All that is most precious in our modern civilization is preserved to a community by its churches, or at least by the religious life that is fostered by its churches, if William M. Evarts spoke truth when he said "One might as well expect our land to keep its climate, its fertility, its salubrity, and its beauty, were the globe loosened from the hand which holds it in its orbit, as to count upon the preservation of the delights for a people cast loose from religion."
Although Holyoke is so like a western city in its rapid growth
and in the free, democratic character of its people, it still possesses
all the distinctive characteristics of a New England community. One of
these is the fact, so frequently recognized in this part of the country, that the society of the place is divided pretty closely on church lines. To be sure, there are many clubs and associations and other
organizations for social and benevolent purposes, in which no church lines are drawn or thought of, but outside of these there is a strong tendency to let the acquaintanceships formed at church gatherings suffice for all purposes.
This condition of things is helped by the fact that nearly all
the people are busy workers in one field or another, and the further
fact that there is no exclusive, aristocratic set in society. The richest
people are unostentatious and democratic in the best sense.
The only church in Holyoke that has passed its hundredth birthday is the First Congregational, or the Church on the Hill, as it is called. This society celebrated its centennial in 1899, while the First Baptist comes but four years later. The peculiar manner in which the town was settled causes the unusual phenomenon of finding both the First Congregational and the First Baptist churches situated quite outside of the center of the city. Both of these churches were organized when the**********town of West Springfield. Afterwards, when the water power of the Connecticut began to be developed, the center of population changed to the river banks, and as the town grew it demanded a Second Congregational and a Second Baptist church.
The first religious society to be organized within the borders
of the present city of Holyoke was first called the "Third Church of West
Springfield, " or popularly the church in "Ireland Parish, " until
it finally became the First Congregational church of Holyoke. It was on the fourth day of December, 1799, that the following eleven persons banded themselves together to form this church of Jesus
Christ: Joseph Rogers, Jonathan Clough, Amos Allen, John Miller, Titus Morgan, Glover Street, Timothy Clough, Experience Morgan, Lucas Morgan, Betsy Morgan, Nathan Stephans. The first deacons were Joseph Rogers and Amos Allen, and the first year five new members were received. On account of a division of sentiment in the parish the church had no pastor of their own for twenty-nine years. The first church building erected was situated about one-half mile south of the present site of the First Baptist church. This was built about 1792 and was used by the Congregationalists and the Baptist jointly. It was moved north in 1796 to what is now the Alexander Day place, and was extensively repaired in 1812, never having been properly finished before.
Rev. Thomas Rand, a Baptist, filled the pastor's place for both denominations for nearly twenty-five years, until, in 1826, the two societies felt strong enough to separate, the Congregationalists numbering about eighty members. The Baptists withdrew and left their brethren in possession of the church building. In 1828 Rev. Stephen Hayes came to labor in the parish and remained five years, and though he was not installed, he filled the place as first Congregational minister in Holyoke. On the tenth of December, 1834, a new meeting house, costing $1,700, was dedicated, and on the same day Rev. Hervey Smith was installed as the first settled pastor. It is an interesting fact that the minister himself was the largest contributor toward the cost of the church. He continued in the Pastorate for eight years and resigned in 1841 on account of ill health, never taking another church, although he lived till 1877.
The next pastor was Rev. Gideon Dana of South Anherst.
Mr. Dana was installed February 24,1841, and after a stormy and unfortunate
pastorate of only three years he resigned in March,1844. Mr. Dana died
in 1872. He was followed in the office of pastor by Simeon Miller,
a man who is still recalled and loved by all the older members of the church.
Mr.Miller came direct from the Andover seninary, and after preaching one
year he was ordained and installed May 7,1846, and continued in the
office until February 9,1870. In 1844 the church was enabled to terminate
its connection with the Home Missionary society, on account of the
growth of the population at the settlement near the river, but when
, in 1849, the Second Congregational church was organized in the more thickly
settled part of the town. The first church suffered some loss, so
that at the close of Mr. Miller’s pastorate the membership was tswenty
per cent. smaller that at its beginning. On Mr. Miller’s retirement Rev.
Charles E.Cooledge served the church until October, 1872, but was not
installed. Rev. Theodore L. Day was ordained and installed
December 18,1872, but served as pastor only a year and a half.
Then Rev. Charles L. Walker acted as pastor for about two years,
and now followed a period of severe trial, during which time the pulpit
was supplied for brief periods by a number of men. Among these were Professor
J. H. Sawyer, Rev. S. W.Clark, and Rev. S. J. Mundy. In
1882 a call was given to Rev. E. N. Munroe, and he was installed
May 31, of that year, his pastorate extending only two years.
