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The Catholics and their churches.

Judge Charles J. McIntire.
For more than tenscore years and ten after Governor Winthrop and his associates sailed up the Charles River and found a suitable spot on which to plant their fortified Newe Towne, the Catholics had not attained sufficient numbers to erect a church within its limits. Up to the year 1842 our citizens of that faith were obliged to attend either the cathedral on Franklin Street in Boston, erected in 1803, or the church in Charlestown, which followed it in 1828.

While the original Puritan settlers of the colony were living, there was little inducement for Catholics to come and abide with them, and if either Miles Standish, William Mullins, his daughter Priscilla, or our own doughty captain and commander-in-chief of the ‘Newe Towne’ forces, Daniel Patrick, ever attended upon the services of the Roman Church in any portion of what is now called the ‘United Kingdom,’ they certainly never did so here, and they probably said very little of their past experience.

The first record of Catholic worship in the colony is at the time of the visit of Father Duillettes to Boston as a commissioner from Canada, in 1650. He was entertained at the residence of Major-General Gibbons while making negotiations for a treaty of alliance.

From this time there were probably no Catholic services until they were held upon the ships of the French fleet in the harbor during the Revolutionary War, when the people, following the noble example of Washington, had become very tolerant in the presence of Lafayette and the many French, Polish, and other European Catholic officers and soldiers who had espoused our cause of liberty.

At the close of the Revolution the Catholics in and about Boston purchased the chapel on School Street which had been [245] used by the Huguenots, and occupied it until the erection of the church on Franklin Street, under the ministrations of Father Porterie, who had been a chaplain in the French navy, Father Rousselet, and afterwards the Rev. John Thayer, who was a native of Boston and a convert to the faith. In 1792 the Rev. Francis Matignon, who was an exile of the French Revolution, was sent from Baltimore by Bishop Carroll, to aid Father Thayer, and remained down to the time of his death in 1818. The whole of New England was placed under the spiritual guidance of these two priests, and they were constant and earnest workers in the field assigned to them. Doctor Matignon was a pious, profound, and talented scholar, and a refined and accomplished gentleman. He endeared himself so much to the people that his death was sincerely mourned by all classes and creeds.

In 1796, through the solicitations of Father Matignon, the Rev. John de Cheverus, who had also been driven by the revolutionists from France, and had been in England since 1792, came to this country. He first went among the Indians as a missionary, but in 1798 he joined Father Matignon, and aided in the erection of the church on Franklin Street, which was afterwards to be his cathedral, and the first in New England. Generous contributions for this structure were made by Protestant citizens, among others by John Adams, then President of the United States.

In 1808 New England was severed from the diocese of Baltimore, Boston was erected into an Episcopal see, and Dr. de Cheverus made its first bishop. He remained in charge of this diocese until 1823, when he returned to his native country as Bishop of Montauban. A few years later he was created Archbishop of Bordeaux, Cardinal and Peer of the Realm.

Cardinal Cheverus was a noble and charming character. He was learned, but not pedantic; firm and decided, yet amiable, benign, and meek. He delighted in the company of children, who were his constant companions. A scholar and a polished scion of a noble family, it was his constant practice to go unattended among the poor and sick, look personally after their needs, and make them forget their afflictions and poverty by his example of charity and humility.

In 1825 the Rev. Benedict Joseph Fenwick was appointed Bishop of Boston, and was consecrated on November 1. He [246] was a native of Maryland, and a descendant of one of the early English settlers under Leonard Calvert. He, too, was a profound scholar, a wise and prudent counselor, and a humble and zealous prelate.

Down to the year 1793 the Catholics of Cambridge were obliged, in order to attend their church, either to row across the river, or to go around through Roxbury, entering Boston by the way of ‘The Neck,’ which latter journey was eight miles in length, as Abraham Ireland measured it, and marked it upon the milestone which now stands inside the fence of the old burial ground at Harvard Square; for there was no other bridge until the West Boston Bridge was constructed in that year.

St. John's Parish, and Church of the Sacred Heart.

In 1828 Cambridge was made a part of the parish of Saint Mary's Church at Charlestown, and her people attended services in the church of that name upon Richmond Street, placed under the charge of Father Byrne,—the bridge between East Cambridge and Boston having been completed in 1809, and that to Prison Point in Charlestown in 1819. A Sunday-school was organized about 1830 in the Methodist Academy building, at the corner of Otis and Fourth streets, and Mr. Daniel H. Southwick was its first superintendent. The children, after their lessons on each Sunday, were formed in line and marched to the Charlestown church, to take part in the services there.

