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Church reaches 50 years January 6, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture.

Immaculate Conception parish

WORCESTER > Hoping in part to capitalize on the steady migration of residents to the city’s West Side during the 1950s, Immaculate Conception parishioners abandoned their crumbling old church in a heavily industrial area off Lincoln Square and moved to a new house of worship overlooking Grove Street that the Most Rev. John J. Wright, Worcester’s first bishop, declared was a “beautiful tribute to the Blessed Mother.”

Tomorrow, members of Immaculate Conception, the city’s fifth oldest Roman Catholic parish, begin a yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of that move.

The celebration starts with a Mass at 10 a.m., during which a 12-foot-by-3-foot anniversary banner will be hung from the choir loft. Several other events are planned through the year.

The parish’s roots go back to the 1870s, when the pastor of St. John Church on Temple Street in Green Island, Worcester’s “mother church,” felt there was a need for a parish to serve the growing Catholic population in the city’s north end.

A wooden church was built in a former apple orchard on Prescott Street, near Lexington Street. That parcel today sits roughly behind the Marriott Courtyard Hotel. The church was dedicated on Dec. 8, 1878, and included “missions” in Holden and Rutland.

The parishioners were mostly poor, with many of them living in area tenement houses actually owned by the church. They paid their monthly rent of $10 to $12 to the church’s first pastor, the Rev. Robert Walsh.

The church was located in an area filled with mills and factories. The church was heated with excess steam generated by the nearby American Steel and Wire Co. plant. The area was so gritty that one of the factories, possibly American Steel, agreed to repaint the church every year because of the dirt and other emissions from nearby smokestacks.

In the 1950s, there was discussion about moving the parish. Church officials saw a need for another parish closer to the growing West Side. Rev. Champlin said the original church also began falling into disrepair.

Church officials decided the land at 353 Grove St. was appropriate for a new building and a cornerstone was laid in 1956. Items were placed in a metal remembrance box that was put into the cornerstone, including a copy of the $400,000 construction contract; a roster of parishioners; lists of members belonging to the parish’s Holy Name Society, Women’s Guild, and Youth Council; copies of newspapers reporting the project; a church history; coinage from the era; and a medal of Pope Pius XII.

The brick and stone church, located about a mile from the old one, was built under the direction of the pastor, the Rev. Edward T. Connors, and a Mass of dedication was held appropriately on Dec. 8, 1957, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Besides the 750-seat church, the complex included a parish center, a parking lot and an outdoor memorial to deceased members of the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division that was paid for by alumni of the division. Rev. Connors had served as the division’s chaplain in World War II during the African and Italian campaigns.

The church featured three carved panels over the main doors depicting Christopher Columbus and his men giving prayers of thanks for their successful voyage. Six of the eight stained-glass windows depicted visions of Mary. A seventh portrays St. Joan of Arc, and the eighth is of George Washington with the Blessed Mother, arms outstretched, standing over him. Immaculate Conception’s tower bell once served in Worcester’s main firehouse and was donated by the city in memory of deceased members.

Rev. Champlin said the parish, which includes 600 families, is made up of people from many backgrounds. “A lot of people think Immaculate Conception is an Irish church, but we have people from many, many groups,” said Rev. Champlin, noting the parish’s membership includes Latinos, blacks and people of American Indian descent.

In addition to kicking off the year’s festivities, parishioners tomorrow will mark the visit of the Three Kings to the Christ child. Other anniversary events will include a Mass in March recognizing the ethnic and cultural groups that make up the parish, and a family day in May that will focus on the church’s history.

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