History of St. Paul

St. Paul Old

When the Reverend Peter Hobart first came with his band of colonists to Bare Cove in 1635, Catholic settlement and influence in Massachusetts were small indeed. Sir Christopher Gardiner, the first Catholic of record in Quincy, had settled in Squantum in 1629. He had suffered difficulties at the hands of the Puritans and had taken refuge among the Indians in Plymouth. However, they turned him over to Governor Bradford and he was brought a prisoner to Plymouth, taken to Boston, and finally shipped off to London in 1631. 

Perhaps the first mention of Catholicity in Hingham was contained in the writings of Josiah Quincy, who in his day was the leader of the Federalists and, in his late years, wrote a book called Figures of the Past, in which he recalled:

"One day at the beginning of the century (that would be around 1800) I was driving to Boston in a pelting storm and overtook a forlorn foot passenger who, drenched and bedraggled, was plodding along the miry road. I drew up my horse and called to the stranger to get in and ride with me. 'That would be scarcely fair' was the man's reply. 'My clothes are soaked with water and would spoil the cushions of your chaise, to say nothing of the wetting I could not avoid giving you. ' These objections were made light of and, after some difficulty, the wayfarer was persuaded to take the offered seat. During the ride I learned that my company was a priest named Cheverus, who was walking from Hingham where he had been to perform some office connected with his profession, and thus commenced an acquaintance which afterwards ripened into friendship between those whose beliefs and ways of life were outwardly so different." 

Jean Lefebre Cheverus, after a succession of priests whose tenure at Boston had not been happy, arrived as a priest in 1796. He became the first Bishop of Boston in 1808 and, until his departure in 1823, made himself so beloved in the intolerant Puritan community that his leaving was a signal for an outpouring of affection such as Boston had rarely witnessed. He and his confrere, the sainted Father Matignon who had preceded him to Boston, were instrumental in the great change in attitude towards Catholics and their faith, which did not really begin in Massachusetts until they came and lived here. Jean Cheverus was the first of a line of truly remarkable men who served the Boston diocese as bishop and who are of importance to the people of St. Paul's Parish because, without the foundation which they laid, the collection of the congregation at Hingham and the building of the church would have come much later than it did.

In 1826, Scituate, which had been separated from Braintree of which it had formerly been the northern precinct in the 1790s, had two thousand inhabitants. Late in that year the first Mass in Quincy was celebrated in what was called "Long House," which then stood near the brook on Adams Street.

A gentleman called to see President John Quincy Adams, who was then at home. He introduced himself as a Roman Catholic clergyman, and gave his name as the Reverend Father Prendergast. He told the President that he had come to visit the Catholics in the vicinity and administer the sacraments to them and, since he was a stranger, he made bold to ask President Adams as to how he might find them.

The President received him in very cordial fashion and, after some conversation, called in John Kirk, an Irishman in his employ who lived with the President, and introduced Father Prendergast. The news soon spread through the village that the priest had come, confessions were heard that night, and early the next morning the first Mass was celebrated. (This was the story of an old Quincy gentleman, which is probably true, although Father Prendergast has not been otherwise identified in the his-tory of the Archdiocese of Boston. He could have been, and probably was one of the numerous mission priests who passed through from time to time.)

It is necessary in tracing the history of St. Paul's parish to make reference to Quincy, which was the bridge between Boston and the South Shore. Quincy was for a long time a mission of South Boston. In December 1840 a Father Terrence Fitzgerald was placed in charge of both areas. After first saying Mass in the West Quincy schoolhouse in Quincy, from which he was for a time ousted by local bigotry, he bought a lot in West Quincy close to the quarries where most of the men in the little congregation worked. There he erected a modest church with a cupola at a cost of $4,000. On September 18, 1842 the bishop dedicated St. Mary's Church, with President John Quincy Adams in attendance. 

