The History of Saint John Church
EARLY CHURCH IN NEW ENGLAND
For nearly 200 years after the settlement of the area, Catholics were subject to arrest and death. This was a carryover from England where priests were burned alive. There were those who professed the Catholic faith but not out loud. French explorers from Catholic New France (Canada) had traveled down the Connecticut River not to convert but just to have knowledge of the area. There is a good possibility that the first European buried in Middletown was Catholic. Many years ago, a French gravestone was uncovered in what is now the South Green. Apparently, one explorer did not return home.
In the mid-1700’s, England, then in control of Canada, was having problems with the Catholic French-speaking peoples in Nova Scotia. Eventually, this resulted in large groups being deported to other English colonies. Connecticut received over 400 of these exiles. Sixteen were assigned to Middletown. While their religion made no impact on the town as such, a start had been made. During the Revolutionary War, French troops, part of the assistance offered by the Marquise de Lafayette on their way to New York, camped at what is now Cherry and Washington Streets. Their officers were entertained by General Comfort Sage who lived on the site now occupied by the National Paint Company. No doubt, Masses were said, as was common with French troops.
Slowly, a break in Congregationalism was forming. Jeffersonian principles were being felt. The Connecticut Legislature passed a bill changing the Constitution to allow freedom of religious preference. Catholics were now free to worship openly.
In 1823, Boston’s bishop sent the movement stirring. He made a visit to Hartford and said Mass. This was followed by Bishop Benedict Fenwick who had Rhode Island and Connecticut under his care. He assigned the task of visiting the small groups of Catholics in Connecticut to Fr. Robert D. Woodley. In 1829, Rev. Woodley visited New London, New Haven, and Middletown. He was followed in 1830 by Rev. James Fitton who became a legend in his time. Rev. Fitton had been ordained in 1827. His first assignment was with the Native Americans in Maine. Later, he ministered to the Catholics in Vermont. Middlesex County in 1835 came under the care of Rev. James MacDermont. On being invited to Middletown, he celebrated Mass in the home of Mr. Taylor, who resided on lower Court Street.
With the growing number of Catholics in the area, the town was placed under the care of Hartford. Rev. Peter Walsh of the Holy Trinity Church of Hartford made plans to visit Middletown on monthly trips.
A large number of Irish Catholics worked in the quarries in Portland. Rev. Walsh reasoned that the proper place for a church would be in that town. On one of his visits he was able to obtain the use of a barn by a Mr. Worthington. Later, this use was refused. Mr. Myrick, living nearby, offered the use of his home. This was accepted. Later, Mr. Myrick, a non-Catholic, became the first convert in the area.
Rev. John Brady, a longtime pastor in the Hartford Church, took over visiting the area. During Rev. Walsh’s visits, Masses had been said in the home of Michael Ahern of Middletown. Among the faithful were James Congdon, James Sheridan, Martin Deagan, Michael Byrnes, James Barry, Edmund Higgins, John Dunn, John Brehan, Michael Logan, P. Cavanaugh, John Starr, William Dodge, Michael Keefe, and Joseph Manger.
Rev. Brady could see a problem with the scattered parishioners. The more affluent lived in Middletown; the quarry workers lived in Portland; still others lived in Cromwell. In Middletown, Masses were said in private homes. In Portland, Rev. Brady purchased a small building. This was in the “Sand Hill” section of Portland. This was fitted up as a chapel and served for a short time. It soon became apparent that the larger quarters were needed due to the expansion of the stone quarries and resulting in an increase in workers who were largely Catholic. Rev. John Brady began a search for suitable land on which to build a church.
