SAINT HELENA of Enfield, New Hampshire
“This is the greatest day in the history of the Catholic church in Enfield as adherents to the Catholic faith have entered heart and mind into the dedication of their new church to Saint Helena.”
The above was taken from an article printed in the Manchester Union Leader in April, 1902. The year 1902 climaxed the long years of working and saving to achieve this goal.
The first Mass was said on January 20, 1858 by the Reverend John Brady in the house of Edward Powers, South Main Street. In 1857 there were only two Catholic families in the village, Thomas Laffee and Edward Powers. At that time there wasn’t a Catholic church from Saint Johnshury, Vermont to Manchester, New Hampshire inclusively. For the next four years Mass was offered in the different family homes in Lebanon, East Lebanon, Enfield and Canaan. Father Brady was on this mission from July 1856 until 1863 when he was removed to Oldtown, Maine. He was succeeded by Father Noisseau.
By 1862, there were five Catholic families in the village. In addition to those named above were William Savage, James Fitzpatrick and James Kinsella. At this time the Catholics in all of New Hampshire were under the diocese of Portland, Maine and priests had to travel many miles to hold services. Therefore, it is apparent that no regular schedule was followed, but services were held whenever a priest was available. Among those priests were the Reverend Fathers Murphy, Finnegan and Egan.
In 1886, arrangements were made to hold services in Precinct Hall once a month. This arrangement was not satisfactory to at least one — Thomas Laffee walked to Lebanon to attend Mass rather than worship in a hall which had been used for public dancing the night before.
In most of the local news items, Catholics were referred to as “The Catholic Society” but this was evidently an editorial policy of the paper since this reference was not found elsewhere. One news item in the Enfield Advocate of July 1888 must have caused at least a small ripple of excitement as it states — “Bishop Bradley, accompanied by Reverend Paradis of Lebanon spent part of last Monday in this town, calling on Capt. L. Day of the Day Dawn, and Mrs. Margaret Powers.”
By1894 the Catholics were beginning to plan for a church of their own. To raise money for this purpose, dances and socials were held. One special program was a lecture by the Honorable J.C. Lenahan on “Music and Songs of the War”. This was followed by an ice cream social and dance. The net profit was $30.00 Today this would be a mere drop in the bucket but in those days it was considered a good profit and encouraging to those working to build the church.
In 1896, the situation was a little better spiritually, with Masses held the first and third Sundays of the month in Precinct Hall. Thomas Laffee donated land on the Laffee corner on which to locate the church. At that time it was the intention to have the church next to the William Laffee house (presently the Albert Langley home.) In August 1898 four boys and four girls were confirmed by Bishop Bradley. Fred and Arthur Decato and Mary Moore were members of this class.
In 1899, Enfield was to have a resident priest. The Reverend Timothy W. Coakley was transferred from Bristol to Enfield, and he moved into the L.D. Dunbar house on the corner of South and Wells Streets. He held a unique position, being the only Catholic boy (at that time) to enter Phillips Exeter Academy and the only one from the Academy to become a priest. Father Coakley had already built a church in Bristol, and the Catholics were sure their goal was in sight for a church in Enfield. In the fall of 1901, with the help of the new pastor, a week long fair was held in Precinct Hall with a different program every night. This was a great success and the efforts of local talent greatly enjoyed. With a substantial boost to the treasury as a result of the fair, enthusiasm grew by leaps and bounds. Charles Decato loaned the Catholics $3,200 to buy the L.D. Dunbar house (where Father Coakley was residing) and the lot next to it on South Street. That sum of money being considered so large, John Noonan was called in to help count it.
In 1901 construction was underway. Charles Decato and his son Arthur came with their team of horses and equipment and dug the cellar hole. Peter Evans agreed to do the brick work on the foundation, and Oscar and Leander Rameor the wood work. The stone work on the front of the building was done by Peter Evans, and the story of the stones is interesting. At Mascoma, on the old road to Lebanon, there was an out-cropping or small ledge of unusual rock. This rock contained iron pyrite and quartz crystals and was uncommon in this area. Unfortunately, the rocks were on the far side of the river so one can imagine the work involved. Charles and Arthur Decato undertook this tremendous task. They crossed the river, selected the stones which were most beautiful and best suited to the purpose, rolled them down the bank, carried them across the river, loaded them on horse drawn carts. After this came the long haul to Enfield and the unloading. The stone work is as beautiful today as when first erected, certainly a tribute to the men who built it.
