St. Mary Church History
Early 1840’s and 1850’s - The Catholic Society of Bath
The first Catholic settler in Bath is believed to have been Paynter Patten. He was followed by Charles Doucette, a Frenchman from Nova Scotia. As other Catholics arrived during the early 1840’s, Mr. Doucette, known as a man of means and piety, invited them to his home at 46 Winter Street for services. By 1843 they numbered 18 and eventually were known as the Catholic Society of Bath. Father Edward Putnam, pastor of the "mother church" at North Whitefield, made monthly visits to the mission church at Bath and said Mass at the Doucette home. In 1847 Rev. James O’Reilly of Augusta listed Bath as one of his missions.
Fr. Putnam continued to make regular visits to say Mass for the faithful. He stimulated plans for a church (according to a brief parish history written by Father Nicholas J. Horan, the visiting priest came to Bath to "conduct the meetings and agitate for a church building"), but construction costs were beyond the capabilities of the small group. Baptismal records in Damariscotta give family names of some early parishioners as: King (Roy), Odet (Audet), Bis (perhaps Bisson), Papen (Pepin), Ducett (Doucett), Marcou (Marcoux), Tereo (Theriault), St Peter (St. Pierre), Fortie (Fortier or Fortin), and Rodrigue.
In 1853 the Society leased the vacant Old South Church for weekly Mass. Owned by three well-known Protestant Bath businessmen, it was located on a double lot on High Street, between Union and Granite. Finished in 1805, the meetinghouse stood on South Hill, an area also called the “Common,” and in 1825 the town clock was placed in the church’s tower. The Congregationalists built and occupied a new church in 1847, selling the Old South Church into private hands.
On July 6, 1854, political agitators from the national party called the "Know-Nothings" incited a riot in the holiday crowd in Bath. This party had been newly formed in 1849 to protest against immigration, especially that of Irish Catholics, millions of whom were entering the country due to the famines in Ireland. Protests and violent incidents flared up across the country, including several places in Maine. In Bath, which was rapidly expanding with both many new residents, including immigrants, and the frantic pace of shipbuilding that particular year, tempers were easily ignited during that hot, unusually dry summer of 1854. When the street preacher’s speech to hundreds of onlookers was intentionally interrupted that evening in July by a small group who found the sentiments distasteful, audience members reportedly shouted “To Old South.” The mob rushed to the site of the South Church to vent its resentment against the Catholics; the group burned and destroyed the church, as well as accosting several Catholic families in their home later that night and in the following days. Today the only reminder of the church that remains is the street name, “Old South Place,” that runs from Union to Granite Street.
Oliver Moses, a member of the Universalist Church, reportedly protected a Catholic family from a mob at the time of the riot, and subsequently offered his home at 1034 Washington Street to the Catholics for Mass until another location could be found.
Oliver Moses had come to town in the 1820’s, as had his brother William. The brothers were tinsmiths, beginning a foundry that would eventually be sold to Thomas W. Hyde. It was this business that evolved into Bath Iron Works. Oliver Moses was a businessman and a founder of the First National Bank of Bath, and one of the founders of the Bath Savings Institution. The Moses brothers were instrumental in the construction of many of the downtown blocks of Bath. The Catholics, in order to acknowledge Oliver Moses’ generosity and graciousness, presented him with a handsome silver service, a tipping decanter with stand and two goblets. Engraved with the words, “Presented to Oliver Moses By His Grateful Friends the Catholics of Bath, Me., Nov. 3d 1877,” the service is still held and treasured by descendants of Oliver Moses, located in Texas in 2010. On the other hand, the Know Nothing Party disintegrated after losing the 1856 election.
From the Moses residence, the Society’s services were moved to Corinthian Hall (formerly at 906 Washington Street) where they remained until the completion of Saint Mary Church.
