St. Paul Roman Catholic Church
84 Sherwood Avenue, Greenwich CT 06831
Rectory (203) 531-8741 Fax (203) 532-1414 Religious Education Office (203) 531-4265
History of St. Paul Roman Catholic Church
The First Years
Records show that the first Catholic in Sherwood Bridge (now Glenville) attended Mass in the Greenwich area in 1854. The English settlers during colonial and Revolutionary times were attracted to the area by the water power furnished by the Byram River which made it ideal for farming and logging. The first grist mill was built on the banks of the river on Riversville Road, in 1784, by Solomon Reynolds. About the time the first woolen mill was built in 1814, Irish immigrant farmers settled in the area. In the 1880ís, farmers of Polish extraction were drifting into the region and, in 1892, the American Felt Company, which was to play an important part in the growth of Glenville, took over the woolen mills.
The Reverend E. J. Cooney, pastor of Norwalk, Connecticut, administered to the faithful in the entire section. Religious services were held in homes or wherever a place could be found. Reverend James H. OíNeill celebrated Mass in Wing House and in the home of Thomas Hackett on Round Hill. In 1860, a small church was erected in the borough of Greenwich and became a parish in 1876. The Reverend Thomas Smith began celebrating Mass in Glenville in October 1889, in what was called Broderickís Hall.
At the turn of the century, a parish was established in East Port Chester and Glenville became a mission. The Reverend Thomas Finn became resident pastor of Sacred Heart and recognized a need for a church in Glenville. This energetic priest purchased land from the American Felt Company for a new church structure. An advisory committee consisting of Mr. John Broderick and Mr. Thomas Howley aided Father Finn in working out plans for the new church.
The First Church
On June 1, 1902, a groundbreaking ceremony took place on land situated on the southern side of Glenville Street facing north. In the presence of one thousand people, the cornerstone was blessed by the Right Reverend Michael Tierney, Bishop of the Diocese. Assisting the bishop were Reverend Thomas Finn, Pastor; Reverend James C. OíBrien, Stamford; Reverend Frank Havey, S.S., of St. Josephís Seminary, Dunwoodie; Reverend D. OíConnor, Noroton; Reverend T. J. Kelly, Bridgeport; Reverends J. T. Berry and David OíKeefe, Rye, New York.
A box was placed within the cornerstone containing names of the reigning Pontiff, Pope Leo XIII; the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt; the Governor of Connecticut, Governor McLean; Selectmen of the Town of Greenwich, Messrs. Knapp, Ritch and Wilson; pastor of the church, Father Finn; copies of the Port Chester Enterprise and Catholic Transcript and coins of the current money of the times.
The architect of the church, Mr. Joseph Jackson, and the builder, Mr. Max A. Dunschmidt, aided by Mr. Patrick Finn of Greenwich, set the cornerstone. The Reverend T. J. Kelly, Bridgeport, delivered the sermon. Following the conclusion of Father Kellyís address, the Bishop made a few remarks congratulating the people on the work they had done for their new church.
Following the laying of the cornerstone, the erection of the church proper began immediately. The new church, a frame building of Gothic design, had a clerestory 43 feet by 68 feet and a brick basement. The seating capacity was approximately two hundred forty-five. Opalescent glass windows were donated by different parishioners. There were three altars of Gothic design and a spacious sanctuary. The interior was finished in hard pine, stained and finished in natural wood with wood-paneled ceilings. Above the Main Altar were three large stained-glass windows.
The new church was solemnly dedicated by the Right Reverend Michael Tierney, Bishop of Hartford, on October 19, 1902. Solemn High Mass was celebrated for the first time in the church by Reverend Charles J. McElroy, assisted by Reverend T. H. Shanley, Deacon, with Reverend Frank Havey as Sub-Deacon. The dedication sermon was preached by Reverend James C. OíBrien.
A Mission Until 1910
From the year 1902 until 1910, St. Paulís Church remained a mission of the East Port Chester Parish. As a result of urgent requests of Father Finn, the Glenville Mission became a separate parish in 1910. Bishop J. J. Nilan appointed Reverend John J. Burke, the assistant pastor of Sacred Heart Church, as pastor of St. Paulís in Glenville.
The First Pastor of the New Parish
Upon entering the priesthood, Father Burke was selected by Bishop Tierney to study the Polish language in Poland. On his return from Poland, he was appointed assistant to Father Finn. St. Paulís had approximately eight hundred communicants and nearly five hundred of Polish extraction. It was felt that the well-known, popular priest was well-suited for the post.
