St. Augustine
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1-802-223-5285‚Äč

 

16 Barre Street

Montpelier, VT, 05601

 

saintaugustineoffice@comcast.net

© 2018 by Riley Flynn

The Court Street Years

 

 

 When its first Catholic Church was established halfway through the 19th century, Montpelier was already a thriving community with a growing Catholic population.
 

For 20 years, an Irish-born priest named Jeremiah O'Callaghan had traveled to the village by horseback, every three months or so, to bring the word of God and to minister to the handful of Catholics who lived and worked in the capital city.

 

Father O'Callaghan, who had 16 brothers and sisters, arrived in Vermont in the summer of 1830 - dispatched to the rugged north country by Bishop Fenwick, S.J., of Boston. Honored by some with the title, "Apostle of Vermont," he established the state's first Catholic Church in Burlington. He also brought the Sacraments to Montpelier on a regular basis, and according to records celebrated the first Mass in the city in the fall of 1830, as colors consumed the hillsides and the temperatures began to drop. An early photo of Montpelier shows the first St. Augustine Church just east of the State House. An early photo of Montpelier shows the first St. Augustine Church just east of the State House.

 

There is a disagreement over where that ceremony took place. One history of the period concludes that it occurred at 4 Spring Street, in the home of Antoine Jangraw and his family. Another record determined that it was celebrated in the home of John Murphy, on Court Street not far from the Capital. But it is clear that the Catholic community consisted mainly of French Canadians and immigrants from Ireland, and that it comprised about 200 people. Into this environment came Rev. Hector Drolet, a Canadian who arrived in Montpelier about 1850 and became the city's first resident priest. In a transaction with J. Bernard Langdon, he bought the old Court House on Court Street shortly after arriving. The building, within a shadow of the state Capital, became Montpelier's first Catholic Church.

 

"I attended Mass . . . stealing quietly away from my seat in the Senate Chamber," said Gen. Dewitt Clinton Clarke, a state legislator, in a Nov. 3, 1850, letter to his wife. It is the first first-person record of a Mass in Montpelier."...Mass was celebrated in the new church, within a dozen rods of the State House. The interior is wholly unfinished, but it did seem to me like worshipping God 'in his Holy Temple.'"

 

The old Court House building was remodeled in the summer of 1850. According to a parish history written by Margaret Emmons, the first High Mass ever celebrated in the capital was held within its walls. It served as Montpelier's Catholic Church for nine years.

Father Drolet, the first resident priest, left the city in the autumn of 1854 to return to his native Quebec. He died there sometime between 1861 and 1863. An early drawing of downtown Montpelier. Note St. Michael's School on the hill behind the church.

 

Records indicate that Oblate Fathers from Burlington tended the small central Vermont parish until November of 1856 when Bishop deGosbriand appointed a fresh-faced and eager young priest from France to take over as pastor. The Reverend Zephrin (Zephyrinus, according to some records) Druon was 26 years old and only three years a priest when he arrived in Montpelier, and he quickly won the esteem and friendship of his parishioners.

 

He built the parish a new, expansive brick church on Court Street in 1859, on land he had purchased for $800. The building, which could seat 900, had distinctive twin spires and a curving front stairway. It was dedicated to St. Augustine and served as the parish's church until the present facility on Barre Street was built 110 years ago.

 

The elegant new church had a large piazza in front and rounded arches inside. The Old Court House that had distinguished itself as the parish's first church continued to serve St. Augustine's, next as the pastor's residence, then in 1923 as the Convent, then later as a schoolhouse of sorts. It was eventually re-purchased by the state, which demolished it in the early 1960s.

 

Father Druon was much loved in Montpelier. During his time, he was considered the most scholarly and skillful Catholic writer and preacher in Vermont.

 

When he was appointed vicar general at the end of 1863, he was succeeded at St. Augustine by the Rev. Joseph Duglue. Father Duglue was another French-born and educated young cleric who, when he received the sacrament of Holy Orders in Burlington from Bishop deGosbriand on a wintry day in February of 1857, became the first priest to be ordained on Vermont soil.

According to Margaret Emmons' parish history, Father Duglue was descended from French nobility and had significant personal and family resources. He also was described as an old-school style gentleman and a man who was saintly in his religious vocation and equally as zealous in his practical, business dealings.

 

His congregation consisted largely of thick-muscled laborers; of railroad men and blacksmiths, masons, carpenters and farmers. Yet he brought to St. Augustine's a vision that may have seemed incongruous at the time; he was determined to open a parochial school.