With the more affluent Catholics living in Middletown and some in Cromwell, it was in this area that Fr. Brady sought a church site. “Goose Fields” located at the North end of Main Street in Middletown consisted of two parcels of land. This was property owned by Mr. Charles Alsop. It was available for the sum of $500. With an unofficial promise of a large gift, Rev. Brady purchased the land. Soon after, Mrs. Richard Alsop, a Catholic, donated $500. The land deeds recorded indicate that on November 10th and December 6th, 1841, legal title was given to Rev. Brady for this property. Plans were made for a building to be 40’ x 64’ of brick with a stone foundation. Barzelli Sage, a local contractor who had built many fine buildings in the area, was engaged as the person to construct the building. The cost was to be $1,015. Rev. Brady, with a hope of defraying some of the costs, contacted many local business people. Realizing the benefit of such a church, many who were not of the faith contributed to the cost. Construction started September 27, 1843 and was completed on April 15, 1844. The parish had grown to over 400 persons. The need for a resident pastor was apparent. Realizing this, the bishop appointed Rev. John Brady, Jr., a nephew of Rev. John Brady, as the first pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church. Rev. John Brady returned to Hartford full time and planned to spend his remaining years as pastor there. Due to a disagreement with Bishop O’Reilly, he was relieved of his duties and died three days later. Rev. John Brady, Jr., having taken part in the Mass said for his uncle, was also to feel the wrath of Bishop O’Reilly.
The first church later became a schoolroom when the present larger church was built. When the present school was built in 1888, the original church structure was taken down and the present sacristy built.
Between 1845-1850 there was a further large influx of Irish workers to the area. As a result, the congregation became too large for the church building. With the hope of a church large enough for years to come, Rev. John Brady, Jr., envisioned a church 112’ x 544’ as being of proper size. He was able to obtain a mortgage for $6,000 from a Boston man for this project. A contract for $7,500 was signed with designer P. Keely, to build a Gothic-style church of stone.
The cost was kept down due to the gifts of brownstone from the many quarries in Portland and Cromwell. Free labor from the many members of the congregation who were skilled in the stone trade was also a factor. Rev. Brady also conceived a plan whereby anyone who purchased a lot in the cemetery located in the rear of the church could get it free with a $20 donation to the church. The church was finished in 1852. It was consecrated on September 5th 1852 by Bishop O’Reilly. The design was sound and has stood for over 150 years with only interior renovation being done. Seating capacity was over 500 and filled at every Mass.
When Rev. John Brady died on November 16th, 1854, Bishop O’Reilly decreed that burial Mass could not be said in the church that Rev. Brady had built. Nevertheless, a large group of priests celebrated a Mass in spite of the Bishop’s wish. Rev. John Brady, Jr., was part of this group. In view of his disobedience to the Bishop, on April 3, 1855, Bishop O’Reilly informed Rev. John Brady, Jr., that his resignation was desired by the Bishop. He gave it and then moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he died some years later.
Up to this time, legal rights in property were always invested in the local pastor. There was no mechanism by which higher authority could be given legal possession. Bishop O’Reilly started to move in this direction when he obtained from Rev. John Brady the title to the Hartford church. Before he was able to do the same in Middletown, he visited Europe. On his return journey, his ship and all passengers were lost and no trace was ever found. Eventually, Bishop Francis Patrick McFarland was appointed in his place. Title to the Middletown property was then given to him by Rev. John Brady, Jr.; Bishop McFarland in turn deeded the property to the newly-founded St. John Corporation. This body today handles all legal matters.
With the resignation of Rev. John Brady, Jr., Rev. Lawrence Mangan became pastor of the church. His efforts prevented church members from leaving the church due to the apparent mistreatment of Rev. John Brady, Jr., by Bishop O’Reilly. Because of ill health, Rev. Mangan was relieved of his duties in 1857. He died in November of that year.
Rev. James Lynch was assigned to replace Rev. Mangan. He was known as being a man of “ability and enterprise”. His life bore this out to the utmost. His first act was to liquidate church debt. In 1863, an organ was installed at the cost of $2,800 and the gallery enlarged for $800. In 1864, a new furnace was installed for $570. The year 1864 saw many expenses. The spire was completed at the cost of $2,732. The bell was installed form $1,417. Painting and church improvements cost $3,500. Part of these costs was offset by a special collection which netted $5, 640.
The interior of the church was redecorated. This was done under the guidance of William Blodgett of Middletown. The ceiling panels were done in the Gothic style. They were done in light blue. Religious panels were painted in bold relief. The fresco work was redone and the sanctuary and capitals gilded. Paintings of the four Evangelists were done in moto style. The walls were outstanding with paintings of St. Peter, St. Paul, the Virgin and Child, St. Patrick, St. Bridget, and St. John. All this was done at a cost of $6,300.
