Francis of Assisi Parish
Roman Catholic Church
Ave. South Barre, MA 01074
Victoria A. King
Until the establishment of the Barre Wool Combing
Company in the early 1900s, there were few Catholics in
the southern part of Barre. Catholics who wished to
worship had to travel several miles to North Brookfield,
Gilbertville or Worcester or to a private home where a
priest would celebrate Mass.
1900, a wealthy textile owner named Francis Willey,
Esq., of Bradford, England purchased a site along the
Ware River and established a woolen mill. The new owner
eventually brought English workers to staff the mill.
Many of these workers were Catholic and they and their
families would devote their energies in future years to
building a church of their own.
spread rapidly that work was available at the new mill
in the growing village now know as South Barre.
Immigrants came from Italy, Poland, and Lithuania
looking for work. They brought with them dreams for a
better life, few material possessions and strong
Michael Mulhane, pastor of St. Joseph's in Barre center,
celebrated the first Mass in South Barre in the Swimming
Club Hall which was located in the mill yard, on
December 25, 1908 for the growing Catholic population.
February 1, 1909, Rt. Rev. Thomas Beaven, Bishop of the
Springfield Diocese, declared that the area of South
Barre, Barre Plains, and White Valley would be a mission
of St. Aloysius Church in Gilbertville under the
direction of Rev. William Hickey. Also included in the
newly formed mission were Catholics living near the
Barre boundaries, from Oakham and New Braintree.
In the early years of the
mission, Fr. Hickey or a curate would travel to South
Barre on Sundays to celebrate Mass. Some of the English
Women would arrive before the priest to prepare the hall
and bring in the altar cloths.
strike broke out at the mill during that time and Fr.
Hickey was instrumental in helping to negotiate a
settlement. In 1915, the owners of the mill showed their
appreciation for his efforts by deeding land on Vernon
Avenue to the Diocese of Springfield on which the
Catholic community would build their church.
Early worshipers banded together to raise funds for the
construction of a church. They ran card parties, lawn
parties, plays and socials. Some of these events were
held in private homes along Vernon Avenue or in a
function hall owned by the mill. Volunteers canvassed
door to door for donations!
Ground was broken for the new church on June 5, 1917
under the direction of Rev. John Kirby, newly appointed
pastor of St. Aloysius and curate, Rev. John Doherty.
Several parishioners participated in the event. Farmers
from the mission area shared their skills in clearing
and grading the land and lent their animals and
equipment for the burdensome task.
Barre Wool offered its outside gang, made up mostly of
Italian laborers, for mixingand pouring of cement and
laying of the foundation, all accomplished on company
time. Construction of the new building progressed
rapidly. The first Mass was celebrated in the yet
uncompleted church on January 13, 1918. By late spring
the church was completed and was officially dedicated by
Bishop Beaven on June 16, 1918. The name St Thomas, was
chosen for the church in honor of Bishop Beaven, because
it was the only church dedicated in the diocese during
his Jubilee Year. The church was built at a cost of
about $15,000.00 and was paid for in two years!
Thomas remained a mission until September 1922 when Rev.
John Casey was named the first permanent pastor. Shortly
after Fr. Casey's arrival, construction began on the
rectory that would stand beside the church.
Spiritual life flourished as
parishioners were now able to worship with full benefit
of their church with a permanent pastor. Besides being
able to attend daily and Sunday Mass, they were able to
participate in the sacraments and in many devotions that
were held throughout the year. Members of the church
showed their appreciation by faithfully supporting their
May 10, 1948 a group of people met with Rev. Jeremiah
Reardon, pastor, to formulate a plan for the
construction of a cellar under the church which would be
used as a parish hall. The hall would provide a place
for teaching religious education to the youth and for
the parish social activities. Men volunteered their time
for regularly scheduled work crews that met several
nights a week. The task of digging by hand and hauling
the soil in wheelbarrows from beneath the church began
on June 7, 1948. As construction progressed, a small
powered shovel was able to fit beneath the church to
help in the excavation. Work progressed rapidly and the
hall was completed in just six months time. It was
officially opened with a three day bazaar on November
During the late 1940s, St. Thomas-A-Becket, the English
twelfth century martyr was chosen as patron of the
church reflecting the heritage of early English
founders. In 1950, the Diocese of Worcester was
established and Rt. Rev. John J. Wright was installed as
the first bishop. St. Thomas was deemed a part of the
new Diocese. In 1955, Bishop Wright ruled that all
parishes be called by their proper titles and henceforth
the parish has been called St. Thomas-A-Becket
Church Is Wheelchair Accessible
St. Francis of Assisi Parish 2013-2017. All rights reserved.