St. Francis

The History of St. Francis Parish

 

 

 Welcome to our History Page!  

 

We are delighted in your interest in our remarkable parish, one which has a rich history of faith, prayer, family, friendship and tremendous accomplishments through God's grace. 

  

 

 We offer our history in two formats

 First is an Historical Overview, beginning with our early days as a mission church of St. Michael Parish in Lowell, and ending with the vibrant parish we are today. 

 

Following the overview, our parish historian, Fran deMontigny, provides a rich recollection of growing up in the parish, from childhood through the dedication of the current church on May 5. 1996.

 

We are most grateful to Fran (at left with her husband, Dennis, at a church dance) for her meticulous recording of history and to Dennis for his help reproducing the older photographs. 

 

 

  

 

HISTORICAL OVERVIEW:  From a mission church to a church on a hill

 

The picturesque Saint Francis Church sits high atop a hill on Wheeler Road in East Dracut on 15 acres of former farmland. Today, the church serves as a beautiful house of worship for the local Catholic faithful. Yet, it also symbolizes the faith, hope and determination of a devoted and prayerful Catholic community that persevered in building two churches in less than 50 years, against economic odds.  

 

Such significant accomplishments make for a rich history; and the history of St. Francis Parish is indeed rich.

 

 In the beginning

Before St. Francis became a parish in 1963, the small but close-knit farming community of Kenwood worshipped at St. Michael Church in Lowell.   However, in the 1930s and 1940s, not all families in the Kenwood farming community of modest homes and modest means had transportation; they often found it difficult to travel to Lowell.  

 

Under the guidance of Monsignor Francis Keenan (right), pastor of St. Michael, priests from St. Michael began offering Mass in 1939 each Sunday at the Kenwood School (below right) while the community joined together to raise funds to build its own church in East Dracut.  Popular among the fund raisers were whist parties and penny sales.

 

As the neighborhood grew, Masses moved to a portable schoolhouse (trailer) behind the Kenwood School, with two Masses offered each Sunday. Children in religious education were taught by the Dominican sisters who came out to Kenwood, though the children received their sacraments at St. Michael.

 

Land for a church on Methuen Street was generously donated by local farmer Reinold Rhomburg in 1939 (left); later, in 1953, land was donated for the parking lot by Reinoldy Burgess, daughter of Reinold.  

 

Monsignor Keenan purchased additional lots from the town of Dracut and acquired the house at 110 Percy Street for the purpose of a future rectory (left).

 

 

Economic times were hard, but the community forged ahead on building and fundraising to support their future new church and parish community.

 

The stone foundation (right) was dug by hand by the neighborhood men with the help of a younger crew after school and on weekends.  

 

The church was finished by a local contractor in 1950, built for $10,000, including a slate roof. The building was called St. Dominic’s Hall after the Dominican sisters who taught the children of Kenwood; it was also known as Kenwood’s “mission church”.

  

Fundraisers were ongoing in the 1950s and 60s in the form of whist parties, bake sales, spaghetti suppers, bean suppers and Christmas fairs. 

 

Through numerous social events, fundraisers and spiritual gatherings, the Kenwood Catholic community bonded, while also looking toward their future.  

 

At left is St. Dominic Hall, soon to become the first St. Francis Church (now a children's daycare center). 

 

 

 

 

St. Francis Becomes a Parish

 

As the community continued to grow, the Boston Archdiocese saw the need for a new parish in East Dracut. St. Dominic’s Hall became the home (below) to the new St. Francis Parish, dedicated on Feb. 12, 1963.

 

The Rev. George Gallivan (left), the first pastor, implemented religious education programs, sacraments finally took place in Kenwood, the basement was finished for social events, and Fr. Gallivan purchased used pews with padded kneelers (seen in the 1960s wedding photo below).

 

Fundraisers continued, including bean suppers, spaghetti suppers, pot luck, fashion shows, and an annual chicken barbecue hosted by the Campbell family.

 

 

 

 

    

Fr. Gallivan was much beloved by the people of St. Francis; however, perhaps his most lasting gift to the community was his insightful decision to purchase 15 acres of farmland on Wheeler Road (right, the site of our current church) from Alexander and Stanislawa Ogonowski for $10,000 on March 17, 1965.