The cemetery lot at the rear of the church was proving too small. Rev. Lynch purchased three acres of land from Mr. Johnson on Spring Street. This became the new cemetery, which was added to many times in future years.
The parochial school started by Rev. John Brady, Jr., and conducted under the guidance of Mr. Cody had been turned over to the city school system. It was the hope of Rev. Lynch that it be returned to the control of the church. The Pratt house and land that later became the site of the Convent/Community Center was purchased, followed by the contracting of a building to house a convent, at the cost of $3,000. Next it was necessary to obtain teachers. The Sisters of Mercy in Ireland had already sent some members to Connecticut.
In 1873, Rev. Lynch was able to obtain the services of seven Sisters who came to the unfinished convent. Soon the return of the students from the town school system was achieved and the church was given control of the school. The original church was renovated and used as a schoolroom. This continued until the present school was built in 1888.
A rectory was Rev. Lynch’s next project. In 1869, he contracted it, but it was unfinished. Before it was done, Rev. Lynch was transferred to Waterbury. He later became Vicar-General of the Hartford Diocese. On April 25, 1872, Rev. Lynch was replaced by Rev. Edmund O’Brien. His tasks included finishing the convent and rectory. The convent was completed in 1873 and the Sisters of Mercy could now begin the academy they hoped to start. Because of ill health, Rev. O’Brien requested relief of his duties.
On May 11, 1876, Rev. Francis O’Keefe became the new pastor. During his tenure the mission church in Cromwell was established. He also remodeled the church altars. His stay on St. John was very short; on August 31, 1881, he was assigned to Westerly, Rhode Island.
On September 10, 1881, Rev. Dennis Desmond replaced him. Rev. Desmond had started his priesthood in Norwich at the age of 29. His first task in Middletown was to liquidate the church debt, which he did in one year. In 1882, he had steam heat installed in the school. Work in 1885 included new floors, pews, and windows. During the winter, many of the quarry workers were laid off. Before Rev. Desmond’s work could be completed, he died on April 6, 1885.
Rev. Bernard O’Reilly Sheridan became the next pastor of St. John. He completed the tasks begun by Rev. Desmond and added a few of his own. The roof was re-slated, steam heat installed, stained glass windows installed throughout, altars replaced, and confessionals built. The debt for this was paid off in one year. A Mass of Rededication was held on September 25, 1885, and on September 10, 1886, the church was consecrated. The next year, Rev. Sheridan became irremovable pastor of St. John Church.
Need for a larger school was indicated. The church had long owned the Hall House west of the church. Part of it was the home of the church janitor. North Main Street originally located between the church and the rectory was moved to the west of the Hall House. The old North Main Street was renamed St. John Street. In 1887, the Hall House was destroyed by fire. A four story brick building to house the school was erected on the site. An arch that had been attached to the church had its west end attached to the school. In September 1888, the new school was opened for the first class.
Rev. Sheridan continued his efforts for the betterment of the parish. A granite coupling was arranged around the rectory. A chapel was built in the cemetery. A nearby building to house the janitor was purchased. After tenure of 18 years as pastor of the parish, Rev. Sheridan died on June 21, 1903. The funeral Mass was celebrated by his brother, Rev. James Sheridan. The coffin was borne to the Johnson Street cemetery on the shoulders of the pall bearers. Of these, there were over one hundred – each vying for an opportunity to show their love of their pastor. Hundreds of mourners, including town officials, lined the streets. It was Middletown’s tribute to one who had done so much for the betterment of the church and the town.
When St. Francis of Assisi Church was founded, Rev. Patrick J. McGivney became the first pastor. Rev. McGivney had served as a curate under Rev. Sheridan and was a brother of Rev. Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus. The church was dedicated November 27th, 1904. St. Colman Church in Middlefield had started as a missionary church under St. John. The church had been built at a cost of $3,000. When St. Francis was started, the Middlefield church was turned over to it. Prior to coming to Middletown, Rev. McGivney had served as pastor at St. Aloysius Church in New Canaan and St. Charles Church in Bridgeport.
