Massachusetts, Catholic Church in
MASSACHUSETTS, CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
One of the 13 original colonies, located in northeastern United States, bounded on the north by Vermont and New Hampshire, on the east and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the south by Rhode Island and Connecticut, and on the west by New York. Boston is the capital and principal metropolis of the Commonwealth, the state's official designation. Other large cities include Worcester, Springfield, and Cambridge. In 2001 the Catholic population of Massachusetts was 2,968,693, about 48 percent of the total. In addition to the Archdiocese of Boston (1808), there were three other dioceses: Springfield (1870), Fall River (1904), and Worcester (1950).
Early History. The area was first settled by English religious dissenters. The Pilgrims, or Separatists, under John Carver and William bradford, founded a colony in Plymouth (1620). The Puritans, or Congregationalists, led by John Endicott and John Winthrop, and under a charter for the Massachusetts Bay Colony, settled in Salem (1628) and Boston (1630). Hundreds of colonists
followed Winthrop during the 1630s, and by the end of the decade the Bay Colony had 25,000 settlers and was the largest English colony in North America. The Puritan leaders established a Bible commonwealth based on calvinism. Congregational Church polity was transferred to the political system, and self-government developed in the towns. "No man shall be admitted to the freedom of this body," declared the General Court, "but such as are members of the [Congregational] church." Those who did not subscribe to Congregationalism were permitted to reside in the Bay Colony, but were not allowed to take an active role in the governance of the colony. Roman Catholics, however, along with Quakers and Jews, were not permitted in the colony at all. The Bible commonwealth, as planned, did not survive the 17th century, and control of the Congregational churches was further weakened by the Charter of 1691, ruling that representatives of the general court were to be elected on the basis of property rather than religious affiliation. Nevertheless, the Puritans, with their zeal for religion, intense hostility to the Catholic religion and practices, concern for education, and strict moral attitudes, dominated New England. Massachusetts took the lead in the events that led to the War for Independence, and the Battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill in 1775 marked that war's beginning. Maine remained a district of Massachusetts until 1820, when it entered the union under the Missouri Compromise.
Early Catholicism. Catholics avoided Massachusetts during the colonial period; especially after laws passed in 1647 and 1700 forbade Catholic priests to reside in the colony under pain of imprisonment and execution. The approximately 1,200 exiled Acadians assigned (1755–56) to Massachusetts were scattered among the towns, where they were gradually assimilated or from which they eventually escaped. Thanks largely to an alliance and friendship with France during the War for Independence, Americans became more tolerant of Roman Catholics, and by the time independence was achieved, a small group of French and Irish residents organized a small congregation and began holding services. While the new Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 provided a bill of rights guaranteeing "equal protection of the law" to all religious denominations, it required that all state officials swear that they were not subject to the authority of any "foreign prince, person, prelate, state, or potentate."
Since all Protestants still assumed that Catholics were subject to both pope and prelate, this clause automatically excluded them from holding public office in Massachusetts until 1821, when the test was finally removed.
The Diocese of Boston. Despite the continued existence of political limitations, the number of Catholics continued to increase in Massachusetts, and in 1808 the Diocese of Boston was established with Frenchman Jean Lefebvre de cheverus as its first bishop. The first diocese encompassed all of New England, extending from Buzzards Bay and Nantucket Sound in the south to Maine and the Canadian border in the north. Twelve years later, there were an estimated 3,850 Catholics in New England, including several Native American settlements in northern Maine whose members had been converted earlier by the French and who now came under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Boston. When Benedict Joseph fenwick succeeded Cheverus as bishop of Boston in 1825, he found himself in charge of the smallest and weakest of the nine dioceses that existed in the United States at that time. In all New England there were only eight churches, and the larger part of the Catholic population was still restricted to the Boston area. As the result of repressive land policies in the British Isles after the Napoleonic wars, the number of Irish immigrants coming to the United States grew so rapidly that Fenwick had to build several new churches in the city.
The sudden rise in the number of Irish Catholics created considerable anxiety among native Bostonians, who feared the social and economic impact of unskilled workers and resented their religious beliefs. During the summer of 1825, roving gangs of vandals broke windows, damaged furniture, and actually destroyed several small houses in the Irish district. In 1834, a local mob burned down the Ursuline Convent in nearby Charlestown; and in 1837 groups of Yankees and Irish residents clashed in downtown Boston in what became known as the Broad Street Riot.
