History of St. Benedict Church

The History of St Benedict Church and Parish


St. Benedict Parish turned one hundred years in 2012 and what an amazing history it has! Information about St Benedict's and it's formation can be found as far back as January 1908 when the Somerville Journal stated:

A new Roman Catholic parish is to be founded in East Somerville... The lines of the new parish will extend from Washington street below the bridge of the southern division of the Boston and Maine railroad through Tufts to Cross street, taking in the southernly portion of the latter street, running completely through to and taking in Mystic avenue down to Sullivan square and back up Cambridge street, Charlestown.

Local historian and former teacher, Isobel Cheney takes us back even further, before St Benedict’s to a time when the area was known as Ploughed Hill, the second of seven hills, known previously as the Nunnery Grounds:

In 1820 the Ursuline Community bought the property (previously a battle post on Ploughed Hill) and built Mt. Benedict convent.

The property was named Mt Benedict in honor of Bishop Benedict Fenwick. Lamentably, due to mounting anger between Protestants and Catholics in the area, on August 11, 1834 a mob of a hundred men attacked the convent, burning it to the ground, in the Ursuline Convent Riots

Even with fifteen fire engines from Boston and surrounding towns, the once beautiful three story building was “reduced to a heap of smoking ruins” and the once beautiful grounds were “trampled down and destroyed” according to the article The Ursulines of Mt Benedict published in The Caravel; August, 1924. The land lay dormant for many years. It was not until 1875 that the hill upon which the Convent stood was dug down. It took until 1892 to complete this daunting task. As Isobel Cheney stated:

Pennsylvania Avenue in the Nunnery Grounds, with its high wall in the rear, gives no impression of the promontory that extended as one now stands on the left hand side of Broadway... where St Benedict's Church commemorates Mt. Benedict. 

Thus St. Benedicts is also linked to the URSULINE ACADEMY IN DEDHAM https://www.ursulineacademy.net/about/history, the Ursuline nuns finally returning to Boston, first to Arlington St., in 1946. 

INCEPTION OF ST. BENEDICT PARISH: According to Thomas E Kissling who wrote for the Caravel:

A movement was introduced for the building of a church in East Somerville in Dec. 1891. An option was secured on a large lot of land, bordering on Pearl and Pinckney Streets, then called “ox­pasture.” A large church edifice, a school and a rectory featured in the plans. (But) the Archbishop's plans did not materialize at this time. It was not until January, 1911, that more definite results were effected.

On the sixth of that month there was purchased from Martha B. Clark, over 12,000 sq, ft. of land bordering on Franklin, Arlington and Hathorn streets. Early in May of the same year, the parish was officially established, and the Rev. Garrett J Barry was sent to organize the new parish. Fr. Barry immediately entered upon his new duties, and established temporary headquarters, at St. Francis de Sales' rectory in Charlestown. However, it was not long before the large dwelling­house on the property, was extensively remodelled, and ready for the Pastor's residence. Pending the erection of a church, Mass was celebrated, first in Coyle's hall at Charlestown Neck, ­ and later in the Hathorn clubrooms, and on Broadway. Within a year, this part of Somerville became one of the most populous districts. The work of levelling the old Nunnery grounds, by the Mt. Benedict Land Association, and the subsequent development of the property in 1912 by the Somerville Home Building Association, gave a noticeable impetus to the growth of the new parish. The need for the erection of a church edifice, became imperative.

A building fund was immediately formed, and by November of 1911 the actual construction of the edifice began. The services of Mr T. Edward Sheehan, of Boston were secured, as the designing architect, ­ and Walsh Bros. Of Cambridge were the contractors.


The church, which cost $25,000, is located at the corner of Arlington and Hathorn streets, fronting on the latter, with three main entrances. It is a handsome one­story structure, with an imposing tower, 60 ft. high. The style of architecture is of the Spanish mission type. The building is constructed of concrete, with ornamental stucco, and wood trimmings. A large circular window above the main entrance, and a similar one in the tower enhance the unique effect. The church will seat over 900 persons.

On September 20, 1912, the Somerville Journal stated:

“The new St Benedict's church... was opened for public services last Sunday. Four masses were celebrated, at 7, 9, 10:30 and 11:45 a.m. The first two were celebrated by the pastor, Rev, Garrett J. Barry; the 10:30 by his assistant, Rev James A. Sherry, and the last mass by Rev. John J. Gallagher... Father Barry referred to the fact that everything in the church was the gift of friends, both in and out of the parish. The main altar is the gift of Mrs. Jane Clancy of Dell Street; The altar on the epistle side is a gift of Mrs. Michael Ryan of Bridgeport, Conn. In memory of her husband; The altar on the gospel side is a gift of Thomas E. McCarthy of Perkins Street in memory of his wife; The gold chalice is the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence H Sullivan of 21 Lincoln Street; The candlesticks on the high altar and the sanctuary lamp are gifts of Mrs. Elizabeth Emery of Oliver Street, and Mrs. John H. Moore of the same street; Mrs. Julia Crowley and her daughter of Franklin Street gave the handsome crucifix used on the high altar while Mrs. Joseph H. Herlihy of Pinckney street presented the Ostensorium... Members of the parish donated the handsome stations of the cross; The Notre Dame Sisters in Somerville and the Dominican Sisters in Charlestown presented the altar linens and surplices. The Reverend Pastor was also the recipient of a complete set of vestments given by Humphrey Sullivan of Lowell”


On Sunday October 23, 1912 Cardinal O'Connell dedicated the church:

“At the end of the mass Cardinal O'Connell addressed the congregation. His first word was one of congratulations to the pastor and the people of the parish for a work so speedily and so well done. “God rewards grief honorably borne, and the fruits of the life and the labors of Bishop Fenwick are only now beginning to be appreciated and understood. So, beloved parish and flock of this parish, I congratulate you from my heart. May the spirit of the great St Benedict, the great social reformer of the whole world, sanctify and bless your labors dear Father Barry, and may the bishop of Boston, be revived and given proper place in history and in your hearts remembrance.”