With the passing of Rev. Sheridan, Rev. James P. Donavan, D.D., became the pastor of St. John Church. He had been born in Meriden, Connecticut. In 1864, he attended St. Charles College at Niagara University. Later, he went to the seminary in Montreal and then on to the American College in Rome. His ordination took place in the St. John Lateran in Rome on June 11, 1892. Returning to America, he served as chancellor and then examiner of the clergy. In 1897, he became Defender of the Marriage Bond. He was made permanent pastor of St. John Church on October 2, 1903.
During his term as chancellor he set up the method of selecting trustees and this later became a law of the state. In matters pertaining to the rights of the church, Dr. Donavan was aggressive in all of his purposes. He did his utmost to explain to the legislators that this ruling sought by him would ultimately rebound to the wellbeing of the state.
In 1906, he made several changes to the church building. He contracted with Walsh Brothers in New Haven to make the changes. Artist J.P. Pelan was to do the interior ornamentation. It was important that the Gothic style be brought out in the best manner. The altars and other parts were finished in white and gold. The main and side altars were painted so as to appear made of Italian marble. A complete rewiring and installation of features completed the renovation, all at a cost of $14,000.
With the death of Dr. Donavan on March 18, 1928, Fr. Dennis R. Baker became the new pastor. He assumed the duties in June of that year. He was a native of Middlesex County, having served in New Haven and Hartford Counties. From 1919 to 1923, he was pastor of St. Augustine Church in South Glastonbury. From there he was assigned to St. Mary Church in South Glastonbury. On June 16, 1928, the Bishop in Hartford transferred Rev. Baker to St. John. He soon won the admiration and respect of his parishioners, although his tenure as pastor was cut short with his death on July 3, 1931.
November 7, 1931, saw the installation of Rev. William Fitzgerald as permanent pastor of the church. His stay was to be very short. However, in a few years he was able to make many improvements to the church. He directed the renovation and redecoration, making it the most beautiful in the area with very fine canopied wainscoting, done in antiqued smoked oak and hand carved. A new altar of Sienna marble was installed. The canopied reredos, paneled statues, and bronze silver filigree tabernacle were in every detail conforming to the liturgy. The choir loft and confessionals were remodeled. A new pipe organ was installed. The church interior pillars had their bases enclosed in smoked oak. The Stations of the Cross were enclosed in arches harmonizing with the rest of the interior. Rev. Fitzgerald had just finished the work when he contracted pneumonia and died on January 23, 1934.
For six months St. John did not have an official leader. However, on July 31, 1934, Rev. John C. Brennan, S.T.L., was appointed permanent pastor of the church. Having been born February 14, 1868 in Greenwich, Connecticut, and entered Manhattan College, graduating in 1891. He was to leave his mark here, as with every church he worked in, by soon beginning to make changes and improvements for which he would long be remembered. He began with the school – fireproof staircases, new seats, a nurse, a new cafeteria and daily fresh milk were some of the improvements. The cemetery was next on the list, receiving a newly paved road and water mains. The hurricane in 1938 taxed both his ability and resources. The tilted spire, damage to the building and grounds cost thousands of dollars to repair and rebuild. In all of this, he was ably assisted by his curates. Among them was one who was later to be pastor of St. John Church and attain high position in the church, Reverend Monsignor Edward J. McKenna. In spite of ill health and the trying years of World War II, Rev. Brennan continued to lead his parishioners to his death in 1944.
With the death of Fr. Brennan, Rev. Bernard F. McCarthy, pastor of St. Mary Church in Portland, travelled across the river to assume pastoral duties in 1944. He was at St. John’s during the immediate postwar years with the changes brought to the lives of so many young people. The parish was profoundly affected. The young veterans came home, many taking advantage of the G.I. bill and going to college, marrying, buying homes and raising families – as was evident with the increased number of children sitting in the pews at Sunday Mass, and through the upsurge in enrollment at St. John School.
In the 1960’s, many families moved to areas beyond the borders of the parish including Durham, Middlefield, Cromwell, and Haddam. A goodly number moved to the Westfield section of Middletown and became parishioners of the new church in that area, St. Pius X, that was established due to the rapid development of that part of town.
