St. Mary’s Parish in Shrewsbury celebrates 90th anniversary
By Erika Steele, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – In 1840, the earliest records of a Catholic community in Massachusetts were recorded when an Irish Catholic family settled in Shrewsbury—the beginnings of a parish that would offer many opportunities for people to live out their Catholic Christian faith. Through tumultuous years, the need for spiritual guidance continued to exist, one that was filled by the ancestors of St. Mary’s Parish in Shrewsbury, a local legacy 90 years in the making.
Just recently, St. Mary’s celebrated nine decades of serving Worcester County quietly, possibly unbeknownst to the community it has called home for nearly a century. Rather than make it a public celebration, church members decided a historical reflection would be a proper way to mark its significant anniversary.
Monsignor Michael Rose, the church’s current pastor, spoke on the topic.
“Observing 90 years for St. Mary’s Parish is a reminder that in just a few short years we will be having a major celebration for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the parish,” he said. “During the centennial year we will not only celebrate the longevity of the church in Shrewsbury, but how much St. Mary’s has grown throughout the years.”
And grown it has. Historically, the parish has relocated and expanded on multiple occasions with intentions to best serve its members. In the 1800s, efforts to provide a religious outlet to the 60 Catholic families residing in town resulted in the construction of St. Theresa’s Chapel on Main Street, the first parish tied to the St. Mary’s legacy.
However, as the community expanded, the parish sought to better accommodate its growing numbers. In 1923, the first St. Mary’s Church was built on Summer Street and, 37 years later, the existing church that operates today was built along with St. Mary School that opened as part of the parish’s education ministry. At the time of its first construction, the parish boasted 3,500 members. Ninety years later, St. Mary’s Parish is one of the largest parishes in central Massachusetts, growing to serve 2,800 households and 8,000 members, a far cry from the original 60 from decades ago.
To Rose, St. Mary’s eighth pastor, it is a testament to St. Mary’s continued focus on adult and child religious education and its decades-old mission.
“The number of ministries at St. Mary’s have expanded tremendously through the years. There are hundreds of parishioners who generously give their time and talents to the work and mission of the church– in education, liturgy, outreach, social justice and community,” he said.
Currently 250 students are enrolled in Pre-K through grade 8 in St. Mary School and over 1,000 students are active in the parish religious education program.
Father Paul O’Connell, who was the pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in 1992, said even through the church’s transformation, it is still “that wonderful parish that you call home.”
He continued, “In all my years I’ve always looked to St. Mary’s in Shrewsbury as a model of what a good Catholic Christian parish should be. I don’t think in my experience that I can point to a better experience of what a parish is and what it should be. Shrewsbury is a better town for St. Mary’s and St. Mary’s is a better parish because of the town.”
With many churches in the area, Rose shares O’Connell’s passion of connecting with the community on a mutually beneficial basis. As the centennial anniversary approaches, Rose will continue, business as usual, opening the doors of the parish to any who seek spiritual, material, and social needs.
“Although the town of Shrewsbury has grown tremendously and experienced many changes since the parish came into existence, many parishioners, now in their 70s, 80s and 90s, have strong roots in the community,” Rose said. “St. Mary’s parish reflects the diversity of people living in the Shrewsbury area and the global nature of the church with parishioners tracing their roots to Europe, Central and Latin America, Asia, and Africa.”
The year 2023 will mark the 100th anniversary of the church and Rose is already planning to have a large celebration to involve the community that has helped to keep the parish active and alive over the turn of a century. It is sure to be a celebration that will celebrate the history, community ties, and ongoing presence of a longstanding tradition.
A documentary about the church is available for viewing online at www.stmarysparish.org in the video gallery.
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