With its white tower and gold cross rising majestically above the town, the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel lends a supernatural beauty to the already beautiful town of West Boylston. For 105 years the Catholics of West Boylston have worshipped in various homes, halls and churches until the year 1950 finds them joyously dedicating their newly-completed church, which for the first time in nearly fifty years, again stands in the center of the town, easily accessible to all.
The history of the church in West Boylston dates back to 1844, when the first public act of worship by Catholics of West Boylston was held. The first priest to celebrate Mass here was Rev. George Reardon, pastor of Springfield, and that was in 1846. Prior to this, according to history, the Catholic pioneers of the town would gather, after a week of toilsome labor, in some house, where they would recite the Rosary, make the Stations of the Cross before miniature pictures and sing hymns, as had been their custom in the old lands. These Catholics were Irish and French-Canadians and the difference of tongue made necessary two gatherings, so the Canadians grouped around one of their countrymen, while the Irish did likewise. In 1845, with the Irish and French then numbering 35 families, they united their efforts and pledged themselves to support a minister of God generously.
Thereafter Mass was celebrated for the people once a month and a Fr. Gibson, whose first name is unknown, came to the Irish people, while the French were cared for by a Rev. Philip Sacchi, of the Society of Jesus. When either of these Missionary fathers came to West Boylston, the home of Felix Nugent on French Hill and that of Jean Richard on Beaman Street were made their chapel. Soon after that, Mass, was also offered in Oakdale in the home of Moise Roy for the French people and in the home of James A. Hartigan for the Irish. Then, in the year 1847, Fr. Gibson, alternating with a Fr. Migneault, came for Mass twice in the month, the French people defraying the expenses of Sunday and the Irish the other.
In 1852, the Catholic townspeople bought a plot of land and in 1853, under the direction of Fr. Gibson, they began the erection of a modest chapel, which was called St. Luke's. This chapel was completed in 1854, and then a Fr. L'Eveque was appointed pastor and completed it. In 1856, Fr. Gibson left the care of Worcester and the missions to a Rev John Boyce. Fr. Boyce worked diligently repairing and enlarging St. Luke's chapel with a Fr. Noiseus, his assistant, taking special care of the French parishioners. He was very conscientious toward his people and in 1863 a Fr. Patrick T. O'Reilly, (afterward made first Bishop of the Springfield diocese), came to the mission as curate to Fr. Boyce. In that year the town of Clinton became a parish and West Boylston and St. Luke's chapel became its mission. Rev. John J. Connolly, then pastor of St. John's Church in Clinton, was in charge of St. Luke's mission for a year, when he was succeeded, by Rev. John Quinn and Rev D. A. O'Keefe, who served until Rev. R. J. Paterson was appointed pastor of St. John's Church in 1868.
Years went on and more Catholics joined the handful of Catholics who had established the little mission. These families poured into the town seeking work in boot shops that were there and very soon the little settlement was thought important enough to be made a parish.
Accordingly, in 1869, a Rev. A. Derbuel was appointed the first resident pastor of St. Luke's Church and in addition was given the care of the church in Shrewsbury. Shortly afterward he also established a mission at Sawyer's Mills, a little village in Boylston and, under his very skilful management the little parish grew rapidly. Soon the old St. Luke's Chapel was too small for the people's needs and steps were taken toward the building a more spacious and becoming place of worship. Now the little parish was really growing and a house with a large plot was purchased on a very desirable location, halfway between West Boylston and Oakdale. Delighted at their progress, the parishioners contributed generously in aiding their pastor in his work.
Then in 1878, while Fr. Derbuel was in Europe for his health, the brave little band of Catholics experienced a heavy loss and great disappointment when fire totally destroyed the parochial house and Rev. Alphonse Delphos, then assistant pastor, who was in charge of the parish at that time, barely escaped from the rectory with his life. However, in 1879, the contract for building the new church was given out and on November 4, 1882, it was dedicated under the patronage of St. Anthony of Padua. The church was a handsome wooden structure and seated 700 people and was the pride of the Catholic people as well as an ornament to the town. On June 7, 1881, a house for the priest was bought and a large stable built nearby.
By this time Holden had been added to the parish and the enormous task of organizing the parish, building of the church and caring for the missions attached to the parish, soon beat down the already ill health of the pastor, Fr. Derbuel and, in May of 1886 he died. Fr. John Joyce, who was then curate, was left in charge of the parish until October of that year when Fr. D. F. Feehan (afterward Bishop of the Fall River diocese), was named pastor. Fr. Feehan's knowledge of the French language and his good will endeared him to the French people of the parish, who by this time numbered four-fifths of the Catholic population of the town. In a short time, he had a goodly part of the church debt paid off and extensive repairs were made to the church and parochial house. Then through his efforts, a beautiful monument was erected to Fr. Derbuel's memory. In 1888, Fr. Feehan was transferred to the pastorate of St. Bernard's Church in Fitchburg and a Rev. J. B. V. Campeau was named the new pastor of St. Anthony of Padua.
