Fire, Fortitude and Faith: Foxboro Knights of Columbus #6063, its Property & Organization 1859-1968
The recent approval of the Foxboro Zoning Board to convert the Knights of Columbus building at 14 Church Street into a ballet school is an excellent opportunity to review the history of the property, the building and the organization; a tumultuous history of fire, fortitude and faith.
1859 April 4. A number of Catholics residing on a dirt road south of the center of town petitioned the Board of selectmen to accept the road, which the selectmen did. According to the Foxboro Road Book #1; page 17, on April 4th the selectmen accepted, "a road laid out from Central Street to a point near John Bannon's dwelling house - known as Church Street."
1859 Monday, May 2, 1859 Bishop John Fitzpatrick set off a new district under the spiritual care of Reverend Michael X. Carroll. Fr. Carroll had previously been assigned as assistant at St. Patrick's in Lowell and when first assigned to Foxboro he briefly resided with Reverend McNulty at Bridgewater. The new Foxboro parish, under Fr. Carroll, was to attend to mission stations at North Wrentham, now known as Norfolk; Wrentham Center; Mansfield; South Walpole; Franklin; and Furnace, which is a part of Easton.
1859 July 19. Within a few weeks, on July 19, James D. McAvoy conveyed to Fr. Carroll the property on which the first church would be built. The site is the present location of the Knights of Columbus Building at the corner of Carpenter and Church. At this time Carpenter Street was known existent. During the construction of the new church building the Catholics held services in the Town Hall and also the Cocasset House, which was situated at the present site of the Benjamin Franklin Bank.
1861 CHURCH COMPLETED. In the month of January, 1861, at a cost of $7,200, the first Catholic church in Foxboro was completed. According to Fr. Carroll $1,400.00 had been raised from the people. Fr. Aaron Roache, the former pastor when Foxboro was a mission of Easton donated $485.00 From a collection taken up in churches in Malden and Woburn $198.00 had been raised. There was a debt of $5,117.00 on the new church. Of this debt, $2,200 was mortgaged from a George S. Slaw of Chelsea and of the remaining $2,917.00 Fr. Carroll paid from his own savings.
In a letter dated January 8, 1861, Fr. Carroll informed Bishop John Fitzpatrick, "The task, my Lord, which you sent me to do is now accomplished. I have built a church in Foxboro where they needed one badly. The beauty of it is that its present debt is but a trifle when compared to the building itself" Carroll mentions that he had an oil painting of the Crucifixion as an acceptable substitute for a crucifix. In the same letter Fr. Carroll told the Bishop that his health was failing fast. He suffered from chronic inflammation of the stomach caused by, "too long riding and fasting on Sunday". He inquired of the bishop to be transferred, "...and if it is granted I will never demand a single mill of what is owing to me on the church - I feel that the poor people are few and poor indeed in the true sense of the word and such; since it is my first church I would forgive it to them from the bottom of my heart" He mentioned that he thought Foxboro could be attended to as a mission station from Dedham, Attleborough or Canton, "any man that is a man at all, who is tough and healthy can get along fine here...As for the children scattered as they are I have now prepared them for their first communion, but I consider the weather too cold to bring them from the distances as I wish them all to make their first communion in the Church." He mentioned the forming of an Altar Society and a Scapula Society ,"which is half organized as they are in every section of this mission." Fr. Carroll's reveal a sense of disappointment in his concluding remark, "You will hardly believe me my Lord, when I tell you that I had but two baptisms since October 8th last."
1862 February 23, 1862. CHURCH DESTROYED BY FIRE. Thirteen months after the completion of the church building it is destroy in a fire of suspicious origin. In the March 8th, edition of the Boston Pilot newspaper following the fire there was a published the following letter. The author of the letter was not named. "Mr. Editor - It is my painful duty to send to you this sad announcement. The new and neat Catholic Church, recently built by Fr. Carroll, in Foxboro; was totally destroyed by fire on Saturday night, February 23rd. The fire broke out between 12 and 1 A.M., and in less than three hours the building lay in a heap of ruins. But, Mr. Editor, the scene, though mournful, was truly painful when Fr. Carroll arrived. The grief depicted in his care-troubled countenance can be better conceived than described. As there are no fire engines in the village of Foxboro, there he stood among the multitude, only to gaze with sorrow on that which he could not save. The origin of the fire is unknown. The building was a frame with brick foundation and was partially insured."
