Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Waterbury's Early Catholic Buildings

The first Catholic mass in Waterbury is believed to have been held in the home of Cornelius Donnelly, celebrated by Rev. James T. McDermott, before 1837. From 1837 to 1847, Waterbury’s Catholic priest was Rev. James Smyth, first pastor of St. Mary’s parish in New Haven, and one of only two priests in the entire state. Cornelius Donnelly’s employer threatened to fire him if he housed Father Smyth. Waterbury’s early Catholics instead gathered for mass in the home of Michael Neville on East Main Street.

In 1845, Dr. Jesse Porter agreed to allow the Catholics to meet in Washington Hall, a building he owned downtown (at the corner of Exchange Place and West Main Street, where Bank of America is now). Two years later, in 1847, Waterbury’s Catholics purchased an empty lot on the corner of East Main and Dublin Streets. The former Episcopal church (St. John’s) was purchased with the intention of relocating it to the East Main Street lot. However, when the building had been moved as far as the current location of St. Patrick’s Hall on East Main Street, the contractor found himself unable to transport the building up the slight hill of East Main. The lot where St. Patrick’s Hall is today was quickly purchased and became the home of the first Catholic church in Waterbury.

Waterbury’s first resident Catholic pastor, Rev. Michael O’Neile, arrived in October of 1847. He placed the new church under the patronage of St. Peter.

There was a fire in the church during services on December 29, 1854, but it did not destroy the building. The pastor, members of the congregation, and Waterbury firemen swiftly brought the fire under control. Services continued to be held in the building until 1859. Construction of the city’s first Immaculate Conception church began in 1857. Anderson’s History of the Town and City of Waterbury speculates that this may have been the first Immaculate Conception church in the entire country.

St. Patrick’s Chapel had previously been the Methodist Episcopal Church, located on the corner of East Main Street and Phoenix Avenue. The building had been sold to the neighboring Immaculate Conception parish in 1876, at which point it became St. Patrick’s Chapel. The building was sold to Irving G. Platt in 1887, who tore it down and replaced it with the commercial and residential building still standing at that corner.

St. Peter’s church, on East Main Street, had been used as a public school after the construction of Immaculate Conception and was torn down in 1888, to be replaced by St. Patrick’s Hall (see earlier post).

1 comment:

Peter said...

It's funny to think that Catholics in Waterbury had to worship in someone's house. I attended Russell School on West Main Street in the early 1970's (ulp, has it been that long??), one of the last classes before it was de-commissioned as a school. Every Wednesday there were "religious instructions" for Catholic students, when they would stay after school for an hour so nuns from Blessed Sacrament School from farther up the hill (yes, they still had a few nuns then) would teach us religion in preparation for our Confirmation.

Almost every child in my class stayed for religious instructions. No exaggeration, out of maybe 25 students in the class there weren't more than two or three Protestants. Catholicism was Waterbury's de facto official religion, at least in our part of the West Side. A long way from the 1830's, that's for sure.

By the way, I moved from Waterbury (to Long Island) ten years ago, but still like to see what's going on in the old hometown. Your blog is certainly helpful in that regard. I'm glad I found it.

Peter