Under Fr. Campeau's guidance, great progress was being made. The church debt was nearly paid up and plans were under way for the building of a parochial school. Then on May 2, 1890 another catastrophe befell the parish when the church was burned to the ground.
It was at noontime on this Memorial Day and school was in session opposite the church. One of the pupils, now Mrs. Mary E. Brigham, a life long member of the parish, called the teacher's attention to the fact she saw smoke coming from the roof of the church. The teacher looked from the window and immediately dismissed the pupils. The fire alarm was sounded and several Catholic women of the town rushed immediately to the church. One of the women encountered one of the Mission priests coming from the church carrying the Blessed Sacrament. She dropped to her knees before him, a sign that she was a Catholic, and he asked her to direct him to the nearest Catholic home. She led him to the home of James A. Hartigan nearby and there the Host remained until the excitement subsided. This fire was quite a setback to the parishioners and pastor for, after everything was over all their worldly values added up to only $2,800. But they were not discouraged and with an un-limitable will for work, they set again to erect a new church, surpassing, if possible, the recently destroyed one. So while the new church was being rebuilt, Mass was celebrated in old St. Luke's hall.
It was also during this time this time that Rev. Patrick A. McQuillan, S. J., the first West Boylston boy to enter the ministry of any denomination, graduated from Holy Cross College in Worcester, was ordained in Maryland and celebrated his first Mass in the old St. Luke's hall before the church was completed. Fr. McQuillan had served as an alter-boy at St. Anthony of Padua Church and at the time of his death was stationed at St. Andrew's-on-the-Hudson, a Novitiate of the Jesuit Fathers in Poughkeepsie, N. Y.
Before the end of another month, in June 1890, the walls had been built for the basement of the new church and work was started on the superstructure. By November 1891, a church more beautiful than the first one, was finished and was dedicated by Rt. Rev. Bishop Patrick T. O'Rielly, Bishop of Springfield, who had served as curate of the little old St. Luke's chapel in 1857, 34 years previous. Fr. Campeau served as pastor until 1898, when he was replaced by Rev. James Galoin, who in turn, was replaced in 1899 by Rev. Balthasard.
Then St. Anthony of Padua parish experienced its largest hardship of all. Just about this time, by act of the Legislature, a mammoth reservoir was ordered built for Boston and its vicinity and the town of West Boylston was to be annihilated!! So, in December of 1896, the Catholic Church property, together with the remainder of the town property, was sold to the State of Massachusetts. It was stipulated, however, that for three years after the sale of the property, that the people might worship in the church and after that nothing would remain of the parish and town but their own remembrances. Various landmarks in the town slowly disappeared as time went on and work was started on the demolishing of buildings, streets, etc. The people still worshipped in their church and the state of Massachusetts offered them a 99-year lease on a tract of land on Waushacum Street in Oakdale where they might build another church.
But under the instigation of Thomas Lynch, one of the prime movers of the Oakdale parish, negotiations were being made for the purchase of land on High Plain from a Mr. and Mrs. John Mixter. Mr. Mixter owned a two-tenement home on this beautiful site and also a boot shop, employing several men of the town and so, in about the year 1900, the property was bought for the simple reason that the parishioners wanted their church situated on a high hill so that it may be seen by people entering and leaving the little town. Plans were then formulated for the building of a new church and in 1903, under the name of the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel the church on the hill was completed. The people had been attending Mass each Sunday in the old St. Anthony of Padua Church in the Valley and the furnishings, including the stained glass windows, the pews, fittings and choir loft were moved to High Plain and a lovely new church now overlooked what was once the old town of West Boylston and what is now the Metropolitan Reservoir. Fr. Balthasard served as pastor of the church until about 1905, when the church of Our Lady of Good Councel was closed as a parish because of the migration of so many of the people of West Boylston into surrounding towns and cities and again became a mission church of various parishes, first of the Immaculate Conception Church in Worcester, then of St. John's Church in Clinton, and finally of the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Worcester.
In 1911, the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary was made a parish and Rev. Gedeon Fontaine was named pastor. Fr. Fontaine served there for six years and Mass was celebrated each Sunday morning at 9 o'clock in the church on High Plain. Once more the scattered parishioners of Oakdale and West Boylston traveled up and down the steep hill to the church, still working and planning for their church. Then in 1917, Fr. Fontaine was replaced by Rev. Joseph Brochu, who served as pastor for a year when Rev. Joseph Roy became pastor. He also remained pastor for a year until he was replaced by Rev. Richard F. Riley in 1919. Fr. Riley is now permanent pastor of the Greendale parish.
For nine years more, Oakdale remained a mission of the Greendale church and in the summer of 1928, the Church of Our Lady of Good Councel of Oakdale was proclaimed a parish by Most Rev. Bishop Thomas M. O'Leary of Springfield, and the Rev. William F. Smith was appointed to re-open the parish. There was great rejoicing among the people, and the lawn parties, whist parties, minstrel shows and many other money-making entertainments sprung up for the benefit of the parish. The church debt was amazingly low and Fr. Smith set to work on plans for the building of a rectory beside the church.
