Parish History: Saint Ann’s Church- Dorchester, Massachusetts
By the end of the Civil War approximately 25% of Dorchester residents were Irish immigrants. Such numbers (nearly 2,000) needed a parish and church of their own. On December 1, 1862 Father Thomas R. McNulty was designated to be the pastor of the newly created parish of St. Gregory.
Saint Gregory Church
In 1870 as the Catholic population continued to grow a second parish was spawned by St. Gregory’s in Hyde Park, shortly thereafter another parish, St. Peter’s, was established in the northern part of Dorchester.
In 1880 Father William H. Fitzpatrick, the pastor of St. Gregory’s purchased a lot of land of nearly 40,000 square feet on Minot Street in Neponset to better serve the people. He then had constructed a wooden church and placed it under the patronage of St. Ann’s. In December of 1881 the first Mass was celebrated at this mission church.
This, then, was Neponset and St. Ann’s Parish in 1880. A village within the old Town of Dorchester (which had now been annexed to Boston), was named after the river and the tribe of original Indians. The population was comprised of Irish immigrants who had come, at first, to help build the railroad and then to labor in the industries which grew as a result of the railroad.
There must have been such rejoicing with Father Fitzpatrick as he celebrated the first Mass, in the new church building, on Christmas in 1880. Obviously, the incomes of the people was so modest that at this time not thought or concern was given to erecting a full building and Father Fitzpatrick continued to serve the people with Mass and confession in this building for the remainder of the decade. More formal ceremonies, such as marriages, funerals and baptisms were still held in St. Gregory’s Church.
Mr. John J. Coffey organized and maintained the Sunday school. It is noteworthy that these humble laboring people demonstrated such a love of the faith that there were religious education programs from the very beginning in order to ensure a full understanding by the children.
The church remained a ward of Saint Gregory's until 1889 when it became Saint Ann's Parish. On July 7, 1889, Reverend Timothy J. Murphy was appointed to be the pastor of this newly designated parish. He began a vigorous campaign to secure funds for the erection of the upper church and the building of the permanent rectory on Minot Street near the existing church building (Historians note that the first Catholic Church building in the area was on the street named in commemoration of George Minot, the first English settler of Neponset). The parishioners, despite their meager incomes, responded most generously to this new exciting leader. In fact, it has been said the efforts of Father Murphy were so appealing that he received contributions generously offered by his Protestant neighbors
Saint Anne Rectory and Church
Located on the north side of Minot Street just in from the intersection of Neponset Avenue and Minot Street
Saint Anne Church
Located on the north side of Minot Street just in from the intersection of Neponset Avenue and Minot Street
Interior Saint Anne Church
Located on the north side of Minot Street just in from the intersection of Neponset Avenue and Minot Street
When sufficient money was realized, construction on the upper church was initiated and the building was completed in April of 1891. On May 22, 1892, the church was dedicated by Bishop Brady.
In February of 1892 the new rectory was completed and Father Murphy moved into this new home which he designed and which he bragged of being “furnished with modern improvements.”
The spiritual growth and richness of the parish prospered as well. The League of the Sacred Heart, the Society of The Holy Rosary and the “usual sodalities” were established under the pastor’s tutelage and grew. The temporal concerns of the parish did not go uncared for. A Conference of St. Vincent de Paul was established was establish and the Young Men’s Temperance and Literary Society was formed. This latter group had a membership in excess of 100 and used a building which the pastor bought and refitted for them. This building had a parlor, library, reading room and gymnasium. Obviously, it served as the center of social life for the young men of the parish with monthly public debates and frequent dramatic performances.
The parish was flourishing. Father Murphy, wisely and prudently, had built a physical parish upon the spiritual, intellectual and social growth of the laity.
On Sunday, February 24, 1895, a Benedictine monk spoke at the Masses seeking funds to rebuild his Church and monastery which had been ravaged by fire. It was reported at the time that the people of St. Ann’s were very generous to this man in need. It would seem that the Sunday speaker was portent of what was in store for the parish. On the following Wednesday, February 27, 1895, Ash Wednesday parishioners were attending Mass smoke was smelled and then observed curling up from the basement near the steam pipes. Observers reported that the flames raced up the chimney and “suddenly burst out from the roof.” An alarm was sounded immediately and was quickly followed by a second alarm. Flames quickly engulfed much of the building destroying the roof and damaged the walls and furnishings so badly the entire building had to be destroyed.