 

Fr. Gallivan envisioned a growing St. Francis community and a church located more centrally within the parish boundaries.  

 

Many years later, that decision would allow his vision to become a reality for a new generation.

 

 

At left, fundraisers, including bean suppers like this one from the 70s, were ongoing in an effort to expand the community and -- some day -- build on the bucolic farmland acquired by Fr. Gallivan.

 

 

 

The Growing Years

 

In 1967, Father Gallivan was succeeded by the Reverend Francis A. Doherty, who continued his predecessor’s programs and presided over an ever-expanding community until 1971, at which time the Reverend John F. Pettie succeeded him.

 

Father Pettie served the parish well until 1976, when the Reverend Frederick E. Sweeney was named as pastor.

 

During the pastorate of Father Sweeney (left), the parish experienced rapid growth as a result of the extensive new home construction in East Dracut (below).

 

Father Sweeney renovated the church once again; involved the laity in the everyday life of the parish; and presided well over the growing community until the end of his term in 1987.

 

When the Reverend James F. Power (left) succeeded Father Sweeney, Father Power immediately formed a building committee to assess the need for a new church. The modest church on Methuen Street was proving to be inadequate in size for the growing parish family.

 

Yet, while the need was proven and the parish continued to grow, the local economy took a downturn and construction was deferred.

 

However, there was a great milestone to celebrate in 1988, while Fr. Power was pastor -- the 25th Anniversary of St. Francis Parish.  The celebration took place on the farmland on Wheeler Road -- the site where the parish prayed would be a future St. Francis Church, bringing Fr. Gallivan's vision to reality.  Above, Cardinal Bernard Law helped the parish celebrate. 

 

 

A New Beginning 

 

In 1993, the Reverend Brian R. Kiely was named as the sixth pastor of St. Francis. Father Kiely continued the tradition of fostering a genuine sense of family through social functions; stressed the centrality of the Eucharist to the life of the parish; invited the involvement of parishioners in lay ministries; and created several boards and commissions to address growing requirements.

 

Fr. Kiely also, once again, assessed the need for a new church through the restoration of a building committee under the direction of parishioner volunteer, Joseph Harnden. 

(Above, Fr. Kiely, second from right, is pictured at a Christmas Mass with his beloved pastoral team.  From left, Fr. Leo Cormier, Fr. Normand Fillion and Fr. Herve Gagnon.)

 

By 1995 an improved economy, an expanded laity, devoted leadership, creative fundraising—including a pledge drive, Mardi Gras, golf tournaments and car raffles—and the prayers of many had worked in unison.  

On June 24, an emotional ground-breaking ceremony on the farmland purchased by the first pastor, Father Gallivan, 30 years earlier took place.    At right is the procession to the site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above left, Joe Harnden, chairman of the Building Committee, gets ready to break ground.   Joe's talent with construction, skilled woodworking, selfless devotion and teamwork with Fr. Kiely were a tremendous gift to our parish -- one that perseveres today in the beauty of the church and property.

 

Young Evan Gauthier takes a turn at turning the earth.

 

Above, Fr. Kiely and former pastors and clergy look on as Bishop John McNamara, then the Merrimack Regional Bishop, is the first to break ground.

 

 

 Raising the Roof 

  

Construction of the new church began, watched closely by an enthusiastic parish family who, over several months, witnessed the church become a reality as walls, beams, a roof, windows and doors were installed.

 

 

Among the milestones during construction was a Tower Raising and Blessing on a frigid day in January.

 

The tower was blessed by the late Bishop John McNamara, who was raised to the tower in a cherry picker along with Father Kiely (left).   Below, parishioners come in out of the cold to tour the inside of the church.

 

 

 Dedication Week

 

The new church, built for $2.5 million, was dedicated on May 5, 1996. However, Dedication Day was preceded by a week of activities to celebrate the transition from the old to the new. 

 

Under the skilled direction of Sharon Coram, Dedication Committee Chairperson, along with a devoted committee of volunteers, "Dedication Week" was a huge success.

 

Dedication Week kicked off a week before Dedication Day with a procession (above) of over 700 parishioners carrying various sacred objects over two miles from Methuen Street to their new home. 