The council which dismissed Mr. Munroe took advantage of the situation,
known to exist, and gave the church the following advice: “The ministers
and delegates from the sister churches respectfully urge the First church
of Holyoke to consider the probable advantage to the cause of religion
that would follod, of abandoning any bequests that might hinder them in
such action were they entirely to reorganize this church and parish, and
transplant themselves nearer their city’s growth. We do fully believe that
by such a step great gain would come, both to the life of this church
and to the spiritual interest of the residents in this locality.”
This advice caused the question to be agitated, but it was three years before anything definite was done in regard to moving nearer to the center of population. On February 15,1887, a committee was appointed to procure plans for a new meeting house, and soon after a lot was purchased on the corner of Pleasant and Hampden streets. A chapel was built and dedicated December 16,1887, and occupied for more than six years.
Rev. Henry Hyde was called to the pastorate in 1885, beginning his duties the first of June and serving the church three years. This covered the time of the removal and was thus an eventual period. Mr. Hyde’s successor was Rev. George W. Winch, the present efficient pastor, who was installed September 1,1888.
This society was organized in July 2, 1886, the mission from which
it sprung having been started two years earlier by Rev. Mr. Cote,
general missionary for Massachusetts of the French Congregational work.
The first pastor was Rev. J. L. Morin, but before the first year
had passed he had a call to a larger parish in Lowell and resigned the
Holyoke charge. In September, 1887, Rev. Samuel Vernier was
called to the pastorate and remained about a year. After that the
pulpit was filled for short periods by Rev. J. A. Vernon and
Rev. Mr. Emirian, president of the French college at Springfield.
On June 30, 1899, Rev. I. P. Bruneault was called and installed
The services of this society were at first held in Grace chapel, then in Parsons hall, and, since 1885, in the chapel of the Second Congregational church.
The pastors have been as follows:
Rev. T. G. A. Cote, December, 1884, to June, 1885; Rev. J. Morin, June, 1885, to October, 1886; Rev. P. S. Vernier, Rev. M. Vernon and Rev. Mr. Provost served the people until
Rev. I. P. Bruneault came, in October, 1889. Mr. Bruneault resigned in April, 1893. Rev. C. H. Vessot came next, November 1, 1893, and remained till April, 1901, when the present pastor, Rev. Mr. Lobs began his duties with the church.
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As early as 1866 German services were started in a school house in South Holyoke and the next year a house of worship was erected at a cost of $5000. This was mainly due to the efforts of the first pastor, Rev. Mr. Franked.
The second pastor was Rev. Mr. Schartz, who remained five years. The next was Rev. Mr. Buchler, a Lutheran, the others having been Presbyterians. Mr. Buchler built a parsonage at the rear of the church and held office four years, being followed by Rev. Mr. Muelde, and, six months later, by another Rev. Mr. Schwartz, a brother of the former pastor of that name. This pastorate lasted three years, and the next one , that of Rev. Mr. Hanle, fourteen years.
All this time there had been no legally organized church, but
toward the close of Mr. Hanle’s ministry a society was formed, the exact
date being September 3, 1888. Soon after this Mr. Hanle resigned
and in December of the same year the society called Rev. August Brunn,
who is still holding the office of pastor.
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This society was organized October 16, 1892, and in 1894 built and dedicated a substantial and beautiful church on a sightly location at the corner of Sergeant and Elm streets. The first pastor was Rev. Albert Buchles, who served for four years. After his resignation Rev. H. Van Haagen served as pastor for a year, and in 1897 the present pastor, Rev. Dr. Jacob Weber, was settled.
The Catholic church is strong in Holyoke, stronger than in most
New England cities of the size. When the water power of the Connecticut
began to be developed by the building of the dam, large numbers of Irishmen
came to do the work, and they have kept coming ever since in generous proportions,
when compared with other nationalities, There are a great many French Catholics,
also, in the city.
Father O’Callaghan died the next year and his body was laid to rest under the eastern wall of the church.
Father James F. Sullivan was pastor for five years and
then, in 1866, came Rev. P. J. Harkins, who still holds the office
at the age of seventy years.
Father Harkins has been a man of ability and power in the community and has built up his parish wonderfully. He has seen the number of Catholics in Holyoke increase from 900 to more than 25,000 and has witnessed the erection of four more Catholic churches, besides numerous other large buildings for the various needs of the people. He has made St. Jerome’s the most complete parish in the Springfield diocese and he himself is the most eminent priest west of the Connecticut.