St. Mary's parish at first embraced Milton, Randolph, Stoughton, Braintree, Weymouth, Hingham, Cohasset, and all of the South Shore save Plymouth. Every Sunday there could be seen people from nearly all of these towns in the churchyard at St. Mary's. They came by boat, on horseback, and the few who could afford carriages drive in them. The churchyard of St. Mary's in the 1840s on a Sunday was a living testimony to the faith which the people had brought with them after hard days~it is a picture which should be recalled in these days when travel is so simple and passage by foot is so largely a relic of the past.

In 1851 it was decided to extend the Quincy parish by building a new church at Gay and School Streets in Quincy. Construction got under way, but a depression caused cessation of the operation. Father Rodden, the first Boston priest to be educated in Rome at the College of the Propaganda, who had taken over in the district in 1848, contributed his personal savings and salary as editor of the Pilot to the extent of $5,000. This facilitated completion of the church, which finally cost $6,000. The dedication of St. John the Baptist Church by Bishop Fitzpatrick took place on November 13, 1853.

In those days the members of the congregations entrusted to the priests at St. Mary's and St. John's were largely Irish in nationality. Many of them had come here poor, untrained in any skills, and with no schooling whatsoever. The oppression, which the immigrants endured in their own country for centuries was heightened by the terrible days of the famine. And so it was that the original Hingham parish was made up of people who had come here mostly in very small vessels, some of three hundred tons, some but sixty or seventy tons. While the average passage was thirty-five or forty days, bad weather would make such a passage extend two or three months. The people who first came to St. Paul's brought with them all their possessions on shipboard: a bag of potatoes, oats, bread and tea. Overcrowding was commonplace and, since the height between decks was no more than five-and-a-half feet, it was impossible for some to stand erect. Fever and cholera plagued the passengers and, even before their arrival on shore, they died in large numbers.

During this time Hingham continued as a station of St. Mary's and St. John's in Quincy. At the beginning of 1850 a group called the Hingham Catholic Association announced a course of lectures on church history to be given by Father Rodden. The Know Nothing Movement was at its height during Fr. Rodden's pastorate, and it fell to his lot to calm parishioners with the outrageous anti-Catholic rumors which were circulated by members of that party in the community in which he served. During this time Mass services were held in the Town Hall. Despite a number of efforts, the people were not able to build a church. It appears also that Mass was occasionally said on Sunday at a home in the area known as the "Cove," owned by a family named Hickey, and probably located near the junction of North and Mill Streets. Prior to the building of St. Paul's, Mass was said regularly on Sunday in what was then the town hall, located on Main Street. A priest would come down from Quincy on Saturday, would hear confessions, and stay overnight in the homes of parishioners in order to say Mass on Sunday. One of the homes in which he stayed was the residence at 31 Cedar Street.

In due course Abington was detached from the Quincy parish and Hingham became part of it and then, on July 16, 1866, Weymouth was separated from Abington and became a parish which included all the adjoining coastal towns down to Scituate. The first pastor of this parish was Father John Hannigan, and he was succeeded by Father Hugh P. Smyth.

In Fr. Smyth's career as pastor from 1869 to 1883 he constructed eight new churches. Three months after he arrived in Weymouth his own church, St. Francis Xavier, burned down, and he relocated his new church in South Weymouth. Fr. Hannigan purchased the site of the church in Hingham on August 10, 1866, on which Fr. Smyth erected the earliest of his churches. St. Paul, as it was called, was dedicated by Bishop Williams on July 23, 1871.

The land on which St. Paul's church stands was a part of one of the original town grants of land made in 1635.A house built about 1652 (later, the Thaxter mansion, which remained on the site until 1866) was a fine old colonial house, with tapestried walls, broad tiled fireplaces, and decorated door panels. The house was sold in 1770 to Elisha Leavitt, a bitter Tory. In the house was a blind passage to which a secret door gave access. At one time during the Revolutionary War fellow Tories were concealed in the passageway, safely escaping a search by the Committee of Safety. On one occasion when a mob threatened to burn the house, Leavitt rolled out a barrel of rum in front of the house and the threatened violence was drowned in good cheer. The house was demolished in 1866 and the property, which was valuable for manufacturing purposes in the business center of Hingham, was also a convenient and easy distance to Boston both by rail and steamboat.