The large gilt cross adorning the steeple was designed by J.A. MacDonald, made of heavy copper by F.A. Fogg and gilded at Lebanon by E. Downes. The bell, a gift from Bishop Bradley was rung for the first time on Easter morning, 1902.
Although Enfield had a resident priest, there was still a shortage of priests, and on Sundays that Father Coakley went to Bristol no service was held in Enfield. When he was away on retreat, the sick were attended from Concord.
In 1905, Father Coakley was transferred to Hillsboro, and on September 10, 1915, he was appointed first pastor of St. Patrick’s in Manchester, N.H. While there his work was with the Irish families and all English speaking people of the West Side. The church there was built and dedicated under his pastorate.
The Reverend Henry H. Lennon was welcomed as Enfield’s second pastor. Coming from North Stratford he had represented that town in Legislature in 1903. While in Enfield he took an active interest in town and school affairs and in 1906 was elected First Selectman. Father Lennon was voted an “o.k. man” by the upper grade children when he treated 20 of them to a train trip to Lebanon. On July 12, 1906 the following quotation is part of an article that appeared: “Through the determined efforts of the Reverend Henry E. Lennon, the pastor of Saint Helena’s Catholic church, and also the chairman of the board of Selectmen, with the co-operation of the other members of the board and a large representation of the leading men of the town, Enfield is to have one of the best High School buildings in this part of New Hampshire, and one which will provide ample accommodations for the high school pupils for years to come. Enfield has been sorely in need of a high school building for years, but it was not until Revered Father Lennon took an active part in town affairs, and assumed the office of chairman of the board of selectmen, that the matter was officially taken up. Many advocated the erection of a new building to take the place of the cramped quarters which have been in use for years, but no one had the courage to launch such an idea. Although he has been a resident of the town less than a year, the pastor of the Catholic church, an earnest advocate of education, realized the need, and he fearlessly informed the people at the March town meeting that the town was duty bound to provide suitable accommodations for the high school pupils and after an earnest and convincing appeal to the voters, he introduced a resolution providing for the appropriation of $18,000 for the construction of a building that would be a credit to the town. In the whole town there is no one who ever received more commendation for his work as a town official than Father Lennon has since he was elected in March.”
In 1906, he resigned as selectman and in a letter to the other selectmen he said in part: “Allow me to thank you for the cordial relations that have ever existed between us since our election and which have characterized our meeting and labors together.” This feeling of cordiality and friendliness between Catholics and protestants had been expressed previously by Bishop Bradley at the dedication of the church and when he publicly thanked not only the parishioners but the citizens of the town for their generous help towards the erection of the church. Father Coakley had done a great deal to promote understanding of the Catholic faith when he was in Enfield, and had arranged a series of lectures to be given in Whitney Hall by Reverend Xavier Sutton, a Passionist priest from New Jersey. These lectures were attended by people of all faiths and a question and answer period was held after each.
Although there are no record until 1945, we do have the list of parish priests that served the Enfield church. They include; Rev. Thomas Finning (1907-1913), Rev. William Pendergast (1913-1924), Rev. Leonard Geisal (1924-1930), Rev Timothy Whelan (1930-1932), Rev John McCarthy (1932-1937), Rev Doria Desruisseaux (1937-1941).
In 1945, the cellar was enlarged to make a parish hall and kitchen. This was done under the direction of Reverend J.F. Eugene Belanger who came to Enfield in 1941. At that time his pastorate included 450 sq. miles embracing 11 towns. He was assisted by one La Salette priest during the wintertime and two during the summer months when the population doubled. The Catholic Daughters were organized during Father Belanger’s pastorate. A new electric organ was given by Mr. Dunham in memory of his wife. The two statues installed above the vigil lights were given by Mr. and Mrs. Chester Lower in memory of their son who was killed in World War II. In 1948, Father Belanger was replaced by Reverend Charles L. Allyson. The Holy Name Society was founded by Father Allyson. He died in Enfield in 1951.
Reverend Achille Lettre replaced Father Allyson and was pastor until 1955 when he was transferred to Nashua. On July 5, 1962 Father Lettre was honored by Pope John XXIII. He was elevated to the dignity of Domestic Prelate.
