Foxboro High School Graduation Problems 1900-1928
Foxboro’s first town hall was erected in 1857. The original building served two vital functions. It house the municipal offices and provided the largest space venue for town meetings, church fairs, community dances and patriotic rallies.
In April 1865 Foxboro voted to establish a public high with the classrooms and graduation ceremonies held the town hall. It served in this capacity until 1900 when a fire consumed the building, leaving the Bethany Congregational Church as the only other venue large enough to host the high school graduation. This situation was fine with students and families until 1916 when the newly assigned pastor at St. Mary’s informed the graduating seniors that they were forbidden to enter a Protestant church.
Fr. William J. McCarthy was assigned to St. Mary’s after serving twenty years at a parish in Lynn where his going away reception was attended by hundreds of former parishioners who awarded him a purse of $1,500 for a parting gift. Fr. McCarthy was respected in both the clerical and political sphere of activity. He was assigned to St. Mary’s to provide for the expanding pastoral and administrative care for Catholics at the Foxboro State Hospital, the State School for the Feeble Minded Children in Wrentham, the John P. Holland Vocation School for Disabled Veterans in East Norfolk and plan for the construction of a church for the Catholic community in Wrentham.
Walter Lillyman, the oldest living Catholic living in town when interviewed in1984 vividly recalled Fr. McCarthy as a political force in town when the Democrat Party was in power. Local postmasters were appointed on Congressional recommendation, and Fr. McCarthy, a staunch Democrat wielded much influence in this matter when there was a Democratic administration office. Lillyman remembered that Sunday Masses were always so packed that many of the faithful would be standing outside the doors. If Fr. McCarthy was presiding at Mass he would say from the altar, "You are not participating in the Mass if you are not in the church!" But all was forgiven at the offertory for the collection baskets were always brought outside! Fr. McCarthy was also sought after as a public speaker on Patriotic subjects. He is especially remembered for his Memorial Day speeches on the Common during WWI. In fact it was Fr. McCarthy who was called upon to deliver the address on the Common band stand to announce to the citizens of Foxboro the November 1918 abdication of the Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Fr. McCarthy’s strict position on not allowing Catholics to enter Protestant churches created a very awkward situation for the school committee, as well as the graduating seniors and their families. The controversy first reported in the local newspaper in a column "The Graduation Problem" was soon reported in several Boston newspapers with headlines such as, "Foxboro in the Throes of a Religious War," and "Majority Hold Own Exercises; Foxboro High Students Defy School Committee."
There were two Catholics among the sixteen students in the Class of 1916, Margaret Dolan and James Doyle, valedictorian and historian respectively. The school committee, learning that two members of the class, in view of their religion, must be excused from participation if Commencement was held in the Congregational Church, directed the class to change the venue to a public hall. Initially, a majority of the class dissented and voted to call off graduation. Several days later, that decision was rescinded in favor of conducting independent exercises after the closing of school, beyond all control by the authorities, and in the Congregational church which the school committee had declared should not be used for graduation purposes.
Over 700 people attended the independent ceremonies which followed the original graduation program with the exception of Margaret Dolan, valedictorian and James Doyle, historian, whose speeches were delivered by other students. The diplomas had been officially delivered to the class in the morning in the High School by the School Committee. At the independent graduation ceremony, in a formal manner, though not by a representative of the schools, the diplomas were delivered by Dr. Francis A. Bragg, whom the class had chosen to make the exercise complete.
This unfortunate situation was repeated annually, Catholic graduating seniors were not allowed to participate in the independent graduation exercises because of their faith, until the opening of the new Foxboro High School in 1928.