About the year 1836, in consequence of the erection of the new bridge, the glass works, and the pottery works, which had been established, a number of Catholic families had gathered at Lechmere Point (or East Cambridge), in Cambridgeport, and Somerville, and on June 11 of that year Mr. Southwick secured a small parcel of land, twenty-five by one hundred feet, on the westerly side of Fourth Street, near Otis Street, and conveyed it to the bishop on July 29, with the intention of securing more and erecting a church. No general action, however, was taken in the matter until January 17, 1842, when the parishioners were called together to take into consideration the propriety of erecting a new church. This meeting was held at the Academy building, and it was voted necessary to erect a church at East Cambridge. A committee of three was appointed to wait upon the bishop and inform him of their action, and to ask the services of a priest. Thirty-six hundred dollars was [247] subscribed at this meeting, and it was adjourned to meet on the 30th. On the 30th Bishop Fenwick, the Rev. John B. Fitzpatrick, and Rev. P. Byrne met with them; they were encouraged to pursue the work so well begun, and Father Fitzpatrick was assigned to assist them and to become their pastor.

Messrs. Southwick, Gleeson, John W. Loring, Lawrence B. Watts, and James Casey were appointed a building committee, and Messrs. Southwick, Loring, and Gleeson a committee to select and secure a site. A lot on the easterly side of Fourth Street, near to Otis, was secured, and, at a meeting held on February 20, it was voted that the name of ‘St. John's Church’ be given to the structure to be erected. On March 19 the deed of a lot of land seventy by one hundred feet from Amos Binney to Bishop Fenwick was passed. The building committee commenced and vigorously prosecuted their work, so that services were held in the basement October 9, by Father Fitzpatrick. On September 3, 1843, the structure, being complete, was dedicated by the bishop.

Father Fitzpatrick remained as pastor until early in 1844, when he was made coadjutor-bishop of the diocese, and returned to Boston. The parish, as originally constituted, comprised the entire towns of Cambridge and Somerville. On April 22, 1844, the Rev. Manasses P. Dougherty was appointed pastor, and on August 11, 1846, Bishop Fenwick died, and was succeeded by Father Fitzpatrick, his coadjutor, who had been the first priest of the first Catholic church in Cambridge.

In 1847 Woburn was added to the parish, and Father Magrath was sent as an assistant. At this time the Catholic population had become so numerous in Old Cambridge that they desired to have a church of their own, and Father Dougherty was commissioned to erect one there, and take charge of a new parish comprising the territory now known as Old Cambridge and North Cambridge. He left St. John's parish in November, 1848, and in December held services for the first time in his new church of St. Peter. The Rev. George F. Riorden succeeded Father Dougherty in November as pastor of St. John's, and remained until December, 1851, when he was succeeded in turn by the Rev. Lawrence Carroll, who with patience, ability, and zeal devoted himself constantly to the needs of his large and increasing parish up to the time of his decease on November 23, 1858. He is remembered as one of [248] the kindest and most genial of men, who filled the atmosphere about him with his cheerful presence. Seventeen days before his death, his assistant, Father Farren, who had been with him for about a year, but all the time in poor health, had also died.

During the illness of Father Carroll, and after his decease, until January 7, 1859, the Rev. George F. Haskins acted as temporary pastor; on the latter date, the Rev. Francis Branigan received the permanent appointment. He remained about two years, and during that time purchased land and commenced the erection of St. Mary's Church in Cambridgeport. In December, 1860, he resigned, and died soon after. For a number of months the parish was without a permanent pastor, during which period its spiritual wants were supplied by the Rev. Joseph Coyle. He died on November 21, 1862.

Early in 1862 the Rev. John W. Donohue was appointed, and assumed the duties of pastor. In 1866 the Cambridgeport parish was set off. In 1870 Somerville was created a separate parish, reducing the parish of St. John's to its present dimensions, comprising the whole of East Cambridge and that part of Cambridgeport which lies between the Grand Junction Railroad, Windsor Street, and the Broad Canal.

The number of the parishioners continued to increase so rapidly that the church on Fourth Street could not sufficiently accommodate them, and in 1872 Bishop Williams, the successor of Bishop Fitzpatrick, bought a lot of land on Spring Street for the purpose of erecting a new church, but the health of Father Donohue did not permit him to pursue the work, and he died on March 5, 1873. During the eleven years of his pastorate the affairs of the parish were well conducted, and never was St. John's Church in a more prosperous condition than at the time of his decease. Fathers Rossi and Shinnick were his assistants.