In November, 1955 Reverend Rene Constant was appointed pastor. During his residency the exterior of the buildings were painted, outdoor lights installed and the statue of the Blessed Virgin placed on the side lawn. Father Constant started a fund to buy new pews to replace the old fashioned ones. Father Constant remained in Enfield until 1960, when he was transferred to Hooksett.
Reverend Ernest Bissonnette came to Saint Helena’s in 1960 and remained until 1967 when he, too, was transferred to Hooksett. Under his direction the church was completely renovated inside with new pews installed, the sanctuary carpeted and a new tile floor put in place. A new confessional was installed at the rear of the main floor and a new lighting system installed by the pastor himself. He will be remembered with affection by the Catholic Daughters for installing many electrical outlets in the kitchen area where they cooked for many public suppers. Another improvement to the church properties in Enfield and Canaan was new parking facilities. Many carnivals were run under his direction to raise money for these improvements. Prior to his transfer, he made plans to have aluminum siding put on the church and rectory.
Revered John Bryson arrived in Enfield in September 1967. The first parish council was elected during his pastorate. Father Bryson was very active in Ecumenical programs and during his stay in Enfield was very much liked by all the people in town. When the Enfield kindergarten needed a school room, he made arrangements for them to use the parish hall and parishioners will remember how attractive the hall was with the children’s drawings decorating the walls. In 1970, Father Bryson was transferred to Newmarket, N.H.
The next two pastors in Enfield were Reverend Leo Nadeau, 1970-72 and Reverend Edward Zalewski, 1972-75.
In 1975, Reverend Paul Belhumeur, M.S., was assigned to Saint Helena’s and Saint Mary’s from La Salette. Father saw to the renovation of St. Mary’s. He also adapted the present Confessional at St. Helena’s into a dialogue room as foreseen in the new rite of Reconciliation. In November 1975 he was ably assisted by Brother Raymond Tetreault, M.S.
In 1982, Rev. Richard Lavoie became pastor and served the two parishes until 1988. He was well loved and brought a real sense of vigor to the community. Father Fern Cassista replace him and was responsible for restarting the Parish Finance Committee. At that time, the parish had run into some financial problems with a high debt and major building repairs and issues facing it. Through his efforts, the small but active committee set out to improve the finances and had a major impact on the quality of the overall parish offerings.
In 1993, Father Paul Rainville was named pastor. During his leadership, St Helena’s and St Mary’s made great strides toward religious and fiscal improvement. He has conducted a religious renewal program, improved the religious education program with the director of religious education and volunteers and much more. He celebrated the 50th anniversary of the rebuilding of St. Mary’s Church in a beautiful Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve of 2000 that included several young people of the parish playing instruments for the Christmas Carols organized by Edward Labrie. He has also helped to organized the ongoing renovation of St. Helena’s Church. He helped to celebrated St. Helena’s 100th Anniversary Mass with Bishop John McCormick of the Diocese of Manchester along with former parish priests Reverend Richard Lavoie, MS, Deacon John St. George and Rev. Richard Lower, MS. Before the Mass, the church bell was rung 30 times in honor of the priests and nuns that served the parish over the years and 100 times after the Mass, once for each year of the parish existence. Altar Servers were Ashleigh King, Bridget Labrie and John Paul Perron. Lectors were Sarah Kulig and Richard Steuer and the Music Ministry was celebrated by Shirley Gibbs and Beverly Thibodeau.
Father Thomas Huhn took over as Pastor of the parish in September of 2002 after spending most of his priestly life in Texas. He was always quick with a joke even during his homilies. His dog Zoro was always at his side and was an attraction for the kids in the parish.
Father Fr. John Gabriel, M.S. became both pastor of the parish and director of the La Salette Shrine in Enfield in 2008. He was much loved by the parishioners. Father Gabe, though originally from Chicago, came from a large parish in Georgia. It was not unusual for the parishioners to shout out, “AMEN!!!” after his sermons. Alas, his time was short here and was reassigned back to Catholic Church of St. Ann in Marrieta, Georgia after only a year and a half.
Ironically, his replacement, Father Johnny Vadakkan, M.S. came from the same parish that Father Gabe returned to. Father Johnny, is a native of India and, at 44 years of age, is one of the youngest Catholic priests in the area. Despite his age, he has been a missionary around the world, literally, and has a zest for the priesthood that has turned heads and made people smile.