Roman Catholicism also began to spread to other parts of Massachusetts during this same period. By the mid-1820s, for example, a number of Irish immigrants were moving some 45 miles north of Boston in search of work at locations along the Merrimack River, where new textile factories were being constructed by Boston investors. Irish workers from Boston, along with French-speaking Catholic workmen from Canada, soon made up a sizeable portion of the work force in such towns as Lowell and Lawrence, digging the canals and constructing the buildings. Acquiring a site of land near the Western Canal, on July 3, 1831, Bishop Fenwick dedicated St. Patrick's Church as further evidence of Catholic expansion. Between 1828 and 1830 he supervised the dedication of churches in Newport and Pawtucket, Rhode Island, as well as in New Bedford, Massachusetts. To serve a group of Irish glasssworkers who had moved to Sandwich, Fenwick had a small frame church constructed in Boston and shipped by water to the Cape Cod town. On June 17, 1830, he dedicated Holy Trinity, the first Catholic church in Connecticut. And all the while, he continued to minister to Native American populations at Old Town and Eastport, Maine.
Failing health did not prevent Bishop Fenwick from traveling incessantly during the 1840s, administering the sacrament of Confirmation in Lowell; dedicating a new church in Fall River; up to Vermont for another new church; down to Providence, Rhode Island, and then to Bridgeport, Connecticut. In September 1842 he dedicated a new church in Quincy, Massachusetts, and the following month he was in Lowell to dedicate St. Peter's Church. In 1842, Fenwick purchased property in Worcester, Massachusetts, for the site of the college he had always dreamed of—the College of the Holy Cross—named after the original church in Boston.
The Famine Years. Even though the Boston diocese lost some ten thousand Catholics when Fenwick detached Connecticut and Rhode Island in 1844, there were still nearly seventy thousand left in the remaining four states that John Fitzpatrick took over when he succeeded Fenwick in 1846. Massachusetts alone contained over fifty thousand Catholics, with nearly thirty thousand in the capital city. "In Boston, we are sadly off for want of churches," complained the new bishop as he proceeded to add to the number of churches in the diocese. In August 1846 he dedicated St. Joseph's Church in Roxbury, and a short time later saw the completion of Holy Trinity Church for German immigrants in the South End. As the terrible aftereffects of the Great Famine brought additional Irish-Catholic immigrants to the shores of America during the late 1840s, Bishop Fitzpatrick was kept busy creating new parishes and dedicating new churches in other parts of Massachusetts. On the north shore, new pastors were sent in to take charge of expanding Catholic populations in Chelsea and Lynn; St. Mary's Church in Salem was made responsible for mission stations in Marblehead, Gloucester, and Ipswich. On the south shore, St. Mary's Church in West Quincy provided a focal point for people in Quincy, Braintree, Weymouth, and Milton, for residents of Randolph and Stoughton, for those in Hingham and Cohasset, and for communities as south as Plymouth. Because of the increase in textile manufacturing, Fall River showed an amazing growth, and in August 1840 the Church of St. John the Baptist was constructed to serve the estimated one thousand Catholics in that area. To the west of Boston, things went even more rapidly. Before 1840, there had not been a single church or chapel west of Worcester. By the time Fitzpatrick took office in 1846, however, there were brand new churches at Cabotville, Pittsfield, Northampton, and Springfield. The number of Catholics in the city of Worcester alone had risen to nearly two thousand, and in June of 1846 Fitzpatrick dedicated the Church of St. John the Evangelist. But it was the region along the Merrimack River that had the most dramatic increase in numbers. The expanding textile center was attracting many Irish immigrant workers, and by 1841 the Catholic population of Lowell was estimated to have reached four thousand, requiring Bishop Fenwick to add St. Peter's Church in 1842 to the original St. Patrick's Church he had constructed ten years earlier. The nearby textile city of Lawrence, too, experienced a population explosion, going from fewer than two hundred Catholics in 1845 to over six thousand by 1848. At this time, the jurisdiction of the bishop of Boston included not only the commonwealth of Massachusetts, but also the states of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Vermont was the most populous of the three, but its five thousand Catholics were widely dispersed, with few churches and only a handful of priests. Most parishes were concentrated in the extreme northwestern parts of the state near the town of Burlington, where Fenwick had dedicated St. Peter's Church in 1841. In New Hampshire, the small number of Catholics received little attention until the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company began its textile operations at Manchester in 1839. After that it became necessary for an itinerant priest to say Mass on a regular basis until the bishop of Boston could work out a more permanent arrangement. With well over forty-five thousand Catholics, Maine ranked second to Vermont in northern New England, and during the 1830s its growing population resulted in new churches at Dover, Portland, and Eastport. As a result of the sale of valuable timber land, the town of Bangor experienced a speculative boom that attracted about a thousand new Catholics for whom St. Michael's Church was built in 1839. There were also small Catholic communities at Ellsworth, West Mathias, and Lubec, with a small church at Houlton meeting the needs of those who lived close to the Canadian border. In addition to Catholics of European lineage, Bishop Fitzpatrick was also responsible for the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes in the northern regions.