The above letter was not totally accurate for at the time of the Catholic Church fire, Foxboro did have a private fire department and it was "subscription only'. In other words if you didn't subscribe to the department the members could take a vote whether to fight the fire or not. The Foxboro fire department, though located only a few blocks away did not report to assist with the fire. It can only be presumed that if a vote was taken to report to the fire at the Catholic Church it decided in the negative. After all, the article reported that the church burned for three hours and the fire station was less than five hundred yards away!
1862 March 7. But there must have been quite some talk and emotions after this event for exactly two weeks after the fire, on March 7th, 1862, the Town voted to organize a fire department. Ownership of the engine house, engine, hose reels, and hoses was conveyed to the town and a fire engine company was formed. This engine company would report all fires, not just those voted on by subscribers.
1871 The construction of a new church commences. Reported in the August 26, 1871 issue of the Dedham Transcript entitled, "What We Saw in Foxboro...The Catholics too are in the process of re-erecting their building, which was destroyed some years since, and I saw enough to convince me that in Foxboro, as everywhere else, their church will be handsome and well attended."
A few months later on dated October 21 it is reported, "The Catholic Church is so far completed that services have been held in it."
1873 In a letter dated February 25, 1873, to Bishop John J. Williams, little more than three months into his new assignment, Fr. Gouesse reveals the conditions of the faith at this time. Writing from Foxboro, while boarding at the Cocasset Hall Hotel, Fr. Gouesse writes, “My Lord, Saturday last I tried hard to reach Franklin, and when three miles of that place I was obliged to turn back. Sunday morning, tried again and this time worse than before. We could not travel but three and half miles. Felt bad, very bad, having not as yet disappointed any one of any people...
As to Foxboro, cannot say much about it. They have a church that is no church. You would hardly believe is to be possible to say Mass in such a place, during such a Winter. And still, we had it regularly every other Sunday. On that church $950 dollars debt. Nothing for the Divine Service. About 55 families and 12 Turn Coats. The burning of their church and the loss of the insurance money is as fresh in their minds, after 11 years, as if it happened yesterday. They are a demoralized people. No account about anything was ever given them. Even about their present church, they do not know anything. Money was collected for it, and was never heard of it.
There must have been some terrible times over here. They make me feel bad, very bad, but they do not take me by surprise, knowing for a long time too how things go in too many places. Will try hard to do what I can for them, you may rely on it. For the present, everything looks gloomy, very gloomy indeed, and every where too."
I will try to do something out here, in my opinion they deserve it."
1877 A few years earlier in 1873 the Catholic community had begun constructing a new church building. Due to finances the construction had been proceeding very slowly and was still unfinished. According to the July 13th issue of the Mansfield Times, on July 7, 1877, a meeting of the members of the Catholic church was held for the purpose of forming an organization which was intended to, "more thoroughly unite the people as to the best manner of conducting their financial affairs." William Falvey was elected chairman and Thomas Tierney, secretary. Elected as permanent officers were William Clarke, John Barret, and James Brennan.
1877 September 17. Two months later a meeting of the Catholics of Foxboro was held on Saturday, September 15, in the vestry of the church. Whatever decisions were made were inconsequential because two days later the church was struck by lightning. The Mansfield News reported on the conflagration. "During the shower which occurred on Monday last, the Catholic Church in Foxboro was struck by lightning and, owing in part to its unfinished state, it being built of wood and unplastered, was within the space of half an hour entirely consumed. Our Catholic friends seem to be particularly unfortunate with reference to their church matters. In 1862 their church building was destroyed under circumstances which caused many to think the fire of incendiary origin. This time, however, there is no question as to the cause of the conflagration, as the bolt was seen to strike the building by several persons.... The house and boot shop of Mr. Falvey were in the immediate proximity to the church." The article inferred that there were some doubts to the status of the insurance policy, but it was determined that the Fr. Gouesse had in fact taken out a policy to the amount of $3,000.
