Merry Christmas from Historic Buildings of Connecticut! Known as the Mother Church of Norwalk, Saint Mary Roman Catholic Church serves the second oldest parish in the Diocese of Bridgeport. The parish was founded by Norwalk’s Irish immigrants and the first St. Mary’s Church, located on Chapel Street, opposite Academy Street, was dedicated in 1851. The Irish community continued to grow and ground was broken in 1867 for a new and larger church. The basement chapel was dedicated the following year and the completed upper church was dedicated in 1870. Designed by James Murphy, the church, located at 669 West Avenue in Norwalk, recently underwent substantial renovations under the direction of Duncan Stroik, professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame.
After the Civil War, there was an influx of Irish immigrants arriving in South Manchester to work at the Cheney Brothers’ silk mill. The Cheneys donated an acre of land on Main Street where the cornerstone for a new Catholic church was laid in August of 1874. The silk factory was closed that day to allow full attendance of Catholic residents. In spite of the liberal attitude of the Cheneys, there was also anti-Catholic sentiment in Manchester. The unfinished church was vandalized during the night of May 4-5, 1876. Thirty-five stained glass windows were smashed, altar ornaments were stolen and the vandals attempted to set the church on fire. Work on Saint James Church continued and the Gothic edifice was dedicated on August 20, 1876.
In 1848 Lucius Lyon constructed a seminary building on the site now occupied by Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Essex. It was constructed to house students at the neighboring Hills Academy. In 1869 the building was converted into a hotel called the Pettipaug House. Operating under several other names over the years, the building was sold to Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic parish in 1926. The parish‘s previous church had been the former St. John’s Episcopal Church, acquired by the parish in 1897 and destroyed by fire in 1925. Extensive work was undertaken on the former hotel to convert it into a church, such that it was considered to be essentially a new building, although remaining on the earlier building’s foundation. The original east-facing entrance was replaced by the new church’s south-facing entrance. The church was again completely renovated in 1997, giving it a much altered appearance.
The Polish National Catholic Church was established in 1897 by Polish-Americans who were Roman Catholics but were unhappy with the Catholic Church hierarchy of the time. The PNC Church today seeks full communion with the Holy See, although it has important theological differences. Holy Cross Parish, part of the Eastern Diocese of the Polish National Catholic Church, was organized and built a church at 723 Enfield Street in Enfield in 1935.
St. Mary Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church in New London began in the 1840s, serving Irish workers from a storefront on Bank Street. Soon, St. John’s parish was formed and a chapel was erected on Jay Street. In 1855 a new church, St. Patrick’s, was consecrated on Truman Street. The parish acquired a large lot at the corner of Washington and Huntington Streets in 1866 and the following year work began on a new church, designed by Patrick Keely of New York. The parish was renamed St. Mary Star of the Sea in 1874 and the new church was completed and dedicated in May, 1876. The church tower was built in 1911.
St. Francis of Assisi Parish was established in 1903 to serve the South Farms section of Middletown, as well as the towns of Durham and Middlefield. The parish’s first pastor, Rev. Patrick McGivney, was the brother of Fr. Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus. The parish’s new church (10 Elm Street in Middletown), built at a cost of $27,000, was dedicated on November 4, 1904.
At 22 Lyme Street in Old Lyme is a former church building that is now a private home, with the old choir loft converted into children’s bedrooms and a half bathroom where the confessional had once stood. The church was built in 1843 for Old Lyme’s Baptist community, which had previously gathered intermittently at various locations, often private homes. The Baptist Society disbanded in 1923 due to declining membership. Episcopalians purchased the building three years later. In 1934, the church was leased by the Roman Catholic Diocese, which dedicated it as Christ the King Church in 1937. The Parish now has a new church building, completed in 2005, at 1 McCurdy Road in Old Lyme.