 

Parishioners also participated in the unveiling and blessing of the outdoor statue of the Blessed Mother in its new location in the field below the new church.  Today, that is known as the Blessed Mother Prayer Garden.

   

Also held that week were a parish retreat—the last one in the old church—a casino game night, a youth dance, Mysteries of the Rosary for religious education, children’s craft and game night in the basement of the old rectory (right) and a dinner dance at Lenzi’s attended by nearly 500 parishioners.   Spirits were high at the Saturday evening dance as all eagerly awaited the dedication the following day.

 

 

A Rite of Dedication and Dedication Day

 

Rain was forecasted for Dedication Day, yet the sun shone brightly on 1,200 parishioners and guests enjoying a lawn party, picnic, tours of the church, live musical entertainment, and other festivities while awaiting the arrival of Bernard Cardinal Law for the blessing and dedication, beginning at 5pm.

 

At left, the Gentlemen Songsters were among the entertainment.

 

 

Those fortunate enough to be there at 5:00 p.m. witnessed history as Father Kiely (in the center of the circle) unlocked the mahogany doors, the tower bells rang out, and a procession of bishops, priests and laity, led by Cardinal Law, entered the expansive building for the Rite of Dedication, transforming it into the new Saint Francis Church.

 

The beauty, reverence and spirituality of the nearly three-hour Mass and Rite of Dedication, which included an overflow crowd in the unfinished basement watching by telemonitor, will remain a special memory by those in attendance.    It was a moment not everyone has an opportunity to witness in a lifetime, and it was an especially joyful moment for a parish family that was blessed to be able to join together, through God's grace, in this special mission.

 

 

At left, Fr. Kiely walks in the procession to the church, along with Fr. Leo Cormier, far left.  Fr. Kiely's skilled leadership, kindness and spiritual direction helped to build not only a church, but also a parish family, one that has thrived and remained strong.

 

Below, a special moment at the Dedication Mass:  one of St. Michael Mission Church's and St. Francis' most active early parishioners, Cecilia Hamel, is greeted by Msgr. John Sheehan, one of the first priests sent to the St. Michael Mission Church.   Mrs. Hamel was wheeled to the altar by John Maille, also an early active parishioner.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At left, in the 1960s, is Cecilia with her husband, Victor, and Fr. Gallivan -- a trio whose faith-filled devotion and stewardship of  St. Francis helped provide the foundation on which to build today's St. Francis Church and parish family.  We are indebted to those who came before us for the gifts we enjoy today.

 

 

 

More Building…..Construction, Community and Faith

 

Once settled into the beautiful new church, the parish family continued to grow. Through Fr. Kiely’s continued leadership, many prayers and additional fundraising, several other milestones were achieved: the construction of the rectory, offices, classrooms and parish hall. As buildings were constructed, an even stronger faith community was built as well — both spiritually and socially.   At right is the blessing of the new parish offices and hall.  

 

 

 

 

 

Above, Joe Harnden (center right), Chairperson of the Building Committee, breaks ground again -- this time for the rectory.  With him (holding shovel) is Will Soucy, contractor and parishioner.   At far right (in white alb) is Deacon John Hunt, who had recently arrived as the deacon of St. Francis in Sept. of 1998 (another great blessing to St. Francis!)   Right photo, the finished St. Francis Parish Rectory.

 

 

 

 September 11, 2001

  

Shortly before Fr. Kiely ended his term on October, 14, 2001, St. Francis was hit hard by the 911 tragedy. One of our parishioners, Capt. John Ogonowski, was captain of the first plane to hit the World Trade Center.

 

Capt. Ogonowski's Memorial Mass took place at the new St. Francis Church, with Fr. Kiely as principle celebrant and homilist.  The church setting, our clergy and parish family offered comfort to the family as well as to thousands who came from across the country to attend the Mass inside the church or in a tent that stretched across the main parking lot, or watched the nationally televised Mass. 

 

It was a surreal time, a sad time, a tragic time that contrasted dramatically with the many joyful milestones that had been reached at the parish in the years leading up to 911.

 

 

 

 A New Era Begins

 

At the end of Fr. Kiely’s term, another difficult time for the parish, the Rev. John Carmichael, parochial vicar, was named administrator at St. Francis.  Fr. Carmichael served the parish well as parochial vicar and administrator.  With a great sense of humor and kind heart, he was beloved by many.  