1878 26 April. Early in the Spring of 1878 the s began the rebuilding of their church on the original location. It was to be rather smaller than were either of the two previous ones, as it was to be 32 feet wide, 53 feet long, having a capacity to seat 300 worshippers. The cost, without furniture was estimated at $2,000.
1878 10 May. The frame of the Catholic Church is rapidly progressing towards completion.
1878 June 1878. From the Foxboro Centennial Record. A description of the Catholic church, "the third church which this denomination has built on the same site...has been built but a few months." Honorable E. P. Carpenter's Historical Oration when describing the settlement of churches in town stated, "The first intruding denomination was the Baptist, next the Universalist and lastly the Catholic".
1878 The building (Catholic Church) was completed that summer and was described as "A frame structure, erected after the general style of small country churches, its interior was neatly finished."
1878 9 August. The Mansfield News reported in August, the "Catholic Church is completed and looks neat and substantial. The society has shown an abundance of perseverance in erecting a third edifice and we hope they may be permitted to enjoy the privileges offered in the present structure many years." The article mentioned that the church, "will not be formally dedicated at present, if at all, although Mass will be celebrated there for the first time next Sunday forenoon at 8 o'clock prompt. Rev. Fr. Griffin of Franklin, who has been assigned to this place temporarily, will be celebrant. As of this time Foxboro was a mission of Franklin."
1885 An archdiocesan history records, "Fr. Callanan found nothing but a weather-beaten church, no house, and almost no Congregation, as the faithful where inclined to go to other places...The parish was in very unfavorable condition. The parishioners were at odds, the parish was heavily involved in debt, having lost two churches by fire, and the society was discontented and discouraged." In Foxboro he found the streets about his church in a deplorable condition. He induced the town to widen the street on which his church stood, and concrete the sidewalks...influential in calling a special town meeting for the purpose of opening and grading new streets."
1886 April 15. Sullivan's history. Ground was broken for improvements to the church on April 15. By early May Fr. Callanan mentioned that he would soon be speaking of the new improvements to the church. He said that he would consider "the former rugged condition of the grounds about this church, and its somewhat commonplace character of the church edifice itself, the labors which we might say have caused the wilderness to blossom as the rose."
1886 May 15 Foxboro Reporter described the improvements. The article began by mentioning that the "expenses incurred are being freely met by the people of the parish." The grounds around the church were improved by "...the labor of sixty or more men and thirty teams, given for two weeks, who removed the boulders and roots which cumbered the surface. The area was then covered with 200 loads of gravel and fifty or more loads of loam. The altar was painted and the ceilings and walls 'kalsomized'. The church thoroughly painted inside and out. The importations of the statues of the Blessed Virgin and of St. Joseph are from Munich and are called the finest in the diocese." Sixteen memorial windows of stained glass were presented by parishioners. They included William Igoe, Patrick Foley, John and Thomas Tierney, Richard Fitzpatrick, Kate Conway, Finley Babcock, Jeremiah Kirby, Daniel Devine, Bartholomew Brennan, John Hearn, William Clark, Kate Bannon, Mary Guiney and Ellen Bagg. New vestment cases and wardrobes for both vestries were presented by Michael McNamara. Two seven branch candlesticks were donated by Peter Clark and Richard Gorman. The above mentioned work, including the labor given, the donations and furnishings of the parochial residence represented an outlay of over $5,000. In closing the article stated that the extensive improvements and enlargements to the church will within a year double its present seating capacity.
1887 September 18. Fr. Callanan announced that twenty-three feet would be added to the front. The present front would be torn down and double doors and an eight foot vestibule added. New pews would be added, and a cupola will adorn the building. Fr. Callanan mentioned that a Catholic Fair would be held in the Town Hall in aid of the church building fund. Fr. Callanan secured the upper and lower Town hall for two weeks, dating from February 1st.
