Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Building the New Church 1954-1958

In 1954, Foxboro was experiencing a housing and population boom due to the exodus of urban dwellers. The majority of new residents were World War II veterans with young families.
John Hodges, a local historian at the time described the neighborhood building era, "Home construction had extended from the Dudley Hill development down Oak Street. Building was occurring on Beach, Pierce, Main and Cross Streets. Activity at the Brookside development in East Foxboro and also Meadowview in North Foxboro. Building on the Wayside Farm at Robinson Hill and down South, Green, and High Streets."

Hodges predicted a population of 10,000 within a short period of time. "Between 1948 and 1953 a total of 470 homes had been built, with an additional 150 permits issued in 1954. The town population had increased in the same period by 1519 residents, or a 21 percent increase. By the beginning of 1957 the population had increased to 8,864, or a 26 percent increase since 1950."

Fr. Adrian O'Leary, a priest assigned to St. Mary's at this time recalled, "It was just after WWII and the parish was growing fast. We had the old church and it was bursting to the seams. The Sisters of Mercy Mount Academy from Cumberland, R.I., and nuns from the Dominican Academy came for Sunday School. Fr. Hicks was the pastor. It was a busy three years."

The tiny church which had been erected in 1878 replacing two previous churches that had been destroyed by fire could no longer meet the spiritual and physical needs of the growing parish community.

On April 4, 1954 Rev. Garrett F. Keegan D.D. was assigned as pastor of St. Mary's Church. Fr. Keegan, ordained in Rome in 1926 earning the degrees of Doctor of Divinity and Doctor of Sacred Theology, was at St. Mary's only 27 days when he announced to the Holy Name Society that he was assuming the task of building a new church. He told the gathering, "A church to keep pace with the growing town and the parish... a new church of colonial architecture to complement the character of Foxboro."

The immediate task was to secure a parcel of land that was large enough for the new church with adequate parking and room for future growth. Previous attempts by the archdiocese to purchase property in the surrounding neighborhood had been unsuccessful. Fr. Keegan approached Donald Currivan (founder of Don Currivan Insurance) who was a "dabbler" in real estate at the time to research the parcels of land across the street from the old church. Together with his brother Robert, a lawyer, they discovered that the title and ownership of the land belonged to Dr. Victor Carpenter, a dentist in Boston, who was a descendant of one of the earliest settlers and founders of the town.

The Currivan brothers approached Dr. Carpenter about the possibility of selling the property. Robert Currivan recalled, "Dr. Carpenter told us that he was interested but not in much of a hurry to sell. He did mention though that he would consider selling the land for double the value. Returning to Foxboro that afternoon we met with Fr. Keegan and without a flinch he replied, 'Why don't you go in and buy it!'"

Acting as the straw, Don Currivan purchased the property for $10,000 and shortly thereafter conveyed the title to Fr. Keegan. Informing Archbishop Richard Cushing in a letter of the acquisition of land he wrote, "The new church would be sighted on the center of Church Street so that it could be seen by everyone when traveling down Central Street."

With the property secured the next challenge was money. Diocesan regulations require that a parish must raise and have on deposit in a bank one half the total cost of the construction project. Only then would the archdiocese lend the parish an equal amount. The prospective cost for the new church was $250,000.

Fr. Keegan called a meeting to discuss plans to raise $200,000. Several of the members in attendance were Dr. Joseph K. Lynch, C. Hillaire Ouimet, Walter E. Clarkin, and Vin Igo presiding pro tem. Several weeks later the fund raising effort commenced with a Friday night "Kickoff Fund Drive" held at the Foxboro State Hospital Auditorium. The event was attended by Archbishop Cushing and in typical Cushing style he presented the parish with a check for $25,000.

The following Sunday 140 parishioners canvassed the entire town visiting all of the Catholic families. Over 900 wage earners received a pledge card by which they were invited to pledge a sum of money, in accordance with their means to be paid monthly over a period of two years. The majority of parishioners pledged one day's pay a month for two years.

A short time later at a "Victory Supper" it was announced that the total gifts raised in cash and pledges amounted to $121,470. The pledges were to be paid on the second Sunday of each month for twenty four months, or until 1958. The "gifts" of $300 or more were to be recorded on a bronze memorial tablet to be known as the "Church Founder's Roll." An anonymous member of the parish donated $25,000 as a memorial for the sanctuary of the new church. It was noted that a significant number of non-Catholics also contributed donations.

Soon afterwards "St. Mary's Thrift Shop" opened in the Cocassett Hall building to display the "donated riches" that were resold and articles were also taken on consignment. The store was under the management of Mrs. Alfred E. Kelly and she was ably assisted by thirty salesgirls who donated a day a month. The upper floor of the hall was used for the Boys Scouts, Christian Youth Organization (CYO) and religious education. The thrift shop also had space for the sale of Catholic religious article including rosaries, pictures, medals, prayer books, books, and even Catholic comic books. On occasion Orville H. Davis would be the auctioneer at auctions held at the thrift shop. A school bus was purchased by the parish and called upon for children attending the 8 o'clock morning Mass and for returning them after Sunday school. The bus made stops at the East Foxboro Store, Corner of Oak and Mechanic, corner of Meadowview and North, and the corner of Lakeview and Main streets.

In October 1957 Fr. Keegan announced that enough funds had been secured and construction on the new church began immediately. Unfortunately, Fr. Keegan would not live to see the new church. Soon after the announcement Fr. Keegan became seriously ill and passed away.
In his eulogy, the Rt. Rev. Walter J. Leach stated, "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 Foxboro Reporter praised Fr. Keegan in an editorial, "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.

Rev. Daniel DeCourcey was assigned as pastor to oversee the completion of the new church. The task was completed in the fall and he humbly stated at the time, "In no way can I take credit for this church, all I am doing is paying the bills!"

The celebratory plans for the sacred blessing and dedication of the new church included Archbishop Richard Cushing. Plans changed when the Vatican announced that Archbishop Cushing was to be elevated to the College of Cardinals. Notwithstanding, at the direction of Cardinal Cushing, Fr. DeCourcey presided at the blessing of the new church on November 21, 1958.

Cardinal Cushing was scheduled to travel to Rome to receive the "Red Hat" from Pope John XXIII in mid December. This obligation did not deter the Cardinal from presiding at the dedication of the new St. Mary's church. Suffering from a virus infection and against doctors orders Cardinal Cushing made the trip to Foxboro on December 5, 1958. Arriving at the church Cardinal Cushing told the overflowing crowd of 800 people, "I resolved I would come here at any cost!" He blessed the corner stone, officiated a low Mass, and personally offered communion to 300 parishioners. In his homily he mentioned that "Foxboro was an indication of the exit of people from urban areas to suburbia... The new church is not only one of the most beautiful in the diocese, but it is functional and in harmony with the terrain and colonial atmosphere of the town.

One year later, on December 24, 1959 St. Mary's celebrated its 100th Anniversary. Bishop Jeremiah Minihan, representing Cardinal Cushing, gave the homily at a Solemn High Mass. The bishop referred to St. Mary's as the "mother church" of the area and he pointed out with words as meaningful today as they were 1959, "That with the continued expansion of the local parish it is obvious that present day parishioners are carrying on the same faith, courage, and loyalty as their ancestors."


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