 

A few months later, the Rev. Robert M. Blaney (left, with State Representative Colleen Garry) was assigned as the 7th pastor at St. Francis, installed on March 16, 2002.

 

The parish was once again blessed by a devoted leader who continued many of the parish’s spiritual programs and social activities while instituting many creative ideas of his own.  Fr. Blaney quickly became another well-loved pastor at St. Francis.

 

 

With Fr. Blaney’s skilled leadership, along with Joe Harnden’s civil engineering talents, a new access road and parking lot were added to the church property (right).

 

Also introduced was a new way of teaching religious education by our late director of religious education and pastoral associate, Kathy Long. Generations of Faith creatively and actively involved the parents in faith formation. 

 

Kathy, whom we sadly lost to cancer in 2013, worked tirelessly to benefit St. Francis.  She is pictured below (left) at a parish celebration with Sharon Coram, who led the Dedication Committee for the new church.

 

 

 

 Milestones to Celebrate

 

In 2003, Fr. Blaney led the parish in the celebration of its 40-year Anniversary, including several spiritual and social events, a dinner dance, parish directory, history presentation, and Anniversary Mass. 

 

In the photo below, Fran deMontigny (second from right), parish historian, leads a "Walk Through St. Francis Parish History" as part of the 40th Anniversary celebration. 

 

 

Three years later, in 2006, Fr. Blaney also celebrated with the parish its 10th anniversary of the Dedication of St. Francis Church.   In the earlier photo with Fr. Blaney with State Rep. Colleen Garry, he is accepting a special citation to honor the occasion.   A picnic, dance, updated parish directory and Anniversary Mass concelebrated by former St. Francis pastors and clergy made the occasion special.   

Concelebrating the Mass for the 10th Anniversary of the Dedication of St. Francis Church were (from left), Fr. Michael Whyte, Fr. Leo Cormier, Fr. Robert Blaney (front, center), Deacon John Hunt, Fr. Herve Gagnon and Fr. Brian Kiely.

 

 

One pastor, two parishes

 

In 2007, Fr. Blaney was succeeded by the Rev. Robert Connors, who was pastor of St. Marguerite D’Youville. Fr. Connors took on the major task of shepherding both parishes, with the help of the newly ordained Rev. Christopher Casey.

 

Both busy priests, along with help from Deacon John Hunt and other St. Francis clergy -- Fr. Herve Gagnon, Fr. Norman Fillion, Fr. William Sheehan, and Fr. Jim Lyons -- served the parish well with much energy and devotion.

 

During Fr. Connors’ term, the need for a new parish hall was assessed. Though the need was determined, a difficult economy halted plans for construction.   Instead, the trailer was purchased to add two conference rooms, the St. Peter and St. Paul Annex. 

  

 

50 Years of Faith, Hope and Love

In February of 2013, St. Francis celebrated its 50th Anniversary under the leadership of the Rev. Brian Mahoney, who succeeded Fr. Connors as pastor in 2010.

 

The parish celebrated once again with a history presentation, dinner dance, a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, parish directory, and several special events leading up to the anniversary – including a Christmas concert and a burning of the mortgage!    Most importantly was the Mass.

 

 

Above left, Fr. McSweeney (front), Fr. Sheehan (left) and Fr. Mahoney process to the altar ahead of Cardinal O'Malley.   Left, another special moment for "history" as Fran deMontigny, parish historian, presents the parish history to Cardinal O'Malley.

Photo below:  Past & present clergy concelebrate: (from left) Fr. Leo Cormier, Fr. Brian Mahoney (9th pastor), Fr. William Sheehan, Deacon John Hunt, Cardinal O'Malley, Fr. William McSweeney, Fr. Bob Connors (8th pastor), Fr. Al Capone (pastor of St. Michael) and Fr. Brian Kiely (6th pastor). 

 

 

 

 Below left:  Fellowship after Mass included a cake; and (right) lunch, plus a multi-room photographic history presentation, part of which is seen here on the back bulletin board. 