One day before the year's end in 1868, apparently using significant amounts of his own money, Father Duglue purchased a two-story brick building on Court Street that had served as one of the city's early public schools. Records indicate the purchase price was $2,500.

It took nearly seven long years for Father Duglue to convert his vision into reality; on September 29, 1875, with 195 young students in attendance, St. Michael's School opened its doors and held its first classes.

 

The school, housed in a white, wood-framed building with a simple cross on its belfry, was staffed by seven women from the Ladies of the Sacred Heart, a religious congregation sometimes called the Ladies of Nazareth. The order was founded in France in 1790; its members established a convent in Burlington in 1863. The church and rectory on Court Street.

Father Duglue's years in the capital were interrupted by ill health; he fell sick in 1877 and was forced to return to his homeland in France. He returned to Montpelier in 1879 and remained until the mid-fall of 1885.

 

His contribution to the burgeoning Catholic community in central Vermont extended beyond the capital city. He also ministered to Catholics in Waterbury, and on November 13, 1881, said the first Mass ever celebrated in the nearby city of Barre - where the rapidly growing granite industry was helping to attract a richly diverse and devoutly religious-ethnic community.

And Father Duglue's resolute determination to create a Catholic school in Montpelier left a lasting legacy; for more than 125 years, St. Michael's School has embraced the children of St. Augustine's, offering an alternative to the city's public school system and assuring that Catholic children have access to religious education as well as the more standard fare of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

 

In a sense, the early history of St. Augustine's Parish is the story of the eager and dedicated young priests who brought the sacraments to Montpelier's sparsely settled hillsides; who secured the land and buildings on which its first churches were consecrated; who established its first school; and who began planning for its future.

Perhaps the best known of these was Father William J. O'Sullivan, who on Oct. 18 - just past the height of foliage season in the year of 1885 - was named to succeed Father Duglue as pastor of St. Augustine.

 

Father O'Sullivan was born in Winooski and ordained in Montreal; records of his age conflict, suggesting he was between 26 and 30 when he was assigned to the Catholic parish is the capital city. The assignment included responsibility for the mission parishes of Graniteville, Moretown, and Barre.


Father O'Sullivan and his dog.

 

Indeed, he began planning the construction of churches in those outlying communities almost immediately. On Oct. 2, 1887, the cornerstone was laid in Bare for St. Monica Church which has served as the foundation for that city's Catholic community for more than 100 years. In 1895, he supervised construction of St. Sylvester Church in Graniteville. Both became independent parishes - soon after the new churches were consecrated.

 

In Montpelier, Father O'Sullivan realized early on that St. Augustine congregation as rapidly outgrowing its old, brick church on Court Street. The structure was already nearly 30 years old, and by the summer of 1886 - less than a year after he had arrived in Montpelier - the pastor began collecting money for the construction of a new, larger church.

Reports indicate that he began the fundraising campaign with $300 of his own money - about one-half of his yearly salary. The building fund grew. And on January 18, 1889, Father O'Sullivan paid $3,000 to purchase a lot on Barre Street.

 

Margaret Emmons' parish history described Father O'Sullivan as a "magnetic personality, a dreamer by nature." A short study by Archivist William Goss concluded that the construction of St. Augustine Church on that Barre Street lot - a project that would take 11 sometimes difficult years - marked the "summit" of Father O'Sullivan's 30-year pastorate in Montpelier.

The cornerstone for the new church was laid on July 4, 1892. About 1,500 people were on hand, according to the Burlington Free Press.

 

"The foundation was trimmed with flags and cedars, the Montpelier militia band furnished music and speeches were made in both French and English," the Free Press reported the following day.

 

The New Saint Augustine on Barre Street

 

The construction of St. Augustine church took 11 long and difficult years, and the huge, Gothic structure of granite and brick was not fully completed when the parish began preparations for its first ceremony in its new house of worship.

 

Hundreds of people worked feverishly through the wet, thawing days of March and into April of 1903 to ready the church and prepare for its first Masses. The people of St. Augustine planned to celebrate the most joyous feast of the church year - Easter - in the Church. The final preparations were chronicled at length in the Montpelier Daily Journal; the opening of St. Augustine clearly was more than a parish event --it was a community celebration.

St. Augustine on
This is the event we celebrate; the laying of the cornerstone of the present
4,1892 by Bishop deGosbriand.July

"St. Augustine church, in the half-century of its existence, has done notable work in Montpelier," the newspaper wrote on Saturday, April 11, 1903 - the day before the festive dedication. "And the people of the city will join with one accord in the wish that in the future it may shine even more brightly as a beacon of light of the great church of which it is a part...