1887 August 20. The new St. Mary's Church held formal opening services on August 15. This day was also the festival of the Annunciation of the angel to the Blessed Virgin. The Reporter described the church as an "ornament to our beautiful little town." The article mentioned that it was Fr. Callanan's desire, "to have a church edifice, suitable to be called the House of God, and one worthy of the generosity and faith of his people." The theme of the sermon was taken from Matthew's Gospel 21:13, "My house shall be called a house of prayer."
1888 May 6. Archbishop John J. Williams conducted dedication services at St. Mary's church in the morning. Speaking about Fr. Callanan during his sermon, the Archbishop mentioned that "Through his efforts, by God's approval, Fr. Callanan had accomplished a great work, which would live and grow after him." That afternoon forty-three candidates received the Sacrament of Confirmation, three of whom were converts.
1899 KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS June 17 (June 24. Foxboro Reporter) According to the Reporter, throughout the Spring of 1899 negotiations between the aspirants of the local area and representatives of the Council met concerning organizing a council. Finally, on June 17, a lodge of the Knights of Columbus was instituted in Foxboro. Early Saturday morning a delegation from Quincy arrived on a special train and was quartered in the Cocasset House. Another delegation arrived from Norwood on two special electric cars. Delegations also arrived from Hyde Park, South Boston, and Attleboro. The ceremonies lasted until 9:30 PM that evening.
There were thirty-four charter members including: James W. Brennan as Grand Knight; George C. Shields as Deputy Grand Knight; and Fr. Broderick as Chaplain. The council was organized under the name "Foxboro Council #420." The thirty-four charter members were almost evenly divided between Foxboro and Mansfield. Transportation between the two towns was easily facilitated by the electric trolley line. The quarters for the Knights of Columbus was on the second floor of William's and Appleby's Hall on Cocasset Street. The organization was fond of holding dances for entertainment and raising funds. A typical dance was attended by about fifty to seventy-five couples. There would be a musical concert, dancing, a grand march, and dinner would be served at midnight. A special evening appears to have been an annual "Ladies Night." The hall would be decorated throughout with banners, flags, and mottoes pertaining to the order such as: "Equity; Unity; Charity; and Hail, Columbus."
1902 January 4. Knights of Columbus meeting hall is arsoned. During the first week of January the Foxboro Reporter expressed the frustration of the residents of the town concerning the acts of arson. The article reported that the building opposite Cocasset Stable, owned by E.E. Butterworth, had two weeks earlier been the scene of an attempted arson, "A lighted candle being placed in a box of excelsior in the rear, the latter being soaked in oil. Fortunately the candle extinguished..." The article concluded that "...efforts to solve the mystery of incendiary fires in Foxboro during the past two or three years, has been in vain thus far..." Two days later the hall in which the K of C held their meeting was destroyed when the William's and Appleby's Block was torched. The Reporter stated "...when the firemen arrived, the door at the main entrance to the stairway was found unlocked and the flames were making good headway at the right and the back of the above door where there is every indication that the incendiary commenced and completed his preparations..." Once again the Reporter spoke frustration when it mentioned "...is it not time that something was done to stay the destruction of property in Foxboro through evident incendiarism? There is no doubt in anyone's mind but this is the cause of these recent fires as well as several of the previous ones within the past two years."
1902 February 15. Two weeks after the fire the Knights of Columbus held their third annual "Ladies Night" in the Odd Fellows Hall. Over a hundred and twenty-five couples attended the affair. As if in defiance of their situation the Reporter recorded that "the Charter if the K of C that passed through the recent fire occupied a prominent place in front of the principal platform. This Charter with its frame was considerably scorched; in fact the whole Charter showed the ravages of the fire, but nearly the entire work is still legible, and is a valuable souvenir of that memorable fire."