While the burnt structure was being razed and replaced many offers of use of facilities were received from clergy and organizations of many denominations in the area. Eventually, the Mass was celebrated on a regular schedule in an unoccupied Unitarian Church on what was then Mill Street, now called Victory Road. This building also has long since been demolished.
With his indomitable spirit Father Timothy Murphy moved on. A new structure with a flat roof was erected on the same site and it was to be used for many years.
At this time a new idea was circulating in the American Church- Catholic education. At the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884 the American bishops asserted the need for Catholic schools. The Pastoral Letter asserted “Hence education, in order to foster civilization must foster religious.” Again: “We must perfect our schools. We repudiate the idea the Catholic school need be in any respect inferior to any other school whatsoever.” Certainly, no one as alert and dynamic as Father Murphy would ignore this call. He looked about with an eye to the future. A school for the parish was unrealistic at this time but a time would soon come, he knew, when one would be needed. With this in mind, he acquired the Putnam estate which was on the corner of Ashmont and Neponset Avenue for future use. This intersection was then known as Spaulding Square . In the meantime, it became a social center of sorts with many garden parties; and other suitable outdoor functions in aid of the parish were held there.
At this time another concern of great interest to Father Murphy attracted his energies. For some years the diocese had sponsored a haven for homeless young boys called the Working Boys’ Home which provided shelter for boys who had no home but who worked as messenger, newsboys, bootblacks, etc. A need was felt for a similar institution for girls.
Situated on the top of Pope’s Hill was the large estate first built by Mr. Pope of the China trade fame. Soon after the Civil War Mahlon D. Spaulding, a sugar refiner bought the property and made extensive additions and alterations. On May 12, 1898, the property was acquired in the name of Archbishop John J. William by Reverend Timothy J. Murphy who was designated to be the manager. Father Murphy realized a $50,000 donation from Reverend Patrick A. Daly and in gratitude named the school for him. Thus was born the Daly Industrial School. It was to be a trade school for the household arts for girls aged twelve to eighteen to enable them to earn a livelihood in the years to come. Hundreds of young girls benefited from the program of spiritual development and job preparation under the aegis of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Daly Industrial School for Girls
In 1904 the parishioners were saddened by the death of the man who had made them a vital parish- Reverend Timothy J. Murphy. He had given of himself until there was no more to give. At his passing, St. Ann’s Parish had a sense of unity- a sense of purpose- a sense of future.
Good fortune was to continue for the people of St. Ann’s when the Reverend John S. McKone was designated the recipient of pastoral authority in August of 1904. Father McKone was a tall, thin, stately man who was known throughout the parish for his gentle affection for all. A firm advocate of Catholic education he eagerly planned the construction of a school for the parish, construction was delayed due to economic recession at the time. But his immediate action was to establish a separate Mass for the children and rejuvenated the Sunday school by having classes held in the lower church hall which he had remodeled for this purpose. Construction
In 1909 the long, ardent support for parochial education was given vent as Father McKone built on land which Father Murphy had acquired as part of the Putnam estate on Neponset Avenue a new school. He caused to be built a three-story brick building consisting of twelve classrooms, an office with a parish hall and a social center in the basement.
Saint Ann Convent and School
While this magnificent structure was taking shape Father McKone had the Putnam Mansion remodeled as a convent and invited the Sisters of Saint Joseph to reside there and teach the children in the school. The autumn of 1909 saw the children tentatively release their mothers’ hands and enter the first grade of the new school.
It was with great and just pride eight years later in 1917 that as eighth graders these children stepped out as the first graduating class of St. Ann’s School. That the school was new needed was most evident. The old farms and estates were being broken up and lots sold for new housing.
In a letter dated March 12, 1915, Father McKone wrote the fateful letter to Cardinal O’Connell seeking permission to arrange a mortgage to build a new church. The very next day, the Cardinal most graciously granted permission on March 13th.