 

"They have built a sanctuary that will be a joy and an inspiration not only to them but to their children and their children's children for generations to come."

Pews were brought in and secured on that Holy Saturday; Easter lilies, roses and palms were placed around the Church. The children of St. Michael's School made the altar decorations. Altar boys donated cut-glass and silver cruets, the sisters of the convent decorated the altar and sanctuary, and the women of the parish presented gold and white vestments and a lace alb to Father O'Sullivan for the Easter Mass.

 

Three services were planned - a low Mass at 8'o'clock on Easter morning, a solemn high Mass at 10:30, and vespers with benediction at 4 p.m. The 10:30 Mass was designated as the chief service of the day. Because of a high level of interest throughout the community, tickets were issued for non-Catholics who wanted to attend. Nearly 500 were distributed.

According to the Daily Journal, the 8 a.m. Mass - the first ever celebrated in the new St. Augustine Church, was well attended. Before it was over people started to gather for the 10:30 service. When the pews were filled to capacity - they accommodated 900 people - chairs were set up in the aisles. And when the first strains of Mendelssohn's 95th Psalm opened the ceremony, there were an estimated 1,400 people in attendance.

 

This college was probably produced and distributed when the new St. Augustine Church on Barre Street was in the planning stages. The architect's rendering of the church was the original plan. The steeple and the small tower on the left were never completed as shown. Other pictures in the college are Father O'Sullivan, St. Michaels's School and the church and rectory on Court Street.

 

The High Mass was celebrated by Father O'Sullivan, assisted by Father A.M. Salmon as the deacon and Rev. Mr. P.R. Renard as sub-deacon. Father O'Sullivan delivered the sermon in bother English and French. He spoke first of the significance of Easter, then of the new church. According to the journal, it was an emotional moment.

"You are all welcome to this new house of the risen Christ," the pastor told the congregation. "You are all welcome after years of a trial during which we were sometimes upon the very brink of despair. You have made sacrifices and you have had to carry your cross, but thanks be to God you have succeeded..."

 

The afternoon service that day was attended by 1,000 people. By nightfall, St. Augustine had hosted a large percentage of the people of Montpelier.

 

The church interior in the 1940's.

St. Augustine cost about $65,000 to build. That amount does not reflect the cost of the furnishings. The project was suspended twice for lack of funds and 11 years passed between the ceremonious laying of the cornerstone and the Easter, 1903 services which marked its formal opening. Architect George K. Guernsey designed the structure, according to Margaret Emmons' parish history, and Granite Construction Co., of Montpelier, did much of the work.

 

Below is the interior of St. Augustine in 1949. It is the style of church architecture and décor of the time and therefore very different from the church as we know it today. A short time after the present windows were installed in 1938 the interior was renovated. This was the result.


St. Augustine in 1949.

Note that side altars were added at this time and the Wood paintings relocated from the front of the church to the side alcoves. 

The pulpit was attached to the pillar as was common in those days. This was before amplification systems were in use and brought the preacher closer to the congregation.

New chandeliers were installed and the lighting improved. Note the stenciled painting on the walls, the altar rail and the variety of statues: St. Augustine, St. Michael, the Sacred Heart, St. Anthony, St. Joseph, the Blessed Virgin. 

 

The Monsignor Crosby Years

 

32Father O'Sullivan took great pride in the construction of St. Augustine, as well as the evolution of St. Michael's School. He guided parish affairs for 30 years, visiting his parishioners frequently in their neighborhoods and their homes.

Mrs. Helen Ryle Goodrich recalls that Father O'Sullivan would announce every Sunday which section of town he expected to visit that week. The children very much looked forward to his visits, she said. She describes him as a "people-oriented" pastor.


In 1968 Monsignor Crosby and Bishop Joyce blessed the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. Shown with them is Mrs. Edward Seguin.

When Father O'Sullivan died at the Heaton Hospital at the age of 60, following a long and painful illness, he was mourned not only by the members of the parish but by the entire community.

He was succeeded in July of 1915 by Father Patrick J. Long, who was assigned to St. Augustine from St. Dominic Parish in Proctor. During his six years at St. Augustine, Father Long - who was born in Brattleboro and ordained in Montreal - made many improvements to the school, church, and rectory. He also paid off the remaining debt on the new church structure.

Peter Giuliani, whose family arrived in Montpelier in 1912, remembers Father Long as "a priest of the old school; never any doubt about anything, very dedicated to his calling and very strict."