The continued influx of foreigners into the United States during the late 1840s and 1850s and the success of Catholic prelates in gaining some measure of social and economic benefits for their parishioners convinced many native-born Americans that they had to stem the immigrant tide. In 1852, a number of nativist groups formed the American party—more popularly known as the Know-Nothing party—to prevent further immigration and to keep immigrant-Americans in a subservient position. Despite an amazing burst of power in Massachusetts and other northern states during 1854 and 1855, the emergence of the slavery issue caused the party to fail completely in its attempt to nominate a presidential candidate in 1856. The slavery controversy continued to provoke hostilities between the states of the North and the South, and in November 1860 the election of Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln led to the secession of southern states from the Union. On the morning of April 12, 1861, with the bombardment of Fort Sumter, a federal fort in Charleston Harbor, the Civil War began. With the outbreak of war, Irish Catholics rushed to join fight to preserve the Union. With the approval of Governor John A. Andrew, Catholic leaders in Boston were encouraged to form a separate regiment of Irish soldiers. Companies from Boston, joined by military units from Salem, Milford, Marlboro, and Stoughton, banded together to form the 9th Regiment, Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry. In response to the gallant efforts of the "Fighting Ninth," Governor Andrew approved recruitment for a second all-Irish regiment—the 28th—that was sworn into service in December 1861 and became one of the five regiments that made up the Irish Brigade. The impressive patriotism displayed by Boston Catholics, the heroism of Irish troops on the battlefield, and the support they received from loyal Catholic citizens did much to create a higher level of tolerance throughout the state. Bishop John Fitzpatrick was awarded an honorary degree from Harvard college, Catholic clergymen were permitted to attend patients in public institutions, and Catholic school children were no longer forced to read the Protestant version of the Bible in the public schools.
Immigration and Diocesan Development. Once the Civil War was over, large-scale immigration resumed, and additional numbers of Catholic immigrants joined earlier arrivals in spreading across the state of Massachusetts. Following the death of Bishop Fitzpatrick in 1866, his friend Fr. John J. williams took over as bishop and began making arrangements for an expanding diocese. As early as 1868, he asked Rome's permission to divide the diocese of Boston. He proposed to separate the five counties of western and central Massachusetts and form them into a new diocese with Springfield as its see city. In 1870, Pope Pius IX signed the bull creating the diocese of Springfield. Patrick Thomas O'Reilly (1870–92), a native of Ireland, was consecrated the first bishop of the new diocese and was succeeded by Thomas Beaven, a native of Springfield (1892–1920). At the time the diocese was created there were nearly 100,000 Catholics in the area; that number more than doubled by 1900.
At the same time Bishop Williams suggested another diocese that would encompass Rhode Island and three counties in southeastern Massachusetts. In 1872 Rome established the diocese of Providence, Rhode Island. It grew so fast that in 1904 the three Massachusetts counties were formed into the diocese of Fall River. In his brief tenure, William Stang, the first bishop of Fall River (1904–1907) wrote three pastoral letters, summoned a diocesan synod and, within two months of its publication, began implementing Acerbo nimis, Pope Pius X's instruction on catechesis.
