The Mother Church in the Catholic Diocese
The Mother parish of two early dioceses, Springfield and Worcester, was built
after much difficulty of procuring land. Catholics were banned from owning land
at the time and Worcester was quite an unfriendly community to Catholics as
stone work on the Blackstone
Canal brought the first permanent Catholics to the region - the Irish. Finally
in 1834 with the help of three non-Catholics, William Lincoln (whose brother
eventually became Governor of Massachusetts), Francis Blake and Harvey Pierce,
the Irish were able to buy meadowland at the site of what we now know as Temple
Street in Worcester.
Christ's Church was built and paid for in two years. Rev. James Fitton,
known as the "Apostle of New England" became its priest after having wandered
throughout New England since 1827 spreading the Word of Christ and His
Sacraments. Father Fitton was a
beloved priest whose popularity can be readily found in archival records. Father
Fitton was also a strong proponent of a Catholic education and this strong
advocacy led to the founding of Holy Cross College in Worcester.
Father Fitton stayed at the Church, which later became known as its present
name, St. John's Church, for seven years. Every summer, he attracted scores of
Penobscot Indians who followed him from his earlier days roaming in Maine. These
Indians would live in their tents set up near Grafton and Franklin Streets for
the summer just to worship at Christ Church. In fact, the story goes that these
Indians would also kneel outside the Church, after the service, in the dusty
cartpath until Father Fitton personally blessed them individually.
Other history states that Army militiamen also worshipped at St. John's
Church on their travels to Florida for the Seminole War when they were encamped
on Brown Street.
The present red brick structure was built in 1845 and to its right is the
parish rectory. Its proud history has included Father John Boyce (aka Paul
Peppergrass of literary fame), Father Patrick O'Reilly who became the first
Bishop of Springfield, Monsignor Thomas Griffin who brought the Sisters of
Providence to Worcester to found St. Vincent's Hospital, the Sisters
of Notre Dame and the Xaverian Brothers to staff the parish schools. Many other
priests also played a strong role in Worcester's history.
(This historical information was taken from Jack Frost's 1956 book on
Worcester County's Roman Catholic Churches titled, The Church in Worcester,
New England. It has a foreward by Bishop John Wright, whose name can be seen
on many dedication plaques throughout Worcester County as presiding Bishop in