1855-1856 - Construction of the Original Saint Mary Church
Reverend Peter McLaughlin was assigned as the first resident priest of Bath. He was tasked with the building of a Catholic church. His previous experience in Lewiston had revealed the difficulty of Irish-Catholic immigrants' obtaining land for a Catholic Church. In 1855, fearing that sellers in Bath would refuse to sell to the persecuted Catholics directly or charge an exhorbitant fee, he wrote to Oliver Moses asking him to help the Catholics of Bath buy property on which to build a church. In that letter, today preserved in the Patten Library in Bath, McLaughlin acknowledges that Oliver Moses had stood up for the Irish Catholics in the face of hordes of angry Know-Nothings: “I have heard the poor, scattered, forsaken Catholic Irish speak so many good things of you,” McLaughlin writes, in part, “that I am certain they look upon you as their benefactor.” He then suggests that Moses serve as a proxy buyer of a certain property in the city for between $1,100 and $2,000. He notes, “Without the priest and the church, (Irish Catholics) are as a general rule, a nuisance anywhere,” But, he adds in deference to the prevailing mindset of the day, “Indeed, with religion, active religion, the Irish are a good people, but without religion occupying their time on Sundays especially, any city would be better without them than with them.” He suggests that either Moses or someone choen by him purchase the land and then sell it to the Society. [Read the transcript of Rev. McLaughlin's letter]
The land was purchased, and Under Bishop Bacon and Rev. McLaughlin, the corner stone was laid in 1855 on land purchased from J. T. Gilman at 838 High Street (where the Morse High School science wing is now). There was not enough money to finish construction, so in order to raise additional funds, Fr. McLaughlin made a lecture tour in the South. Work proceeded while he traveled, although twice while he was away, attempts were made to burn down the church. They did not succeed due to the diligence of the custodian, William Connolly. The church was completed in 1856, the year that the first baptism was recorded. Diocesan records indicate that Bath became a separate parish (no longer a mission church) in 1857. It was called the Parish of the Immaculate Conception but from early times commonly referred to as "Saint Mary’s Parish."
The church property included the famous old Isaiah Crooker house (1753) which was moved to the rear of the property to make room for the new church and then served as a rectory for Fr. McLaughlin for many years. It became a home for the aged of the parish until its destruction by fire in 1898. Blessing of the bell in the tower did not take place until January 23, 1910.
In 1865, under the direction of Rev. Daniel W. Murphy, a new rectory was built just north of the church and remained in service until a new one was constructed in 1912 to the south of the church. The old one then became the Convent of Our Lady of Mercy and was used by the Sisters of Mercy for decades thereafter. (see 1879 photos on the St. Mary Church Additional Photos page) In 1873, all debts were paid, and the church was considerably remodelled.
1899 - Calvary Cemetery
Calvary Cemetery, on the west side of Upper High Street, belonged to St. Mary Parish for nearly a century. It was a project of Reverend John O'Brien (see photo below), who purchased eight acres and presented the ground to the parish in the latter part of his pastorate. After his death on October 26, 1899, his own remains were the first to be interred there. His tall monument, far up the hill, overlooks the rest of the Cemetery. Other pastors from Saint Mary Church are buried with him.
Fencing and grading of the cemetery were started in 1902. The ground was blessed in 1903 by the Bishop of Portland, William O’Connell, and opened for the use of the parish. In the 1980’s the cemetery was deeded to the City of Bath.
Turn of the Century - A Parochial School and a New Rectory
The Bishop decided that the Bath area should have a parochial school. St. Mary Church's pastor, Rev. Phelan, invited the Sisters of Mercy (a teaching order) to establish a parochial school. The former residence of Charles Clifford on Chestnut Street, adjoining the church property, was purchased and remodeled to serve as a school. It had a capacity of 150 students in five classrooms. Saint Mary’s Parochial School was formally opened on September 27, 1909. The Sisters of Mercy instructed, with a pupil enrollment of 13. The property adjoined the old (1865) rectory, then serving as the parish convent.
By 1917, there were six sisters and 125 pupils. The former Clifford house, containing the parochial school, was destroyed by fire on January 20, 1943. The parochial school ceased to exist until 1964.
In 1905, plans for a new rectory were drawn up. The pastor, Monsignor M.C. McDonough, was responsible for the construction. This second Rectory on High Street was erected immediately south of the church, next to Morse High school, on the site of the house of James W. Wakefield. A spacious and elegant dwelling, it was described in the 1917 Parish Reference Book as "one of the finest church residences in New England." It contained several ornate mantles and was characterized by its stained glass bordered windows, third floor dormer windows, and ornamental railings.
