Saturday, December 15, 2007

Leo XIII School - 1888

Boston Daily Globe July 22, 1888

The Crowning Event In the Life-Work of Father Maginnis. Corner-Stone of Leo XIII School to be Laid Today at Jamaica Plain.

Wonderful Growth of St Thomas' Parish Since 1869.

The cornerstone of the Leo XIII School will be laid today at Jamaica Plain. In these imposing ceremonies, the crowning event of the wonderful progress of St Thomas' parish. Father Maginnis sees the fruition of his fondest hopes.

It is now 20 years since Rev. Thomas Maginnis, pastor of St Thomas, was sent to establish the new parish there just formed from the parent one of St Joseph's, Roxbury. Then the Catholics of Jamaica Plain went to Roxbury for religious services, as previous to that time mass had never been celebrated in their midst. The new pastor immediately undertook to raise funds for the erection of a church. For a time mass was celebrated in Curtis Hall.

A lot of land was soon purchased. With a frontage of about 200 feet on South street, and extending along Jamaica street for a distance of upwards of 225 feet, it formed almost a complete square. Upon this site the church was built. Ground was broken without delay, and the cellar of the edifice completed. The first floor of the building being finished, a roof of canvas was improvised, under which the parishioners assembled to witness the imposing ceremonies of the blessing of the corner-stone.

The corner-stone was laid with all the solemnity of the Roman ritual by His Grace Archbishop Williams, then Bishop Williams, on Aug 15, 1869. A vast gathering of people witnessed the rites, which were participated in by a large number of the priests of the diocese. The sermon was delivered by Rev. Father O'Reilly, then pastor of St John's Church, Worcester, now bishop of Springfield.

Thenceforward work upon the edifice was pursued with renewed vigor, until at the end of four years from the laying of the corner stone, the structure had reached completion, and all that remained necessary for its incorporation as one of the Catholic churches of the archdiocese, was the solemn act of dedication, which accordingly took place on the 17th of August, 1873. The dedication attracted thousands, many of whom were Protestants, and all of whom contributed generously to the work. The archbishop, attired in his Pontifical robes, surrounded by a large number of priests and clerics, and accompanied in Gregorian chant by a select chorus of voices from the leading churches of the city and suburbs, solemnly blessed the new church, its altars, walls and grounds adjoining, and dedicated all to the lasting service of God under the patronage of St Thomas Aquinas.

After the completion of the ceremonies, the sermon of the day was preached by Rt. Rev. P.T. O'Reilly, D.D., Bishop of Springfield, Mass.

It is not out of place to now give a brief description of the edifice as it is at the present. The church is situated on South street. It has a seating capacity of 1350, it is 165 feet long by 68 feet wide and is accessible by three entrances, the main entrance being from South street. The tower and spire of the church have not yet been built.The place destined for them is at the north corner of the church and when completed will be in height 194 feet.

On the south corner is a neat little bellcot, which relieves the facade of the building.

On entering the church the visitor is agreeably surprised by the beauty of the fresco paintings, which are in wonderful harmony with the whole place. The high altar is built of French Caen stone, is massive but relieved by beautiful carvings, representing the burial of Christ, the two Marys at the tomb, St Thomas, the patron of the church, and St Patrick. The reredos is of very ecclesiastical design, towering, by three carved pinnacles, towards the roof and set off in the background by a realistic painting of the ascension of Our Lord. The smaller altars, viz., the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary and that of St Joseph, are also beautiful pieces of workmanship and in harmony with the high altar, extend the (?) carved pinnacles toward the roof, which forms an inclined plane directly overhead.

The stranger as he walks down the aisle is attracted by the 14 stations of the cross, painted upon the walls on the church. These stations, together with the impressive paintings of the nativity and resurrection of our Lord, form the nucleus of the church's artistic designs, and are the admiration of all. Yet they are by no means the only distinguishing features of the edifice. Aside from the pews, which are of ash and are carved in trefoil figures, and the taste exhibited in the decorations and tapestry of the sanctuary, two noticeable features are the statues of St Thomas and St Patrick, that of St Thomas Aquinas occupying the right and that of St Patrick the left of the sanctuary.

