Established in 1861. Fr. Patrick Healy was appointed pastor and for five years served the Catholics in an area that now comprises over twenty parishes. Mass was celebrated in Monson once a month. In the year following his appointment, Fr. Healy began collecting funds for a church building. The deed of the land purchased was signed on Christmas eve, December 24, 1862 and construction started in early 1863.
This was an ambitious venture: labor and material costs were high, for it was the third and darkest year of the Civil War; yet, Father Healy dared to plan a stone church for the little congregation of less than one hundred families. The Palmer Journal of June 13, 1863, has this notice under the heading of "Catholic Church in Monson":
"Workmen are laying the foundation of a Catholic church in Monson. It is in the South village, and the building will go up the present summer. It will be capable of holding 500 people."
Keely of New York drew the plans, (later the architect of the Boston Cathedral), with the builders being Trainor Brothers. It was to be constructed of gneiss, a native rock resembling granite, and cut from the local quarry, Flynt Granite Company (opened in 1809, it was the same quarry responsible for the stone used to build the US Armory in Springfield). The structure was roughly finished in the fall of 1863 and, during the winter, Mass was celebrated in the new building once a month.
The church was dedicated on Palm Sunday (March 20, 1864). Father John J. Williams, then pastor of St. James Church in Boston, afterward the great Archbishop of Boston, was appointed by Bishop John B. Fitzpatrick to act in his stead at the dedication. The sermon was preached by Fr. James A. Healy, then Rector of Boston Cathedral, later Bishop of " St. Patrick Parish - Monson, MA.
Dedicateded: 1864 - Established: 1878
Now Declared a National Catholic Historical Site
The history of St. Patrick's Parish begins with the celebration of the first Mass on September 8, 1850, in the storeroom adjoining the South Monson "Branch" Mill (a woolen mill located on Elm Street, still used as a wool room and office in 1900 ~ no longer a landmark as it was destroyed). The Mass was to have been said in a dwelling house, but by the kindness of a Mr. Holmes, of the mill, a storeroom was cleared and fitted with crude altar on an unpainted platform of pine boards and seats. Catholic families were few in the area, but a large body of Catholic men were employed in building the New London and Northern Railroad. About sixty Catholics attended Mass. For some it was the first time they had seen a priest, or attended Mass, since they left their homes in Ireland.
The mother of Fr. Thomas O'Keefe (pastor here from 1894 ~ 1941) was privileged to welcome the first priest to town, Fr. J. J. Dougherty of Springfield. Fr. Dougherty was responsible for the spiritual welfare of Catholics from Chicopee to Worcester. He had been contacted by Bishop Fitzpatrick of Boston as a result of a letter of inquiry concerning the lack of Mass and Sacraments in this area sent to Fr. Boyce, of St. John's Church, Worcester, by his kinsman, Mr. John Murphy of Monson. For the ten years following, Fr. William Blenkinsop (a saintly and gentle man prominent here in the early days) came from Chicopee (St. Matthew ~ now Holy Name) to celebrate Mass three or four times a year; his parish extended east to Spencer, embracing all the towns between Spencer and Chicopee, with the exception of Springfield.
The parish of Ware (St. William ~ now All Saints), including all the towns from Spencer to Springfield, waand, Maine for twenty-five years. His sermon was lavish in praise of the pastor and people who had built "this most wonderful little stone Catholic church" and declared that he could hardly believe that a congregation that could fit in it could have built it.
In 1866, Father Healy moved to Chicopee. In 1870 the Worcester, Springfield, Pittsfield area was separated from the Boston Diocese to become the new Diocese of Springfield, with Patrick T. O'Reilly, Pastor of St. John's Church, Worcester, as Bishop. At that time, Father Healy, the planner of St. Patrick's Church, was appointed as Vicar General of the new Diocese. After Father Healy's promotion to Chicopee, the Ware parish was divided and Monson became a mission of Palmer (first ministered by St. Thomas, then St. Mary in Thorndyke and lastly St. Bartholomew in Bondsville). Destined to be a mission from Palmer for fourteen years, Mass was said here about twice a month.
Father Healy's interest in the church continued and through his efforts a change was made. As Vicar General of the Diocese, and acting Bishop during the summer of 1878 while Bishop O'Reilly was in Rome, the parish of Palmer was divided. The upper villages of Palmer formed one parish and Palmer and Monson another. Two months later Monson was made a separate parish and Fr. Jeremiah McCarthy appointed as pastor.
Inscribed in St. Patrick's oldest record book are the following messages written and recorded by Father McCarthy when he arrived here:
"The parish of Monson comprising the township of Monson, together with South Wilbraham and Wales was created into a parish on the second day of September 1878. I assume the charge on the 2nd day of September. It formerly formed a part of the parish of Thorndyke, where the records of the past must be sought for. N.B. For the past two months, however, this parish formed part of the new parish of Palmer of which Rev. Thomas Sullivan is pastor.
