The story of the Catholic Church in Southbridge begins with a dozen of the faithful who gathered in the Globe in September of 1840. Tradition claims that it was at the home of Lawrence Seavey, a superintendent for the Hamilton Woolen Mills, where Father James Fitton, the Jesuit missionary based at the newly constructed Christ Church on Temple Street in Worcester, joined them to celebrate that first recorded Mass in town. Of the twelve there, seven were Irish and the remainder a mix of German and French-Canadian. From that initial gathering, Father Fitton would travel to town every six months until his transfer in 1843 to celebrate Mass for the local townspeople.
When the Jesuits founded the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, it was Father William Logan, SJ who came every other month and celebrated Mass for the Catholics in and around Southbridge. In 1846, Catholics then numbered over a hundred, and for the first time, Mass was celebrated on Sunday. Father John Boyce followed Father Logan and Mass was offered for the growing community in the South Schoolhouse, the Town Hall, and the home of Mrs. Jager. On September 18, 1852, Father Boyce chaired a meeting at which it was approved to build a Catholic Church in Southbridge.
Building a Catholic Church in anti-Catholic New England would not be easy. Land would be needed, but no one would sell to the Catholics. It happened that Mr. William Edwards, a Baptist who employed a large number of Catholics at the Hamilton Woolen Mill recognized that it would be good for his business to help the Catholics. Many of his workers left each winter when the lakes and rivers froze to return to Canada. He believed that if they could practice their Catholicism in Southbridge, they would stay year round. He chose a plot of land close to his mill on the newly designated Hamilton Street, so that they could attend services and walk easily to work right afterward.
Work began on July 12, 1852 under the guidance of Father Boyce. Less than a year later, on May 1, 1853, Bishop Fitzpatrick came by train from Boston to dedicate the new church in honor of Saint Peter, Prince of Apostles. The bishop put the new church under the pastoral care of Father Peter Blenkinsop, SJ. Southbridge and its Saint Peter’s Church was still a mission, cared for by Fr. Blenkinsop and other missionaries in the Worcester area.
A photo of the original Catholic Church in Southbridge, Saint Peter, Prince of the Apostles Church built on Hamilton Street as it looked about 1897. It was destroyed by a fire in 1999.