Cultural Heritage Tours

A project of the ETHNIC HERITAGE CENTER

Downtown Tour

First St. Mary’s R.C. Church

22 Church Street

(demolished)

St. Mary's Church, center, Bailey and Hazen Aerial Map, 1878.

From 1848 to 1874 this location was home to New Haven’s first (and Connecticut’s second) Catholic parish. Prior to 1829 when the Rev. Bernard O’Cavanagh took up residence in Hartford, Connecticut’s Catholics were ministered to by itinerant priests from Boston and Providence. Services were held in private homes, barns and occasionally in a church of another denomination. In 1832 the Rev. James McDermot was assigned to New Haven as its first resident priest. In 1834 Fr. McDermot and his approximately 200 mainly Irish congregants established the state’s second Catholic parish—Christ’s Church, located at the corner of York St. and Davenport Ave. This official arrival of “Popery” was greeted with fear and suspicion, and less than six months after its dedication Christ’s Church was broken into, the altar stripped of its ornaments, and the crucifix and silver chalice stolen. In an encouraging and welcoming gesture, non-Catholics joined together to replace the chalice. The story of Christ’s Church as such came to a devastating end in June 1848 when the church was totally destroyed by what was believed to be a deliberately set fire. Services were held in a tent until December when a Congregational Meeting House on Church St. was purchased and refitted for Catholic worship. Re-named St. Mary’s, it was dedicated in December 1848. St. Mary’s remained on Church St. until moving to Hillhouse Avenue in 1874 when the current church was completed (see Downtown North tour, #8). As the successor to Christ’s Church, St. Mary’s is still considered to be the second oldest Catholic parish in Connecticut. In 1858, a new church was built at the former Christ's Church location on Davenport Avenue. Named St. John the Evangelist, it was the first church in the United States to be built in the Celtic style of architecture, which had prevailed throughout Ireland during the 11th and 12th centuries.

  • Text source courtesy Connecticut Irish American Historical Society Archives source, History of the Diocese of Hartford by Rev. James H. O'Donnell, 1900.

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