On the 8th of March the Rev. John O'Brien was taken from Concord and appointed to the parish of St. John's, the bishop recognizing in him the eminent qualifications necessary for the charge of this parish and the erection of a new and spacious church, such as was contemplated. After a meeting of the parishioners, when it was found that the lot purchased by the bishop was unsuited in some particulars, a site at the corner of Otis and Sixth streets was secured, and purchased on July 23. No delay was made, and the foundation was finished and [249] the corner-stone of the new edifice laid on October 4, 1874. On January 28, 1883, the entire structure was completed and dedicatory services held.

This is the ‘Church of the Sacred Heart,’ the largest and handsomest Catholic church in the city, of the decorated Gothic style, seventy-five by one hundred and fifty feet in dimension, built of blue slate with trimmings of granite. The nave is sixty-five feet high, and the spire one hundred and eighty feet. There is a seating capacity of eighteen hundred, and the beautiful and artistic Gothic altar of Caen stone was especially modeled in London by eminent sculptors. It stands fifty feet in height, and contains four groups of figures, representing the life of the Saviour, sculptured in almost human size. This parish numbers between twelve and fifteen thousand souls. Father O'Brien is still the pastor in charge, and is assisted by five curates.

The Parish of St. Peter's Church.

As before stated, in the year 1847 the Rev. Manasses P. Dougherty, while pastor of the parish of the Church of St. John, in East Cambridge, recognizing the necessity of church facilities for those of his flock who were settled in the northern part of the city, secured a site upon Concord Avenue, and commenced the erection of a church, to be called after St. Peter. This building had progressed so rapidly that in November, 1848, Father Dougherty gave up his charge of the parish of St. John's for the parish set off from it, and in December of that year services were held in his new church, which was consecrated in 1849. Father Dougherty continued as pastor of this parish until his death in July, 1877. He was greatly esteemed in and beyond his parish for his generosity and piety.

The Rev. James E. O'Brien was appointed to take charge in the same month as the decease of Father Dougherty, and he remained in charge until death removed him in July, 1888, when he was followed by the present pastor, the Rev. John Flatley, who is assisted by Fathers Doody and Flaherty as curates. Father Flatley has been most assiduous in his pastoral duties, and is held in high esteem and veneration. Through his constant efforts and encouragement three new parishes have been created within the past six years out of the territory of St. Peter's. They are known as St. John's, on Rindge Avenue, North Cambridge; Notre Dame de Pitie, the French [250] congregation in the same locality; and the Church of the Sacred Heart, which is on the border of Cambridge, in that part of Watertown known as Mount Auburn. St. Peter's parish has a population of about twenty-five hundred people.

The Parish of St. Mary's Church, Norfolk Street.

This parish was created partly from St. John's and partly from St. Peter's. It was set off and made an independent parish in the year 1866. In 1860 the Rev. Francis Branigan, as pastor of St. John's, purchased land at the corner of Harvard and Norfolk streets, and it was his intention and desire to erect a church for those of his people who resided in that locality; but his illness and resignation, which soon followed, interfered with the project, and it was delayed until the bishop gave permission to Father Dougherty, of St. Peter's, to go on with the work. He organized the new parish early in 1866, commenced to lay the foundation of a church on June 7, and the corner-stone was laid by Bishop Williams July 15 of that year. Father Dougherty performed the duties of pastor of this church and congregation, together with those of his own, until May, 1867, when the parish was given to the Rev. T. Scully, who took formal charge June 9, 1867. The work of completing the church building was pushed vigorously by him, so that the structure was ready for the services of dedication on Sunday, March 8, 1868. Since 1867 he has remained the pastor, and the parish has from time to time added largely to its property, including a convent school for girls in charge of the sisters of Notre Dame, a school for boys, a hall for parish purposes, and a gymnasium. The population belonging to this church numbers between twelve and fifteen thousand.

The Parish of St. Paul's Church, Mount Auburn Street.

A few years after the erection of St. Mary's church in Cambridgeport, Father Dougherty saw the necessity of another church building to accommodate his rapidly increasing parishioners properly, and in 1873 he accordingly purchased the meeting-house at the corner of Mount Auburn and Holyoke streets, which had long been used by the Shepard Congregational society. After some alterations he opened it for worship during the same year, and gathered as its congregation about two [251] thousand souls. In 1875 it was set off as a separate parish, with the Rev. William Orr as its resident pastor.

Father Orr, assisted by two curates, Fathers Coan and Ryan, is still directing its affairs. He has added the property on Mount Auburn Street, known as the ‘Gordon McKay estate,’ and erected a large school upon it. He contemplates within a short time placing also upon this site a commodious new church. This parish now numbers about four thousand.