The following is a copy of the letter from the Rev. Patrick Healy, V.G. of the Diocese of Springfield appointing me pastor.
Rt. Rev. P. T. O'Reilly, Bishop of the Diocese being absent in Europe at the time. Chicopee, Mass.
August 29th, 1878Rev. and Dear Sir: I now appoint you pastor of Monson, with the missions South Wilbraham and Wales. Please be there on Monday. Yours respectfully.
Patrick Healy, V.G."
Fr. Thomas O'Keefe was appointed pastor in October, 1894. He was born in Ware on January 3, 1860. One of Fr. Thomas O'Keefe's earliest achievements was the beautifying of Bethany Cemetery. A mortuary Chapel, of Gothic design, (completely renovated and dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows in 1998) a gift of Mr. John Rafferty, and the stone archway (renovated in 1996) dedicated to his brother, Fr. John O'Keefe, were erected in 1923. There are many other memorials in the same cemetery, as well as in the church, that remind us of Fr. O'Keefe's achievements.
The purchase of the Chaffee property in 1895 completed the church grounds and gave space for the erection of the Sunday School building (there was also a house and barn in this area; all these buildings have since been demolished, and the land converted into a parking area). By the spring of 1997, it was found that all the wooden joists and flooring of the church had decayed and had to be replaced; to prevent this from happening again, he had a low cellar dug under the entire church building and reconstructed with heavier timbers. When the repairs necessary for the safety of the building were completed, the people insisted on an entire renovation of the interior. For the first phase, frescoing was done by Schumaker of Boston, two side altars were erected, electric fixtures were installed and carpets for the sanctuary and side aisles were laid.
In 1911, to his lasting memory, Fr. O'Keefe replaced the wooden spire with an appropriate granite tower. A glance at the pictures of the church as it was and as it is show how great a change has been made by the removal of the old steeple. The new tower is a reduced copy of the tower of All Saints Church at Aldwinkle, Northamptonshire, England, the birthplace of John Dryden.
The big clock, as well as the bell, were transferred from the wooden spire to the new granite tower (in 1965 both were electrified and the bell automatically rang out the Angelus every day). The interior of the church was given special treatment as well. The choir gallery was removed, the organ pipes covered, new stained glass windows from Munich, Germany were installed and marble from Italy embellished the sanctuary ~ the altar, altar rail, the beautiful statues of St. Joseph and the Child Jesus, the Pieta and the Adoring Angels were installed. (The donors of these gifts are noted on the marble scrolls located in the side vestibules of the church). By 1920 this final phase of renovation was completed.
It was a blessing that none of these beautiful installations were destroyed by the blaze that broke out on August 26, 1928. At the time there was a low ceiling hiding the roof trusses. In the "tunnel" that this formed with the roof above it, the fire, starting in the organ, spread very rapidly. Before the firemen could reach the conflagration, the entire superstructure was a mass of flame. Their energy and skill confined the blaze to the top level. Some massive beams did fall, blazing, to the floor; but no irreparable harm was done. There was considerable damage but, by the mercy of God, the most important items ~ the altar, Stations, windows and statues ~ were safe and sound. After the fire it looked more beautiful than before. The beautiful oak trusses and woodwork that can be seen on the superstructure of the church is the result of careful workmanship. It took ten months to repair what had been destroyed in a few hours. Fortunately, the edifice had been adequately insured and, even though burdened by the woes of a frightening depression, the parishioners rallied to the cause of their church and its needs.
Fr. Thomas O'Keefe died August 24, 1941 and his body is interred at Bethany Cemetery, in front of the Chapel. His brother, Fr. John O'Keefe, and members of the O'Keefe family are interred on the southern knoll of the "Old" Cemetery across Bethany road.
Fr. Henry Burke was appointed pastor on December 1, 1946. In his time, the Hampden mission of St. Mary's became an independent parish on June 24, 1951 with Fr. John W. Shea as its first pastor. Two years later, on May 1, 1953, the other missions of Wales, Holland and Brimfield were separated from St. Patrick's forming a new union with residence in Brimfield. Fr. William Breen was St. Christopher's first pastor.
On February 4, 1967, Fr. J. Andrew Grady became the Administrator of St. Patrick's with Fr. Hoey in residence; less than one year later he was named pastor. At the same time, Fr. Hoey retired as Pastor Emeritus in residence living here happily until his death on December 28, 1974.
This was a time of "renewal" in the Church, universally and locally. The parish hall (the former Green St. School, purchased in 1929, which had been acquired during Fr. O'Keefe's tenure) needed major reconstruction and refurbishing to make it into an efficient Parish Hall (previously named "Columbia Hall" by Father O'Keefe because of the association of Columbus with the Knights of Columbus and the Patricia Circle Daughters of Isabella which regularly met there). Some remodeling was finished in the rectory and a garage was added.