With much excitement, ground was broken in 1915 for the new church. The new church building in the style of a Roman basilica, of Harvard brick trimmed with limestone and with a campanile in the rear. Saint Ann church was designed by Edward Graham, a significant architect in Massachusetts and in Cleveland, Ohio. His work was influenced by Magginnis. He designed Holy Name in West Roxbury, St. Paul in Cambridge and the major church in Winthrop. He also designed city hall annex and the Forsyte Dental Clinic in the Fenway. A common evening’s pastime for the parishioners was to walk to the corner of Ashmont and Neponset Avenue and note the progress being made on this wonderful church that Father McKone was seemingly miraculously making possible.
By late 1916 the outer shell and lower church were completed. The first Mass celebrated in the lower church was by Father Flannery. Tradition suggests that the second Mass celebrated in that lower church was by Father Joseph Brandley, who later would serve as pastor of St. Brendan’s Parish.
By 1919, the upper church was completed but more time was needed to complete the appointments. It has broad spacious central aisle (nave) flanked by side aisles with the nave soaring high above the center aisle creatling a clerestory pictured with windows of stained glass. As one approached the church, he first entered the atrium which was the place for the catacumens to gather. For us it was an entry way out of the rain or snow before entering the church proper/\.
The campanile is a copy of the baptistries and bell towers found still in Northern Italy. It rises 120 feet above the ground and for many years announced the time to recite the Angelus.
It was on Easter Sunday morning at the 10:15 Mass that Father McKone announced that the old wooden church on Minot Street was closed and henceforth, all Masses and other liturgical services would be conducted in the new and grand St. Ann’s.
On Sunday, October 31, 1920, William Cardinal O’Connell formally dedicated the church.
Saint Ann Church circa 1917
During this same time the rectory of present day was built completing the bringing of together of all parish buildings in the same complex.
Father McKone was to continue ministering to the parishioners for several more years until late August of 1925 the churh which he had built was draped in black crepe. Father McKone died August 21, 1925 after only a brief illness but also after a lifetime of service to the people of God and His Church. At the time of his death the people of Saint Anne expressed bereavement beyond what normally would be expected. He was loved profoundly by his flock.
In 1925 Father John J. O’Donnell was named the new pastor of St. Ann’s. During his tenure in Neponset, the rectory was enlarged, a new convent was completed, additional classrooms were added to the school, and the finest auditorium in the Archdiocese was constructed. As pastor he rebuilt, as well as designed, the entire façade of St. Ann’s Church showing the forceful figures of the archangels, Gabriel and Raphael, and the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Rose Window has captivated the admiration of people for five decades. The priceless and irreplaceable marble altar rail that have graced our church to present day was designed by Fr. O'Donnell. Made in Corrara, Italy, this resplendent work of art was an outright gift to the people of St. Anne's by the generous sister's of Fr O'Donnell. It is no wonder that the strikingly beautiful Sanctuary of St. Anne's Church is so esteemed and treasured by the parishioners.
Saint Ann Rectory
Archangles, Gabriel and Raphael
On December 10, 1945, Christ, the High Priest, called this "Alter Christus" to his eternal home. To perpetuate his memory , the parishioners erected the graceful Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima and the City of Boston renamed the public area opposite the church from Spaulding Square to O'Donnell Square. Undeniably, Monsignor O'Donnell left his unique hallmark of St. Anne's Parish.
Father James F. Fitzsimmons, a native of South Boston, educated at St. John’s Seminary and ordained by Cardinal O’Connell in 1907, came to Neponset from Immaculate Conception Parish in Winchester where he had served as pastor for nearly fifteen years.
Father Fitzsimmons combined the qualities of spiritually, humility, scholarship and a quiet sense of humor with a solid background of parish administration to minister to St. Ann’s with great distinction in the years following World War II through the Korean War. Archbishop Cushing rewarded his labors by elevating him to the rank of monsignor (domestic prelate) in 1950. His untimely death in 1952 cut short a program of rehabilitation of physical structures and expansion of spiritual and social apostolates. It is significant to note that during all of this dedicated cleric's distinguished service to the faithful of the archdiocese, he took but one short vacation in 45 years.
