Holy Family Parish at 195 Walcott St., Pawtucket, RI 02860 US - St. Joseph's History
St. Joseph's History
The first Mass was celebrated on April 1, 1874. A struggle in the early days involved money. The parish had run up a $52,000 debt on the church property and cornerstone, a debt that seemed even more severe because parishioners were not wealthy. Yet, during the parish’s first year, $27,000 was raised - $10,000 at a church fair. Much of the credit had to go to the pastor, who knew not only the value of a dollar, but how to raise a few.
During Mass, Father Kinnerney would publicize contributors from the pulpit. It was effective—and humorous. For instance “John McGuire, the man who puts the houses on roofs gave”…. Ned Smith, the man who takes the roofs off the houses gave”…. Smith owned a barroom.
Meanwhile, Patrick Farrell was busy putting the roof on the new church. He was the contractor, but helped the parish in other ways, too. During construction, he let Father Kinnerney keep his vestments at the Farrell home at 27 South Bend St. Finally, on November 10, 1878, the completed church was dedicated. By 1891, the belfry had been raised on the rectory built.
The pastor came up with a plan: convert half the church basement into a hall and leave the other half as a chapel for daily Mass. So, in August and September of 1976, James Croarkin went to work in the basement, as he had in 1967. This time however, he had a crew of parish workmen. They removed pews from one half, tiled the floor and put up a partition. They also installed a kitchen in the rear.
Once the work was done, activities and fun began. There were bingo games and line dancing, suppers and cake sales. A senior citizen’s group formed and a baby-sitting service was offered in the “Social Hall” during the 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass.
In February, 1977, the parish work detail completed a reconciliation room in the lower chapel for the new rite of confession . Now, parishioners had the option of confessing either in the traditional confession box or in the reconciliation room face-to-face with the priest. The large statue of the Blessed Mother holding the crucified Christ was moved into the room along with kneelers and vigil lights.
Father McElroy was always devoted to the Blessed Mother, leading the recitation of the rosary before his weekday Masses. He was always concerned, too, about the sick and lonely, visiting them often.
But beginning in August, 1977, the entire parish was to need his encouragement and guidance. It was just before a new deacon, the Rev. Mr. Henry K. Bodah, was to arrive at the parish that a tragedy struck. At about 1 a.m. on Saturday, August 6, an explosion rocked the carport between the rectory and the church. Cars belonging to the Fathers McElroy and Bolton Burst into flames. Fire Chief John McLaken, a parishioner before moving out of the parish, remembered it this way later when talking to a Pawtucket Times reporter: “The carport was like a blowtorch with flames on both sides of it. In no time, the flames had leapt onto the rectory, less than eight feet away. Windows shattered and curtains ignited.
Firefighters succeeded in containing the damage to a first-floor living room and a spare bedroom on the second floor. But while they worked, flames shot out the other side of the carport toward the church, igniting the rood and spreading inside. Sirens from speeding fire engines woke parishioners. Startled—shocked—they huddled before the flames and watched. Their church, only months away from a century of service, was dying. But as they looked up at the majestic steeple and cross, they prayed: If only the steeple would hold, there would be hope.
When the fire broke out, Fathers McElroy and Bolton had been inside the rectory, sleeping. The next morning, staring at the ruins, Father Bolton recalled having been awakened by an explosion: “Then there was this tremendous crackling and breaking of glass. And heat!”
Father Bolton tried to escape down the stairs facing the church, but retreated when he saw a window smash. He hurried toward the rear and looked for father McElroy. “But he met me. He was coming to get me,” Father Bolton said.