of recessed lights over the side aisles and the installation of a new sound system to provide better sound quality and more uniform coverage. The latter work was performed by Unitech Sound and Security of Newington, CT. at a cost of $15,000.
The restoration and emergency repair efforts were extended to the Rectory and Parish Center during the same year. For the Rectory, the front door and the faded and damaged shutters were repaired and painted an attractive burgundy color. In the Parish Center, a coat of cream-colored paint was applied to the walls of the chapel and the halls and major rooms on the second floor.
The sacristy of the church and the Reconciliation Room were painted and new carpeting was installed in early 2007. Plans have been made for the re-carpeting and painting of the sanctuary.
All painting and repair work was performed by volunteer labor at minimal cost to the parish.
2007-2010 Rev. William Olesik
*Numbers in () indicate price in 2007 dollars.