The building operations in connection with the church, in which
Father Harkins has been engaged, make a remarkable exhibit. They are as
follows: the convent for the Sisters of Notre Dame, cost $18,000; Church
in South Hadley Falls, $15,000; the Catholic institute for parish work
and a school for boys, $40,000; Sacred Heart church; the school for girls
facing the park; rebuilding St. Jerome’s church at a cost of $50,000; the
convent home of the Sisters of Providence, cost $20,000; a chapel on the
west side of the church, cost $20,000. He also gave as a personal gift
the ”Harkins Home” for aged women. It cost him $20,000. He has had
more than any other person to do with the orphanage for girls at Ingleside
and the new Providence hospital on Dwight street.
The following have served as curates in this parish, their terms varying from one to six years: Rev. James Tracy, Rev. T. Hannigan, Rev. F. J. Lynch, Rev. Charles McManus, Rev. Francis Brennan, Rev. Thomas Smyth, Rev. P. B. Phelan, Rev. (?). J. Cronin, Rev. John E. Garrity, Rev. David Moyes, Rev. J. I.(?) Reilly, Rev. R.F. Walsh, Rev. L. Derwin, Rev. L. E. Stebbins, Rev. James McKeon, Rev. W. T. Jennings, Rev. John R. Murphy, Rev. W. J. Harty, Rev. W. J. Powers, Rev. John Crowe, Rev. George Fitzgerald, Rev. W. Hart, Rev. Garvin, Rev. Patrick Hofey, Rev. A. A. Dwyer, Rev. J. J. Donnelly, Rev. Richard Healey , Rev. Daniel Sheehan, Rev. C.M. Magee, Rev. A. D. O’Malley, Rev. John C. Ivers.
It is estimated that there are in Holyoke more than 15,000 people
of Canadian birth or descent and the parish of the Precious Blood was the
first one to be organized in the diocese among the French-Canadians.
It was formed in 1869 by Father A. B. Dufresne, who built a frame
church on Park street that year.
This parish was set off from St. Jerome’s in 1878. Father
Harkins having bought a large lot on South Maple street and begun a church
in 1876. Father James F. Sheehan came from Pittsfield to be
the first pastor, but after completing the presbytery his already feeble
health failed entirely and he died in 1880. His successor was the present
pastor, Father P. B. Phelan, who came from West Springfield.
The curates of this parish have been Rev. M. E. Purce, Rev. P. H. Gallen, Rev. W. J. Dower, Rev. John F. Leonard, Rev. P. J. Griffin and Rev. J. P. McCaughan.
The English-speaking Catholics increased so fast that in 1886
the bishop set off another parish from St. Jerome’s in the eastern
part of the city and placed it in charge of Father M. J. Howard.
The name of Holy Rosary was given to the new parish, and for about two
years services were held in the large brick church of the Second Baptist
society, which had moved to the hill.
It is astonishing with what rapidity all the Catholic parishes provided themselves with commodious and handsome houses of worship. Probably Holyoke shows as many examples of this miracle of thrift as any place in the country.
In two and a half years after the parish of the Holy Rosary was formed a new church was erected and the basement, ready for service, was dedicated.
Holyoke has another distinction in furnishing for the diocese its new bishop on the death of Bishop O’Reilly.
Father Howard died in 1888 and Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Beaven
of Spencer was called to be pastor of Holy Rosary, and in October, 1892,
the pope made him Bishop of Springfield. As pastor he was succeeded
by Dr. F. McGrath, who is still in service.
The curates have been Rev. J. J. Howard, Rev. John J. Colin, Rev. William Ryan, Rev. J. F. Griffin and Rev. M. T. Burke.
The increase of the French Canadian population was so great that still
another parish became necessary. This was set off in 1890 in the
north section of the city and named as above. Rev. C. E. Brunault,
who still remains, was made the first pastor and services were begun in
Temperance hall, on Maple street. In 1891, the very next year, a fine large
building was completed, on the corner of Maple and Prospect streets, which
serves as church, school and convent. The structure occupies the
most conspicuous site in the thickly settled portion of the city, overlooking
the dam and the broad sweep of the river for nearly twenty miles of its
Besides this building the parish owns a commodious presbytery and other buildings. Father Brunault was formerly assistant to Father Dufresne in South Holyoke and was afterwards pastor in Gardner for three years. He is especially gifted as a musician and directs the literary and musical organizations of his parish.
Father Brunault’s curates have been Rev. W. L. Alexander, Rev. N. St. Cyr and Rev. L. Geoffrey.
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Rev. Anthony M. Sikorski was made, by Bishop Beaven,
the first resident pastor of the Polish people in 1896, Father Chalupka
of Chicopee having cared for them previously. Services are held in
the basement of the Church of the Holy Rosary, but Father Sikorski hopes
they will have a church of their own soon. The people are poor, nearly
all of them working in the Lyman cotton mills, but if we may judge from
the history of the other Catholic parishes it will not be many years before
Holyoke has a Polish church edifice.
Father Sikorski was born in Russian Poland, studied as Warsaw and was ordained in 1875.