Saint Peter Parish (original church) 1840-1869

saint peter perish church

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. In September, 1858, Father James Quan who cared for the Catholics in Webster realized it would be easier to travel between Webster and Southbridge and traded his Spencer mission for the Southbridge one and took care of local Catholics.

When Father Angelus Baret was named as the first residential pastor in Southbridge on September 11, 1865, the area Catholics numbered 1,673: 850 Irish, 500 French Canadian, 140 in Charlton, 73 in Sturbridge and 110 in Fiskdale. A house for their priest was built next to the church facing Hamilton Street. But by 1870, change was in the air. Pope Pius IX had convened a Vatican Council, the first in over 300 years. There were rumors of a new diocese west of Boston and the Catholic community in Southbridge was asking to be divided into two parishes. When Fr. Baret was transferred in 1869, the new parish of Notre Dame was created on November 27th. On September 25, 1870, the Diocese of Springfield was created separate from that of Boston and Southbridge was one of the towns included. The new Bishop of Springfield appointed the pastor of Saint Peter, Fr. McDermott, as the rector of the new cathedral. Serving less than a year, the parish had now had had 3 pastors in less than 12 months. He was succeeded by Father John M. Kremmen whose lasting impression on the parish would make it his final resting place.

Early on the morning of January 14, 1872, Fr. Kremmen was awakened by the smell of smoke. A fire that started in a shed behind the rectory quickly engulfed it, spread to the church, and threatened the neighborhood. The next day’s newspaper recorded “The absence of a wind, the tin roof of the parsonage, and the fire extinguisher, are all that saved the fire from plowing a furrow of destruction through the business portion of our town.”

The New Church

Though Fr. Kremmen surmised that the fire had been set, he set about instead to rally his parish to recover from this devastating loss. The trees around the former rectory were felled and used to roll Saint Peter’s Church across the grounds to the site where it stood for well over a century until it was lost by fire on December 19, 1999. A new rectory was constructed and the church repaired in its new location. Then using the footprint of the original church, a new and larger temple for the glory of God was begun and would become what we enjoy today as Saint Mary Church.

The New Church

The cornerstone for the new church was blessed and laid on July 8, 1877 by Bishop O’Reilly of Springfield. The church is of Gothic architecture and is 102 feet long and 59 feet wide. It is in the shape of a cross, its transepts give it an extension to 90 feet, each being 35 feet wide. The walls are low, twenty feet from the ground since the roof is what is termed a brokenback, a combination of Elizabethan and Gothic pitch. The roof is steep, its peak being 65 feet from the ground. In the northeast corner, closest to the intersection of Hamilton and Marcy Streets is a bell tower that is two storied separated by building bands, the lower story has two windows on three sides and the upper story has triple windows on three sides. Above these are louvers which house a bronze cast bell. The distance to the top of the cross, gilded during renovations in 2000, is 102 feet.