 

 

The 50th anniversary celebrations were memorable and emotional, especially for those who have lived through 50 years of St. Francis.  The special milestone was also a reminder that with God's grace, sacrifice, teamwork and prayer, even the seemingly impossible -- building two churches (1950 and 1996)  in less than 50 years -- is indeed possible.

 

Fr. Mahoney is yet another gift to St. Francis.  He has brought to the parish many gifts and has shepherded a strong faith community, while inspiring a younger generation to get involved both spiritually and socially.   He has instituted many spiritual programs while also encouraging the continuation of our many social programs and community building events.

 

With the help of assisting clergy and deacons, Fr. Mahoney shephereds a very busy parish, while also assuming responsibility of administrator at St. Marguerite D'Youville and St. Rita Parishes.

 

In 2013, Fr. Mahoney arranged for the construction of a walkway (designed and built by Eagle Scout, parishioner and engineer, Mark Rocheleau) from the main church property to the Blessed Mother Prayer Garden in the field (right). The scenic and peaceful walkway, which crosses conservation land, allows access to the statue and gardens that previously was not available.  

 

This will allow many more of the faithful to use the gardens for prayer, meditation or just serenity.  

 

Added prior to the walkway was the Blessed Mother Memorial Prayer Garden with memorial stones (also right).  The garden, partly an Eagle Scout Project by Andrew Corcoran, has proven to be a place of solace and prayer for many.

 

Another gift under Fr. Mahoney's leadership is St. Francis' new deacon, Deacon Mike Tompkins.  Deacon Mike, a father of five, joined St. Francis Parish in late 2014 and will be spearheading a new Youth Ministry program, along with his wife, Danni.   St. Francis is now blessed with two awesome deacons, Deacon John (left) and Deacon Mike. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Fr. Mahoney’s devoted leadership and fostering of community carries on the tradition of St. Francis Parish as a warm and caring faith community that continues to reach out and welcome all to a very special church on a hill.

 

More history to be made.....in 2015!

 

OUR APPRECIATION TO ALL OF OUR PASTORS, PRIESTS AND DEACONS FOR HELPING TO BUILD THIS INCREDIBLE PARISH, A SPIRITUAL HOME THAT IS TREASURED BY SO MANY.

 

 

   

 

THE HISTORY OF ST. FRANCIS PARISH

by Fran deMontigny, Parish Historian

 

 

 

Fran has been a member of St. Francis Parish since she was a child, a time when St. Francis was a mission church of St. Michael Parish in Lowell.  At right, Fran receives her First Communion at St. Michael Church, along with her cousin.

Read below Fran's nostalgic account of how a small farming community that struggled financially in the 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond sacrificed time and again to build a modest church on Methuen Street, and later a beautiful new spiritual home on 15 acres of former farmland on Wheeler Road, our current location.

 

  

The Beginning of a Mission Church

Kenwood is a community located on the east side of Dracut. In the 1930s and 1940s.  Kenwood, being less populated than the other sections of Dracut, consisted of several small farms and modest homes. The people of Kenwood, though lacking in financial resources, had a richness of faith and determination. This was recognized by Father Keenan in 1939 when he became pastor of St. Michael Church in Lowell; and, among his many duties realized the hardship incurred by these parishioners to have to go into Lowell for Mass. Not all families had their own transportation and found it impossible to get to Church.

 

It was at this time that St. Michael’s Mission Church began. Masses were first offered in the Kenwood School on the second floor in the uphill side of the school. The school room had removable desks which were moved out of the room and chairs brought in for Mass. Among the first priests to come to offer Mass in Kenwood were Father Chadbourne and Father Sheehan; subsequently, Father Mitchell, a missionary priest occasionally came to Kenwood.