When word was received here that Our Lady of Good Councel Church was to become a parish, it was realized Fr. Smith, the pastor must have a home. Accordingly, the O'Toole family, who owned a large home in the center of town, very generously offered to rent their home for the time, it might be made a rectory. So, in June of 1928, Fr. Smith moved to the O'Toole home and the following Sunday morning, celebrated Mass in the Oakdale church. Fr. Smith was a zealous worker and inspired his parishioners to work with him until ?? he lead the Mass for the Sterling members of the parish who celebrated each Sunday in the Sterling Town Hall with the hope of someday building a little church in that town. Sunday school classes were started each Sunday morning following Mass but these changed to Saturday afternoons before long, because of the inconvenience of the location of the church. The Saturday classes were well attended and other classes were started in the homes of Mrs. Louisa Russell and Mrs. Mary Natola, both on Woodland Street for the children of the City Line section of the parish. Accordingly, another Saturday class was started in Sterling. It was also during his first year here that Fr. Smith received permission from Bishop O'Leary to celebrate midnight Mass in Oakdale on Christmas Eve. Accordingly a high Mass was celebrated on that night and has been celebrated here annually since. In 1933 work was completed on the new rectory and Fr. Smith moved from West Boylston to High Plain.
But in 1934 he was transferred to St. Joseph's church in Stoneville and Rev. John P. Sullivan was named pastor here.
Shortly after, Fr. Sullivan was appointed pastor here, St. Mary's chapel in Morningdale and the care of the Worcester County Sanatorium were added to the parish and Rev. John Foley was sent as an assistant to Fr. Sullivan. Masses could then be said each Sunday in those places Fr. Foley aided in carrying on the work of the growing parish. But Fr. Sullivan's health was not equal to the task and in 1936 he died after a short illness.
Rev. Edward P. McGuire was sent as administrator of the parish until the appointment of Rev. Alfred Lane in 1937. Fr. Foley was transferred and Fr. McGuire remained as curate for a year succeeded by Joseph A Russell and later by Rev. John I. Chagnon.
Fr. Lane remained here until 1942 when he was succeeded by Rev. Howard W. O'Connell and Fr. Chagnon was left here until 1944 when he was succeeded by Rev. Edward S. Sheehan, still our beloved curate.
During those years as the number of parishioners increased, catechism classes were established in various places. Mrs. Edward Gammell and Mrs. James E Hartwell held weekly classes in West Boylston center, at the home of Mrs. Gammell and for the children of the City Line section of the parish, Mrs. Raymond Gallant and Mrs. Francis Bertrand taught weekly in the Good Will club rooms. Classes for the Oakdale children were held following Sunday morning Mass in the church under the tutelage of the church sexton, Richard A. Mooney. All those classes, however, were supervised by the priests of the parish, who also took charge of the Sterling children in the Town Hall there and the Boylston children in St. Mary's chapel at Morningdale. Then in 1947, Fr.O'Connell arranged to have these latter two classes instructed by the Sisters of Mercy of Worcester.
During the 47 years that the church stood on High Plain though, the center of population of the parish had grown in West Boylston center and for this reason, Fr. O'Connell finally suggested to our late Bishop, Most Rev. Thomas M. O'Leary, that the parish buy a tract of land in the center of town as a site for a new church. So, in 1946, Miss Maud L. Conway, a member of the parish, sold to the Bishop, the land upon which the church now stands.
In July of 1947, the parish buildings in Oakdale were sold to the Metropolitan District Commission for reservoir purposes and a fund was established toward the building of a new church.
But in February 1948, Fr. O'Connell was transferred to St. Mary's Church in East Springfield and was succeeded by our present pastor, Rev. Francis A Foley. With the approval of Bishop O'Leary, Fr. Foley, also a zealous worker went ahead and arranged with the architect, O.E. Nault and Sons, to draw and submit plans for a church in modern Colonial style, fitting in with the surrounding architecture that would be a source of pride to both the Catholics and Protestants alike, in the town. Ground was broken for the new structure in July of that year and Granger Contracting Co. did the building. In June of 1949, one morning Fr. Foley blessed the cornerstone, and on Sunday morning July 31 of the same year, the first Masses were celebrated in the new church.
It was on a Friday afternoon, July 29, 1949, that Bishop O'Leary paid a surprise visit to the new church and to our two priests and, after looking over the building, he expressed his great pleasure with it and promised a date for its dedication. But God had other plans for our beloved Bishop, and in October of 1949, he was called to his eternal rest, before plans could be made for the dedication.
But on February 1, 1950, announcement was made that our Holy Father Pope Pius XII had appointed Most Rev. John J. Wright to be the first Bishop of the newly formed diocese in Worcester, under whose jurisdiction the Church of Our Lady of Good Councel would come.
Our Lady of Good Counsel has the honor and distinction of being the first church to be dedicated in his new diocese.
By Helen F. Downey