Despite these geographic divisions, the diocese of Boston was still growing at such a remarkable rate that on February 12, 1875, Pope Pius IX approved the transformation of Boston from a diocese into an archdiocese, and Bishop John William was elevated to the rank of archbishop. The new ecclesiastical province included all the dioceses of New England.
As Catholics increased in numbers during the late 1870s and early 1880s they were beginning to move up from political positions at the local level to more significant places in city, state, and even national government. In 1881, for example, the city of Lawrence chose John Breen as its first Catholic mayor; the following year the city of Lowell elected John J. Donovan as mayor; in 1884 Boston chose Hugh O'Brien as the first Irish-born, Roman Catholic mayor of the city. In 1894, John F. Fitzgerald of Boston's North End was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the 9th congressional district and Joseph F. O'Connell of Dorchester went to Washington from the 10th congressional district. The impoverished conditions of the immigrants during the 1850s, followed by the disruptive years of the Civil War during the 1860s, had caused earlier prelates to go slow in the building of Catholics schools. Archbishop John Williams, however, undertook the creation of a parochial school system throughout the archdiocese, and in 1884 reported to the Third Baltimore Council that 35 of his parishes had parochial schools, with many more to follow. The two dominant teaching communities in the archdiocese of Boston were the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, who had arrived in Boston in 1848, and the Sisters of St. Joseph who arrived in 1873.
The New Immigrants. It was in the late 1880s and early 1890s that the character of immigrants to Massachusetts changed dramatically. During the early part of the 19th century, most immigrants to the United States had come from northern and western Europe. In the late 1880s, the bulk of people entering the country came from southern and eastern Europe. Fleeing high taxes, low wages, drought, famine, political oppression, and religious persecution, these new immigrants came to America seeking liberty and opportunity. In the decade between 1900 and 1910, over 150,000 Italians entered the Bay State, along with some 80,000 Poles and nearly 25,000 Lithuanians. Many newcomers were Roman Catholics who settled in various parts of Massachusetts and who posed challenges to a Church that was overwhelmingly Irish in its clerical personnel and its cultural institutions. Sensitive to the desires of these non-English-speaking groups to have their own churches, their own priests, sermons in their own languages, and observances of their own religious feast days, Archbishop Williams permitted them as much national expression as possible in their religious observances, while keeping their new churches and their congregations under his episcopal authority.
There had been a small but active German-speaking community in Boston before the Civil War, and in 1872 Archbishop Williams laid the cornerstone to a new Holy Trinity Church that enlarged the original church that had been constructed in 1844. The number of French-speaking immigrants had also expanded after the Civil War, when the numerous textile mills in the Merrimack Valley began hiring immigrants from Europe as well as from Canada. In 1868, Archbishop Williams recruited French-speaking Oblates of Mary Immaculate to staff the first French parish of St. Joseph (later changed to St. Jean Baptiste) in Lowell. To further accommodate Canadian immigrants, the archbishop brought the marist fathers to Haverhill in the 1870s. After later assuming responsibility for St. Anne's parish in Lawrence, in 1885 the Marists purchased a site in Boston's Back Bay for the construction of the Church of Notre Dame des Victoires, popularly known as "the French Church." Archbishop Williams also responded to the arrival, between 1899 and 1910, of over 45,000 Portuguese immigrants. He brought in several Portuguese-speaking priests to serve their spiritual needs while they lived in Boston's North End, and later support Portuguese parishes in Cambridge and in Lowell. By the turn of the century, nearly ten thousand Polish immigrants had settled in the Greater Boston area, and in 1894 a Polish-speaking priest named Fr. John Chmielinski dedicated the church of Our Lady of Czestochowa in the Boston area, and also ministered to groups of Polish immigrants in Lowell and Salem. From 1893 to 1918, Archbishop Williams and his successor Archbishop William o'connell sanctioned as many as 15 Polish parishes, despite occasional efforts by separatist Polish groups to establish independent national churches. During the same period, about one thousand Lithuanian immigrants settled in the South Boston peninsula, and were provided with a young Lithuanian priest who established St. Joseph's Church, but whose controversial nature led a number of parishioners to erect a church of their own (St. Peter's). Five other Lithuanian parishes were established in various parts of the archdiocese—in Brockton, Lawrence, Lowell, Cambridge, and Norwood—places where Lithuanian immigrants had gone in search of work. The largest of the new immigrant groups arriving in Massachusetts came from Italy. As early as 1886, the average number of Italian immigrants had already reached 222,000, with many of the newcomers settling in Boston. At first they congregated along the waterfront in the city's North End, where the Italian population grew from a thousand in 1880 to seven thousand in 1895. As their numbers grew, it became obvious that steps would have to be taken to meet their spiritual needs. In 1876, St. Leonard's Church was constructed in the North End, with Franciscans providing the services; later, the Church of the Sacred Heart was established and placed under the direction of the Missionaries of St. Charles. Both churches developed parochial grammar schools, and also provided social clubs and religious centers for the predominantly Italian neighborhood that featured yearly outdoor festivals honoring various patron saints.