1917 - A Moment in Time
Thanks to the Catholic Guide and Reference Book (see front cover and excerpts on St. Mary Church Additional Photos page) published by Rev. Nicholas J. Horan in 1917, we know that Saint Mary Parish was a busy place. The new school, open 8 years, had 125 pupils, instructed by six Sisters of Mercy. The Parish Reference Book tells us that numerous Catholic Societies were flourishing, including the Boys Sacred Heart Sodality, Girls Sacred Heart Sodality, Children of Mary, Sodality of Married Women, and the Holy Name Society. The parish maintained two libraries. Members of the parish paid pew rent in the months of November, February, May, and August, and their names were on the pews.
1923 - KKK in Bath
The Ku Klux Klan was very active in the City of Bath from 1923 to 1925. Many prominent citizens were members, and the City Marshall led the Klan at the time. Some Catholics' homes in Bath found crosses burning on their lawns. The Klan meetings were held in the YMCA and also at the armory on Front Street. An unfortunate sentiment of the time is a "Help Wanted" sign in a Bath storefront window that read, "Boy Wanted - Catholic not wanted."
1929-1955 - The Maney Years
In 1928, George Davenport bequeathed $1500 to Saint Mary’s Church. During the following year, Rev. Timothy C. Maney was assigned to this parish as pastor. He made many needed repairs and alterations to the church. He was known for his long sermons and big, loving heart. Even today when people remember "Father Maney", they tell of how he always had a pocket full of dimes, and whenever he saw a child, he would slip a dime into the child’s hand. He walked extensively in Bath and always stopped to talk with anyone he met. A local non-catholic gentleman recently spoke warmly of Rev. Maney as "father of everyone in town."
1955 - Rev. Francis E. Morrissey and the New Saint Mary’s School and Convent
Rev. Morrissey came to Bath as the pastor in 1955. The congregation had outgrown the church, and it was obvious that new parish facilities were needed. He immediately began plans for a new convent, school, church, and rectory. The Bishop of Maine purchased land on the corner of Sheridan Road and Lincoln Street for the new location in 1960. In February 1964, the school and the convent were ready for occupancy. It served 140 children and was staffed by four Sisters of Mercy.
On June 4, 1969, the Diocesan Superintendent of Schools notified the parish that St. Mary’s School, in existence for only five years, would be closed for good as of the end of June. This news was a great disappointment to members of the parish and particularly to the 140 children in grades one through eight. The closing also meant that the four Sisters of Mercy would be transferred elsewhere.
The school building was offered to the City of Bath for $300,000, but the offer was refused. Instead, the parish leased it to the City from 1969 to 1972 during which time it was called the "Huse Middle School." In 1972, the school, convent, and "some adjacent land" were sold to the City of Bath for $160,000. The school was renovated, and on March 1, 1973, it was dedicated as the Donald N. Small School. Subsequently it was used as offices for the Bath Recreation Department and also as home of Bath Community Television. The former convent was occupied for some time by the Bath School Department.
1967 - Rev. Joseph H. Butler and the New Saint Mary Church and Rectory
Rev. Morrissey initiated plans for the new church and rectory and instituted semi-annual fund-raising field days which eventually provided a considerable share of construction costs. Unfortunately, he passed away April 1967, leaving to the new pastor, Rev. Butler, completion of the building of the church and the rectory. He was instrumental in obtaining another strip of land added to that which was bought in 1960. His Associate Pastor, Rev. Carrigan, assumed responsibility for many details of the construction of, and move to, a new church. In August 1968, the last service was held at the old church. The City of Bath had bought all of Saint Mary Parish's High Street property for the expansion of Morse High School.
The church belfry and the church bell were bought by Harry C. Crooker and taken to Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick. The beehive style belfry was restored, repainted, and set in a scenic wooded area. A wishing well container was built into the base of the belfry under a glassed-in history of the belfry. Proceeds from the wishing well were destined to help the Youth Development Center for Retarded Children, Inc. The bell, inscribed with the names of those of the church people who contributed to it, was placed in the Crooker museum at the beach, but Mr. Crooker later donated the bell and set it in concrete where it now sits at the front entrance of the present church.
The pipe organ was sold to a collector. Many statues, pictures, and church assets (including the original Stations of the Cross) were auctioned or sold. Some of those items are now owned by members of the parish. During the eight months before the new church was completed, Sunday Masses were held at the former Winter Street Congregational Church. Weekday Masses were held in a corner of the parish hall in the school, and funerals were held at the Episcopal Church.
In the years since the "old" Saint Mary Church was torn down, present and former parishioners have contributed their Memories of the Old Church. Please feel free to send yours to us.
