NEW BEDFORD – For something to survive two centuries in the city, it is remarkable and this is exactly the milestone that is celebrated at Church of the Martyrs of St. Lawrence.
âIt is in fact the oldest church in Diocese of Fall RiverSaid Reverend Michael Racine, or “Father Mike” as his parishioners call him. It is the fourth oldest Catholic church in the state.
At a time when Catholic churches are struggling to make ends meet, Saint Laurent seems to defy predictions.
âWe are a strong parish of people who love their faith,â said Father Mike. And it’s a congregation that has evolved from its Irish beginnings into a variety of cultures celebrating Mass together.
The church’s 200th anniversary was actually back in March, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, Father Mike said he wanted to make sure the event was properly planned.
âHe has not been forgotten,â he said.
Reverend Barry W. Wall, a retired priest from St. Lawrence, wrote a 200-year history of the church. He talks about the humble beginnings of the Church until its present existence. Here are some important points:
Two centuries ago
The original church was called St. Mary’s and was located on Allen Street. On March 19, 1821, Edward Wing sold the property to John Lefebvre de Cheverus for $ 80. Cheverus was the first bishop of Boston. The site is now the Aubertine-Lopes Funeral Home.
The massive granite church that St. Lawrence parishioners know today on County Street was not built until after the Civil War. It was built of granite from Sullivan’s Quarry on Hathaway Road and was consecrated by Bishop John J. Williams of Boston in honor of Saint Lawrence in 1871. Saint Lawrence was one of the Seven Deacons of Rome who were martyred in the persecution of Christians ordered by the Roman Emperor Valerian in 258.
The 14 bells
The church’s 14 spire bells were consecrated in 1888. Father Hugh J. Smyth, who led the church for 42 years, oversaw the completion of the spire. The bells were named SacrÃ©-Coeur, Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint-Joseph, Saint-Laurent, Saint-Patrick and the nine choirs of angels.
When the church needed costly repairs in 2017, church officials sold all 14 bells. This sparked a storm of controversy between the church and residents who wanted to retrieve the bells. Fairhaven resident Suzanne Sullivan led the crusade to retrieve the bells and raised over $ 75,000 via a GoFundMe campaign. It is hoped that the bells will have a new home in Clasky Common Park.
Funeral of Monsignor Hugh J. Smyth
Father Smyth was born in County Cavan, Ireland, and became pastor of Saint-Laurent in 1879.
Father Smyth received the title of Monsignor in 1905. The main altar of the church, the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the stained glass windows and the pipe organ were all supplied during the renovation of the church. led by Monsignor Smyth in 1905 and 1906. He observed the Golden Jubilee of his ordination on December 18, 1920 and died a few weeks later on February 4, 1921.
Consecration of the St. Lawrence
The solemn consecration of St. Lawrence was performed by Bishop James L. Connolly on November 11, 1953. This act of setting apart the church for God included the placing of a relic of St. Lawrence on the altar. . Bishop Connolly brought the relic from Rome.
Mother Teresa visited Saint-Laurent in 1995
Mother Teresa of Calcutta visited New Bedford in 1995 and worshiped in St. Lawrence. Residents stood in the rain outside the church and convent hoping to catch a glimpse of him. Hugging umbrellas, cradling babies in their arms and reciting the Rosary, the crowd waited and were not disappointed.
âOur parishioners feel it was the highlight of their lives to have been in the presence of a living saint,â said Pastor John M. Sullivan of St. Lawrence in a 1995 Standard-Times article. .
Visits by Bishop Sean O’Malley on the occasion of the 175th anniversary of the church
On December 22, 1996, Bishop Sean O’Malley celebrated Mass in St Lawrence to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the parish. He presented Father John P. Driscoll with a framed, handwritten letter of thanks that Mother Teresa had written about his recent visit. Father Driscoll retired in June 2021 at the age of 76. He had led the church for 28 years.
The church today
Saint-Laurent is part of Catholic Community of Whaling City, a collaborative partnership that includes the parishes of St. Francis of Assisi Church, Holy Name of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church and St. Lawrence. It is still part of theDiocese of Fall River.
Father Mike is the pastor of the three churches and was ordained in 1995.
âI grew up in the parish (Saint-Laurent) when I was a child,â said Father Mike. Regarding the bicentennial of the church, he said he was “very proud of this moment”.
He was proud of the parish for being able to remain a strong congregation during times of financial hardship and Catholic church attendance.
âWe have just buried our oldest parishioner, Irene Harnois. She was 102, âsaid Father Mike. “She was a strong French woman.”
Today’s bicentenary celebration
Today’s Mass will be both in person and broadcast live. It starts at 11:30 am at the church. The church can accommodate up to 900 people.
âI hope for a full house,â said Father Mike.
Standard-Times digital producer Linda Roy can be reached at [email protected] You can follow her on Twitter at @LindaRoy_SCT. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times.