With the laying of the cornerstone of St. Peter’s Church in Plymouth on July 4, 1873, a new era began for the Catholics in the southeastern section of the Diocese of Boston. The construction of the parish church assured Catholics scattered throughout the area of Plymouth, Carver, Plympton, Kingston, Duxbury, Hanson and Marshfield that they would have a church wherein they could attend Mass. Prior to this, the earliest settlers who wished to attend Mass had to go to Sandwich to the Mother Church of the geographical section from Provincetown to Scituate and Hanover. Later, a Mass, once every three months, would be celebrated in a private house or in a hall. When the Boston Diocese was reduced to its present confines in 1872, the lower section of the Diocese was placed under the administration of St. Bridget’s Parish in Abington. Shortly thereafter, the pastor, Rev. James C. Murphy determined that the number of Catholics in Plymouth warranted the building of a church in Plymouth.
Visit of Bishop Cheverus
The construction of the church brought to an end the long missionary status of the area. Catholics as have been claimed to be in the area during the colonial period had no opportunity locally to practice their faith. Father Gabriel Druillettes visited Plymouth in 1650, the visit being politically driven. That is to say, its purpose was an attempt to obtain a working alliance between New England and New France against the Iroquois. There is no record of his celebration of a mass in this region, nor of any sacramental administration. In fact, more than a century and a half elapsed before the first Mass was celebrated in Plymouth. It was celebrated by the first Bishop of Boston, Jean (John) Cheverus, who later was assigned back to his native France, where he would later become the Cardinal-Archbishop of Bordeaux, France. Bishop Cheverus came to Plymouth at the invitation of Judge Joshua Thomas, who employed two Catholic Irishmen: John Burke and Michael Murphy. Deprived of their customary attendance at Mass, as well as the reception of the Sacraments, they, along with their families planned to return to Ireland. The judge, wishing to keep them in Plymouth, personally visited the Bishop in Boston to request that a priest be sent. Because of the shortage of priests, the Bishop himself came and celebrated Mass in the Judge’s house, on the site of the later Central House, the same site that was once occupied by the Puritan Clothing Company.
Early Catholic Life
Following the visit of Bishop Cheverus, there were further signs of Catholic growth as visiting priests from Boston, Quincy, Abington and Taunton made the availability of Mass a possibly for area Catholics. The 1840’s and 50’s marked an influx of the Catholic population in Kingston and Plymouth, due to the many Irish who immigrated from Ireland because of the Irish famine. Some men came alone. Others brought their families with them. It was during these early days that others were married here by Father William Moran who was stationed in Sandwich, the nearest Catholic settlement at the time. Since there was no church in Plymouth as of yet, to keep their faith alive, they met together in homes, where one of the men would read aloud the prayers of the Mass and Psalter of Jesus. Some people would travel to Sandwich on Saturday and stay overnight in order to be able to attend Mass on Sunday. Father John Roddan, from Quincy, in 1849 during one of his missionary journeys celebrated Mass in Plymouth (remember as of yet, there was still no church building in Plymouth. The following year, Fr. Moran came from Sandwich once every three months to administer the Sacraments of Baptism, Penance, Marriage, (occasionally the Sacrament of the Sick, then known as Extreme Unction, on a Saturday) followed by Mass on Sunday at the Town Hall. During the last six years of Fr. Moran’s visits (1858-1864), Fr. Moran would stay at the home of John O’Brien. Transferred to All Saint’s Parish in Ware, Massachusetts in 1864, Fr. Moran was replaced in Sandwich by Fr. Peter Bertoldi, a native of Italy. He came to Plymouth once a month to administer the Sacraments and celebrate the Mass either in Town Hall in Davis Hall (later Davis Hall was known as the Woolworth Building). Children receiving First Holy Communion and Confirmation were taken to Sandwich in a carriage with their parents, where they would stay either at the hotel or at the homes of Catholics in the town.
Purchase of Site for Church
Practically from the beginning of Fr. Moran’s visits to Plymouth, the question of building a church was discussed. As early as 1858, Fr. Moran had purchased land on Russell Street, doubtless with this in mind. Nothing further was done for a decade. At that time some of the parishioners objected to this site and wrote to Bishop Williams in opposition to it. The new location became Court Street when, on November 19, 1870, Fr. Bertoldi purchased the property then known as the Charles Barnes’ estate. It was located between the properties of Ichabod Shaw and John T. Stoddard. This was deemed a better location because, in addition to being on the main thoroughfare of the town, the Catholic population was divided north and south of the property. Three weeks later, December 9, 1870, Fr. Bertoldi deeded this land to Bishop Williams.
Building of the Church
Two years later, the Cape area was cut off from the Diocese of Boston and attached to the newly established Diocese of Providence. Plymouth was included in this newly configured diocese. However, it was retained by the Diocese of Boston due to its historical associations being so closely linked with Massachusetts Bay and Boston. Plymouth and the surrounding area was annexed to the parish in Abington. Father James C. Murphy, although only ordained two years was the pastor. Father James Chittick, after 1873, joined him in alternately coming once a month to administer the Sacraments and celebrate the Mass in what was then Davis Hall, and later known as the Woolworth Building. Father Murphy immediately set to building a new church. He began with the amount of $190.51 which he received from Father Bertoldi. He collected in fifteen months (to January 1, 1874) a total of $3029.05. A sum of $202 was contributed to this effort by non-Catholics. The cornerstone of the church as laid July 4, 1873 by Bishop John. J. Williams.