St. Francis of Assisi Parish
Roman Catholic Church
398 Vernon Ave. South Barre, MA 01074
by 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 their own.
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
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
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.
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
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.
of St.Thomas-a-Becket and St. Joseph Chapel Are
St.Francis of Assisi Parish 2013-2019. All rights