With Gratitude to the Spencer Historical Commission
|Information about our parish history included here (through 1975) is taken from the History of Spencer, Massachusetts, 1875-1975 by Jeffrey Fiske, ©1990 by the Spencer Historical Society. We express our gratitude for their kind permission to cite this work on our web site (pages 262-276). Parish archives are used for information from 1994 to the present.|
In order to best understand the Roman Catholic community of Spencer, let us set it in the historical context of the town, for as the town has evolved so has its Catholic population.
About Spencer, Massachusetts
According to the town's web site, Spencer was settled in 1717 and incorporated in 1753. Over the years, the town’s manufacturing industries were wire mills (hence the origin of Wire Village), shoes, and even a broom factory. In addition, the inventions of Spencer’s Howe family contributed to American life in general. William Howe developed a wooden truss bridge; Tyler Howe — William’s brother — invented the spring bed. Their nephew Elias Howe invented the lockstitch sewing machine.
Spencer’s Catholic Community: It’s Evolution
(History of Spencer, Massachusetts, 1875-1975)
This presentation is not intended to be a comprehensive history of our parish, but merely an overview and highlight of important dates.
1835: The first Catholic family settled in Spencer. Thomas Forrest and his family, Irish Catholics, were joined in 1836 by his brothers. They worked as laborers on the railroad. Fr. Fitton, the missionary who founded St. John’s church in Worcester and established what was to become the College of the Holy Cross, held services in Spencer while the railroad was being built.
|1840: French Canadian Jean Corbeil (alias Kirby) settled in Spencer.|
|1841: Opening of the railroad. This began an influx of Catholic settlers.|
|1853: Work began to build a permanent home for Spencer’s Catholics.|
The cornerstone for the new church was laid on first Sunday in October — Rosary Sunday. There was a silver plate placed within the cornerstone dedicating the church to the “Queen of the Most Holy Rosary.”
|1854: By May, the Catholic community of Spencer was celebrating Mass in their new church.The church was dedicated on Rosary Sunday 1854 by Most Rev. P.T. Fitzpatrick, Bishop of Boston, and assisted by Fr. Fitton.|
|1870: September 25th marks the establishment of the Diocese of Springfield. Spencer fell within the boundaries of the new diocese, and gained its first permanent pastor, Fr. Julius Cosson.|
|1880: It was reported that the present church building was inadequate and a new one was needed.|
|1881: The French Canadian parishioners expressed their desire for a separate church.|
|1882: In August, work began to move the original church to the corner of Prospect and Maple Streets. By October, Mass was again being celebrated in the old church in its new location.|
|1883: The cornerstone of the new church was laid on August 5th by Bishop O’Reilly of Springfield.|
|1884: By the fall, although the basement of the new church was being used, religious services continued in the old church. Of interest, the new basement auditorium seated 1,300 people and was used for plays and other entertainment.|
|1886: On December 26th, Bishop O’Reilly announced that Spencer would now have two parishes. St. Mary’s would be French-speaking; Our Lady of the Rosary would be English-speaking.|
|1891: Excavation of the cellar hole of a new St. Mary’s was begun in July of this year. St. Mary’s School was also founded in 1891.|
|1893: The spire of the old St. Mary’s was taken down and the roof raised to create a large hall on the third floor. Many problems were encountered along the way. The cornerstone was laid in late January 1901, and the church was finally dedicated on November 22, 1903.|
1955: A fund drive was started to raise money to build a new school. Completed in 1957, the school closed in 1973 when the Sisters of the Assumption were withdrawn from the school. The building was sold to the town and is now named Maple Street School.
|1994: Until December 31, 1993, the Catholic community of Spencer continued to worship as two parishes. On January 1, 1994, Most Rev. Timothy Harrington, Bishop of Worcester, merged the two parishes. St. Mary’s and Our Lady of the Holy Rosary ceased to exist, and a new parish was established: Mary, Queen of the Rosary. The Catholic community of Spencer had come full circle: from one parish to two and now back to one. However, both buildings continued to be utilized for Masses and other parish functions.|
2006: On January 15th, the course of our parish history changed forever. St. Mary’s church had been temporarily closed for some interior renovations. On that day, however, part of the façade of St Mary’s south tower fell off the building. Concerned for public safety, Spencer officials cordoned off the building and closed the street. Detours around the area were set up. They examined the church and deemed it structurally unsound. The diocese also came in during the week to assess the situation. At a meeting on January 23rd, shaken parishioners were updated on the events of the week and the status of the building as it was understood. During the ensuing months, parishioners prayed and further evaluations of St. Mary’s Church were made. Options were explored, meetings were held, and on October 1st, parishioners formally voted on the future of Mary Queen of the Rosary parish. The majority voted that we were no longer able to support two buildings. Although it was voted that St. Mary’s would not be restored, no determination was made as to what would be done with the building. However, “Rosary,” as was commonly called, required some renovations: an elevator was needed to make the entire church handicapped accessible, new bathrooms were needed for the same reason, and the kitchen needed updating.
An ad-hoc committee was established to proceed with all the required hard work to move the parish forward. Periodic parish meetings were held for updates and the opportunity to ask questions. And parish life continued.
2007: Options for St. Mary’s were explored. A group expressed an interest in developing the building as elderly/affordable housing, but that did not materialize.
2008: After months of meticulous planning, it was announced that our capital campaign would kick off on April 13th. Our goal was $1,234,000 and would include all of the needed renovations: kitchen, elevator, and bathrooms in “Rosary.” On March 24th, Monday of Easter Week, a meeting was held regarding an offer from the diocese to underwrite the cost of demolishing St. Mary’s church building. The offer was accepted and demolition of the building began in June.
Another change in course, however, occurred because of the downturn in the national economy: we would no longer be able to obtain a loan from the diocese to complete the planned renovations. As a result, we had to re-think our original plans.
On November 23rd, we had our annual parish meeting. The revised plans for the hall renovations were presented. Since the economy is so bad, we were unable to get a loan from the diocese. As a result, our proposal is to do the renovation in stages. We have been given permission by the diocese to use local contractors to do the work as long as they are licensed and insured to the levels the diocese requires.
There are several advantages to this, the greatest of which is that since we will not be borrowing money, we will not have to pay interest. It is estimated that this will save us approximately $200,000.00. Another advantage is that there will only be minor disruption to the use of the hall. The major disadvantage will be that the project will take a longer time to complete. Those present unanimously accepted the revised plans:
Stage One: new bathrooms, two new classrooms, a new office for the Food Pantry, and new CCD office.
Stage Two: a new kitchen
Stage Three: an elevator which would make the entire church building handicap accessible.
|2009: Although we had hoped to begin Stage One just after the new year, construction actually began the last week of March. The bathrooms were completed by the end of May in time for our annual International Bazaar.|
Journey with us as we
honor the past...prepare for the future...
and share the present.