The Day – Remember When: St. Patrick’s Cathedral evolved as the congregation grew and Catholics prospered

I remember when I visited St. Patrick’s Church for a mass in 1953. I entered the church with my family, and please remember, I was 5 years old at that time- the. I must have been there before but I really don’t remember much except that there were long mahogany balconies on either side of the church under the large stained glass windows and pictures on the wall outside behind the altar.

But this time I was captivated by the sight of scaffolding rising to the ceiling where large planks of wood formed long platforms for workers from the FW Brown Company, who had been hired to restore the building. ‘church. The building was being modernized, refreshed and repaired before becoming St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Mahogany balconies were removed, electrical replaced, repairs made to the structure, carved Stations of the Cross were dismantled and replaced with much smaller stations, all stone work repointed and a new organ was installed. replaced the old organ.

St. Patrick’s Church was not the first Catholic church to grace Norwich. It is known that people of the Catholic faith were in the area in the 17th century. Records show that Tracy’s surname appears in the city register in 1687, but it is not known if this person was Catholic. In January 1756, the first known Catholics landed in New London as part of a cargo, not voluntarily, but as slaves of the English.

My source claims that a Catholic priest came with them and resided in Norwich until these Arcadians returned to Canada with the priest.

During the Revolutionary War, Norwich hosted wounded French soldiers in Norwichtown for 15 days. Tents were placed on The Green for the healthy and the sick were housed in the town hall located on the edge of The Green. The dead were buried in the cemetery just off The Green in the Old Cemetery. It is believed that they may have been visited by their clergy. In November 1793, the Reverend John Thayer, a former Congregational minister who converted to the Catholic religion and became a priest, came to Norwich to preach at the meeting house at the request of the Congregational minister, the Reverend Joseph Strong.

Another large group is a group of refugees who came here as prisoners of a prize-ship, by the USS Trumbull, which had captured their ship. One hundred and forty people were taken to Norwich. It was noted that some of the men were well educated. It is unclear whether they stayed or left the area.

With the construction of the Providence & Worcester Railway, many Irish came as laborers and were served by Father James Fitton, who was assigned to a Catholic church in Worcester, Mass. Norwich Road” (north main street). In 1843 a site was chosen between Norwich and Greeneville to erect a small Catholic church. The first stone was laid in 1844 with the first mass celebrated on Christmas Day 1844.

The church was enlarged, but due to the growing population of Irish in the area, it eventually became too small for the congregation.

Four priests followed Father Fitton to this missionary church until Father Daniel Mullen became the permanent pastor of St. Mary’s Church in 1868. A former army chaplain to the Connecticut Volunteers Ninth Regiment, he saw the need to build a new church. He looked at a site on Church Street but found it too small for his large congregation. He found land for sale that met the need to be in the middle of his parish which ran from Yantic in the north to Thamesville in the south and west, to Greeneville and part of Preston in the east.

The proposed church property belonged to Appleton Meech, an industrialist and devout Congregationalist. The property was eventually purchased at auction from his estate, after his death, by Henry Peale. He then transferred it to Joseph Connor and then moved to St. Mary’s Parish. Two other properties were purchased, one giving the future parish a 50-foot access section to Otis Street. In total, the parish ended up with a total debt of $22,500 ($465,000 in present value).

A new church begins to form

On April 7, 1871, Good Friday, 1,500 men marched from St. Mary’s Church with pickaxes and shovels, carts and horses, and other implements following Chief Marshal Dr. Patrick Cassidy , to the new church site on Broadway where excavation for the foundation of the new church has begun. In three days, the cellar of the church was finished this Easter Sunday.

The first stone was laid on July 13, 1873, under the patronage of Saint-Patrick. The cornerstone contained coins from Great Britain, cement from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and a stone from Ireland. Father Mullen died before he could see the last church.

The architect for St. Patrick’s Church was James Murphy of Providence, Rhode Island, who specialized in Gothic-designed Catholic churches with 45 edifices. The massive undertaking to build this style and size required 1,600 10-ton Monson granite stones at the Flynt Granite Company just west of Sturbridge, Massachusetts. The thousands of granite blocks, next to the massive foundation blocks, most likely reached Norwich by train. The granite supply business went out of business in 1935 during the Great Depression. The church is 210 feet long, 100 feet wide at the transept, with a steeple rising to 216 feet.

Father Shahan became the new parish priest of St. Mary’s Parish in 1878 after Father Mullen’s death. On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1879, St. Patrick’s Church held its first mass. On September 28, 1879, the church was dedicated by His Eminence James Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore, Maryland. This date also closed the book on Old St. Mary’s Church, and it became a missionary church served by St. Patrick’s clergy but with limited service.

Three other events are of interest in the vast history of this church. In 1900, John Byrne, a member of Norwich’s theatrical family, The Three Bells, donated a new church bell that weighs 3,600 pounds to replace the original smaller bell. During the renovation of the church in 1954, a Jewish friend of the church donated an automatic bell ringer.

The last event to affect the integrity of the church was the September 1938 hurricane, also known as the Long Island Express, which attacked the church building with winds over 100 miles at hour, causing the cross to fall from the steeple and the roof to collapse. through the St. Patrick’s stained glass window. St. Patrick’s beard had to be replaced with a slightly different color from the glass. The cost of the repair was $25,000 ($500,000 in present value).

Although many other events occurred regarding St. Patrick’s Church, on September 2, 1953, St. Patrick’s elevation to cathedral status was monumental. A new diocese map has been developed for this offshoot of the Archdiocese of Hartford. The chancery building was purchased from the estate of Dr Edward Kirby, which added to the footprint of the cathedral grounds.

The cathedral was renovated by the F. W. Brown Company at a cost of $400,000 ($4.2 million today) under the tutelage of Monsignor John J. Reilly, who had served as vicar at St. Patrick’s Church from 1924 in 1935. He came to the church in 1953 from Washington, DC, where he was director of the National Shrine.

Pope Pius XII has appointed the Most Reverend Bernard Flanagan as the first bishop of the new diocese of Norwich.

The diocese is one of three that has canonical territory in another state: Fishers Island, New York. Recently the cathedral has been preserved and improved, restoring the church’s original decorations, a new paint scheme and new wall art. The massive organ has also been improved.

The church school had been served by the Sisters of Mercy from the beginning when Appleton Meech’s house was moved from the front to the back of the property and became the convent and first school of the ‘church. The community of Norwich has seen many wonderful and unpleasant events, but St. Patrick’s Cathedral has been there for those in need.

Bill Shannon is a retired Norwich Public School teacher and long-time resident of Norwich.

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