St. Paulís Rectory on Riversville Road, was a considerable distance from the church. Through Father Burkeís efforts and the courtesy of officials of the American Felt Company, a large tract of land alongside the church was donated to the parish and a modern rectory was built. Upon completion of the rectory, a reception Ė arranged by Mrs. Frank P. Haggerty and Mrs. Dora OíConnor and attended by a large group of friends and parishioners Ė was held for Father Burke in the K of C Hut, Greenwich. During the evening of entertainment and refreshments, the presentation of a purse and articles of linen to be used in furnishing the new rectory was made to Father Burke.
After fourteen years of working for St. Paulís, in September, 1924, Father Burke was assigned to St. Thomas Church in Thomaston, Connecticut.
Father Burke was given a farewell reception at Glenville School by the people of Glenville and hundreds of them crowded into the auditorium. W. S. OíBrien, Principal of Glenville School, presided and among the speakers were Father Murphy, Greenwich; Father Finn, Norwalk, formerly of East Port Chester; and Father Joseph King, New Milford. Among the gifts given to Father Burke was one from the Glenville school children presented by Jennie Smurlo.
The Pastorate of Father Beaumister
Reverend O. S. Beaumister was assigned as pastor of St. Paulís in September, 1924. Father Beaumister continued to make improvements. An attractive courtyard was developed between the church and rectory and in May, 1925, the Glenville Fire Company presented a new bell to the parish. Prior to the dedication of the bell, a parade, led by Fire Chief Johnson, marched from the Fire House to the church grounds. There, Father Beaumister read the names of each member of the Glenville Fire Company as a recognition of the gift. Following the dedication ceremonies, refreshments were served at the Fire House. On One occasion, the clapper of the bell fell to the feet of altar boy, Joseph Franus, as he was ringing it for Mass. Knowing of Father Beaumisterís regard for the bell, he climbed the steeple to replace the clapper. Father Beaumister appeared in time to witness the repair job and was torn between ordering the altar boy down or having his bell fixed. The beloved bell won. The bell has now been returned to its original donors Ė the Glenville Fire Department. It has been placed in a tasteful monument set in front of the Fire House.
The interior of the church building was completely renovated with funds raised by the People of St. Paulís. A new Estey organ was installed and St. Paulís Choir, organized by the pastor, gained considerable repute in this section of Connecticut.
After twenty-five years, St. Paulís, while one of the largest parishes of the diocese in the territory, was one of the smallest in membership. Yet, on October 16, 1927, in a flag-and-flower-bedecked, redecorated church crowded to capacity, St. Paulís celebrated the Silver Jubilee of the building of the church. Father Beaumister sang the Solemn High Jubilee Mass. Assisting were Deacon, Father Finn, former pastor of Sacred Heart, East Port Chester, and founder and builder of St. Paulís Church; Sub-Deacon, Reverend Cornelius Buckley, Greenwich, former assistant to Father Beaumister; Master of Ceremonies, Reverend Charles Kelly of Willimantic, Connecticut; and Reverend Alexander Wollschlager of East Port Chester. Principal sermon was preached by Father OíBrien who had delivered the church dedication sermon twenty-five years before. A memorial book entitled, Silver Jubilee, October 16, 1927, was printed for the occasion. The book contained a photograph of the church and articles by Reverend Cornelius J. Buckley, Greenwich, and a history of St. Paulís Parish by Father Beaumister.
The Menís League of St. Paulís
A menís organization was formed at St. Paulís Church in 1931, under the direction of Father Beaumister. Thirty men were received into the membership of the Parish Menís League of St. Paulís. The constitution and by-laws were adopted and officers were elected for a one-year period. Purpose of the organization was to serve as a parish agency in various parish activities, to take an interest in younger members of the parish and sponsor sports teams. Officers were: Director, Father Beaumister; President, Edward Deck; Vice-President, Vincent Smith; Treasurer, James Clark; Financial Secretary, John Rockless; Corresponding and Recording Secretary, Bruno Augustin.
A Parish Anniversary
In June, 1935, the entire community of Glenville turned out to celebrate the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the official establishment of St. Paulís as a parish. Solemn High Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated at 10:30 a.m. at the church by Father Burke, the first resident pastor. A special sermon was given by Monsignor Thomas Finn of Norwalk, under whose supervision the first church was erected thirty-three years before.
