Written by Fr. Vijay Kiran
Part I: St. Philomena Church (1884 – 1961)
Saint Thomas More Church was founded in year 1884 as a mission chapel to St Francis of Assis Church, Wakefield. It was dedicated to Saint Philomena. On April 5, 1890, it was registered as “St. Philomena Church, Narragansett Pier” Corporation and one year later it was official as the mission chapel. The church was a small, gothic-styled building. It became too small to accommodate the growing Catholic population. A more spacious church was envisaged in 1905 and completed in 1906. After further work on the building was undertaken, the church was finally finished and blessed by Rt. Rev. Matthew Harkin, Bishop of Providence on July 19, 1908. It was decided to build more spacious church and the present structure envisaged in 1905 and completed in 1906, but further works on the building was undertaken and finally it was finished and blessed on July 19, 1908 by Rt. Rev. Matthew Harkins. The congregation grew in number as many Catholics settled in Narragansett. On April 4, 1917, St. Philomena’s mission chapel was elevated to an independent parish with Rev. Austin J. O’Toole as the first pastor. He lived for a while on Atlantic Avenue, and then on Robinson Street until he bought the rectory building, called “Driftwood”, in an auction in August 1917. The rectory was opposite to the church. Rev. O’Toole converted the old church into a parish hall.
Rev. O’Toole was succeeded by Rev. James R. Bartley in July 1921 and Rev. Thomas J. O’Connor in July 1925. Rev. O’Connor installed a central heating system in the parish hall, the old-fashioned kind with individual manual valves. He also put in the sidewalks and curbing around the church. During late 1920s, the church organ, pulpit and celebrant’s chair were donated by Bouvier sisters Edith and Michelle, in memory of their aunts Zenaide and Alexine Bouvier (Jacqueline Kennedy Bouvier family). On March 10, 1929, the Stations of the Cross were blessed and installed. This was a gift of Mrs. George C. Dempsey in memory of her husband. In September 1930, Rev. William I. Ferry was appointed as the pastor. Until December 1933, there was no bell in the steeple. In October 1931, the bell was purchased from an old unused Presbyterian Church which was located on the corner of Boon and Rodman Streets. Finally, on December 19, 1933, Rev. William I. Ferry, blessed the bell, and sexton Antonio F. Perry set it up. The bell was rung for first time on Christmas Eve, 1933. Mrs. Mary Grinnell, a parishioner, gifted the bell in honor of St. Philomena.
In October 1934, Rev. Matthew F. Clarke became the pastor. On September 6, 1938, a piece of land off Old Point Judith Road was purchased for St. Mary – Star of the Sea. Rev. Clarke planned and built a mission chapel for the vacationers in Spring 1940. Pastors from St. Philomena served St. Mary’s as a mission for twenty years until it became an independent parish in 1960. Rev. Clarke installed the stained glass windows in the church starting from January 1939 and he built vestment case and cope closets located on the left side of the sacristy.
In October 1942, Rev. Edward J. Gately became pastor, and was succeeded in November 1944, by Rev. John J. Sallesses. He died from illness in the rectory in 1951. He was succeeded in September, 1951 by Rev. Edward V. Hughes. At this time, there was talk of starting a parish school. As a result, 1954, the old telephone exchange building on the corner of Boon and Rodman Streets was purchased. This paved the way to buy a house for the convent and a playground in 1954.
In July 1954, Rev. T. Henry Barry was appointed pastor. During his ministry, on September 1, 1959, he established St. Philomena Convent. The residents of the convent were three Sisters belonging to the “School Sisters of Notre Dame”. The Superior was Sr. Richard, SSND. Rev. Barry blessed and inaugurated St. Philomena School on September 7, 1960 with an enrollment of 64 children in grades 1 through 4. The Bishop, Most Rev. Russel J. McVinney dismembered the parish to create a new parish and decreed the summer chapel, St. Mary Star of the Sea at Point Judith, a new and independent parish with Rev. J. Allen Hughes as its first pastor. It was announced to the parishioners on June 26, 1960.
Part II: St. Thomas More Church (1961 – )
In mid 1900s, Rome dropped St. Philomena from the calendar of saints. Upon hearing this news, Rev. T. Henry Barry chose the name of St. Thomas More, who became a saint in 1935. On May 19, 1961, corporation members voted to change St. Philomena Church and Corporation to St. Thomas More Church and Corporation, Narragansett Pier, RI, designated by His Excellency, Most Rev. Russell J. McVinney. The congregation received the announcement at all the Sunday Masses on May 28, 1961. The names of the school and the convent were also changed from St. Philomena to St. Thomas More.
In spite of establishment of the new parish of St. Mary Star of the Sea parish, the influx of summer residents increased so appreciably that the need for a new mission chapel became inevitable. Therefore, St. Veronica Chapel in Bonnet Shores was erected as a mission chapel, and the first Mass celebrated on July 7, 1961. The clergy of St. Thomas More ministered to the sacramental needs of the faithful.