Succeeding Fr. McCarthy, who died in 1948 after only four years as pastor, was Rev. John J. McGrath, who was to be pastor for 13 years. He was designated as Permanent Rector when he became pastor. In 1955, he was elevated to Domestic Prelate with the title of Monsignor by Bernard J. Flanagan, the first Bishop of Norwich. A robust-looking man, Monsignor McGrath was in the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps in 1918 and saw service in France. During his tenure at St. John he was a tireless pastor, devoted to the welfare and growth of his parish. His fondness for this parish was always evident. His sometimes stern demeanor belied his innate kindness. That characteristic was easily seen whenever he was in contact with the children of the school, for whom he had a deep affection.
In 1950, heavy winds, accompanied by lashing rains, blew in the large stained glass window facing Main Street. The storm also caused other damages to the church proper, forcing Masses to be held first at St. Sebastian Church and then in the convent chapel and the church sacristy.
Monsignor McGrath was honored by his parishioners on the observance of his 40 years as a priest with a testimonial evening at the Middlesex Theatre, Middletown, on August 1, 1955. Interestingly, the guest speaker that evening was Father Edward J. McKenna, who was to succeed Monsignor McGrath upon his death on August 11, 1961.
When Fr. McKenna succeeded Monsignor McGrath in early 1962, it was the second time he saw service at St. John, having been a curate under Fr. Brennan. But he now returned as a pastor and would fill that position for the next 24 years. He brought a new vitality and his own personality to the parish. His stay here was notable and transcended a period of major changes in the Catholic Church. Fr. McKenna’s early years in the priesthood were spent prior to the Vatican Council II, and the rest of his 50 years as a priest were during the major changes brought forth by the Council. Not long after Vatican II, he was honored by being elevated to the rank of Right Reverend Monsignor on October 18, 1965.
Monsignor McKenna’s energy was unflagging and his interests were widespread. He oversaw the erecting of an altar so that it faced the people at Mass, as proscribed by Vatican II, and helped the parishioners adapt to changes in rules of the Church and the Mass being said in the vernacular rather than Latin. He made major improvements to our church including having carpets installed that gave a new feeling of softness and warmth to the interior. Monsignor also concentrated on modernizing the school from beautifying the classrooms to realignment of space and installing a closed fire escape. Throughout his time at St. John, he was constantly aware and involved in all aspects of parish life.
The list of his accomplishments in parish undertaking is extensive. It was under his guidance and encouragement that the St. John School Parent-Teacher Association was formed. The Parish Council was started with his blessing. He was also instrumental in the organization of the Mary’s Young Christophers, the most outstanding youth group in parish history. Whatever the group or project, Monsignor McKenna’s presence was readily evident and many endeavors would not have succeeded without his advice and encouragement.
Monsignor McKenna’s talents and energies were not restricted to the parish but extended to the community at large. The range of his involvement included campaign chairman for the YMCA Building Fund, the Middletown Community Chest Drive and Boy Scout Drive, chairman of the Housing Board of Appeals and the Citizens Committee on Redevelopment, member of the board of directors for the YMCA, director of the Middlesex Hospital and the Middletown District Catholic Charities, member and state chaplain of the Knights of Columbus. In the 1980’s he was proclaimed a “Hometown Hero” of the City of Middletown. One of his favorite projects was the construction of Wadsworth Glen, a low- to middle-income housing development. In recognition of his contributions to the project, including donation of the land by St. John Church, the road through the project was named McKenna Drive.
A man of keen intelligence and wit, Monsignor McKenna indeed left behind him when he retired in July 1986 a distinguished history of service and dedication to all peoples. A sure sign of his wit and good humor was evident when one said about him that his face had the map of Ireland on it. That always brought the friendly smile that was his trademark.
A new life and spirit came to St. John Parish in August 1986 when Rev. Joseph C. Ashe was installed as pastor succeeding Monsignor McKenna. It was not long before the parishioners felt fortunate that St. John’s was selected as Fr. Ashe’s first pastorate. His favorable impact was immediate and lasting. Fr. Joe immersed himself completely in the parish and showed concern for everything and everyone he came in contact with daily. His willingness to be active in parish life inspired parishioners to work even harder than they had before for the good of the parish.
