St. Mary’s Parish – History
St. Mary’s Parish is located in Lynn, Massachusetts, approximately fifteen miles north of Boston. On the edge of the new millennium, St. Mary’s is in a process of change and growth. St. Mary’s has a rich history and a rich tradition that lives on today.
Like any big city in the 1990′s, the demographics of Lynn are changing. Lynn, around the turn of the twentieth century, was the center of the nation’s shoe industry. During World II and in the post war era, the General Electric Company built the best jet engines in the world and employed thousands for over two generations.
But sadly, the shoe industry is long gone from Lynn. General Electric has down-sized her work force by nearly two-thirds since the early eighties. As a result, many people have left Lynn and hence, St. Mary’s.
St. Mary’s had served these people well. She satisfied the spiritual needs of these parishioners. She educated their children. She provided a wide range of spiritual as well as social events: Sunday Masses, the sacrament of Penance, the Stations of the Cross during Lent, Novenas, the May Procession, the Harvest Fair, the Boy Scouts, dances, Bingo, fund raisers.
Lynn, as well as St. Mary’s, is undergoing social as well as economic change. New immigrants arrive continuously from Haiti, many countries in Africa, the Middle East and the rest of Asia. There is also a large Spanish-speaking community (St. Joseph’s Parish provides Hispanic ministry for the city.) Internally, African-Americans are migrating to Lynn. St. Mary’s has a sizable elderly community. The varied spiritual needs of these people are being identified and met today by St. Mary’s Parish and the other 4 parishes within the city.
St. Mary’s has a tradition of adapting to the changing needs of her parishioners. Over this century, she has withstood and dealt with many issues: economic problems, fire, new immigrants, the elderly, loss of good jobs, and hence parishioners. But always, St. Mary’s has met these challenges and has always dealt with them effectively.
Throughout her history, St. Mary’s has been blessed with more than capable pastors, countless numbers of dedicated priests as well as, more recently, with deacons and pastoral asscociates. Her schools have been staffed with first class nuns and lay teachers. The dedication and hard work of these people have made St. Mary’s what it is today.
Prior to 1846, the only Catholic Church between Lynn and Boston was located in Salem. Originally, Lynn was a seaport community. As the Industrial Revolution spread to New England, Lynn developed into a textile community and later a shoe manufacturing Mecca. In this emerging industrial era, Lynn Gas and the General Electric Company emerged as major employers. For over one hundred years, these industries attracted immigrants to Lynn. Many of these immigrants brought a strong Catholic faith with them.
In 1846, a Methodist Meeting House on Ash Street became the first St. Mary’s Church in Lynn. This structure was destroyed by fire in 1859. ( Fire will haunt St. Mary’s parish throughout her history.) By 1862, a new St. Mary’s was erected on the present site. (St. Mary’s Church used the same architectural plan as St. Rose’s Church in Chelsea.) St. Mary’s became established as a parish in its own right and served the communities of Lynn, Nahant and Swampscott. Rev. Patrick Strain became its first pastor, a position he would hold until his death in 1893.
In 1881, St. Mary’s School opened its doors to 400 children. At its peak the grammar school instructed over nine hundred pupils. Six Sisters of the Notre Dame came to serve in this newly constructed school. A convent was built on the parish compound to house these sisters. Four lay women also taught in the first St. Mary’s School since the Sisters of Notre Dame were not allowed to teach boys. In September of 1923 St. Mary’s Girls’ High School opened its doors and was followed by the opening of the Boys’ High School in 1930.
Fr. Arthur Teeling succeeded Msgr. Strain as pastor of St. Mary’s; a position he would hold for thirty-four years. Fr. Teeling continued the missionary spirit of Msgr. Strain by constructing major buildings which still serve St. Mary’s today. With the passing of Msgr. Teeling in 1927, Monsignor Joseph McGlinchey became St. Mary’s third pastor. Msgr. McGlinchey served as pastor until his death in 1959. Msgr. McGlinchey was the last pastor to serve St. Mary’s for a period of over thirty years.
Heartbreak, in the form of fire, would strike St. Mary’s in December 1941, in February 1955, and a third time in August of 1956.
In December 1941 the main church became the victim of a fire that destroyed all but a portion of the walls and the Stations of the Cross. Due to World War II shortages, Sunday Masses were held in the Armory Building until the Chapel could be enlarged. Reconstruction of the church did not begin until March of 1947. Upon its completion, the “new” church was dedicated by Archbishop Richard Cushing.
Also at this time, a heating plant (the “Power House”) was built to serve all nine buildings on the compound.
In February of 1955 and again in August of 1956, fire once again victimized St. Mary’s Chapel. Each time the Chapel was renovated. This Chapel, to this day, continues to serve the parish.
Following the death of Msgr. McGlinchey in 1959, St. Mary’s was blessed by six successive pastors. Although these pastors did not serve St. Mary’s for tenures as long as Msgr. Strain (forty-two years) or Msgr. Teeling (thirty-four years) did, nonetheless their contributions and hard work should not be overlooked.
