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Worcester, Diocese of


The diocese of Worcester (Wigorniensis) is the suffragan of the metropolitan See of boston, comprising Worcester County, the central section of Massachusetts, an area of 1,532 square miles. It was detached from the springfield diocese Jan. 28, 1950, and John Joseph Wright, auxiliary bishop of Boston became the first residential bishop. When Wright was transferred to Pittsburgh, Pa., Jan. 23, 1959, Bp. Bernard Joseph Flanagan, of Norwich, Conn., was named to Worcester Aug. 12 and installed Sept. 24, 1959.

Organized parish life in Worcester County was more than a century old when the diocese was erected. The city of Worcester, second largest in the state, was from the start a center of Catholic life. There Christ Church, later St. John's, was built in 1836 by Rev. James fitton. A remarkable succession of spiritual leaders were associated with St. John's and the growth of Catholicism in city and county: Matthew W. Gibson, the builder of the pioneer churches in the county; John Boyce, whose novels under the pen name of Paul Peppergrass gave the Catholics a feeling of importance; Patrick T. O'Reilly, the first bishop of Springfield; and Thomas Griffin, who spent his entire priestly life from 1867 to 1910 at St. John's and saw Catholics emerge from the Civil War as a respected minority. Signs of the improved status were the publication in Worcester of the Catholic Messenger, a weekly, in 1887, and the Catholic School and Home Magazine, a monthly edited (189297) by Rev. Thomas J. conaty, until he was appointed rector of The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.

Worcester County has a high percentage of Catholics of diverse national origins. The pioneer Irish were augmented by a steady influx of more Irish; a large immigration of French-Canadians; and at the end of the 19th century by the arrival of Poles, Lithuanians, Italians, Slovaks, and Syrians. When the diocese was established, there were 16 French parishes, six Polish, four Italian, three Lithuanian, one Syrian, and one Slovakian.

During the diocese's first decade, the Church became an integral part of the local community, and the national groups, while retaining their parish life, became more unified through diocesan organizations. Following the tenure of Bishop Flanagan, Timothy J. Harrington (198394) and Daniel Reilly (1994) have served as ordinaries of the Worcester diocese that encompasses 127 parishes and 196 priests. A diocesan weekly, the Catholic Free Press, began publication May 4, 1951. In 1964 there were three Catholic colleges in the diocese, Holy Cross (1843) and Assumption (1904) for men, both located in Worcester, and Anna Maria (1946), in Paxton, for women.

Bibliography: 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, Mass. 1956). r. l. reynolds, "Worcester: A New Diocese on the New England Scene," Jubilee, 3 (Feb. 1956) 617.

[w. l. lucey/eds.]

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