Proliferation of the Catholic Church

As the number of Irish-born residents throughout the state of Connecticut exploded between 1840 and the 1870s, it is unsurprising to see that the number of Catholic parishes and churches likewise increased at a rapid rate. As noted, by 1844 the number of Catholic parishioners in the state had reached a total of 4,817, the majority of them being Irish-born, and the first Catholic churches built to serve them were primarily located in urban centers such as Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, New London, and Norwich, where high concentrations of Irish immigrants could be found. While there were just five Catholic churches in Connecticut in 1845, by 1852 the number of Catholics in the state had grown to around 20,000. At that time this expanding population was served by a total of 15 churches, while ground had been broken for three more. In addition, as many as 20 communities located in areas of lower concentrations of Irish or other Catholic residents were being served by priests from existing churches, many of whom traveled long distances in order to attend to the religious needs of their far-flung flocks.74

The construction of Catholic churches during the 1850s took place in a mix of established as well as burgeoning Irish communities. Those built between 1845 and 1852 included the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury (1847), St. Mary's in New Haven (1848), St. Joseph's in Willimantic (1848), St. John's in Stamford (1849), St. Mary's in New Britain (1850), St. Bernard's in Tariffville (1850), St. Mary's in Norwalk (1851), St. Patrick's in Hartford (1851), St Mary's in Stonington (1851), St. Mary's in Windsor Locks (1852, See Inventory Index), St. John's in Middletown (1852, See Inventory Index), St. Joseph's in Chester (1852), and St. Patrick's in New Haven (1852). Other parishes, such as St. Peter’s in Danbury, (See Inventory Index) which was established in 1851, held services in buildings purchased from other faiths until they could build more suitable institutions of their own. As such, the growth of the Hartford Diocese at this time was of such a substantial character as to lead an observer of the dedication services for St. John’s in Middletown in 1852 to state that, “Dedications of churches to Catholic worship are now of weekly occurrence throughout the country, but nowhere more so than in the diocese of Hartford, a proof of the untiring enterprise of our Bishop and the zeal of our priesthood. Localities in this state where, five or six years since, a Catholic priest was a rare sight, are now supplied with churches, pastors and congregations, a proof of the inherent vitality of Catholicity and the divine mission of its teachers.”75

This vitality continued in the post-Famine period as migrant workers settled down and families expanded. Between 1853 and 1874 another 53 Catholic churches would be constructed throughout the state. A record of those erected during this period contributes valuable information regarding where Irish populations were concentrated. Such data from 1853 through 1874 includes the following churches and their construction dates:

1853 — St. Joseph's, Winsted; St. Mary's, Milford.

1854 — St. Andrew's, Colchester; St. Bridget's, Cornwall; Immaculate Conception, Branford; St. Mary's, East Bridgeport; St. Thomas', Fairfield; St. Patrick's, Falls Village (See Inventory Index); St. Bernard's, Rockville.

1855— St. Joseph's, Bristol.

1856 — St. Rose's, Meriden; St. Mary's, Hamden; St. Augustine's, Seymour; St. Patrick's, Collinsville. 1857 — Holy Trinity, Wallingford; Immaculate Conception, Waterbury.

1858 — St. John's, New Haven; St. Francis', Naugatuck; St. Rose's, Newtown.

1859 — Immaculate Conception, Norfolk; St. Peter's, Hartford (See Inventory Index); All Hallow's, Moosup; St. Mary's, Putnam. 1860 — Immaculate Conception, Baltic; St. Patrick's, Thompsonville; St. Mary's, Greenwich; Assumption, Westport; St. Francis Xavier's, New Milford; St. Francis', Torrington.

1863 — St. Aloysius', New Canaan.

1864 — St. James', Danielson.

1867 — St. Edward's, Stafford Springs; St. Mary's, Ridgefield; Assumption, Ansonia; St. Anthony's, Litchfield. 1868 — St. Francis', New Haven.