In 1921, Father Long was re-assigned to St. Mary Parish in Fair Haven. According to a 1943 parish history prepared for the Knights of Columbus annual convention that year, a "magnificent, city-wide Farewell Reception" was held for Father Long in City Hall.

Father Long's re-assignment was announced on Saturday, August 13, 1921. On the following day - Sunday, August 14 - the parish's new pastor addressed the congregation for the first time. His name was Rev. William Patrick Crosby. Born in Ludlow, Father Crosby served in parishes in Rutland, Burlington, Hyde Park and Proctor before he was assigned to St. Augustine's at the age of 41.

Over the next 41 years, the history of St. Augustine is closely linked to the activities of this remarkable man who devoted himself tirelessly to the well-being of the parish and its family and left a lasting impression on the people of St. Augustine.

He was considered to be stern and unapproachable, but others recognized a soft, shy side to the man. He had a special closeness to children and young adults, an open, inquisitive mind and an unswerving devotion to both his calling as a priest and his mission as a pastor.

During his stewardship at the parish, Father Crosby - later honored with the title of Monsignor - moved the rectory twice, built a convent for the sisters, and conceived and constructed St. Michael's High School. He donated substantial sums of money to the school on both this silver and golden jubilees as a priest, and also made numerous improvements to the church.

He was active in local civic affairs, followed world events closely, and shrewdly managed the business of the parish.

"He was a great Man - very dedicated to his calling, very much in charge," recalls Peter Giuliani. 


Monsignor Crosby with Bishop Ryan, BishopJoyceand Bishop Flanagan.

Unlike Father O'Sullivan before him, Father Crosby was not social by nature. He visited parishioners when they were sick or in need of assistance, but rarely stopped by for informal conversation. One of the few pleasures he allowed himself was an occasional half-day of fishing; he also kept a flower garden as a hobby. But he never took a vacation in his years at St. Augustine, and apparently only went on retreat once a year.

"He was a consummate businessman working with a small amount of money," recalls Paul Guare, another of the parish's senior members. "The parish members were blue collar, there weren't many professional people ...And yet Father Crosby found the money to build a school."

Father Crosby read four newspapers every day to keep abreast of the world and local affairs and regularly attended city meetings.

And he is probably best remembered for his practical, businesslike approach to operating the parish. Guare illustrates with a story about how the pastor dealt with city officials following the Ku Klux Klan incident in 1925 when a cross was burned on the steps leading up to the church.

"Father Crosby told me, and this is sort of unusual for him ...but I have this very vivid recollection of him telling me," recalls Mr. Guare, "Edward H. Deavitt was mayor. He was a very prominent person, political, and he was a lawyer. He has the mayor and there was some damage to the steps as a result of the (cross) burning, and so Father Crosby went to him and said he thought the city ought to pay for the repair. And Deavitt told him he didn't think they had that responsibility.

So he talked to him a couple of times and he didn't get anywhere. So he finally said to him, 'Well, I think what I'm going to do is repair the steps myself and I'm going to put a plaque. And the plaque is going to say, 'One this spot, on a certain date, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross during the administration of Mayor Edward Deavitt."

Lola Aiken lived across the street from the rectory on what is now Monsignor Crosby Ave.

"I was in and out of that house a lot," She recalls. "He was, um ...a lot of people were afraid of him. He seemed stern..."

"But he was about as broadminded as they came..."Said Mrs. Aiken. "Another thing about him was his love of little children. He always had candy in a dish over there. My nephews used to go over there a lot when they were about five or six years old. And they would walk right in and go right upstairs and they knew where the candy was. And they would always come back with a fistful."

"Another thing those little kids used to do...My mother would let them have a blanket and they would go over to Father Crosby's lawn and have picnics. And when Father Crosby came out, those kids would always run up to him. That's the image you got when you lived across the street from him."

Mrs. Aiken describes Father Crosby as "extremely shy." But she also said he was a "great public relations man with the community, outside the Catholic Church."

"While some people thought he was stern, other people recognized something in Father Crosby that was very sweet," she recalls. "That's a dumb word to use. But he was a sweet, sweet guy. My mother, if he came out in just his shirtsleeves sometimes and it was cold, she'd open that front door and yell, 'Father, go back in and get your sweater.' And he would turn around like a little boy and go back in and get his sweater." 


Monsignor Crosby in front of the church.

Father Crosby had a special affinity for children and young people. While in Burlington before his assignment to St. Augustine, he founded the Newman club there to bring a Catholic presence to the University of Vermont. In Montpelier, after expanding St. Michael's School with the important addition of St. Michael's High School, he served as its principal for 36 years.