Archbishop Cushing once again blessed St. Ann’s with a superb pastor by appointing Father John J. Phelan to succeed Monsignor Fitzsimmons. A veteran pastor who had served St. Joseph’s Parish of Kingston and Immaculate Conception Parish of Marlboro as pastor for thirteen years. He was born in Jamaica Plain of a family that was to produce three dedicated priests in one generation. Reverend Timothy Phelan, S.J. of Holy Cross College and Rt. Reverend Francis Phelan, Chancellor of the Archdiocese and Pastor of St. Cecilia’s Parish in the Back Bay. Father John was a graduate of Boston English High School and member of the class of 1912 at Boston College. After studies at St. John’s Seminary, Brighton he was awarded a diocesan scholarship to the North American College in Rome by Cardinal O’Connell. Upon completion of study at the Pontifical Athenaeum of the Urban College “de Propaganda Fide”, he was ordained on June 2, 1917 by Cardinal Pompili at the Church of St. John Lateran, Rome.
Father Phelan’s pastorate was marked by his genial and approachable persona couple with the expertise of a veteran administrator. He took a deep interest in the lives of all his parishioners and his unspoken deeds of charity are legendary.
The parish prospered during his sixteen years tenure. In 1954 he was raised to the rank of domestic prelate (monsignor) and in 1964, on the occasion of St. Anne's 75th anniversary celebration, Pope Paul Vl elevated him to the rank of Prothonotary. He also served as Diocesan consultor. Seriously ill during the last years of his pastorate, he retired to St. Anne's rectory as Pastor Emeritus. His great contribution to the physical structure was the renovation of the upper church. It was made more beautiful by attractive paint work. The men of the parish wsahed and varnished the pews.
His successor Father Ernest P. Pearsall had the sad duty of assisting Bishop Minihan at the Requiem Mass for Monsignor Phelan in September 1969.
Father Pearsall, a native of Lowell, graduated from St. John’s Seminary in 1937 and was ordained by Bishop (later Cardinal) Francis X. Spellman, the auxiliary Bishop of Boston. After pre-war service in several diocesan parishes Father Pearsall enlisted as a chaplain shortly after Pearl Harbor and served through World War II, the Cold War crisis in Germany and the Korean War for nearly fifteen years. Returning to civilian life he spent another decade as assistant in several greater Boston parishes. Appointed pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish in Lincoln, he was called to St. Ann’s to succeed the ailing Monsignor Phelan. He brought the qualities of the military to St. Anne’s, capable administration, coolness under fire and tremendous concern for the individual. In 1971 he was calledt o serve as pastor at St. Thomas of Wilmington from which assignment he retired to Regina Cleri in 1979.
Cardinal Humberto Medeiros appointed Father Robert M. Costello to succeed Father Pearsall. Born in Cambridge, a graduate of Boston College and St. John’s Seminary and ordained by Bishop Spellman in 1939. Appointed to St. Ann’s in 1971, he brought a “small town” feeling to Neponset. Accessible to young and old, rich and poor, groups or individuals, his friendly and approachable nature was perfectly suited to the great changes that were taking place in the local churches as well as in the Archdiocese and in the whole Catholic world after Vatican II. Father Costello presided over the parish during the chaotic “70’s” and after years of physical suffering passed on in 1982.
Cardinal Humberto Medeiros named Father James M. Larner to succeed Father Costello. “Father Jim” was a native son, the first St. Ann’s parishioner to be made pastor of his home parish. He was a graduate of B.C. High and Boston College and did his clerical studies at St. John’s Seminary. He was ordained by Bishop Jeremiah Minihan in 1957. Father Larner came to St. Ann’s when the financial obligations of the parish had made the repairing and reconstruction of the Church property an immediate obligation. Father Larner, with fewer assistants and less capital began the massive undertaking with the restoration of the Church’s steps, porch and entrance plus the complete refurbishing of the priceless “Rose Stained Glass Window” that graces the Church’s façade. It was remobed from its steel setting for extensive cleaning and repairing - a mjor and expensive project. New copper gutters were laso positioned on the church's roof. The sanctuary also received Fr Larner's concern and attntion: The altar was throughly washed and polished. For the first time in 50 years the irreplaceable crucifix in the high altar and its stately candelabra were sent out for a complete reconditioning and polishing process. New vestments were purchased for liturgical occasions, and the vestry case was attractively restored to its original beauty and form. Also the 550 lb bells were removed of necessity from the bell tower.
