Thursday, February 14, 2013

Saint Peter's Rising

St. Peter's Church
Lowell City Directory, 1858
The Irish of Chapel Hill were about to have their dream come true.  For years they had to make the trek from the area around Central Street over to the Acre each and every Sunday for Mass, holydays of obligation, parish missions, funerals, weddings, etc..  This other Irish neighborhood had grown and evolved with its own shops, tradesmen, and overcrowded tenements, much as the Paddy Camps had.  The Bishop had finally heard their appeals; the new church would be built.
The day following the Bishop’s call to male parishioners of St Patrick’s for another Catholic church to be built was a busy one.  The Bishop hired a carriage, since the weather had cooled considerably, to look at a plot of land at the corner of Gorham and Appleton Streets that had been recommended to him, land that belonged to the Hamilton Corporation.  He was determined the 10,000 sq. ft. would be a perfect fit for his needs.
The Bishop spent a second night in Lowell.  He was invited by Samuel Lawrence for a carriage ride around the City.  He was amazed at the growth Lowell was going through and toured the outskirts that were lined with walls of fieldstone and waves of growing corn.  Upon his immediate return he sent Fr. Conway, St Patrick’s curate, to procure the land he viewed the previous day.  His anticipation was evident by ordering Fr. Conway to make three trips that day to meet the agent for the Corporation who could complete the sale; on each he found the agent was not present.
Two days after the Bishop returned to Boston, Fr. Conway sent a message.  The land was theirs.  The negotiated price was 40 cents a square foot; final cost was $2,000.  A building committee, made up of Owen Donohoe, John McNulty, Hugh Monahan, Hugh Cummiskey and Charles M. Short, began the work of gathering funds and support.  It appears the Fr. McDermott, pastor of St. Patrick’s was not happy with the events.  He did not believe a second church was necessary even though overcrowding was obvious.  Perhaps he was afraid of his collections falling off, or maybe it was his ego.  McDermott enjoyed the influence he had at St. Pat’s and the addition of another church might take away from that.  He voiced his opinion to the Bishop, and a group of concerned parishioners from St Pat’s even visited the Bishop to threaten consequences if the building proceeded.  The Bishop had had to deal with many problems with the growing Diocese of Boston.  McDermott was only one of them.  The Germans community of Boston was also making threats about their parish leadership.
Mr. Hall was hired as the architect, who drew plans for a brick church 90 feet long and 60 feet wide with a basement and belfry.  Ground was broken in September of 1841.  The final cost of the church would be $22,000.  The Bishop made several visits watching the progress and noted in his diary that the walls were finally up.  The Irish of Chapel Hill had their first service on Christmas day of 1842.  Having no organ the parishioners formed their own orchestra.  Newspapers noted how brightly illuminated the sanctuary was with all the “green festoons.”  The church would not be completed for another year.  The Irish Benevolent Society threw its support, financial and otherwise, over to St. Peter’s and Fr. Conway.  The former curate of St. Pat’s had long ago “severed” his relationship with Fr. McDermott.  This was evidenced by several visits of Fr. Conway to the Bishop “reporting bad news.”  The formal dedication of St. Peter’s would not take place until September of 1843.  At that time pews were being auctioned with prices as high as $192 and some even higher.  It was clear St. Peter’s would soon rival St. Pat’s. 
Shortly, the offertory collections became far greater than that of St. Pat’s as well as the number of weddings and baptisms performed.    When the Bishop visited Lowell, he often stayed at St. Peter’s.  Father McDermott’s star began to fall quickly.

NOTE: Ryan Owen over at ForgottenNewEngland has the next part of Saint Peter's story, the building of the Patrick Keely structure in 1892.    Have  a look.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the St. Peter's history, which was my Lowell Irish family's parish from the immigrants' marriage in 1859, until the next generation moved to St. Margaret's around 1920. Great information and very enjoyable to read.