The Twentieth Century. On Feb. 2, 1907 Bishop Stang of Fall River died; he was succeeded by the Most Rev. Daniel F. Feehan (1907–1934). Later that same year, after 41 years of service as fourth bishop and first archbishop of Boston, Archbishop Williams died (August 30) and was succeed by William Henry O'Connell, bishop of Portland, Maine. Both Feehan and O'Connell came on the scene at a time that the Church in Massachusetts was expanding rapidly. At the time of his accession, Archbishop O'Connell assumed responsibility for an archdiocese that covered about 2500 square miles, and served some 850,000 Catholics. The archdiocese contained almost two hundred parish churches, had nearly six thousand priests, and almost 1600 sisters of various religious orders. Fifty thousand students attended church-related schools, from the elementary grades to the college level, and some 70,000 cases a year were being handled by various hospitals and charitable agencies operated by the archdiocese. In addition to increasing the number of parishes in the city of Boston, a series of new churches went up in other parts of the state. From Winthrop and Revere, to Lynnfield, Danvers, and Newburyport, the spires of new churches marked the Catholic movement into north shore areas. The archdiocese was kept busy supplying priests and building churches for new immigrant families moving into the textile centers of Lowell and Lawrence, as well as into the neighboring communities of North Andover, Tewksbury, and Dracut. South of Boston, St. John's Church in Quincy was the basis of a network of other churches and mission stations, while new parishes went up in the nearby towns of Braintree, Weymouth, Milton, and Randolph. Along the seashore areas of Hull, Cohasset, amd Scituate, as well as Plymouth, Kingston, and Duxbury, a number of new churches were constructed, and several temporary missions were converted into parishes. With numerous industries in the Brockton area offering employment for unskilled European immigrants, several large churches went up in Brockton itself, as well as in such nearby towns as Whitman, Bridgewater, and Middleboro. During this same period, the number of non-English-speaking churches also increased. By the time Cardinal O'Connell died in 1944, there were 29 such churches. Many were in such French-Canadian communities as Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill, Salem, and Beverley; others were in Italian and Polish communities. By 1945 there were a total of 15 Italian churches in the North End, in east Boston, and in such towns as Revere, Somerville, and Everett, as well as Waltham and Salem. The original six Polish churches had expanded to 15 by 1945. During the first 18 months of his episcopacy, O'Connell could point to 31 new parishes, 29 additional priests, nine more parochial schools, two more orphan asylums, and three new religious orders of nuns added to those already serving the archdiocese.
In 1944, Richard J. cushing succeeded Cardinal O'Connell as archbishop of Boston, and found the Church in Massachusetts growing at a rate of about 250,000 to 300,000 every five years, with the number of parishes increasing from 325 in 1944 to 396 in 1960. At the time Cushing became archbishop, there were 4,054 young women serving in 44 female religious orders; by 1960 the number had risen to 5,543, representing 63 orders. In 1944 there were 253 seminarians; by 1960 the figure had jumped to 418. The archdiocese had such a surplus of priests that Cardinal Cushing created a program that sent Boston priests to dioceses in parts of the country like Utah, Louisiana, Colorado, and Wyoming, where there were serious shortages of clergy.