The thirty-two member choir, under the direction of Father Beaumister, sang the entire Mass. James Butler of Glenville was at the organ. A huge parade, held in the afternoon to honor Fathers Finn and Burke, was led by Grand Marshall Vincent Guzenski of Glenville. The eveningís festivities of concerts, dance music, speeches, refreshments and entertainment were held under large tents on the church grounds.
A New Pastor
Reverend William J. Topor was appointed pastor of St. Paulís succeeding the late Father Beaumister. Father Topor had long been active among Polish Catholics at St. Josephís, Norwich, and Holy Cross Church, New Britain. Father celebrated his first Mass in Glenville on December 4, 1938. The John Sobieski Society of Glenville sponsored a banquet of welcome in their auditorium to honor Father Topor. Among the guest speakers was Father Burke, first resident pastor of St. Paulís. Guests from Greenwich included First Selectman and Mrs. Eugene S. Loughlin, Judge L. Paul Burke, and Mr. & Mrs. Frank Reilly. During his years here, Father Topor had considerable repairs made on the church and under his direction the basement of the church was converted into a parish hall and the rectory was completely renovated.
Father Topor also organized a group, which met on Monday evenings, to aid in the war effort. These Monday meetings not only helped a good cause but drew the members of St. Paulís Parish into a true family unit. Father Topor came to be held in high esteem and respect by Catholics and non-Catholics in Glenville and the entire town of Greenwich. He was active in the work of social agencies in Greenwich and among young people in Glenville. After nine and one-half years as pastor.
Father Toporís Successor and A Golden Moment
The Reverend Felix Werpechowski was appointed to succeed Father Topor in June, 1948.
The Golden Anniversary of the founding of St. Paulís Church was celebrated in October, 1952, by parishioners and pastor, Father Werpechowski. The Most Reverend Henry J. OíBrien, Bishop of Hartford, presided at the 11:00 A.M. Jubilee Mass assisted by Monsignor John F. Hackett, Auxiliary Bishop of Hartford, and other visiting priests. Solemn High Mass was sung by the Very Reverend McGurkin, Maryknoll, and the preacher was the Reverend Joseph Czapla, C.M. A special musical program was arranged by Mr. Leo Bogdanchik, organist. Confirmation was administered to thirty-five boys and girls and seven adults following the Mass. Under Father Werpechowskiís direction, the church and rectory were freshly painted and the church grounds re-landscaped for the occasion.
In December, 1956, Father Werpechowski announced that forty acres of land on the east side of King Street and the south side of Sherwood Avenue had been purchased by the church. While this purchase was made with a view toward constructing a new church and parochial school some time in the future, it was also made at that particular time because property in Glenville was being bought up at a rapid rate.
In October, 1957, a meeting was held to formulate plans for a fund drive for a new church. Mr. John Dowdle was appointed General Chairman of this drive which realized between $200,000 and $300,000. It was decided that although the present St. Paulís was a much-beloved and beautiful church that had served Glenville Catholics since 1902, the new edifice would be built on the King Street property. The ever-increasing growth of the Catholic population in the area, plus traffic and parking conditions and the prohibitive cost of renovating the existing structure, had made this decision necessary.
A New Pastor and Building Program
The Reverend Austin Saunders was assigned to St. Paulís in October, 1959. During this period, work continued on plans for a new church structure. In 1961, with the approval of Bishop Sheehan, Father Saunders announced that the new church for St. Paulís Parish would be erected. Plans at this time called for a church, auditorium, and bell tower to be built on the site of the original church. Before plans could be finalized, however, Bishop Sheehan was transferred and his replacement, The Most Reverend Walter W. Curtis, Bishop of Bridgeport made the decision to build schools in the diocese.
After the noon Mass at St. Paulís, Sunday, March 10, 1963, ground-breaking ceremonies were held for the new parochial school. The school was built in the courtyard between the church and rectory on Glenville Street. Attending were Father Saunders, Pastor; John Handy, Architect; the Right Reverend Monsignor Nicholas Coleman, St. Maryís Stamford; and Joseph Chimblo, Builder.