St. Ann’s School also received the pastor’s vigilance as exemplified by its presently fine appearance of new windows. In addition the landscape of the parish property was tastefully enhanced by new fencing and brickwork. Above all Father Larner’s exceptional attention to the needy of the community and especially to the sick people at home and in the hospitals merited the admiration and gratitude of the parishioners. After five years of dedicated service, he resigned his pastorate. To his new ministry at Saint Gregory's Parish, Dorchester.
In 1987 Cardinal Bernard Law appointed Father Thomas Walsh as pastor to succeed Father Costello. Father Tom Walsh graduated from St. John’s Seminary, Brighton in 1967 and was ordained by Richard Cardinal Cushing in June at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. He served as assistant at St. Margaret’s in Lowell and as associate pastor at St. Mary’s in Melrose. In 1978 he became Vice Chancellor of the Archdiocese and in 1981 took on the duties of Director of the Pastoral Institute and the Office of Pastoral Care of the Clergy.
He was appointed pastor at St. Ann’s, Neponset in June 1987 and he has continued the fine work of his predecessor Father Larner in restoring and restructuring the Church properties. An active vital and vibrant priest, he served youth with vigor and the elderly with compassion and Christian charity.
In 1996 Cardinal Bernard Law appointed Rev. Walter F. Keymont as pastor of Saint Ann Parish. Father Keymont grew up in Brockton, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Walter F. Keymont. He attended Cardinal Spellman High School in Brockton. Prior to his ordination, he served as a deacon at St. Gregory Parish in Dorchester. He was ordained on June 14, 1980 by Cardinal Medeiros. He celebrated his first Mass on June 15 at St. Nicholas Church in Abington. On January 2, 1996 Father Keymont was officially appointed pastor of Saint Ann Parish. The life of our Parish as well as the Church in the Archdiocese of Boston was forever changed by the revelations of clergy sexual abuse in 2002. Father Keymont guided our parish through such troubling times through prayer and support and brought hope and healing to our parish. He implemented educational and prevention programs needed to ensure Saint Ann parish and school are safe places for children to grow in their faith and love of God.
Seán Patrick O'Malley appointed Rev. Thomas Foley as pastor in 2004. Father Foley grew up in Winchester, the son of Thomas E. and Anne L. Foley. He attended the Noonan Grammar School, Lynch Junior High School and Winchester High School. His year as a deacon was served at St. Mark Parish in Dorchester. He was ordained on June 7, 1986 by Cardinal Law. He offered his first Mass on June 8 at the Immaculate Conception Church in Winchester. On September 1, 2004, he was appointed pastor of St. Ann Parish in the Neponset section of Dorchester. While Father Foley was the pastor of St. Ann Parish and the leader of the vicariate that includes Dorchester and Mattapan he was instrumental in the formation of Pope Paul John ll Catholic Academy as part of the archdiocese’s 2010 Initiative to revitalize its Catholic Schools. The Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy is the merger of seven parish schools that reopened on five campuses. They are; Neponset campus, formerly the school of St. Ann Parish; Columbia campus, Blessed Mother Teresa Parish, which is the former site of St. Margaret School in Dorchester: Lower Mills campus, formerly the school of St. Gregory Parish; Mattapan Square campus, formerly the school of St. Agatha Parish, and Dorchester Central campus, formerly the school of St. Mark Parish. His pastorate ended on June 3, 2008. On June 3, 2008, he was appointed Episcopal vicar and Secretary for Parish Life and Leadership. This assignment ended on July 1, 2012. During this time, he was in-residence at St. John the Baptist rectory in Quincy. He then entered the Military Chaplaincy Program.
A new chapter in the history of Saint Ann’s Parish school began Sept. 8, 2008, when the school opened it’s doors as the new Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy’s Neponset Campus.