The New St. John's Parish, Rindge Avenue.

The rapid increase of the congregation of St. Peter's church had again made that structure too small at the time Father Flatley was appointed to be its pastor, and soon after taking charge of the parish, he began to interest his people to secure additional facilities for worship. A lot was purchased upon Rindge Avenue of sufficient size for a church and convent school, and in the summer of 1890 work was begun upon the chapel and school building. The chapel was completed in February, 1892, and has a seating capacity of eight hundred.

Father Flatley continued to attend to the religious needs of the congregation until the district was set off and a parish created on January 1, 1893, when the Rev. John B. Halloran was appointed its pastor. He still remains in charge, and has one assistant, Rev. Michael Welch. All that part of Cambridge which lies north of the main line of the Fitchburg Railroad, together with West Somerville, is contained in this parish, which numbers almost three thousand souls.

The Church of Notre Dame De Pitie, Harvey Street.

The brick-making and other industries of Cambridge and Somerville have caused the collection of large numbers of French-speaking Catholics from the Canadas in the northern portion of our city and in Somerville. These people, feeling themselves sufficiently strong to constitute a separate congregation, obtained permission from the archbishop to erect a church, and work was begun in June, 1892. It was completed and the building dedicated on December 8, 1892. The Rev. Elphege Godin, S. M., was its first pastor. He was followed by the Rev. Stephen Artland, S. M., and by Rev. T. J. Remy, S. M. The present pastor is the Rev. Henri Audiffred, S. M., appointed in October, 1895. The capacity of this church is six [252] hundred. Last year a parochial residence was erected. The congregation is composed of the French-speaking people of Cambridge and Somerville, and is fast increasing in numbers.

The New Church and Parish of the Sacred Heart, at Mount Auburn.

This parish was taken from Cambridge and Watertown, and is bounded in Cambridge by Coolidge, Elmwood, Lexington, and Concord avenues. The church building is in Watertown, but the larger portion of the congregation are inhabitants of Cambridge. On August 27, 1893, the corner-stone of this edifice was laid, the construction having been placed in charge of the Rev. Robert P. Stack, of Watertown. This church is not yet completed, though services have been held there since January 1, 1894. After the decease of Father Stack, the Rev. Thomas W. Coughlin was appointed its pastor, and a parish was created January 1, 1896. Capacity, five hundred. Catholic population of parish, seven hundred and fifty.

The Catholic Union.

The Catholic Union was founded in 1894; its purpose is literary and social, and to improve the Catholic people of Cambridge. It has a membership of two hundred and fourteen, and during the winter lectures on Catholic subjects are given, and they are open to the public. Edmund Reardon is president, and William M. Wadden recording secretary.

Temperance and charitable societies.

Each of the several Catholic parishes in Cambridge has a temperance society, and also a branch of the society of Saint Vincent de Paul for the relief of the poor, and all these are quietly and assiduously doing good work. The temperance society in East Cambridge was founded by Father Matthew himself in December, 1849, upon his visit to this country, and is named after that great apostle of temperance. It is the oldest and largest in the archdiocese, one of the oldest Catholic total abstinence societies in the United States, and has been the example and mainstay of the temperance cause among the Catholics in Massachusetts from its beginning. It has a present membership of about three hundred and fifty, which includes some of the best business and professional men in the parish.



The foregoing shows the rapid growth of the Catholic population in our city. When the charter was granted in 1846, there existed but one Catholic church, and this had been erected less than four years, and seated only about six hundred people. There were then fourteen Protestant churches, two of which had been founded as far back as 1636. In the present year of 1896 there are seven Catholic and forty-two Protestant churches and chapels, and the Catholic population numbers about thirty-five thousand.

Few of all these people can trace their lineage in this country further back than two or three generations, yet all are numbered among the most ardent lovers of our country and its institutions. The proportion of Catholic soldiers from Cambridge in the late war much exceeded their ratio of the population. Our Catholic citizens have lived together with their Protestant brothers as children, youths, and adults, in amity and peace; have sat by them in the same schools and university, entered into friendly competition in the same pursuits, and fought by their side both in battle and political strife; men, women, and ministers of every creed, hand in hand, have engaged in the same charities, and in struggles for temperance and for good government. In Cambridge, since it became a city, there has existed the greatest charity between Catholics and Protestants, the most intelligent of both being conspicuous for their example of good — will and toleration; each freely granting to the other perfect freedom of conscience and of worship according to their faith. This example is one to which the citizens of our beloved municipality are proud to call attention, for it forms a part of what has been styled, and is widely known as, ‘The Cambridge Idea.’

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