In March of 1963, Rev. Bernard V. Kelly became pastor, but he left within four months due to poor health. Rev. John C. McAlear, who had been administering in the parish, took over as pastor in 1964. He took great interest in implementing the recommendations of the Vatican Council II. So he organized the Parish Council, the first in the diocese of Providence. He also started Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) program, Christian Family Movement (CFM) and bible study groups in the parish. On January 19, 1966 permission was granted to build a new altar as required by the new liturgical laws. The consecration of the new altar took place on February 20, 1966.
The condition of the Parish School eventually deteriorated to the point where it could no longer accommodate four grades in two rooms, along with a small cottage annex housing another classroom. Sanitary conditions were deplorable. These major problems created the need to explore the possibility of a new school campus. As the parish grew in the number of South Kingston families, so did the need for a Regional Elementary School. In 1966, with the blessings of the bishop, the parishes of St. Thomas More (Narragansett), St. Francis of Assisi (Wakefield) and St. Mary Star of the Sea (Point Judith) reached an agreement to build a new school and to relocate St. Thomas More School to Tower Hill Road. This was the first regional effort in the diocese. The parish of St. Thomas More contributed a large sum towards the construction of the present Msgr. Clarke School.
On March 29, 1966, Dr. Adelman’s property (called ‘LASATA’) adjoining the parking lot was purchased for the convent, since the living space had become too small for the sisters in the old facility. This property had once belonged to the family of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onnissis. On August 24, 1966, the sisters moved into their new convent.
The regional school opened its doors to its first group of students on September 7, 1967. Sr. Marion was the first Principal; many sisters from St. Thomas More convent taught in the school.
In September 1967, Rev. James J. Cassidy took charge as the pastor. He undertook the big responsibility of providing financial assistance to Msgr. Clarke School. The pastor, with the close cooperation of the parish council and the finance committee, was successful in securing the mortgage of $234,000. Later, the diocese paid a considerable amount to the parish in order to lessen the burden of debt. Even the former pastor Rev. John C. McAlear, assisted from St. William Church, Warwick in this regard. The vacant Thomas More school building on Boon Street was leased out to the town of Narragansett for school educational purposes with the permission of the bishop on August 29, 1969.
In September 1972, Rev. Ralph R. Hogan was appointed as the new pastor of the parish.
During his pastorate of 25 years, Rev. Hogan undertook many projects, in addition to serving as a financial officer of Msgr. Clarke School. On November 11, 1974, bishop granted the permission for the restoration of the stained glass windows. The stained glass company Marchese and Hammersma in Clifton, New Jersey, executed the task of restoring and installing protective plexiglass in all the windows at a cost of $11,847.
In order to build a new rectory, parish office and a parish hall and to renovate the church, the bishop granted permission on July 17, 1980 to demolish the old parish hall (old St. Philomena Church) at the cost of $ 3,350. Bilray Demolition Co., Inc., of Johnston, RI, executed the task. To raise all the money required for the construction and renovation, the St. Thomas More Convent building was sold to Mr. & Mrs. P. Dean Potter on March 8, 1983.The 4 sisters who lived in the convent and worked in Msgr. Clarke School were relocated. On July 23, 1984, surplus land at St. Veronica Chapel was sold. The ground-breaking ceremony for the new facility and extensive renovation of the church was held on October 7, 1984. The architect was David Presbrey of Cranston, RI and the contractor was A. Calcagni Construction Company of Smithfield. The cost of the project was estimated at $650,000 and was approved by the diocese. The bishop also gave permission on February 19, 1985 to have Mass at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on weekdays of Lent. Sunday Mass was celebrated at Prout School. Funeral and weddings were held in neighboring parishes. On March 8, 1985, the bishop granted permission to sell the rectory building, lot on Corner of Rodman and Caswell Streets (with Carriage house). Later the farmer school building on Boon Street and adjacent rental buildings were sold to raise funds for the completion of the project. On September 8, 1985, the Bishop, Most Rev. Kenneth Angell, blessed the new rectory, offices, parish hall and the renovated church with a confessional room.
In 1987, the first permanent deacon appointed to the parish was Deacon Joseph A. Rose. That same year, the pastor purchased a computer for the parish office at the cost of $7,500. Rev. Hogan received great appreciation for his parish’s unique religious education program. In 1992, the National Catholic Educational Association cited this program, which he originated, as exemplary. This program involved the parents of students through grade 6 to attend monthly classes while their children were in the weekly program. In October 1994, Rev. Mr. Paul J. Sullivan was ordained as Permanent Deacon and started his ministry in the parish. Rev. Hogan retired from this parish in 1997.