Monsignor Cornelius T. H. Sherlock, a former assistant at St. Mary’s, became pastor in 1959 and served until his retirement in 1973. Monsignor John J. Mulcahy succeeded Msgr. Sherlock as pastor. Msgr. Mulcahy was eventually named Regional Bishop of the Greater Lynn Area. Fr. Patrick J. Kelley became St. Mary’s sixth pastor in 1975. Fr. Kelley left St. Mary’s in late 1980 when his vocation led him to St. Anne’s in Wayland. In November of 1980, Fr. Paul Mulligan became St. Mary’s seventh pastor. Rather than renew his position as pastor of St. Mary’s, Fr. Mulligan decided to go to Uganda, Africa and become a foreign missionary. Also in 1980, one of our parishioners, Deacon Tim, was ordained as a deacon and assigned to St. Mary’s. Fr. John F. Leonard, a graduate of St. Mary’s Boys’ High School, became pastor in February 1987. In 1989 Fr. Leonard was appointed Vicar of the Salem Vicariate. In February 1990 Fr. Leonard assumed the additional responsibility of pastor of St. Patrick’s Church here in Lynn. On June 4, 1992 Fr. Paul V. Garrity became St. Mary’s ninth pastor and served the parish well for the next 18 years. On August 1, 2010 Fr. Brian Flynn assumed the role as our pastor and continues in this capacity today.
As a group these pastors oversaw great changes in the life of St. Mary’s Parish: economic problems compounded by many parishioners leaving the parish, the agonizing decision to close St. Mary’s Grammar School, and what to do with the building that housed St. Mary’s Grammar School for almost one hundred years. These problems were shared by each succeeding pastor, and each pastor confronted these problems admirably.
In the early sixties, the demographics of the parish changed. Lynn witnessed a series of fires. Jobs became scare. Many parishioners moved to other communities. Urban renewal came to Lynn. Under the direction of Fr. Paul V. Donovan, a curate at St. Mary’s, a section of land near St. Mary’s compound was set aside for low-cost housing. This project became “Marion Gardens.”
On October 25, 1964 St. Mary’s Church was re-consecrated by Richard Cardinal Cushing. At this time, Cardinal Cushing presented St. Mary’s a new auditorium and a new science building to serve both the parish and the high school. To make room for these two buildings, the convent which housed the Sisters of Notre Dame had to be demolished. Also at this time, the once separate Boys’ High School and Girls’ High School were merged into St. Mary’s Regional High School.
Due to a changing economy in the early seventies, parishioners continued to leave St. Mary’s. There was a drop in school enrollment. An agonizing decision confronted Msgr. Mulcahy: does one close the grammar school or does one close the high school? In June 1975, six years short of its hundred year anniversary, the grammar school was closed.
The closing of the grammar school created another problem: what to do with the grammar school building.
Under the guidance of St. Mary’s pastor, Fr. Kelley, the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was contacted. A new complex, numbering ninety-nine low-cost elderly housing units, was created. This was officially created and sponsored by the Archdiocese of Boston. The project itself was funded mostly by HUD with the guidance of the city’s Department of Community Development. Playing a major role on this was parishioner and executive director of Community Development, Edward T. Calnan. Not only was the grammar school building recycled, but a huge wing was built which extended out of the side of the former grammar school.
On November 28, 1981 the Great Fire of 1981 drew a response from St. Mary’s. This fire consumed scores of elderly and low-cost housing units just four city blocks away from St. Mary’s compound. Some of these units were occupied; some of these units were under construction. These units were located on four land blocks. Hundreds of victims turned to St. Mary’s.
Fr. Thomas Motherway, Associate Pastor of St. Mary’s, was contacted by the Red Cross. The Red Cross wanted to use the Cardinal Cushing Center and three of its conference rooms as a shelter and disaster center. Immediately, volunteers from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Lynn and the Catholic Family Services of Greater Lynn joined the efforts of the Red Cross to deal with this tragedy. President Ronald Reagan declared Lynn a disaster area and recognized the Cardinal Cushing Center as the disaster headquarters. David Sparks, the Regional Director of the Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) centered his efforts and worked out of the Cardinal Cushing Center. Clearly, this traumatic fire brought out the best of St. Mary’s and the City of Lynn.
The high school has been strengthened and placed on firmer educational and financial foundations. It has recently embarked on an ambitious plan to modernize its plant and equipment. On June 29, 2004 St. Mary’s Junior and Senior High School became separately incorporated, governed by its own Board of Trustees. Although there is an ongoing and intimate collaboration between the school and the parish, the pastor of St. Mary’s no longer bears the burden of responsibility of daily operation of the school.
As mentioned above, the pastor of St. Mary’s (first Fr. Leonard and then Msgr. Garrity) assumed the additional responsibility of St. Patrick Parish in West Lynn. Eventually St. Patrick’s closed and was re-absorbed into St. Mary’s. This process of consolidation was accomplished with remarkable smoothness and minimal turmoil.
The 2001/2002 Promise for Tomorrow Capital Campaign yielded visible results at St. Mary’s with the addition of lavatories and reconciliation/vesting room in the main church building.
Continual attention has been paid to the spiritual life of the parish with frequent devotions and missions available to the parishioners. Music has become a staple at church services.
St. Mary’s has a strong Religious Education Program. The Parish Stewardship Council and the Finance Committee meet regularly.
St. Mary’s is constantly in the process of identifying the changing needs of her parishioners as the parish continues to serve the People of God in its section of Lynn.