Both statues, which were made expressly at Paris and donated to the church by a member of the congregation, are well set off by a bright background, which forms a resting place for the statues and their pedestals.

This statue of St Thomas is perhaps the only statue in the archdiocese indulgenced by Pope Leo XIII.

The chapel of the church, in which mass is celebrated every morning, compromises a small altar and a comfortable auditorium capable of seating about 300 persons. The rest of the basement is utilized for schoolroom.

Such has been the unusual development of the parish that it was found necessary to increase the number of Sunday masses, until now four masses are celebrated. A well-trained choir, under the supervision of a competent director, furnishes the music at the high mass each Sunday, while the little children sing at each of the earlier masses.

Soon after the church was completed an additional parcel of land was purchased, thus extending the church property to Woodman street, and leaving the parochial estate within the boundaries of South and Woodman, Jamaica and St Thomas streets.

Then came the introduction of the Sisters of St Joseph into the parish, and, for the first time in the archdiocese of Boston. The progress of the order was in keeping with the rapid advancement of the parish itself. Starting with only four members, who came here from Brooklyn, the community gradually increased in numbers to more than 60 sisters, with branch houses in South Boston, Haverhill, Stoughton and Amesbury, retaining, however, their novitiate at Jamaica Plain until they purchased the Fresh Pond estate in Cambridge, where they now hold their novitiate and direct an academy.

The convent, which was built for the Sisterhood of St Joseph, first comprised a large and comfortable dwelling-house fronting on Jamaica street.

Afterwards the old convent was moved inward a distance of about 75 feet from its former site, and an addition was built to meet the wants of the steadily increasing community. Last year the convent was rendered complete in its outfit by the erection of a new and spacious addition to the old convent, thus changing the frontage of the entire structure to St Thomas street.

The school first had its sessions in the basement of the church and was exclusively for girls. Afterwards the pastor opened a school for boys. Both schools, under the supervision of the priests and in the immediate charge of the Sisters of St Joseph, have been in a flourishing condition since their establishment in 1872.

Thus affairs drifted busily along for several years until 1886, when, having provided for his people and their children, the pastor turned his attention to the building of a parochial residence. The parishioners readily co-operated with their pastor, and erected a fine new home for him.

The crowning portion of the whole work was yet to come. The reverend pastor's cherished hope was the erection of the parochial school.

This school, a frame building three stories in height, is situated on St Thomas street, is 68 feet long by 61 feet wide, and includes a well-lighted and spacious basement. This ground floor or basement will finish at a height of 12 feet, and is divided into rooms for the use and benefit of the children of the parish. It also includes a large gymnasium, 60 feet long by 30 feet wide, which is to be thoroughly equipped with all the usual apparatus for physical development, and modeled after the most approved patterns. In addition to the gymnasium, the basement will comprise a reading room, music room and library for the boys of the parish.

The same provision has been made for the girls, and a music room, sewing room, library and cooking school will accord them every facility desirable for furthering and increasing their knowledge in any of these several branches. At either end of the schoolhouse, from the first to the third story, is a staircase hall 33 feet by 13 feet, thus affording an easy access to and exit from the building. The first floor includes in its area four large schoolrooms, (?) 13 feet high, thoroughly lighted and ventilated, in which the girls will assemble by means of the main entrance on St Thomas street. The entrance for boys will be from Jamaica street, the four rooms destined for them being on the second floor of the building.

These rooms will comprise the same are and size as those of the girls, will (?) 13 feet high and will be furnished with all the requisites of a model class room. The third, or upper story, will be utilized as a hall, embracing in its range the entire length of the schoolhouse and having a height of 17 feet at the sides and 20 feet in the center. The whole building will be lighted by gas and heated by steam.

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