For many parishioners, he was a quietly confident and counselor in an era when dancing was prohibited in Catholic facilities by direction of the Bishop, and when divorced Catholics could be reconciled with the church only by signing a confession of sorts and writing an apology to be read to the entire congregation.

"Father Crosby read the apologies so fast nobody understood them" recalls Paul Guare.

Over the years he also opened the rectory to at least two children in need of a home. While in Hardwick, he met Annie Mulcahey - who for many, many years served as his live-in housekeeper. Miss Mulcahey took in a young girl named Rita Bobinski whose family apparently was impoverished.

When Father Crosby was transferred to St. Augustine, Miss Mulcahey and Rita Bobinski - then 10 or 12, according to Paul Guare's estimate - came with him. Rita grew up in the rectory and was in the first graduating class at St. Michael's High School. Rita and Lola Aiken remain good friends to this day. "She was a hell-raiser," Mrs. Aiken remembers, fondly. "You wouldn't think that, living in the rectory...Anyway, if she got into trouble, she waited until she knew the housekeeper was asleep and then called Father Crosby. Tells you something about him, doesn't it? She wasn't afraid of him and could talk to him."

and the Also, Miss Mulcahey's nephew, Eddie Somers, came to live at the rectory when he was in the seventh grade. Paul Guare remembers getting some neighborhood boys together, at Father Crosby's direction, to meet the youngster. Eddie lived at the rectory until he graduated from high school. Margaret Emmons, in her parish history, provides a thumbnail summary of the physical growth of St. Augustine's during Father Crosby's long pastorship. She said he purchased the so-called "Ellis House" on Barre Street, for use as a rectory; the land and building at the corner of Barre Street and Fullerton Ave, where he erected the parish convent in 1928. He also purchased the Lull House on Barre Street; the Guare house on Fullerton Ave. Atherton House on Fullerton Ave.

In 1931 he completed St. Michael's High School, and a number of years later acquired the East State Street School under a lease arrangement in which the parish agreed to pay the city $1 per year for up to 99 years.

Monsignor Crosby died in the early spring of 1963. His body is buried in the churchyard of St. Augustine.

 

A Community Farewell

Monsignor Crosby was as respected and admired outside of the parish as he was by the people of St. Augustine. So his passing was mourned not only by the parish but by the community at large. The following is an editorial that appeared in the Times-Argus shortly after his death.
Monsignor Crosby's in the grave the churchyard. On Palm Sunday 1992 someone walked through the fresh snow to leave a cross made of the palm at the grave. Msgr. William Patrick Crosby Granted what might well have been a final and singular grace, Monsignor Crosby left this earth not long before his accustomed hour of rising to celebrate the first in the Sunday schedule of Masses at St. Augustine Church.

Within the precincts of the parish he loved and served so well, his death came in the dawn of a Sunday in Eastertide at the hour of renewal of the daily liturgy of his church.

His parishioners would first learn of his passing when assembled a few hours later for the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Monsignor Crosby will be remembered for many things, but primarily as a pastor of tireless zeal for the souls of the faithful given to his care.

This is the dominant theme of his long and fruitful ministry which touched the lives of three generations through a life of service to his people and fidelity to his vocation as a priest.

To these ultimate purposes were dedicated his great gift as an administrator and his perceptive vision as a builder; talents which produced impressive growth in the size and influence of St. Augustine Parish during his 38 years as pastor.

Preeminent among his recognized accomplishments was his distinguished service to the cause of education. A paramount interest, for which, perhaps, he would most wish to be remembered, his compelling concern for the education of youth led to his founding of St. Michael's High School in 1923.

Thereafter, his informed management provided guidance and support for a full school system, through difficult years to a position of stability and high scholastic achievement.

A man of wide-ranging interests and knowledgeable in many fields, he maintained an informed and active interest in public affairs until his last hours.

Many will recall his regular mid-morning errand along Main Street to secure two of the four newspapers he read daily...his appearance at the Legislature and at city meetings, seated at his favored location in the right corner of the hall...his service on community committees and organizations...his enthusiasm for sports expressed in partisan support for the best spots for trout fishing, a hobby indulged for brief periods as the only vacation he would accept.

More enduringly, Monsignor Crosby will be remembered as a priest and pastor who gave himself through a selfless and dedicated life to the people he served.

In death, at his own request, his earthly remains will lie within the confines of the parish.

Adjoining his grave, the structure of St. Augustine Church will stand as sentinel and memorial.