Springfield in Massachusetts, Diocese of
SPRINGFIELD IN MASSACHUSETTS, DIOCESE OF
The Diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts (Campifontis ) is a suffragan of the metropolitan See of bos ton, established June 14, 1870, from the five central and western counties of Massachusetts; in 1950 when the Diocese of worcester was erected, Springfield was reduced to four counties, an area of 2,822 square miles.
The area lacked a church and a resident priest until 1836, when Rev. James fitton built Christ Church in Worcester. The pioneer Catholics were Irish immigrants working on canals and railroads; Worcester, where Fitton resided from 1836 to 1843, was the first Catholic center. The next church in Cabotville, now Chicopee, was built in 1843 by John D. Brady, the first resident priest in western Massachusetts. By 1870, when the diocese was erected, there were nearly 100,000 Catholics, 38 parishes, and 43 diocesan priests, as well as the Sisters of Mercy in Worcester and the Notre Dame Sisters in Chicopee and Holyoke. Holy Cross in Worcester, founded in 1843 as the first Catholic college in New England, has been closely associated with the growth of the diocese.
Patrick Thomas O'Reilly, a native of Ireland, was consecrated the first bishop of Springfield, Sept. 25, 1870. He had been ordained for the Boston diocese Aug. 15, 1857, and was, when appointed bishop, 37 years old and gifted with an imposing presence and an uncommon measure of tact and capacity for work. He was succeeded by Thomas Daniel Beaven (1892–1920), a native of Springfield, and Thomas Mary O'Leary (1921–49), a native of Dover, N.H. The Catholic population had more than doubled by 1900, and it nearly doubled again during the next five decades. The fourth bishop, Christopher Joseph Weldon, was appointed Jan. 28, 1950; the diocese then had a population of 285,000, which was 46 percent of the total population of the four counties that remained after Worcester was detached. These Catholics, mainly descendants of diverse immigrant stock of the 19th century, included Irish, French-Canadians, Poles, Lithuanians, Italians, Slovaks, and Syrians. National parishes were founded to serve them. Although national parishes were needed, they were conducive to disunity. (see polish na tional catholic church).
Educational institutions included Assumption College (1904), since 1950 in the Worcester diocese; Our Lady of the Elms, Chicopee, a college for women (1928); Cranwell Preparatory, Lenox, a private school operated by the Jesuits (1939); Ursuline Academy for girls, Springfield (1955); and Cathedral High School. The diocese's charitable institutions included a home for children, West Springfield (1954), and the new Providence Hospital in Holyoke (1958), both under the Sisters of Providence, active in the area since 1873. The Catholic Mirror, a monthly that began in 1920, was replaced in 1954 by the weekly Catholic Observer. In 1977, when Bishop Weldon resigned after more than a quarter century of devoted service, the diocese of Springfield had grown in population but continued to retain the same number of parishes and priests. Under his successors, Bishop Joseph E. Maguire (1977–91) and Bishop John A. Marshall (1991–94) the diocese has seen a decline in the number of priests as well as in the overall Catholic population. In 1995, Thomas Dupre was named to succeed Bishop Marshall.
Bibliography: j. j. mccoy, History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Springfield (Boston 1900). k. f. mullaney, Catholic Pittsfield and Berkshire, 2 v. (Pittsfield, Mass. 1897–1924).
[w. l. lucey/eds.]