1896 May 1. Purchase of rectory. Rectory was former home to Rev. Isaac Smith, MD, who came to Foxboro as pastor of the Baptist Church and was later to practice medicine until his death in 1884. Building was originally a one story structure later enlarged to two levels. St. Mary's rectory and property is deeded from L. Byrant Wilbur to Archbishop J.J. Williams.
1904 March 12. Foxboro Council #420 moves to Mansfield. During the first weeks of March the membership of the K of C voted unanimously to hereafter hold the meetings of the Council in Gifford's Hall in Mansfield. (On June 4, 1906 the Foxboro K of C is changed to Mansfield Council #420.)
1906 May 5. A new shingle roof was completed, and the building of two fine approaches over the church doors were finished, with a cover over each. The article stated that "the approaches to the main entrances will not only add much to the general appearance of the frontage but will be greatly appreciated during stormy weather.
1954 April 4. Rev. Garrett F. Keegan assigned as pastor. Garret Francis Keegan, D.D., from the Academy of the Assumption in Wellesley, celebrated his first Mass as pastor of St. Mary's. Fr. Keegan had been ordained in Rome in June, 1926. he had obtained the degrees of Doctor of Divinity, and Doctor of Sacred Theology. He was at St. Mary's only twenty-seven days when he announced to the Holy Name Society that he was assuming the task of building a new church, "a church to keep pace with the growing town and the parish." Fr. Keegan put his whole life efforts into the task. He began by securing pledges, inaugurated field days, church reunions, opened a thrift and religious shop. Fr. Keegan insisted that. "the building was to be of colonial architecture to complement the character of Foxboro." Shortly after his arrival he inaugurated a program of six masses every Sunday. He moved the Sunday school to Cocasset hall, on Cocasset Street, a building which he purchased to be used as a hall and house the shops. Fr. Keegan actually made a trip to Rome at his own expense to purchase an altar and other furnishings. He purchased a bus to transport children to parochial schools out of town. The Foxboro Reporter mentioned in an editorial that Fr. Keegan, "set an example for the rest of the community by becoming the first resident to sign up to give a pint of his blood when the bloodmobile comes to town June 4 at the vestry of the Bethany Church."
1957 Construction begins on new church. By October the parish has raised enough funds to begin construction. In November, Fr. Keegan announced that the contract was signed with Fallon and Sons of Quincy, and work was to begin immediately. The colonial architecture, including a steeple, of the new building was to be in keeping with the New England atmosphere. A style that Fr. Keegan thought most appropriate for Foxboro. A style that eventually won over the early objections of the Archbishop.
1958 July 17. Fr. Keegan passed away not seeing the completion of his new church. The Rt. Rev. Walter J. Leach delivered the eulogy, "Fr. Keegan wore out the physical frame that God bestowed upon him building this church...a church that has been acknowledged by authorities to be one of the most beautiful additions to the churches of the Archdiocese." The Reporter stated in an editorial that "...The new St. Mary's is more of a living reminder of the man who made it possible...he would be the last to want us to call it a monument for it will in truth become a dynamic and living force in the community for years to come." Fr. Keegan was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery at his request. On Memorial Day the Statue of Our Lady of Grace was blessed at St. Mary's Cemetery. It was the gift given by the family of the late Edward F. Joyce.
1958 November. Blessing & Dedication of New St. Mary's Church. The blessing of the church took place in late November by the pastor, Fr. DeCourcey.
1958 In early December Cardinal Richard Cushing dedicated the new church.
1968 April 10. Formation of second Knights of Columbus Council. During the latter part of February, 1968, organizational meetings were being held concerning forming a new Foxboro Council, Knights of Columbus. From the early part of the century when the first Foxboro council moved to Mansfield, to this present year a number of Foxboro men belonged to the "George C. Shields" council in Mansfield. During the month of April, the newly formed council was given the go-ahead to conduct its first degree initiation rite. On May 7, 1968 the organization was instituted as the Foxboro Council, Knights of Columbus, and #6063.
The local K of C bought the building from the archdiocese in the early 1960s.
Fire, Fortitude & Faith