1869 — St. Augustine's, Bridgeport (See Inventory Index); St. Peter's, Danbury (See Inventory Index).

1870 — St. Patrick's, Mystic; St. Mary's, Putnam; Sacred Heart, Wauregan; Immaculate Conception, New Hartford; St. Mary's, New Haven (See Inventory Index).

1871 — St. Thomas', Thomaston; St. Joseph's, New Canaan; St. Joseph's, Norwich (See Inventory Index). 1872 — St. Joseph's, Grosvenordale.

1873 — St. Thomas', Goshen; St. Boniface's, New Haven; St. Joseph's pro-cathedral, Hartford. 1874 — St. James', S. Manchester; Sacred Heart, New Haven.


The vast majority of these churches, as well as just about all of the multitude that would follow as the Catholic Church continued to expand throughout Connecticut in the 1880s and 1890s, were designed by just two architects. Both of these men, Patrick Charles Keely (1816-1896, See Inventory Index) and James Murphy (1834-1907, See Inventory Index) were Irish immigrants who settled in the United States when they were young men. The elder, Keely (originally Kiely), arrived from County Tipperary around 1830 and found work in Brooklyn, New York as a builder and carpenter. In 1846, he met a young Catholic priest, Rev. Sylvester Malone, with whom he helped design what might be considered his first architectural commission, the celebrated Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, in Brooklyn. The connections with the Catholic Church that developed as a result of Keely’s relationship with Malone and his work on the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul helped launch a career that would see Keely become the preeminent designer of Catholic churches throughout the country. Murphy, who likewise emigrated from County Tipperary, arrived in Brooklyn in 1852 and found work as an apprentice and draftsman in Keely’s shop. By the early 1860s, Murphy had been made a partner in the firm and he subsequently moved to Providence, Rhode Island to open a branch office there. This relationship lasted until around 1867 when the two men parted ways.76

By the time Keely died in 1896 he and his firm could be credited with having designed over 600 churches and hundreds of ancillary buildings for the Catholic Church. Murphy similarly contributed dozens of his own designs before his death in 1907. As noted, Keely and Murphy’s portfolios included almost every Catholic church constructed in Connecticut in the second half of the nineteenth century. This began with Keely’s design for St. John’s Church (See Inventory Index) in Middletown in 1852, and extended through Murphy’s plans for All Hallows Church (See Inventory Index), erected in Moosup in 1901. Notable among Keely’s work was the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford (1872, destroyed by fire and replaced in 1956. Keely’s son, Charles, was also involved with the firm’s work in the state and in fact died after a bout with pneumonia in 1889 while supervising construction of St. Joseph’s in Hartford (it was not formally consecrated until 1892). Murphy’s most impressive included St. Mary’s in New Haven (1874, See Inventory Index), St. John’s in Stamford (1875, See Inventory Index), St. Mary’s in New London (1890, See Inventory Index), and St. Patrick’s in Norwich (1879, See Inventory Index), the latter often considered his finest work.

As these churches were completed and the Diocese of Hartford continued to grow, so too did its need for trained priests. A vast majority of those who filled the earliest roles were Irish immigrants who came through the dioceses of Baltimore or Boston.

However, considering the relatively nascent status of the Catholic church in the United States at the time it proved quite difficult to find enough experienced priests to fill all the positions. As such, Hartford’s Bishop Tyler appealed to the old country for assistance. In 1845 he contacted the College of All Hallows in Drumconda, a suburb of Dublin, stating that he would be assuming the financial responsibility of training two priests already enrolled at the seminary under the assumption that they would travel to Connecticut upon

their ordination. Tyler saw the recruitment of young Irish priests as an invaluable method of providing services to rural communicants. In an 1847 letter beseeching support from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Paris he wrote, 

