Monday, January 19, 2009

Foxboro Catholics 1862-1871, The Difficult Decade

After the burning of their new church, on February 23, 1862, Foxboro Catholics went from the center of Catholic activity in the area, to a mission station on the fringe of the diocese.
The conflagration was the source of several lawsuits by parishioners against the pastor for services rendered in the building of the church. On March 17, 1862 a court case was filed in Norfolk Superior Court by parishioner John Garside against Fr. Michael X. Carroll John Garside. Garside owned a tin and sheet iron works shop that was located in the basement of Friendship Hall. "By virtue here of I this day attach all the real estate lying in Foxboro belonging to Michael X. Carroll. Also two furnaces, a lot of old iron and a lot of brick lying among the ruin of the Catholic Church, and afterwards I left a summons at his last and usual place of abode for his appearance at court."
The first attempt to revive the parish was in January 1863. Fr. Thomas Scully was assigned pastor. Fr. Scully had served as a chaplain to the 9th Regiment during the Civil War and been captured by the Confederates. He was released after contracting a serious fever, and was discharged for disability on October 31, 1862. While residing in Foxboro, Fr. Scully continued to serve the mission stations at Walpole, Wrentham, and Franklin. The work soon became too arduous for Fr. Scully and after only one month he returned to Boston. Immediately upon the departure of Fr. Scully the Foxboro parish became a mission of St. Mary’s in North Attleboro. Rev. Philip Gillick was the pastor of the North Attleboro church at this time.

Fr. Gillick was a remarkable itinerant missionary priest. He was ordained in 1827 and his first ten years as priest were spent as a missionary among the early church communities in North Carolina. In 1838 he transferred to Diocese of New York and was assigned to the parishes of St. James in Brooklyn and St. Paul in Harlem. He remained here until 1844 at which time he moved to St. Peter's in Belleville, New Jersey and ministered there for seven years. In 1852, during his Silver Jubilee year as a priest, he traveled to the Diocese of Hartford and was assigned pastor at Winsted, Connecticut. He served here until 1855 when he was assigned as the first resident pastor of Greenville, Rhode Island. Greenville is situated very close to the Massachusetts border and Attleboro, which included the area what would become North Attleboro in 1887, became a mission of Greenville.

On June 19, 1859 Fr. Philip Gillick resigned from his parish in Greenville and became pastor of the new St. Mary's Church that had been built under his care, located in what is now North Attleboro. Fr. Gillick was assigned the mission stations of Foxboro, Wrentham, Walpole, and Franklin. An interesting side bar is that, in honor of the mother church in North Attleboro, there is a St. Mary’s church in each of the mission towns today!

The annual reports submitted to the bishop by Fr. Gillick reveal the state of the churches in the mission towns. By far Foxboro was by far the poorest. Due to the burning of the church the congregation once again had to worship and celebrate Mass various private homes and occasionally in the local hotel in town, the Cocasset House. Fr. Gillick attempted to provide regular catechism classes for the children but soon abandoned the effort for two reasons. The children numbered about thirty and classes were held in private homes. Fr. Gillick wrote in his report of 1867, "the owners of which got annoyed by some of the children and would hold them no longer so they were discontinued." Fr. Gillick reported that he visited the Catholics of Foxboro about once every two months and the pew rents averaged fifty-five dollars a year.

During this era the diocese of Boston was comprised of 200,000 Catholics, 109 churches and 119 priests.

In 1868 Rev. Gillick reported that he had commenced with the clearing of the church lot and began the construction of a small chapel for the parish community. Catholic families tended to live in neighborhoods near the church lot. On March 7, 1870, Bassett Street was accepted by the town. Town records described Bassett Street, "It commences at Central Street and terminates at the terminus of Church Street, a corner of Catholic Church lot." This description means that Bassett Street actually was L-shaped. It began at Central Street and continued on what is presently a part of Carpenter Street to the Catholic Church lot.

In 1871 construction on a new church to replace the temporary chapel commenced. The August 26, 1871 issue of the Dedham Transcript, in an article titled, "What We Saw in Foxboro," reported, "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." Two months later, in the October 21 issue, the newspaper reported, "The Catholic Church is so far completed that services have been held in it."


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