Plans were now being formulated for the reconstruction and "updating" of the Church Sanctuary to fall in line with the new Guidelines for the Celebration of the Liturgy issued following the Second Vatican Council. In the Sanctuary, a dark green marble floor and presiding platform was constructed by the Bannon Marble Company. The frontal of the original altar, beautiful carvings of The Sacrificial and Resurrected Lamb on the Book With Seven Seals (found in the Christian Scriptures in John's Book of Revelation) and two panels of wheat and grapes (symbols of the bread and wine used for the Eucharist) along with four marble pillars, were reconstructed to form the base for the new Altar of Sacrifice. A new mensa, an altar slab or "table top", of Vermont marble was added to complete the altar. A lectern was designed and constructed, as was the credence table, from parts of the original altar. The marble font was placed in the Sanctuary to be used for the celebration of Baptism and the gateway was widened to facilitate the new Funeral Liturgy.
Fr. Jeddie P. Brooks was named pastor on May 21, 1994. Since Fr. Jeddie's arrival much has been done to refurbish, re-construct and renovate the extensive properties and buildings which make up the parish...and much remains to be accomplished.
During the past year, 1997~1998, the Spiritual Life Commission and the Family and Community Concerns Commission of the Parish Pastoral Council worked on creating a "Mission Statement" to reflect what the parish is about and who its members are. The fruit of their prayer and labors is as follows:
"We are a Roman Catholic community that shows our faith through love, forgiveness, healing and compassion as taught by our Lord, Jesus Christ. Our parishioners' willingness to share their time and talent is what makes us a truly rich parish. It is by these works and actions, and not only by our words, that we would like to be viewed. It is our hope that we will be humble in our endeavors and that our compassion will include all who are in need of it. We strive to grow in our daily commitment to become better members of God's family. Called and led by the Spirit, this Community seeks to know and celebrate Jesus through Word, Worship and Service. We invite anyone who shares our beliefs to become members of St. Patrick's unique community."
Diocese of Springfield and
St. Patrick's Parish
Most Revs. Patrick Thomas O'Reilly, 1870~1892; Thomas Daniel Beaven, 1892~1920; Thomas M. O'Leary, 1921~1949; Christopher J. Weldon, 1950~1977; Joseph F. Maguire, 1977~ 1991 (Bishop Emeritus); John A. Marshall, 1992~1994; Thomas L. Dupre, 1995. Prior to being Erected as a separate Diocese in 1870, this territory was administered by the Bishops of Boston. While St. Patrick's was a mission, they were the Most Rev. John Bernard Fitzpatrick, 1844~1866 and Most Rev. John Joseph Williams, 1866~1907 (created first Archbishop of Boston 1875).
Pastors, Administrators and Assistants:
Associates of the early years, with the date of their appointments, were the Reverends William Long, 1884; William McCaughan, 1886; Humphrey Wren, 1889; William Foley, 1890; Dennis Mullins, 1893; John S. Nelligan, 1894; Francis Reilly, 1898.
The Associates who labored in Monson from the turn of the Century make a long list: Reverends P. J. O'Malley, 1900; Michael P. Kavanagh, 1906; William Foran, 1907; John Sellig, 1909; M. C. Carey, 1910; James B. Donohue, 1912; Jeremiah F. Sullivan, Sept. 1922~Oct. 1927; James B. Kennedy, Oct. 1926~Aug. 1927; Ralph O'Neill, Aug. 1927~Aug. 1929; John F. Finneran, Aug. 1929~July 1930; Thomas P. Griffin, July 1930~July 1939; Michael L. Carney, June 1935~Oct. 1935; Thomas J. Tunney, Oct. 1935~July 1941; Leonard P. Burke, July 1939~July 1941; John E. Murphy, July 1941~July 1942; George R. Dudley, July 1941~Dec. 1951; James J. Flahive, Dec. 1951~Nov. 1953; Joseph C. Cassidy, Nov. 1953~Oct. 1955; Thomas J. O'Connor, Sept. 1955~April 1960; Edward M. Kennedy, April 1960~Feb. 1967; Louis E. Cote, July~Oct. 1964; George E. O'Connell, May 1967~Jan. 1968; John J. Nicholson, Jan. ~ Nov. 1968.
The Pastors of this great Parish are the Reverends Jeremiah McCarthy, Sept. 1878; James Kelley, 1881; John Lee, 1885; Thomas O'Keefe, 1894; Ralph O'Neill, 1942; Henry Burke, 1946; Henry McCormick, 1953; Richard T. Hoey, 1955; Edward M. Kennedy (Adm.) 1964; J. Andrew Grady, (Adm.) 1967, Pastor 1968; Ralph Adair (Adm.) 1981; Richard O'Toole, 1981; Clarence Forand (Adm.) 1994; Jeddie P. Brooks, 1994 to October 2013, Fr. John J. Brennan, 2013 to present.