1969 - The New Church and Rectory Open
On Sunday, May 4, 1969, the new church opened its doors for Mass. On June 15, 1969, it was officially dedicated by Coadjutor Bishop Peter Gerety as Chief Celebrant.
The new church is modern, and less traditionally embellished than the old one, with plenty of space for the then 625 families. Constructed in the shape of a cross, designed by an architect from Boston, Leo A. Whelan, it is very open and light streams in from large abstract epoxy windows. (Visit the St. Mary Church Additional Photos page for the architect’s drawing and a list of contractors.)
Adapting to Changing Times - 1969 to the Present
Over the years, Saint Mary Church has successfully evolved to meet the changing needs of the community. The hand-carved crucifix which originally hung above the main altar was moved to the rear wall, stained to highlight its features, and floodlit. The console of the Baldwin Model N organ has been moved several times, and the organ itself has been updated. A piano has been added. Four communion stations enhanced by a simple wheat design which were originally spaced around the altar have been removed to allow for distribution of communion at the end of the middle and two side aisles. The altar area has been enlarged to provide additional choir space.
The front rows of pews in all three seating areas have been removed to permit ceremonial functions around the altar. One of the two original confessionals has been converted to a storage area for the video Mass equipment. The baptismal font has been moved from the former baptism room to the main altar; the room is now a "quiet room" for active families during Mass. In 2000, the carpeting was replaced and the altar screen repainted. Tiles were placed under the altar.
The Knights of Columbus held several fund raising events to collect money for a flag pole on the front lawn of the church. The flag pole was dedicated on Flag Day, 2002.
Concerned that the church had no outward visible sign of our Blessed Mother, whose name it bears, a group of similar-minded women banded together to propose a Statue and Memorial Garden Project. The project was cleared by the Worship & Spirituality Commission and the Parish Council and approved by Father Rice in May 2002. A year of fund raising culminated in the purchase of a five foot white marble statue from Carrarra, Italy, a landscape design, and the hiring of a landscape company to place the statue and install the garden during the summer of 2003. Dedication of the Statue and Garden took place on October 4, 2003.
In 2005 Bishop Richard J. Malone's Pastoral Letter "Telling Anew the Story of Jesus Christ set the stage for the former parishes of Cluster 15 to plan a new future together. After much work, communication, compromise, and planning the historical day of July 1, 2009 happened. More than 200 years of parish histories came together. On this date, St. Mary Parish became part of the new All Saints Parish comprised of St. Mary Church, St. John the Baptist Church, Brunswick, St.Charles Borremeo Church, Brunswick, St. Ambrose Church, Richmond, St. Patrick Church, Newcastle, Our Lady Queen of Peace Church, Boothbay Harbor, and St. Katharine Drexel Summer Chapel, Harpswell..
St. Mary Parish Pastors
|1.||Rev. Peter McLaughlin||1856|
|2.||Rev. C. J. O'Callaghan||1861|
|3.||Rev. Eugene Muller||1864|
|4.||Rev. D. J. Murphy||1865|
|5.||Rev. L. P. Bartley||1866|
|6.||Rev. Lewis Muttseers||1870|
|7.||Rev. J. R. Powers||1875|
|8.||Rev. John O'Brien, died in parish||1879|
|9.||Rev. Monsignor M. C. McDonough||1899|
|10.||Rev. R. W. Phelan||1907|
|11.||Rev. Nicholas J. Horan||1914|
|12.||Rev. James P. Gorham||1926|
|13.||Rev. Timothy C. Maney, died in parish||1929|
|14.||Rev. Francis E. Morrissey, died in parish||1955|
|15.||Rev. Joseph H. Butler, died in parish||1967|
|16.||Rev. R. Michael McGarrigle, from St. Bartholomew,|
|Cape Elizabeth, to retirement, 1994||1977|
|17.||Rev. Joseph R. McKenna, from St. Rose of Lima, Jay,|
|to retirement, 2000||1994|
|18.||Rev. Richard P. Rice, from Holy Family, Sanford,|
|to retirement, 2009||2000|
|19.||Rev. Frank Murray, from Immaculate Heart of Mary,|
|Auburn, first pastor of All Saints Parish||2009|
|19.||Rev. Thomas Murphy, from Holy Spirit Parish,|
|Wells, Kennebunk, Ogunquit||2016|
Priests Not Pictured Above