St. Cecilia’s First 100 Years
Last month we visited St. Cecilia’s from its inception. Today I would like to discuss the church from the “war years” to 1984, which would be the 100th year.
In the first installment, we left at the passing of Selectmen Chairman George V. Sullivan after the Silver Jubilee celebration for Father Donahue in 1938. Within a year, Father Donahue was reassigned to East Boston and replaced by Father Hartigan. As with his predecessors, Father Hartigan revitalized the parish. Repainting the church, buying new uniforms for the band, and supporting our troops. The year is 1942.
Cushing Hospital in Framingham was built to care for the wounded returning from overseas. Although they provided excellent care for the soldiers, there was always a need for entertainment, or just a friendly visit during their rehabilitation. The parish would help with recreational events, singing at Sunday Mass at the Chapel, or providing transportation during the fuel rationing caused by the war.
But time marches on, and Father Hartigan was eventually replaced by Father William Conley (1943-1947), Father John Wall ((1947-1950), Father William Callihan (1950-1955), and Father Jeremiah Moriarity (1955-1957). Each had a love for the band and it showed. Father Wall’s Band alone was CYO (Christian Youth Organization) champions 6 years in a row.
My recollection of St. Cecilia’s begins after the arrival of Father James Dunford (1957-1964). Although I was too young to remember him when he first arrived, I do recall him in the early 60’s. It was during Father Dunford’s tenure that then Cardinal Cushing decided that St. Cecilia’s needed a new church. The fundraising effort began, and within a year $90,000 of the estimated $300,000 had been raised. Also, in 1959, the town had formed its first Knights of Columbus council: Bishop Rice Council, # 4822. Until the Town of Ashland bought the land and building on West Union St. from the K of C for the new Ashland Community Center, they met there for years. It was well known to Ashland residents as a nice place for wedding receptions and parties for many years. Along with their other commitments to the church and community, the K of C was instrumental in holding many fundraisers for the new church.
But more money was needed. In addition to the contributions from the parishioners, St. Cecilia’s held rummage sales, suppers, and even a scrap metal drive to fill the building fund coffers. Finally, all the hard work paid off. On March 31st, 1961 the cornerstone was laid by Cardinal Cushing during the dedication ceremony for the “new” St. Cecilia’s.
The new church was significantly bigger than the old one. Fewer Masses were needed even with an increasing flock. The old church continued to house the religious education program (CCD), the CYO, and the Boy Scouts.
Time again passes, and on March 24th, 1964 Father Dunford passed away. In his memory, the bell tower to the left of the new church was erected and dedicated as The Father James E. Dunford Memorial Bell Tower.
Next to succeed Father Dunford as pastor was Father Joseph Corkery (1964-1968). I remember him, along with the other priests Fathers O’Brien and Gallagher. I used to collect contributions from the parishioners at the 7AM Mass on Sundays. We had wicker baskets with long handles that were supposed to reach at least halfway across the pews. There were four of us, one on each side of the two rows of pews. The long handles were a challenge though. If you were collecting on the outside, you ran the risk of hitting the wall as you retracted the basket. If you were on the inside, you ran the risk of hitting the other guy collecting his side of the church. And there always some wise guy that would put an apple in the basket to weigh you down. Or try to make change. Women wore hats and veils during that era too. I can’t tell you how many I nearly knocked off lifting the basket between rows. We carried the baskets to the back of the church to empty them into white canvas sacks. One of the older collectors, who will remain nameless, used to tell me that there was a certain ritual to emptying the baskets. He said “Toss all the money up in the air. Whatever stays up goes to the church. Whatever hits the floor belongs to us!” He has since passed away. I hope he had a better story for Saint Peter.
Two more pastors were to lead the faithful. Father William Noonan (1968-1970), and Father John Foley (1970-1987). I remember Father Foley the best, probably because he was there the longest. He had a deep booming voice when he wanted it. He would use it to get your attention, not that you were not paying attention in the first place. Otherwise, he had a smile or a joke to tell. He passed away in 1998 at age 87.
The first 100 years ended in 1984. St. Cecilia’s evolved from the hard work of Father Ryan and the local faithful in 1884 to what we see today. The old church no longer exists, being replaced by the Parish Center, but the history remains. And they are well on their way to the next 100 years.
Again, many thanks to Kay and Frank Powers for their extensive research.
Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions