St. Lawrence Church
By Dan Shine,
It was only a mile from home to St. Lawrence Church, but Michael Keeney remembers it as sometimes feeling like much, much more. His mother would lead her six children on foot to Mass in every kind of weather, and afterwards, lead them home again, this time by way of Wolfe’s Bakery. Michael also remembers shaking in his boots while he waited to make his confession to Father Heller; sometimes after hearing young Michael’s confession, Father Heller would yell at him, for such is sometimes the way with boys. No doubt, many others can recall similar memories of Mass and confession.
But how did it all start? Well, it’s like this…
It started with people. And it started in the 1880s. They had fled the poverty of Europe, and arrived in America seeking opportunity, safety, freedom and liberty, and a place to worship as they chose.
They came with the Irish Diaspora; and they came from the troubles of Germany, and from the poverty of Italy, and elsewhere. And they arrived in the ports of New York and Boston. There, they learned of job opportunities in the growing city of New Haven, where they could find work making shirts, firearms, horse-carriages, buckles, ships, hardware, clocks, and so many other things in the multitude of factories of that era.
And homes and apartments could be found in the nearby community of West Haven, where factory workers could be transported to and from their jobs by way of horse-drawn streetcars.
However, many of these new arrivals were dismayed to discover that there was no convenient house of worship, within which they could follow their Roman Catholic traditions. Indeed, the nearest churches were in New Haven: St. John’s Church on Davenport Avenue, and Sacred Heart Church on Columbus Avenue.
And so it was that in April of 1886, the first Mass was celebrated in the Thompson Building—today known as the Atlschuler Building—at Campbell Avenue and Main Street.
Later on that year, the cornerstone was laid for the first edifice of St. Lawrence Church; it was a simple wooden structure, located on Union Avenue, and it served the community’s Roman Catholic population until 1903, when the present St. Lawrence Church was opened for worship. At that time, the Parish numbered about 200 people.
The church was named for St. Lawrence, martyred Roman deacon, who when ordered to turn over his church’s riches to the Prefect of Rome, presented the prefect with the church’s poor, the sick, the blind and the suffering, telling him “these are the church’s riches.” For this, he was summarily put to death.
The growth of the summer population in the Old Savin Rock area made it necessary to establish the St. Lawrence Chapel. The Chapel was located at the corner of Summer Street and Savin Avenue, and the first Mass was celebrated there in 1910. By 1965, it had become a separate parish, St. John Vianney, with the Rev. Joseph Reynolds as its pastor.
Today, St. Lawrence Church is active in the community, and regularly supports a group of committees that address a variety of church-related topics. Mass is held on Saturdays at 4:00 PM and on Sundays at 8:00 and 10:30 AM.
After many years at St. Lawrence Church, Father Jette has recently departed for another calling in another parish. His parting words were, “I am grateful to God for my years in West Haven and for all the wonderful people I have come to know here. Your faith, hope and love were an inspiration to me.”
St. Lawrence Church is an active parish, with a proud history. For more information, call (203) 934-8351.
To Be Continued-