 

Fund Raising

Fund raising for the future St. Michael’s Mission Church began in the form of whist parties, held in the same room as were the Masses. These whist parties were held every Monday evening, organized by Mrs. Madeline Ginivan and Mrs. Blanche Markham, with the help of Mrs. Elizabeth Sheehan, Mrs. Juliet Labrecque, Mrs. McLaughlin, Mrs. MacPherson and the Gauthiers of Camden Street. Mrs. Ginivan and Mrs. Markham would go downtown to Lowell every Wednesday (bargain day) asking for donations from the local merchants. I understand they were very successful in their endeavors. Mrs. Labrecque was right on the job each week with her big blue and white enameled pot serving cocoa. Mrs. Ginivan’s daughter, Margaret, had the job of punching the cards at these parties. The whist parties continued at the school and subsequently extended into the homes of some of our early parishioners namely: Mrs. Juliet Labrecque, Mrs. Margaret Campbell, Mrs. Laura Graham, Mrs. Mary Conole, Mrs. Adelaide Leblanc and Mrs. Cecilia Hamel. Mrs. Labrecque and Mrs. Conole also held mini bingo parties in their homes. As another fund raiser, Mrs. Arthur Fraser hosted a wonderful penny sale at her home every summer from the late 1930s to the mid 1940s.

 

Expansion of the Mission Church

As the neighborhood of Kenwood grew, we moved out of the school room and into a portable school house located on the grounds of the Kenwood School. (This portable school house was once the Intervale School located on Intervale Avenue.) We would have two Masses each Sunday, one at 8:30 AM and one at 10:00 AM. On a rainy Sunday, you tried to get to Church early because the roof leaked and you didn’t want to be “dripped on” during Mass. In fact, if you sat in the back rows, you needed to use your umbrella! The 8:30 Mass was the children’s Mass after which we would go into the school for catechism classes. Thereagain, St. Michael took care of its Kenwood Mission sending two of its Dominican Sisters each week (Sister Regina, Sister Mary Ellen, and Sister Hyacinth were among the very first to come to Kenwood). After religious class, the Sisters, along with a couple of their “helpers” would go to Mrs. Markham’s house for refreshments. This was a weekly ritual. Refreshments were also brought back to the “church” for the officiating priest prior to their departing for Lowell.

 

The children of Kenwood received their sacraments with the children of St. Michael. Graduation from catechism was in the eighth grade. The graduates were feted to an outing at Gloucester at the home of Monsignor Keenan’s family, then on to Ipswich to Father Chadburne’s mother’s home for a cookout and a boat ride. To prepare for Confirmation, we would go to St. Michael’s for classes. All marriages and funerals were performed at St. Michael Church.

 

Acquiring Land

Land for the church on Methuen Street was donated by Reinald Rhomburg in 1939; subsequent land for the parking lot was donated by Rinaldy Burgess (daughter of Mr. Rhomburg) in 1956. Monsignor Keenan purchased additional lots from the Town of Dracut and also acquired the house at 110 Percy St from Mr. & Mrs. Francis Lappin in 1955 for the purpose of the future rectory.

 

Building of St. Dominic’s Hall

Once the Boston Archdiocese had possession of the land, excavation for the foundation began. A few of Kenwood’s finest neighborhood men, dug by hand, and laid the stone foundation. Also, some eager young men from the neighborhood helped out after school and on Saturdays, digging up stones and bringing them to the men for the foundation.

 

A portable school house located at the corner of Salem Road and Tyler Street was purchased with the intent of using the materials to help build the structure on Methuen Street. The used lumber and windows were then transported to the building site. However, being the war years, manpower and additional building materials were at a premium and this plan was never implemented. The used lumber was later offered to the people in the neighborhood. This was not without incident -- the empty foundation was a good place to play especially with the piles of lumber and all the windows stacked on top of each other. Since most children have inquisitive minds, my cousin Mike Markham, our friend Richie O’Dell and myself were no different. Richie climbed up to the top of all the windows and proceeded to go right through them all! Poor Richie, miraculously he was not badly hurt, but our main concern was “what our mothers would do”! Soon after that not too pleasant event, Richie and his family moved away -- never to be heard from again.

 

The parking lot across the street from the church next to Methuen Street, being quite level, was our ball field. Midway through the parking lot downhill was a big drop, and into the uphill part of the earth was part of a stone foundation which was the remains of a nightclub/hotel -- an establishment bordering on impropriety, burned to the ground in the early 1900s.

 

The Church on Methuen Street was built in 1950 for the cost of $10,000.00, including a slate roof! Monsignor Keenan hired the contractor, consisting of two men, who were parishioners of St. Michael. Once again, the young men of the neighborhood helped in any why they could. The building was named St. Dominic’s Hall, after the Dominican Sisters who so graciously taught the children of Kenwood for so many years. St. Dominics had removable chairs and no kneelers in its early years.