St. Paulís School
Classes for the first three grades were started in September, 1963, in the basement of St. Paulís Church staffed by the Sisters of the Resurrection. The first Sisters on the faculty of the school were: Sister Germaine, Principal and Superior, who taught first grade; Sister Mary Colette, third grade; Sister Mary Bernardine, second grade; and Sister Peter Marie, Kindergarten. Construction of the split-level, white-brick school was completed November, 1963,and classes were moved to the new building, which contains eight classrooms and an auditorium to seat five hundred.
The school was formally dedicated on Sunday, March 15, 1964, at 3:30 p.m. by the Most Reverend Walter W. Curtis. About four hundred parishioners and approximately forty religious leaders, led by the pastor, Father Saunders, attended the ceremonies. After a fire in the church in July 1967, the auditorium of the school was the location of Sunday services for St. Paulís parishioners from July 1967 until December 1970.
Father Saunders was honored on Sunday, May 30, 1964, on the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. A Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated at noon by Father Saunders. The Very Reverend Jean C. Tetreault was Deacon; Reverend Philip W. Brady, Sub-Deacon; Right Reverend Monsignor John H. Henderson, D.D., P.A., gave the sermon. Music was furnished by the senior and junior choir and organist was Eugene Sabo. Speaker at the dinner held that evening in St. Paulís School Hall as Mr. Thomas J. Deegan, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the New York Worldís Fair, Mr. Richard Johann was General Chairman assisted by Co-Chairmen Mr. Gerald Hoffkins and Mrs. Richard Longhi. Mr. Hugh McCormack was special gifts chairman.
After eight years at St. Paulís, Father Saunders was transferred to St. Josephís, Shelton, Connecticut. During the years spent in Glenville, Father Saundersí main efforts were spent in the building and establishment of the parish school and the acquisition of the convent. Father Saunders was succeeded by the Reverend Boleslaus J. Rarus in August, 1967.
A New Pastor and Pastoral Renewal
The decade of the Sixties marked a momentous period in the history of the Church. Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI and the bishops of the world, guided by the Holy Spirit, ushered in a new era in the liturgical and pastoral life of the Church through their deliberations at the Second Vatican Council.
The laity were invited to greater participation, not only in liturgical celebrations but in parochial responsibility. The new pastor, Father Rarus, was prepared to implement the decrees and guidelines of Vatican II in St. Paulís Parish. This called for new structures in parish organization as well as new forms in the liturgical rites. Plans for providing structures were set in motion by Father Rarus shortly after his arrival at St. Paulís.
The Lay Advisory Board
The innovation of the parish structure began with forming a Lay Advisory Board. All of the people of the parish were represented on the Board by the following members: Mr. Thomas Gillick, Mr. Frank Ceva, Mrs. Helen Myder, Mr. Bernard Krayeski, Mr. George Augustine, Mr. George Wolfert, and Mr. Alton Fox.
One of the first duties of this Board was to prepare a presentation for Bishop Curtis to gain approval of plans to build a new church for the parish since fire had destroyed the original church on Glenville Street. Permission was granted to build the new church on the King Street property and in October, 1968, a capital funds drive was organized. Mr. Henry Imbres was named chairman of the advance gifts phase and Mr. Thomas Gillick chairman of the memorial gifts phase of the Drive.
A large number of parishioners and friends attended the ground-breaking ceremonies of the new St. Paulís Church on Sunday, March 16, 1969, at 1:00 p.m. Father Rarus blessed the ground, spoke briefly, and wielded a shovel, signaled the start on the new church to be built at the corner of King Street and Sherwood Avenue.
Distinguished guests at the ceremony were the Reverend Edward Surwilo, resident at St. Paulís Church; the Reverend Casimir Szymanski, C.M.; Sister M. Assumpta, C.R., the Provincial of the Congregation of the Resurrection, whose Sisters staff St. Paulís School; Sister Mary Catherine, C.R., Superior and Principal of the school; the architect, Joseph Chimblo; the trustees of the church, Joseph A. Dietrich and James J. Clark; the Lay Advisory Board, consisting of Thomas J. Gillick, Jr., Chairman; Mrs. Joseph L. Myder, George F. Augustine, Frank W. Ceva, Alton C. Fox, Bernard Krayeski and George R. Wolfert. The children of the fifth, sixth, and seventh grades of St. Paulís School, closed the program with the singing of ďHoly God We Praise Thy Name.Ē
While the weeks and months passed by and the progress of construction was an attraction for the anxious parishioner and the curious passerby alike, other aspects of parish life continued as usual with a few events highlighting the historic period.