The diocese of Springfield was experiencing similar growth. The Catholic population had more than doubled since the turn of century. In January 1950 Worcester county, the central section of Massachusetts, was detached from the diocese of Springfield to form a separate diocese. The first bishop of the new diocese of Worcester was John Joseph Wright, formerly an auxiliary bishop in Boston. When Bishop Wright was transferred to Pittsburgh at the beginning of 1959, Bishop Joseph Flanagan was transferred from Norwich, Connecticut to succeed him.
In 1969 the bishops established the Massachusetts Catholic Conference to serve as the official voice of the four Catholic dioceses in the Commonwealth. The MCC identifies pressing needs in areas of welfare, health, education, and civil rights, and represents the Church's position on social issues and matters of public policy to government agencies.
By the late 1960s and early 1970s changes were evident throughout the state that reflected many of the tensions in the Church and the nation during those disruptive years. Mass attendance declined; the number of parochial schools was substantially reduced; the number of incoming seminarians dropped off dramatically; there were fewer women entering religious orders, and more and more parish priests were retiring because of age. In part, many of these statistical changes resulted from demographic shifts in Massachusetts that saw older populations moving out of the cities into the suburbs, and the arrival of new immigrants from Latin American countries and many parts of Southeast Asia who settled in urban centers. Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who became archbishop of Boston in 1984, confronted these changes as did other bishops in the state, by closing older parishes in depopulated urban districts, and by creating new parishes in recently developed suburban areas. With the decline in the number of priests and religious, the dioceses expanded programs for the training of lay ministers. These developments presented serious challenges for the Church in Massachusetts at the start of the 21st century.
Catholic Institutions of Higher Learning. Founded 1843 as a liberal arts college for men by the Jesuits, Holy Cross College shares the distinction of being the oldest Catholic college in Massachusetts. Its first graduating class included James Augustine healy and his brother Hugh, both freed African-American slaves, while the second graduating class included their brother Patrick, the first African-American to be awarded a Ph.D. James Healy, who was the also valedictorian for the first graduating class, went on to become the first African-American to be named bishop when he was appointed Bishop of Portland, Maine in 1875. In addition to Holy Cross College, the Jesuits also administer boston college, established 1863. Other Catholic colleges in the state include Stonehill College in North Easton (sponsored by the Holy Cross Fathers), Emmanuel College in Boston (established 1919 by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur), Regis College in Weston (sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph), College of Our Lady of the Elms in Chicopee (sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph), Merrimack College in North Andover (established, 1947, by the Augustinians), Anna Maria College in Paxton (sponsored by the Sisters of St. Anne), Assumption College in Worcester (sponsored by the Augustinians of the Assumption).
Bibliography: r. h. lord et al., History of the Archdiocese of Boston, 1604 to 1943, 3 v. (New York 1944; Boston 1945), t. h. o'connor, Boston Catholics: A History of the Church and Its People (Boston 1998). s. e. morison, Builders of the Bay Colony (Boston 1930); The Intellectual Life of Colonial New England (2d ed. New York 1956). a. j. riley, Catholicism in New England to 1788 (Catholic University of America Studies in American Christian History 24; 1936). The best study of the impact of the Irish on Boston is o. handlin, Boston's Immigrants 1790–1880: A Study of Acculturation (rev. ed. Cambridge, Mass. 1959). m. l. hansen, "The Second Colonization of New England," The Immigrant in American History, ed. a. m. schlesinger (Cambridge, Mass. 1940), corrects some false ideas about the immigrants. l. e. truesdell, The Canadian Born in the United States (New Haven 1943), statistics for Fr. Canadians. r. h. lord et al., History of the Archdiocese of Boston, 3 v. (New York 1944). m. x. sullivan, The History of Catholic Secondary Education in the Archdiocese of Boston (Washington 1946). General Laws (Annotated ) (St. Paul, Minn. 1958–59). Massachusetts Digest (Annotated ) 1761 to Date (Boston 1933—). j. j. mccoy, History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Springfield (Boston 1900). j. g. deedy, jr, The Church in Worcester, New England (Worcester 1956). f. j. bradley, Brief History of the Diocese of Fall River (New York 1931).
[t. h. o'connor/
w. l. lucey]