Wednesday, September 19, 2012

An American treasure: St. Stephen's celebrates 150 years

It's bell was cast by Paul Revere.

It is the only remaining church designed and built by the renowned Charles Bulfinch, the first native-born American architect (who also completed the creation of the U.S. capitol building).

But Charles Bulfinch and Paul Revere have nothing to do with the special anniversary celebrated this week by St. Stephen's Church, though the well-renowned neoclassical architectural treasure is a frequent stop for tourists in Boston's North End partly because of the fame of these two men.

This Sunday St. Stephen's will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its acquisition by the Catholic Church and its origin as a place of worship for Irish Catholics in Boston's North End.

My great-great-grandparents Patrick Tierney and Catherine Kennedy were among those Irish Catholics served by St. Stephen's in the first decades after its conversion to a Catholic parish. They were married at St. Stephen's by the Rev. John W. McMahon on August 16, 1874.

Patrick Tierney and Catherine Kennedy were 32 and 26
at the time of their marriage at St. Stephen's in 1874.

One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, on September 23, 1862, the church made the transition from Unitarian to Catholic. A place of worship was first built on the site as early as 1714: the Middle Street or New North Meeting House, church home to Paul Revere and his father. The year 1804 saw the completion of the current building designed and built by Charles Bulfinch. It was first named the New North Congregational Church and later the Second Church, Unitarian.

This plaque is one of several mounted on the church
building that tells the history of St. Stephen's

By 1862, the North End had become home to thousands of Irish immigrants and the church building began its new identity as St. Stephen's, in honor of the first Christian martyr. Among those Irish who attended the church over the years were Boston's first American-born Irish Mayor John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald and his daughter Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, mother of President John F. Kennedy.

St. Stephen's is located at 401 Hanover Street, across Paul Revere Mall from the Old North Church, another frequent stop on the tourist trail. My great-great-grandparents and their family lived only a two-minute walk from the church, like many other Irish immigrants who populated the North End during the second half of the 19th century. The map below shows their home in 1877 at Rear 448 Hanover Street, just up the road from the church.

Patrick & Catherine Tierney and their family lived a
2-minute walk from St. Stephen's (Click to enlarge)
St. Stephen's has seen many changes over the years, including a complete 6-foot lift of the entire building (during the widening of Hanover Street), and its return to the original level designed by Bulfinch during a large restoration in 1965.

St. Stephen's Church prior to
its 1965 restoration
Though it was changed by the Diocese of Boston from a full parish into a "chapel" about fifteen years ago, Mass is still held daily at St. Stephen's. It is one of three former parishes administered by St. Leonard's Parish. It is also the headquarters of the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle.
The 150th celebration of the parish's founding will be at the 11 a.m. Mass on Sunday, September 23 at St. Stephen's. All are welcome.
"The North End's changing ethnic and religious groups have always had a good friend in St. Stephen's Church..." - from a St. Stephen's Church plaque

This article is part of the "Doors of Faith" series on our ancestors' Catholic parishes. Visit The Catholic Gene to learn how you can share photos and stories of your family's "Doors of Faith" in honor of the upcoming Year of Faith 2012-2013.

1 comment:

Ellie said...

How wonderful, all that history! It's remarkable how the Irish influenced American Catholicism


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