At long last the Society of Catholics of Hingham, already numbering 500 souls, had found a spiritual home and purchased the property for $1,500. The cornerstone was laid on June 12, 1870. From the archives of the Archdiocese of Boston comes this record of the dedication of the "new church in Hingham" on July 23, 1871:

"The Bishop said Mass at 8 a.m. in South Weymouth Church and at 10 1/2 blessed the new church in Hingham, St. Paul's. It is a beautiful wooden church with stone basement. It has cost about $20,000. It is built on the site of the oldest house in the town. A choir from St. James Church in Boston under the leadership of Mr. Geo. Lloyd gave very good music at the Mass, which was sung by Rev. S. A. Healy, Rector of the Cathedral. Rev. P. McKenna of Marlboro preached a well prepared sermon. The church was crowded by the Catholics of the town and by about four hundred who came from Boston for the ceremony. (P. Keely Architect), Rev. M. P. Smyth, Pastor, Rev. P. Leddy, Assistant"

Indeed, many of the four hundred who came from Boston arrived in Hingham on the steamer John Romer and returned to Boston that afternoon.

The Church of St. Paul was 111 feet in length and 57 feet in width, with a belfry tower 128 feet high. The interior was done in chestnut, capped with black walnut, and there were numerous stained glass windows donated by members of the parish. Patrick Keely was the same architect who designed Boston's magnificent Holy Cross Cathedral, and he endowed St. Paul's with that same Gothic majesty: impressive nave, soaring spire, stained glass windows, triparte front rising dramatically to the heights. In 1873, according to an account of the time, the most imposing structures at what was called Broad Bridge, besides St. Paul's, were the old Union Hotel and behind the church the four-story Burr Brown cord and tassel factory.

The Rev. Peter J. Leddy became the pastor on August 15, 1876 when St. Paul's became an independent parish, being separated from Weymouth. At this time the Hingham parish included Scituate, Hull, and Cohasset. St. Anthony's Church in Cohasset was built in 1875.

By 1879 St. Paul's Church needed extensive repairs. In addition, a fence was added on Fearing St. These repairs were costly for the time and, when Fr. Fagan arrived in Hingham as pastor in February of 1880 he found the debt to be about $11,000 on St. Paul's and $2,000 on St. Anthony's in Cohasset. There was income, too: $48 from the sale of a stereopticon, $2,137 from a fair.

But expenses continued also. An iron fence was put up at a cost of $275 and various payments were made to organists May Buttirner, Mary Barrett, and Hannah Welch. In 1885 Fr. Fagan, the Hingham pastor from 1880 to 1896, purchased land on Atlantic Avenue in Hull, and in 1890 opened St. Mary's of the Assumption, which was thereafter a mission church for the Catholics at the northern end of the peninsula. Services were held first at the town hall in 1894, and then at the Corinthian Yacht Club in 1896. Finally, Fr. Mulligan of St Paul's erected the church of St. Catherine which was dedicated by Bishop Brady on August 28, 1900. That year also marked the relocation of the rectory about 12 feet back from North Street.

A diary of St. Paul's would have related a terrible storm, almost a winter hurricane, on November 27,1898 forcing church to be canceled. But there were happy events as well lawn parties and fairs, including one of the latter that brought in $4,022 on August 25, 1902. 1910 brought problems with the roof of the Church, and Father McCall noted that 'nearly four months were consumed in the repairing of the roof." World War I years were made harder by a harsh winter of 10 to 15 degrees below zero in 1917 and by the dreaded influenza in 1918. All churches in the town were closed on October 6 and October 13 as a result of a flu epidemic raging in Massachusetts. Parishioners gave gifts in memory of their deceased relatives and friends. Then on November 21, 1920 a fire broke out in the kitchen of the rectory in the early morning destroying that part of the 't" and the roof. The necessary repairs provided two new rooms on the east side of the rectory.

Nor was the church itself neglected in the 1920s. Fifty-five years after the construction of the church in 1926 Father MacCormack noticed that the church spire was swaying. Plans and engineering data were assembled and repairs followed. Only three years later the interior of the church was completely redecorated in a maze of scaffolding.