The rectory, which had had little done to it for years, was cleaned up and refurbished. The downstairs soon had a bright, cheerful look that had been lacking. People of the parish were invited to the rectory to see the improvements and the house was open for special occasions, like Christmas, to all with refreshments being served. An enormous Christmas tree in the rectory front room became a delightful tradition. A system of regular cleaning inside the church was initiated by a newly-formed altar society. People came to the church on a monthly basis to clean, and a general cleaning was done before the holidays and special occasions. The chapel was refurbished and brightened, and was used for daily Mass and prayer groups.
Fr. Ashe’s gentleness and love for others was evident nowhere more than in his relationship with the children of the school and the young people of the parish. He fostered liturgy and events that involved the children throughout the years such as children’s Masses and parties. The children of the school reacted to his visits to the grades with joy and enthusiasm. When he delivered a homily to them, it was on a one-on-one basis which they could appreciate. Fr. Ashe served the parish well until his transfer to St. John Church in Old Saybrook in autumn of 2002, after sixteen years as pastor.
In fall of 2002, Fr. Dennis Carey was appointed pastor of St. John Church. His stint lasted only two years, until he was transferred, citing poor health. He was replaced by Fr. Anthony Gruber, who was appointed temporary Administrator to St. John Church. During his stay, plans went underway to demolish the St. Elizabeth Convent adjacent to the rectory, which had fallen into disrepair over the years since it had been vacated in 1963. Plans also began for the renovation of the interior and exterior of St. John Church. Fr. Gruber left in late 2005. His temporary replacement was Fr. Gregory Mullaney, who would eventually become the administrator at St. Colman Church in Middlefield.
In October of 2005, Fr. James Joseph Sucholet, formerly of St. Thomas in Voluntown, was appointed Pastor of St. John Church by Bishop Michael R. Cote, fifth Bishop of Norwich. Fr. Sucholet is the first permanent pastor assigned to St. John’s for more than two years since Fr. Ashe left in 2002. Since Fr. Jim’s appointment, St. John Church has undergone radical aesthetic changes. In 2007, the convent was finally demolished, and the process was completed in August of that year. The interior art, moldings, and the exquisite stained glass window of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, which had been featured at the front of the convent chapel, were rescued and planned for restoration. The beautiful stained glass window of the Assumption of Mary was restored and placed in the chapel of St. John Church in the winter of 2008. The construction of a lighted frame for the stained glass window was constructed by Mr. Richard Bergan and associates of his firm, Bergan Architectural, of Middletown. The statues in the garden of the convent (St. Joseph, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Jesus Christ) were moved to appropriate places. The statue of Christ with prominent Sacred Heart was placed at the front of the rectory, overlooking Rt. 66, where thousands of cars can view it as they pass by every day. The statues of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph were removed to the grassy area between St. John Church and St. John School, where they were placed on pedestals and surrounded by burning bushes and flowers. The statue of Mary is crowned every May at the St. John Church Annual May Crowning, held on Mother’s Day.
The lawn left from the demolition of the convent was sown with grass seed and converted into the St. Francis Garden and playing field for the children of St. John School. A beautiful statue of St. Francis feeding the animals was placed by Sexton Mike Keleher in spring of 2008, and flowers bloom around the statue in the spring and summer months.
In St. John Church, plans to make the church more accessible to handicapped parishioners went into effect in early 2008. One of the staircases to the balcony was removed and a handicapped-accessible bathroom was installed at the front of the church. The main entrance to the church was repaved and made into a ramp, so wheelchairs can be pushed up and so handicapped parishioners can use the main entrance of the church. The rows of pews on both sides of the church were removed by volunteers, and a brand-new heating and air-conditioning system was installed.
In October 2009, Fr. Jim was transferred to St. Matthew Church in Tolland, CT, and Fr. Michael Phillippino was made the new pastor of St. John Church. Fr. Mike was later made head of the Middletown Deanery.
