As an industrial village in the nineteenth century, Baltic, in the town of Sprague, became a regional center for the Catholic Church in eastern Connecticut. Buildings constructed for Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish (founded in 1886) include St. Mary Convent, built in 1888, and the Academy of the Holy Family, built in 1914. The Georgian Revival-style church was built in 1911.
Today we continue with the Catholic theme, but this time with a church in Niantic. St. Agnes Parish was established in Niantic, East Lyme in 1922. The original wooden church on Prospect (now Haigh) Avenue, opened in November, 1924. Construction on the present church was interrupted by World War II. The foundation had been dug, but was covered over until construction was resumed in the mid-1950s. The parish celebrated its first Mass in the new church, at 22 Haigh Avenue, on February 10, 1957. The former wooden church was used as the parish center and church school until it was razed in 1962 to make way for a new church hall. A new rectory was built in 1967 and the current church hall and classrooms in the 1990s.
Continuing the theme of the last few days of Catholic institutions in and around West Hartford, today we feature the former Mount St. Joseph Academy at 235 Fern Street (now One Hamilton Heights Drive). It served as a Catholic Girl’s School, run by the Sisters of Mercy, from 1906 to 1978. The Sisters of Mercy also run the nearby St. Mary’s Home for the Aged. The cornerstone of Mount St. Joseph Academy was laid in August 1905 and the school opened for the Fall term in September, 1908. The building was designed in the Georgian Revival style by John J. Dwyer of Hartford and built by William F. O’Neil. In the frieze of the entrance portico are inscribed the words BONATATEM ET DISCIPLINAM ET SCIENTIAH DOCE ME DOMINE (“Teach Me Goodness and Discipline and Knowledge, O Lord”), the school’s motto. When the Sisters of Mercy started St. Joseph’s College in 1932, classes met at the Academy for several years before being transferred to its own campus in West Hartford (now the University of St, Joseph). The former school was renovated in 1996 to become an assisted living facility called Atria Hamilton Heights.
St. Thomas Seminary and Archdiocesan Center is located 467 Bloomfield Avenue in Bloomfield, just across the town line from West Hartford. A Catholic seminary, it was founded in 1897 by Bishop Michael Tierney. The original Seminary was located at 352 Collins Street in Hartford. Increasing enrollment led to a need for a larger space. Bishop John J. Nilan had the cornerstone laid for the current building on Sunday, September 29 1928. Designed by Louis A. Walsh of Waterbury and built by William F. O’Neil, it was opened on September 29, 1930.
In 1852 four Sisters of Mercy came to Hartford and opened a school in the basement of St. Patrick’s Church in Hartford. The Sisters of Mercy is a religious order founded in Ireland in 1831 by Catherine McAuley to teach and care for the sick and needy. In 1880, the Sisters purchased the Toohey Farm, formerly the Terry Farm, located between Steele Road, Albany Avenue and Asylum Avenue in West Hartford. The old farmhouse became a home for aged people and the produce of he farm supported the home and the nearby Mount Saint Joseph Convent. The house had earlier been the home of Rose Terry Cooke, a writer and poet known for her humorous fiction dealing primarily with New England village life. Additional facilities were built on the farm over the years, which would develop into the Mercy Community, which is devoted to the health and comfort of its members, focusing especially on the elderly poor. The Community offers adult day care, long-term care, rehab and assisted living.
The Mercy Community campus is dominated by a large building with two towers. Work on this four-story brick structure with brownstone trim, designed by John J. Dwyer in 1893, was begun in 1894-1895 (it opened in 1896). At that time, the central administration building was completed, as well as the chapel and the northern of two planned dormitory wings. A decade later (in 1905), the increasing demand for rooms in the facility prompted the construction of the south wing, which more than doubled the number of residents the Home could accommodate. Additional modern wings have been added to the structure over the years.
On April 7, 1878, Bishop Thomas Galberry blessed the cornerstone of a new Catholic chapel on Hopewell Road in South Glastonbury. It was a mission of St. Mary’s Church in East Hartford and was dedicated to St. Augustine on November 17, 1878. St. Augustine became a parish in March 1902.
The first Catholic parish in Wethersfield was Sacred Heart parish, organized in 1876. In August of 1938, the parish’s church on Hartford Avenue was devastated by fire. Rev. George M. Grady, pastor of Sacred Heart, soon purchased an extensive tract of land on the Silas Deane Highway for the construction of a new church. Many parishioners assumed that the new church was to replace the one lost in the fire, but it was decided to make the new building a mission church of Sacred Heart. Named Corpus Christi, the new church was designed by architect John J. McMahon (1875-1958) in the Georgian Revival style to reflect Wethersfield’s colonial background. It is built of Harvard red brick with limestone trim. The church was dedicated on November 26, 1939 and Corpus Christi was officially established as a separate parish on September 27, 1941.
In July of that same year, the church’s pastor, Rev. Patrick T. Quinian, received a letter from Bishop Ambrose Pinger of Shantung (now Shandong), China. A photograph of the Wethersfield church in the Catholic Directory of 1941 had captured the bishop’s imagination and he asked to be sent plans for the church so that its design might be copied for the new cathedral in Chowtsun (now Zhoucun)!