In January of 2016, after 40 years of service to St. Helena's Parish, the Missionaries of LaSalette concluded their time at St. Helena/St.Mary's Mission. The Diocese of Manchester again staffed the parish with a diocesan priest. At the end of January, Fr. Charles Pawlowski was installed as pastor.
It is the hope of every parish to have a local boy or girl enter a religious order. Reverend Richard Lower, son of Richard and Gwen Lower is an Enfield “first”. Father Lower was ordained as a priest in May, 1971. He passed away in December 2002.
Several Enfield girls have become nuns, the first being Elizabeth Day, born in Enfield in 1846, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Lorenzo Day. She converted to Catholicism in 1872 and entered the convent of the Sisters of Mercy in 1880 as Sister Mary Casimir. She taught in and around Manchester for many years. Other local girls who became nuns are: Ernestine Lozeau (deceased), Jeanette Lozeau, both members of the Sisters of Saint Martha, Theresa Chaloux, known as Sister Mary of La Salette, Annette Gaudette in Montreal, Canada, and Barbara St. Jean.
The parish was also gifted to have several nuns and brothers serve the parish over the many years. They include; Brother Raymond Tetreault, MS (1975), Sister Mary Rosalie Long, SDn (1981), Brother Jean Dennis Roy, MS (1982), Sister Lucie Ducas, CSC 1982, Sister Patricia Coccozza, SND (1979-1987), Sister and Director of religious Education Diane Shaw, SDN (1982-1990), Sister Mary LeBlanc, PBUM (1987-1995), Brother Roger St. Germaine (1988-1989) and DRE Terri King (1990-1996).
A special thanks is due Mrs. Nellie Pierce (recently deceased) without whose collection of historical records very little, if any, of the above article could have been written. Hopefully, when Whitney Hall renovations are completed, Saint Helena parishioners will read the old newspaper articles for themselves as there is more detail than could be printed here. Most of the newspaper articles were taken from the Enfield Advocate.
SAINT MARY’S of Canaan, New Hampshire
There is very little information available about Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Canaan. This is probably due, in part, to the disastrous fire, June 2, 1923 when the original church was destroyed along with the Baptist church and about fifty businesses. The following was excerpted from the Canaan Bicentennial Book, printed in 1961.
After the year 1850 numerous families of the Catholic faith were in town. Some of the family names were: Dwyre, Sloan, Sullivan, Lorden, O’Leary, Barry, Hill, Favreau, Benoit, Giguere, Descoteaux and Remillard.
Mass was celebrated in the homes, usually that of Robert Dwyre, Lewis Giguere or William Barry. Around 1885 they began to plan for a church. In 1889 a lot of land on Church Street was purchased from Mrs. Lura Milton. In 1890 the church was built and a house nearby bought as a residence for the priest. This church was a fine dignified edifice, generously and cheerfully supported by the parishioners. This building too gave way to the flames in 1923.
For some years after the fire, Mass was celebrated in public halls. On August 6, 1950 a beautiful chapel was dedicated, built on the spot where the first church building had stood. The concrete foundation was hand mixed and poured by members of the parish, quite a task. The parish was free from debt, a credit to its members and to the town.
In the late 1980’s, the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus began construction of a beautiful church hall for St. Mary’s. Using money from Mr. Czedik, a deceased parishioner, the Knights built the large hall which was dedicated in a Mass with the Bishop of Manchester in attendance. The hall serves as a central focus for the vibrant church’s religious and community activities.
Much work was done in the late 1990’s to improve the property of the church. The parking lot was rebuilt and repaved, asphalt on the south side of the church was replaced by lawn with a concrete sidewalk and daylillies running the length of it. The design of the new lawn was by Tom St. George as part of his Boy Scout Eagle Badge project. Also, steps from Mr. Savarde’s granite business replaced the old crumbling concrete ones. Father Paul Rainville planted the two evergreen trees that adorn the lawn and the daylilies were all provided by the Tantillo family and planted by the parish Youth Group.
Father Paul Rainville celebrated the 50th anniversary of the rebuilding of St. Mary’s Church in a beautiful Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve of 2000 that included several young people of the parish playing instruments for the Christmas Carols organized by Edward Labrie.