 

The Years at St. Dominic’s

All the social events were held upstairs since downstairs was strictly a cellar. We even had record hops at St. Dominics -- we would remove the chairs, get a DJ and dance the evening away. Under the expertise of Mrs. Ceilia Hamel and with the untireless help of Clorise Craig, Rose Maille, and Lucille Ayotte the fund raisers were in full swing. These four ladies were the backbone of all the fund-raisers throughout the 1950s and 1960s. There were whist parties (Annette Koutrobis and Phyllis Jusczak punching cards), bake sales, bean suppers, spaghetti suppers and Christmas fairs. Mrs. Campbell remained steadfast with her bakery contributions.

 

In order to bake the beans upstairs in St. Dominics, Mrs. Hamel would borrow four large electric roasting pans, soak the beans overnight on Friday, go back on Saturday morning to get them to start cooking for Saturday evening. After the bean suppers, Mrs. Hamel along with her husband Mr. Victor Hamel would get the hall in order for Sunday Mass. Mrs. Hamel was also the sacristan, she took care of all the linens, decorated the altar for the holidays, and helped her husband clean the church. Mr. Hamel was the organist for St. Dominics.

 

Approximately in the year 1953, Monsignor Keenan had the parking lot paved. To defray this cost, Mrs. Rita Green ran a spaghetti supper, doing all the cooking in her home on Haverhill Street and having the food transported to St. Dominics. I understand there was a trail of sauce from Rita’s kitchen all the way down Methuen Street.

 

Father Allan Roach a priest who came to say Mass in 1954 and 1955 befriended the Campbell family on Stuart Street and would go to their house for breakfast between Masses. Anyone who has known the Campbell family knows their talent in the kitchen is unsurpassed Being a small community, everyone knew each other, there was such camaraderie.

 

Father Armand Morrisette, the roving ambassador, was a steady influence to our little community for so many years -- from the 1950s through the early 1980s. Father Morrisette will always be remembered for his 23 minute masses (one was timed at 19 minutes!). There is so much to say about Father Morrisette, he was way ahead of his time. The Sunday before Lent, he would preach that “good works and actions” were so much better than fasting, since most people were already on some sort of diet. And, he was one who practiced what he preached! Whenever there was a bean supper, Father Morrisette would donate the ham, and when possible he would get some baked beans from Rochette’s diner.

 

On December 19, 1957 Clement and Isabel Conole became the proud parents of their second son. Robert was Baptized at St. Michael and received his First Penance, First Eucharist and Confirmation at St. Francis where he was also an alterboy. In 1986 Robert entered St. John Seminary in Brighton. Father Conole was ordained at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston on June 22, 1991 and his first Mass of Thanksgiving was offered at the Immaculate Conception Church, Lowell on June 23, 1991. Father Bob is the only parishioner from St Francis to enter the priesthood. Even though Father Bob is assigned at St Monica Church in Methuen, he is always present at St. Francis for major parish events.

 

On June 23, 1962 Pauline Burgess and James Hand were married at St. Dominics. Pauline asked and received permission from Monsignor Keenan to be married at St. Dominics since her grandfather donated the land on which St. Dominics was built. Father Morrisette was the celebrant.

 

Looking back, we see a small group of people gathering together in the conceptual stages of building a church in their community. They had faith, vision and determination which has been so instrumental in our long journey to fruition. We will be forever grateful to the parishioners of St Michael’s Mission Church and St. Dominic’s Hall for laying the cornerstone of St. Francis Parish.

 

St. Francis Parish

As Kenwood continued to grow, the Boston Archdiocese saw the need for us to become autonomous and in 1963 we became the parish of St. Francis, named after Reverend Monsignor Francis L. Keenan. Father George Gallivan was our first pastor. The people within our community were so grateful to finally have their own parish that anything Father Gallivan needed or asked for at the first weekend Mass, he had it by the last Mass of the same weekend. In those first years as a parish, Father Paul Moritz came to help each weekend.