St. Paul's School had its beginning when the Terry estate, formerly the tassel factory on Fearing Road came up for sale and was purchased by the pastor of St. Paul's, the Rev. Patrick Quill. An intense effort was launched by the Hingham Council of the Knights of Columbus to solicit funds for the school. The Knights were joined by every church organization, and by the fall of 1951 $50,000 had been subscribed, and amounts for about twice that sum were pledged. Members of the Building Fund Committee and the Rev Quill had already broken ground for the school on April 8, 1951.

The population of the town continued its rapid growth expanding into south Hingham. This population explosion necessitated the establishment of the Resurrection Parish on Main Street, dedicated on April 17, 1958.

The Second Vatican Council led to many changes, not only in the liturgy but also in the participation of the laity. A parish council was instituted in 1968 with members nominated and voted for by parishioners. A more physical effect of Vatican II was the moving of the altar forward in 1969 with the priest facing the congregation. The lacy spires that adorned the altar were removed. A figure of Christ symbolizing both the resurrection and the crucifixion was placed on the teakwood paneling in the back of the sacristy.

Only two years later the centennial celebration took place, highlighted by the Mass celebrated by and reception for Cardinal Mederios.

From the late 1960s until 1980 the parish took part in the Transitory Deacon program. The Archdiocese of Boston would assign a seminarian in his last year of study to a parish to give him experience and a greater understanding of parish life to better prepare him for his upcoming ordination. Through the years some thirteen seminarians received their training at St. Paul's.

In June of 1973 the Sisters of St. Joseph were withdrawn from the school and for a time it seemed that the school might have to be closed. However, the Diocesan School Board concurred in the hiring of a principal and an all lay faculty. A kindergarten was opened and in September 1975 Sister Marie St. Barbara, S.N.D. was appointed principal. St. Paul's School not only survived the crisis, but grew and thrived.

In 1976 St. Paul's took part in Hingham's ecumenical celebration of the nation's Bicentennial. Exhibits and presentations by eleven participating churches were held in the parish hall. Hingham high school's concert band performed on the rectory lawn, and an ecumenical worship service took place on the steps of St. Paul's Church. In May, two men from St. Paul's Parish, Edward Doyle and Philip Anderson, who were among the forty men accepted into the Permanent Deaconate Program by the Boston diocese, were ordained with the first class of deacons in Holy Cross Cathedral. Ordained as deacons in later classes were James Cumiskey '77, John Halloran '80, and John McHugh '92.

Nine years after the country's Bicentennial celebration, St. Paul's joined Hingham's observance of its 350th Anniversary in 1985. Cardinal Law offered Mass and preached in St. Paul's on Sunday, September 8. His Eminence concelebrated the Mass with the pastor, priests, and deacons of the parish, as well as other area clergy and representatives of Glastonbury Abbey. An ecumenical delegation shared forward pews with civic dignitaries and lay officials of the parish. Music director Sal Bartolotti led the 25-voice choir and brass instrumentalists and an overflow crowd participated from the lower church. Cardinal Law complimented the priests and people of St. Paul's for the "beautiful restoration and refurbishing of the 115-year-old church."

In 1985 also the church roof was repaired and the 128' steeple was re-slated, using polychromatic Vermont slate set in a pattern surrounding crosses on each of the six sides. St. Paul's church received an architectural preservation award for this restoration from the Hingham Historical Society in 1988, stating that the parish "has been most vigilant in protecting and maintaining its superb Gothic Revival Church, one of the most important components and contributing factors in the historic streetscape of downtown Hingham."

In 1988, after a six-year study of more than 1,100 parishes throughout the United States, a pastoral institute at Notre Dame chose St. Paul's Church to be featured in the video, "The Dynamic Parish." Churches that were deemed "dynamic" were community oriented churches where parishioners socialized and found spiritual enrichment and emotional support during crises. The sense of community was primarily created by St. Paul's school and its "involved" parent/teacher organization. The 30-minute video will be used in adult education classes to provide a diversity of leadership approaches for churches throughout the country.