Father Garrett J. Barry remained at St Benedict's for two years until October, 1913. Fr Barry's place was filled by Rev. Henry T. Grady, formerly of West Lynn. Rev. Grady remained at St Benedict's from 1913 til 1924. It was under his direction that the Junior Holy Name Society was formed. It was also under Fr. Grady that a parish house was purchased on Franklin Street as well as securing the land necessary to begin erecting an elementary school. The digging of the foundation began in 1923.

In February of 1924, Fr. Grady was transferred. Rev. William J Foley came to St Benedict's and was pastor for many years until he died in 1940 after a long illness. His assistants were Rev. Thomas F Ferris and Rev. John G Hogan. Arrangements for the funeral were under the direction of Fr. John D. Leonard and Fr. John D. Clark, also assistants in the parish.

In 1940, more than 1,000 parishioners celebrated welcoming their new pastor, Rev. John F Madden. Fr Madden was the fourth pastor of the parish. With Fr. Madden during his years at St. Benedict's were curates Rev. John P. Leonard and Rev. John D. Clark. Fr. Madden “expressed his happiness at finding the good work which had already been accomplished by other priests in building a church, rectory, convent and school. He also commented on the good Sisters of St. Joseph, teachers in the school and his two active assistant Fathers Leonard and John D. Clark.


In 1942, Rev. David Fitzgerald was next named Pastor of St Benedict's parish. Fr. Fitzgerald was welcomed in a reception of more than 700 parishioners in March of 1943 in the parochial school hall. Curates Fathers Leonard and John D Clark were joined by Rev. Joseph F. Sullivan. In 1953, Msgr. Hogan joined St Benedict Parish. It was in 1963 that St Benedict celebrated its Golden Anniversary – 50 years! It was probably in this time period that St. Benedicts underwent an EXTERIOR facelift, changing the previous Spanish Mission style exterior with a brick exterior, and removing the church's beautiful steeple, and covering the rose window over the church's main entrance, which is probably still buried in the wall. Msgr. Hogan continued to lead St Benedict parish until 1985 when Rev. John E. McLaughlin assumed responsibilities. Sadly, in 2005, St Benedict's Little Flower School was closed after 84 years. The same year, Rev. McLaughlin left St Benedict’s and his responsibilities were taken over by Rev. David A. Doucette.

Later, in 2006, Fr. Doucette was assigned to St Isidore Parish in Stow, MA. That is when Fr Robert Carr assumed the helm of St Benedict Parish.  Under the direction of Fr Carr, St Benedict's Church INTERIOR received an amazing face lift in 2008 including a change in the sanctuary from curtains to a painted mural and a warm wood panel back drop, restoration of pillars in the church, a new sound system and air conditioning system. Additional changes were made including, a new phone system, wireless internet and a video system that enables St. Benedict's celebrations to easily be seen from anywhere in the church to anywhere in the world!  Fr. Robert Carr was then succeeded (2011) by Fr. Oscar Martin Dominquez (originally from Spain, and of the Neo-Catechumenal Way religious order). In 2014 Father Oscar called by his order to it’s New Jersey seat. In 2014 Fr. Carlos Lopez (Puerto Rico/Chicago) was appointed Parish Administrator and helped to establish the Saturday evening 5:30 Spanish mass, among many other wonderful intiatives moving St. Benedict's forward. In August of 2018, Fr. Alejandro Lopez-Cardinale was appointed the new Administrator of ST. Benedict.

In 2016-17 the original Casavant (Quebec, Canada)Pipe Organ from c. 1942 was restored after having been long silent, and a set of chimes was found and installed, replacing a previously existing set of chimes that disappeared from the organ (perhaps in the 60's/70's facelift) . The church is considered to have one of the best natural acoustical settings of any church in the archdiocese, with it's natural wooden floors and coffered hammered tin ceiling. 

In one hundred years, St Benedict's has come a long way and it continues to make progress to reach out to its parishioners and strive to reach the next generation of Catholics. St. Benedict's is one of the only parishes offering a free CCD program. St Benedict,s also has Facebook page. St. Benedict is home to one of the largest El Salvadoran congregations in Boston, who in turn have a large, active CATHOLIC CHARISMATIC RENEWAL ministry.


The El Salvadoran community is most proud of the recently beatified (soon to be canonized/ declared a Saint of the Catholic Church), Blessed Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez (15 August 1917 – 24 March 1980). Archbishop Romero was martyred (shot) in 1980 while saying a mass, for having defended the Faith and advocated for better treatment of the poor. He will be canonized a Saint of the Holy Roman Catholic Church by Pope Francis on October 14th, 2018, in Rome. 


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