Prior to 1863, the rectory was located in a rented house nearby. In that year, the Pratt House, located at the present site of the former Community Center, was purchased. In 1869, it was moved to the east and sol. Rev. Lynch contracted to have the present rectory constructed. Its style was second empire and cost $16,000. Land for the building had been purchased April 24, 1868, for $1,600. Before the building was finished, Rev. Lynch was transferred to Waterbury. It was finally finished in 1872. A granite low wall was installed around the south and west sides of the rectory.
Today, the rectory is the home of the pastor of the church and any other priests-in-residence (currently none). The downstairs is also used as the Parish Office, Office of the Pastor, and meeting place for several parish groups, including the Parish Council, Parish Finance Committee, and Church Renovation Committee. In early 2009, the rectory began to undergo renovations to improve the plumbing and repair water damage to the upstairs floors. The St. John Parish Genealogy Committee found a permanent place in the Church Office, and has started work on the many records of St. John Church.
ST. JOHN SCHOOL
It had been the hope of Rev. John Brady, Jr., to establish a parochial school for the children of the parish. The expenses of the new church precluded such an idea until 1855. At that time, the school was slated to be held in the original church building. Heading the school was a lawyer by the name of Mr. Andrew Cody. Assisting him were the sisters Misses Mabel A. and Helen Fagan, members of a local family. Before Rev. Brady could see his dream realized, Bishop O’Reilly relieved him of his pastoral duties. His successor, Rev. Mangan, took over control of the school and was later followed by Rev. Lynch. In 1866, the school was turned over to the city school system. Rev. Lynch, in order to return the school to the church’s control, started his efforts to establish a convent. He hoped to staff it with religious teachers in order to provide for the necessary form of instruction desired by the church. A contract was drawn up and construction started. With only partial completion of the convent, the Sisters moved in from Ireland. In September 1882, the city of Middletown gave control of the school back to the church.
In 1887, Rev. Sheridan contracted to erect a school building. Using the area just west of the church, known as the Hall House, a four-story building was erected. It was to be constructed of brick made locally. The top story was to be used for church affairs. This was later converted to classrooms. Dennis O’Brien, a local contractor, was awarded the masonry portion and O.O. Stowe, the interior.
Today, the school boasts approximately 160 students, under the principality of Mrs. Kathleen O. King.
ST. ELIZABETH CONVENT-ACADEMY
Rev. Lynch contracted the convent in 1871, at cost of $3,000. It was completed in 1883. In September of that year, the Sisters of Mercy set up the St. Elizabeth Academy for the young ladies of the area who wished to learn language and deportment in society. The following year, Minne Burke, daughter of James Burke of Meriden, became the first local novice of the Sisters of Mercy Order. Others who started their education at the convent were Mother Mary Berchmans, Mother Mary Cahill, and Sister Mary Genevieve Kelly. Sixty girls enrolled in the first year of the academy.
In 1905, a new addition was built onto the convent proper. A contract was awarded to Dennis O’Brien on his bid of $16,238. A church fair contributed $3,000. Contributions from the parish paid for the rest. Work was begun on April 8, 1905, and was completed in fall of that year. The addition contained a chapel in which a very good organ was installed. The convent was redecorated in 1932 at a cost of $13,000.
After the completion of Mercy High School in Middletown, the Sisters of Mercy moved into the school convent and into the Sisters of Mercy House in Middletown. The convent was vacated in 1963 and used by the parish as a Community Center. Over the years, the convent building was deemed structurally unsound and floor after floor was closed down in succession. By the year 2000, the chapel floor was deemed unsafe and parish activities were regulated to the basement. With the dawning of the 21st century, debating began on what to do with the convent. The parish was divided on what to do with the building, with some calling for its demolition and others calling for its renovation. In 2006, it was decided that the convent would be demolished. The stained glass windows in the chapel, along with pieces of the interior, were removed for future use. Demolition began in summer of 2007 and was completed in September of the same year.
The lawn where the convent previously stood was sown with grass seed and planted with flowers. The church sexton, Michael Keleher, placed a beautiful statue of St. Francis of Assisi on the lawn, which is now affectionately known as “St. Francis’ Garden.” On the Feast of St. Francis each autumn, the pastor blesses the animals of the parish out in St. Francis’ Garden. The lawn is also used as a playing field for the children of St. John School.
Here is the image from a postcard published in 1911 of St. John Church and it's parish school