Rev. John C. Halloran succeeded Rev. Hogan as the fourteenth pastor on July 1, 1997. Rev. Halloran served as the “Good Shepherd”, who sought the lost sheep of St. Thomas More. He visited families, re-evangelized them and brought back many souls to the church. The St. Veronica chapel was not parish property; it belonged to the diocese. In 1998, the chapel was turned over to the parish, but it was not worthy for conducting liturgical services. In July of the same year, Rev. Halloran announced the “Expansion and Enhancement Campaign for the New Millennium”, for the purpose of renovating and expanding St. Veronica Chapel and for creating a courtyard on the grounds of St. Thomas More Church Pariseault Builders Inc. of Warwick, RI undertook this work. On September 12, 1999, Bishop Robert J. McMannus officiated the ground breaking ceremony. The goal set for the campaign was a challenging $895,727, but by December, 2003, the amount raised far exceeded the target: $1,326,903.47! On May 14, 2000, Bishop Robert E. Milvee blessed and rededicated the completed work.
During summer of 2003, Rev. Halloran initiated the next phase of parish’s Enhancement project for the new millennium, which was an extensive renovation of St. Thomas More Church. The repair of the bell tower was entrusted to Pariseault Builders, Inc. of Warwick and the repair, restore and reactivate the long-silent church bell was undertook by Verdin Company of Cincinnati, Ohio. ‘The Last Supper’ stained glass window at the chancel and the ‘Stations of the Cross’ were also restored.
Due to the continual growth of the parish and the need of space for religious education of children, Rev. Halloran announced a second capital campaign in November 2004, titled “Continuing Our Vision for the Future”. The goal was set at $700,000, to create a parish hall, 4 classrooms, an office and kitchen for St. Veronica’s. By June, 2006, the campaign had realized pledges of $1,182,000. Bishop Thomas J. Tobin blessed and inaugurated this facility on June 25, 2006. Both of Rev. Halloran’s campaigns were highly successful, thanks to generous contributions by the parishioners. Rev. Halloran retired in June 2007 and “passed the baton” to the present Pastor. Rev. Halloran was a silent worker, loved by one and all. He was elevated to the honorable title of “Monsignor” in January 2009 and continues to serve the parish.
On July 1, 2007, Rev. Marcel L. Taillon was appointed as the fifteenth pastor. During the “window reveal” on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010, four stained glass windows in sanctuary were inaugurated at St. Veronica Chapel. On November 1, 2015, additional stained glass windows were installed. Nick Parrendo of Hunt Stained Glass Studio, Pittsburgh, PA, designed and manufactured these windows. Fr. Taillon introduced St. Thomas More feast in the parish. During the St. Thomas More Festival on June 20, 2010, the parish presented “St. Thomas More Medal” to Supreme Court Justice Francis Flaherty and for several years this Medal was awarded to many people. At the same time, the blessing and rededication of Sacred Heart marble statue in front of the church (gifted to us by Sacred Heart Church, Pawtucket) took place.
On August 22, 2010, the parish launched a campaign titled “Remember, Restore, Renew”. The purpose of the campaign was to raise funds to address the deterioration of the outer part of the church, and thus to preserve our “Mother” church and parish for generations to come. The campaign’s goal was to raise $500,000. The work began in August 2010, and progressed rapidly. Paul St. Amand, the architect oversaw the work with engineer Wil Yoder. Mill City Construction and Roofing Concepts completed the work. Fr. Taillon created beautiful shrine for St. Thomas More and a shrine for Mary and Joseph. He restored all the votive candles. A thorough renovation replaced the shingles, roof was restored, crosses on the front and back on roof top were newly installed. The whole church was restored to its original glory. Finally, an ordinary table which was used for the altar was replaced with beautiful present altar. The altar was designed by Rattigan Schottler of Nebraska in keeping with the designs of the pulpit and the celebrant’s chair. The top of the altar is onyx which was imported from Asia to match the beautiful tabernacle. On December 5, 2010, the altar was consecrated by Bishop Most Rev. Robert C. Evans. This restoration work on the 100-year-old church was very much appreciated, and “The Rhody Award for Historic Preservation 2011” was presented to St. Thomas More Church, Narragansett by ‘Preserve Rhode Island and Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission.’ The marble statue of Our Lady of the Sciences (Sedes Sapintiae) was blessed and dedicated on Sunday, May 29, 2011 at the entrance on northern side. The old carriage house was restored in 2013 and made ready to house clergy to serve the sacramental needs of the parish.
Fr. Taillon, fund raising for mission trips to ‘Hogar Immanuel’ orphanage, Dominican Republic is a priority. He has been doing this for 10 years, and hundreds of parishioners have benefitted and have become more dedicated Catholics through this experience of serving the poor. Likewise, the self-financed building trips to Mustard Seed orphanages in Jamaica by the members of Knights of Columbus also has gained souls to Christ.
The centenary of becoming an independent parish was celebrated with a theme “We give thanks for the past and consecrate the future”. There was a concelebrated thanksgiving Mass on June 25, 2017, souvenirs clocks were presented to longtime parishioners. The highlight of commemorating the 100th year was getting the first class relics of St. Padre Pio for public veneration in the church on October 1, 2017. Bishop Most Rev. Robert C. Evans officiated the concelebrated Mass during the day and there were thousands of pilgrims who came from all parts of State of Rhode Island and other neighboring States to venerate the relics.
As we give thanks for the past, let us consecrate the future for Greater Glory of God.