 

In preparation for Father Gallivan’s arrival, the rectory was remodeled by Stanley Jusczak (Phyllis’ husband). The first housekeeper for the parish was Mrs. Fannie Banevicius, a quiet, devout parishioner who was honored to be able to work for Father Gallivan. Once Father Gallivan settled in at 110 Percy Street, he had the garage built for the sum of $400.00.

 

Father Gallivan implemented the CCD program with classes being taught in the church and in parishioners’ homes. We were finally able to receive the sacraments in our own church. Under the direction of Father Gallivan, the basement of the church was finished, complete with rest rooms and a kitchen. Father Gallivan also was able to get some used pews with padded kneelers for St. Francis. What a relief! The bean suppers, spaghetti suppers, bake sales and pot luck suppers continued. We even had a fashion show and a Communion Supper. We also had an annual chicken barbecue with Joe Campbell in charge; he was responsible for getting two very large grills and doing the cooking--best chicken you ever ate.

 

Each year while Father Gallivan was pastor, he would take his vacation during Lent. At that time, Father Kane, a Redemptorist Missionary, would come to St. Francis and conduct a mission for the full week.

 

Father Gallivan had the foresight to envision what the parish would be like in years to come and knew that a larger permanent church would be needed. With this is mind, Father Gallivan diligently acquired fifteen acres of land from Alexander and Stanislawa Ogonowski for the sum of 10,000.00 on March 17, 1965. This land ultimately became the center of the parish.

 

And how the parish grew -- with all the undeveloped land in East Dracut, it became a paradise for developers; especially in the 1970s and 1980s. With this growth, St. Francis was becoming less accommodating to its parishioners -- having to have four First Eucharist Masses and two or three Confirmation Masses. For a large wedding or funeral, our parishioners would have to go to St. Michael’s in Lowell.

 

Father Gallivan was reassigned in 1967 and his successor was Father Francis Doherty who was with us from 1967 to 1971. Father John Petti came to St. Francis in 1971 and remained until 1976 at which time Father Frederick Sweeney was assigned to St. Francis. While Father Sweeney was pastor, he accomplished the renovation of the church. Father James Power was assigned to St. Francis in 1987. Because of the many weekend Masses and visiting priests to help, Father Power had an addition of a bedroom and a bathroom constructed to the rectory in 1987 for the sum of $23,000.00. Father Power had the help of Father Normand Fillion with the weekend Masses. Since Kenwood and East Dracut was growing by leaps and bounds, we all knew it would be just a matter of time when a larger church would be needed. A committee was formed to look into the possibility of expanding the current building, considering all factors, such as the sound structurability of the existing building, parking areas, etc. It was determined that it was not feasible to try to expand, and that a new church had to be built if we were to remain a parish. In 1990, a vigorous pledge drive was initiated with Leo Lambert in charge. Due to the economic decline at that time, it was not as successful as we hoped it would be. Father Power left St Francis in September 1993; everything remained status quo. In November of 1993, our prayers were answered with the arrival of Father Brian Kiely.

 

The New Church

Father Kiely wanted St. Francis to be a real family, he wanted us to get to know each other (to the point of wearing name tags at Mass!) to reach out to each other in times of need. Father Kiely instituted many committees within the parish and started new customs such as coffee and donuts after Sunday Masses (thanks to the ever constant Rick Coram), socials after special celebrations, the annual Ray Snooian golf tournament, to name a few.

Father Kiely is emphatic on building community. Being so busy, Father Kiely needed help and was able to encourage Father Leo Cormier and Father Herve Gagnon along with Father Fillion to be the assisting clergy at St. Francis. And, it did not take Father Kiely long to tell it as it was -- we either get a new church built or within a few years we would be without a parish.

Once again, we were out trying to get pledges, being more successful this time.  Any doubts are behind us now, and we had the groundbreaking ceremony on June 24, 1995.  Soon after construction began. Under the ever watchful eyes of Father Kiely and Joe Harnden, we have the most beautiful church and location within the Archdiocese. I know our parish family will continue to grow.

 

This has been a very long, bumpy journey but with unceasing dedication and determination, finally, we are home. For the few people who were part of the Kenwood Mission Church in 1939 and are still with us today, this is the most extraordinary day, there are really no words to describe it. And, to all our parish family, what a proud day -- look what can be accomplished when we all work together for the Glory of God. Thank you Dear God for helping us each step of the way.