Next summer I expect three priests from the College of Drumcondra, Dublin, Ireland. I have not vestments, chalices, etc. for them. I wish to send these newly ordained priests to several places where there are bodies of poor Catholic laborers, and in some of these places there is not the semblance of a church. How happy would I be to be able to assist each of these with a few hundred dollars to begin small churches and abodes for themselves; and what encouragements would it not give the poor people among whom they go and upon whom they must depend for everything!77

The first of Bishop Tyler’s charges to arrive was Father Luke Daly (1822-1878) of County Cavan, who was ordained by Bishop Tyler in 1846. Based out of Trinity Church in Hartford, Daly served the rural congregations surrounding the city until he was assigned to the parish of New Britain in September 1848. A history of the Diocese of Hartford notes that under this assignment he was also responsible for the communities of, “Farmington, Plainville, Bristol and the Mines, Forestville, Collinsville, New Hartford, Tariffville, Simsbury, and Rainbow,” and that, “His labors in this large field were mainly preaching, catechizing, administering the sacraments, and saying Mass whenever and wherever he had the opportunity.”78 Daly was responsible for the construction of the first permanent Catholic church in New Britain, St. Mary’s, work on which began in September 1850, as well as the purchase of St. Mary’s Cemetery on Stanley Street in 1851, and the construction of St. Bernard's Church in Tariffville (1850), St. Joseph's Church in Bristol (1855), and St. Patrick's Church in Collinsville (1856). At the time of his untimely death on June 30, 1878, Daly had served the community of New Britain for 30 years.79

The second of Bishop Tyler’s early recruits from All Hallows was Father Michael O’Neill (1819-1868), who upon his arrival preached to the scattered congregations located between Derby and Waterbury. In October 1847, he became the first resident pastor in Waterbury, where he served until his transfer to Bridgeport in 1855. Of O’Neill, the Boston Pilot wrote in 1848, “This zealous priest is one of the first pupils of the Dublin College of Foreign Missions, and since his arrival from Ireland, some 12 months ago, has infused into the Catholic community a new religious zeal; and called up for them by his great pulpit talent, a new feeling of respect from the American community.”80 Like Daly, O’Neill died an untimely death, passing away on February 25, 1868 at the age of 49. Upon his passing he was interred in Waterbury’s St. Joseph’s Cemetery. Church historians noted that, “The Catholic people of Waterbury loved him, and to show their affection and to perpetuate his memory among their children, erected a handsome monument over his grave in St. Joseph’s cemetery. We can truly say of him, that he was a man without guile – ‘with charity for all and with malice towards none.’”81

Bishop Tyler’s early work soliciting Irish priests for work in the United States was continued by his successor, the Right Rev. Bishop Bernard O’Reilly, D.D. (1803-1856), following Tyler’s death in 1849. A native of County Longford, Ireland, O’Reilly visited All Hallows in 1852 in the interest of recruiting additional graduates, a task in which he was quite successful. In addition to Daly and O’Neill, a number of other All Hallows-trained priests who took up service in Connecticut included the Reverends James Lynch (Bridgeport), Hugh O’Reilly (Wallingford), Hugh Carmody (Thompsonville), and Thomas Hendricken (Waterbury).82

O’Reilly’s tenure also marked the establishment of the first convents in the State. These were founded in Hartford and New Haven in 1852 and were attended by a majority of Irish-born sisters. An article in the New Haven Palladium noted that, “Their object is to take care of the poor and those who have no friends, to minister to their wants in times of sickness and distress. They also intend to superintend the religious and moral education of the female children…”83 Like the number of new churches being erected across Connecticut during the second half of the nineteenth century, so too did the number of convents and associated parochial schools expand rapidly. During the Bishop Right Rev. Lawrence McMahon D.D.’s (1835-1893) tenure as Bishop of Hartford alone, this spanning the period from 1879 through 1893, 16 new convents and 16 new parochial schools were constructed throughout the state. By 1899, the number of parochial schools in Connecticut had reached 63.84

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