Francis of Assisi Parish
398 Vernon 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.
In 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
Word 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 Catholic roots.
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.
A 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.
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
The 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!
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 new church.
On 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 18,
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
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