Thursday, June 27, 2013

Dedication- July 3, 1831

From: Irish Catholic Genesis
of Lowell, by G. O'Dwyer
The town of Lowell was a busy place that July of 1831.  Preparations were in place for festivities to celebrate the 4th.  The Mechanic Phalanx was preparing a grand meal along with a reading of the Declaration of Independence.  Other citizens were in deep discussions debating if Belvidere should be annexed to Lowell.  Reverend Edson was preparing his homily for Sunday.  The doings of President Andrew Jackson and talk of temperance were popular topics heard in the streets.  The shops along Merrimack and Lowell Streets were busy with buyers making their purchases before closing for the Sabbath on the 3rd.
In the Acre things were just as busy.  For a year the neighborhood had been watching the progress of the first Catholic church to be built in the city, and only the third in Massachusetts.  The agent for the Corporation, Kirk Boott, had donated a parcel of land on which to build.  Just weeks before a series of riots broke out along Lowell Street with some Yankees calling to burn down the church.  Others called for calm.  Michael Connelly had overseen the foundation and construction with frequent check-ins with Bishop Fenwick.  The two would later have a number of discussions about payment for labors rendered.  Slowly, but surely, the 70’x40’ wooden church rose.  The tower surmounted by a golden orb and cross was in stark contrast to the surrounding shanties.   At this point there were about 500 people living in the Paddy Camps.  Already it had gotten a reputation for being rather seedy with its make-shift cabins and pigs running between the alleys that passed for streets.  The little church had outgrown itself even before it opened. 
The Bishop, along with Rev. Dr O’Flaherty, the well known orator, arrived the day before having taken a carriage from Boston.  The two would spend the night at the Stone Tavern near the falls.  The weather that day of July 3rd of 1831 was unusually hot, but that did not deter the crowds.  Over one hundred singers from the Cathedral choir came by stage to provide the music for the Mass.  Edward Kitts, the shoemaker, Miss Catherine Hogan, a teacher in the Irish School, and Mr. Hector, all of Lowell, also accompanied the Boston choir.  The pastor assigned to the new Catholic Church was John Mahoney, who had been serving the Lowell community for several years and had just been informed that he would not be returning to his previous post as pastor in Salem.  When Fr. Mahoney arrived a few years before to celebrate the first Mass, some of the Irish wept to hear their mother tongue being spoken.
Many of those in attendance for the dedication were likely among the first pioneers who traveled from Charlestown to build the foundations for the mills and widen the canals.  There was Cummiskey, Murray, McManus, Smith, Green, Fitzpatrick- all of them surely vying for a front pew.  The pews would be auctioned off at a later date to help defray the cost of building extensions to the church just 2 years later.  The church could not hold the crowds that showed up.  It was filled to overflowing with the open area around Fenwick Street packed with spectators as well.  Some reported that the crowd surpassed two or three thousand.  Considering the entire population of Lowell was about 7,000 at this time, it must have been quite a crowd.  The Bishop claimed the church under the patronage of Saint Patrick and anointed the altar with sacred oils.  Reverend O’Flaherty chose his sermon from the Book of Chronicles. “I have chosen this place to be a house of sacrifice and prayer.”   O’Flaherty was well known throughout the area as a gifted speaker and thus many Protestants attended just to hear his address.
The heat persisted through the afternoon when the priests and Bishop chanted evening Vespers.  The Bishop also confirmed 29 individuals.  The church still crowded to overflowing.  The event was recorded in newspapers across the state and even the country.  It was remarked that the church was one of the finest buildings in the city and represented things to come for the Irish and the Town of Lowell.  Surprisingly the only mention of the event in the Lowell newspapers is a single sentence in the Lowell Mercury, “The Catholic Church recently erected in this town was consecrated last Sabbath with appropriate services.”  The Irish were here to stay.
The Parish has a single remaining artifact from that original church.  When the wooden structure was dismantled to make way for the present structure the lead construction man was given a piece of the cross that topped the tower of the church.  Luckily a thoughtful collector returned the item to the church where it is in safe keeping.  We are always looking for pieces of our past that fills in the jigsaw puzzle of our story.  Can you help us? Family photos, business advertisements, graduation diplomas, musical programs, newspaper articles, class pictures, school uniforms, First Communion certificates…….  All tell a part of the story of the Acre.  So many have told us of what they thought was worthless, yet could tell us so much.  A picture can be worth a thousand words.

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