On May 24, 1970, a Testimonial Dinner-Dance was held at the Greenwich Civic Center in honor of Father Rarus on the occasion of the Thirtieth Anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. This event was sponsored by the Parish Council and the combined societies of the church. Master of Ceremonies, Thomas J. Gillick, Jr., introduced the dignitaries and read a congratulatory telegram from President Richard M. Nixon. He also conveyed to ďFather BillĒ the warmest greetings and heartfelt congratulations of Congressman Lowell P. Weicker, Jr., who was unable to attend. The Invocation was given by the Reverend Leo S. Suwinski, pastor of St. Matthewís Church in South Norwalk, Connecticut. The main speak for the evening was the Right Reverend Monsignor (Brigadier-General) Alphonse J. Fiedorczyk, retired Army Chaplain and pastor of St. Josephís Church, Shelton, Connecticut. The Benediction was given by the Right Reverend Monsignor Paul J. St. Onge, pastor of St. Josephís Church, New London, Connecticut, and Vicar-General of the Diocese of Norwich, Connecticut. Many priest-friends attended, as well as many of Father Billís friends and former parishioners from Stamford and Brookfield along with Father Billís mother, Mrs. Victoria Rarus, and other members of his family. All enjoyed the delicious buffet supper and dancing to the music of Henry Skibinski and his Orchestra. Among the dignitaries introduced were First Selectman and Mrs. John T. Taintor, and District Representative Robert D. Rogers, who stated that they were very happy to join the residents of Greenwich in this Testimonial to Father Rarus.
An Historic Graduation
Because of the restructuring of the Catholic school system in Greenwich, the ďfirstĒ and ďlastĒ eighth grade graduating exercises were held on Sunday, June 21, 1970. The children had been together since the opening of the school, at which time they were in the second grade.
Through the efforts of the Home-School Association, awards were given to the graduates for scholastic achievements and three scholarships were given to students to continue their education in Catholic High Schools.
Mark S. Mitchell was the valedictorian and Reverend William D. Donovan gave an address followed by the conferral of diplomas by the pastor, Father Rarus. Music was accompanied by John Herrmann, Organist, and St. Paulís Choir.
Graduates Ė Class of 1970
Frank William Ceva
Jane Maria Chrusz
Nancy Anne Dean
Leslie Marie Heithaus
Deborah Anne Johann
John Gimmell Kovach
Linda Anne Kovach
Mark Stephen Mitchell
Gwen Elizabeth Oarr
John Robert Piotti
Michael John Sandor
Charles Capel Smith, Jr.
The New Church
The main goal and efforts of the pastor, priests and people of St. Paulís, however, were to complete the beautiful new church and begin a new era in the lift of the parish.
In the planning stage, several options on the style of the new church were proposed. After reviewing these plans, Bishop Curtis and Father Rarus selected the church ďin-the-round.Ē In all church planning, one thought is paramount: the church is to be used to offer sacrifice and administer the sacraments. Vatican Council II decreed, ďWhen new churches are to be built, let there be great care taken that they be suitable for the celebration of the liturgical service and the active participation of all the faithful.Ē Consequently, churches must be built to enable every participant to perform his liturgical function properly.
Symbolism, Architecture and Art
Although the new church might be considered ďmodern,Ē round buildings have been built from early Greek and Roman times. But the flat cylindrical form surmounted by a slightly conical roof is vaguely reminiscent of the tent of the tabernacle in Exodus and even more of the New Testament proclamation in the prologue of St. John, ďAnd the Word was made flesh and pitched his tent among us.Ē
Certainly, the new church is tangible witness of the Presence of God in the midst of His people. The roof, in turn, is capped by a crown and cross which symbolize the sanctuary located almost directly below, at the heart of the church. Pews surround this sanctuary in a two-thirds circle, allowing parishioners to be quite close to it for a sense of intimacy and participation in any church ceremony. The nave is two stories high to give spaciousness and dignity; also to allow two functional stories behind the altar: the lower for sacristy and other functional spaces, the upper for meeting rooms.
The structure is symmetrical to suggest the dignity and formality of the Church. It is constructed of enduring materials; exterior is brick, concrete and glass, interior is terrazzo, marble and plaster, to symbolize the durability and timelessness of the Catholic Church.
©2006 St. Paul Roman Catholic Church