Saint Andrew Parish History (45 Talbot Avenue, Billerica, MA 01862)
The history of the Catholic Parish of Saint Andrew in North Billerica reveals wonderful indications of the self sacrificing cooperation of the people through the years. You’ll see a culture of people grounded in their faith coming together to build up the Church in their community as it was in their distant homeland. Through the tumultuous times of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Catholics of Billerica have persevered. They focused their energy in and around their parish—the center of their lives.
Before Saint Andrew Parish was established, thousands of Irish people, due to political oppression along with the great potato crop failure of the 1840’s and 1850’s, made the trek to New England in order to seek jobs in the nearby Talbot and Faulkner mill complexes. They brought with them few material possessions, but they did bring with them a sound and living faith. The Billerica Catholics had to walk about five miles to the nearest Catholic church in Lowell to worship. In 1868, the remarkable Father Andre Garin of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate established a mission parish for the town of Billerica. He helped the small congregation arrange to buy the now-abandoned Universalist church. After the purchase, they moved it to Mill Street, now known as Rogers Street, and placed it under the patronage of the Apostle Saint Andrew. In the end, $4000.00 had been spent; but the people finally had their own church.
For forty years, Saint Andrew Parish was in the care of the Oblate Fathers. They would come in from Lowell, at least once a month, to celebrate Mass and handle all pastoral matters. Some of these priests served for but a few months, while others remained for several years. In 1890, Father James Maloney, O.M.I. realized the need for enlarged facilities to accommodate the increased number of parishioners. His program of renovation and expansion was carried out with the physical as well as the financial help of the people. Through their generosity and selflessness, the dedicated people managed to complete a $6,910.44 renovation that increased the size of the church by one third. Imagine the sacrifices that were made considering that the average daily wage was about 85 cents!
By 1913 the parish, which consisted of the entire town of Billerica, had grown enough to be taken over by the Archdiocese of Boston. Father David Murphy was its first diocesan pastor. With the help of the altruistic parishioners, he set out to build a new rectory at 45 Talbot Avenue, closer to the main roads into Billerica center. By 1921 a new, five hundred seat church was built next door to accommodate the burgeoning parish.
During the years of growth in Billerica during the 20s and 30s, it soon became apparent that the Pinehurst and Nutting’s Lake areas required special provision for Mass. In 1929, a mission church for the Pinehurst area was started and eventually completed in 1937. It was raised to the status of a parish and dedicated to Mary the Mother of God. In 1938, it was decided that a mission church was also needed for the center of town. The old Baptist Church on Concord Road was purchased. Saint Andrew men spent many hours preparing the building for Catholic worship. It eventually was raised to the status of parish in 1945 and named in honor of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus.
1810-1839 Francis Lowell establishes the first textile mill in America in Waltham, MA. Francis Faulkner constructs a small woolen mill in Billerica, MA. Tabot Brothers start a dye-wood mill in Billerica, MA
1868 Fathers Lucien Lagier and Andrew Garin, of O.M.I. arrive in Lowell from Montreal. Bishop Williams purchases a lot on Mill St. (Rogers St.) from the Talbot Brothers for $200. Fr. Garin helps a remote Irish congregation in North Billerica purchase their own church.
1890-1893 St. Andrew on Rogers St undergoes a renovation and is enlarged by one third.
1913-1914 St. Andrew comes into the Archdiocese of Boston. Father David Joseph Murphy is pastor. A new rectory is built on Talbot Avenue at a cost of $8,000.
1914-1918 WWI. St. Andrews has 86 of our own men in uniform and loses William H. McGrath. The St. Andrew stained glass window is dedicated in his name.
1920 St. Andrew new church is completed on Talbot Ave. Cardinal O’Connell officiates.
1928 Construction begins on the Pinehurst mission (St. Mary) but is suspended during the Great Depression.
1933-1939 Mission church is established in central Billerica and named in honor of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus.
1941-1945 St. Andrew loses 3 men to WW II: Francis J. Connolly, Daniel Francis Shea, and Albert H. Solomon. St. Theresa becomes a separate parish. Father O’Keefe is first pastor.
1970’s Saint Andrew interior gets a “modernized” look.
1980’s Saint Andrew roof has a structural fault and must be repaired. For 6 months, daily Mass is celebrated in the Rectory and the kitchen doubles as a confessional. Sunday Mass is held at the Marshall Middle School.
1990’s Father Joseph Wilson stabilizes the stained glass windows and restores the church exterior.
2000’s Father Michael Parise leads a $1.1 million restoration of the church with inspiration from the original interior as well as King Solomon’s Jerusalem Temple as described in the Old Testament.
St. Mary Parish History (796 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821)
Prior to 1914, Pinehurst, as many other areas of the town of Billerica was primarily a summer cottage settlement. At the time there was one Catholic Church in town, Saint Andrew in North Billerica. With the growing number of Catholics in the southern part of Billerica, it was necessary for the parish of St. Andrew to become the mother Church as a mission later known as St. Mary of the Pines.
During the 1920’s and early 1930’s the growth of Pinehurst increased dramatically. This was due in part to economic factors and the gradual shift away from cities. Many families transformed their summer homes into year-round residences. Additionally, Catholics in Burlington and the Nuttings Lake area traveled to Pinehurst for Sunday Mass. The facilities of the little mission church were increasingly inadequate. Between 1914 and 1928 weekly Mass in Pinehurst was celebrated in various temporary sites.
In 1928, permission was sought and granted to begin construction on a permanent church building on property owned by the Archdiocese on the corner of Boston Road and Cook Street. Here Mass was celebrated and religious education classes were conducted in the lower level of the church of Saint Mary, still a mission of Saint Andrew.
Again, as the Catholic population continued to grow, and the demands of the mother church and the mission increased, in 1937 Cardinal O’Connell raised the Mission of Saint Andrew to the Parish of Saint Mary. By that time parishioners had completed the project of furnishing the interior of the upper church.
Saint Mary, newly established as a parish, soon became a mother church as well. In 1945 this mission of Saint Mary became the parish of Saint Margaret on Winn Street in Burlington.
By 1966, the number of Catholics in Saint Mary Parish warranted an addition to the original structure. Plans were completed that year to add what is now known as “the wing.” Air conditioning and carpeting were soon added.
In 1992, renovations were made to the original church interior, with the expansion of the sanctuary area to include new positioning of the tabernacle and the baptistery, new carpeting, and sound equipment. In recording any history, facts and dates are important, but they never tell the entire story.
The history of this parish is the history of the people – the priests and the laity – who have endured hardships for the great cause of spreading the word of the Gospel. The people of the parish, many of whom are members of the original congregation, are the true meaning of 72 years of faith.
The parish has been blessed with dedicated priests who have served the Lord and His people well. Every one of them would be the first to explain that it is God’s people who are the bulwarks of faith here at Saint Mary. May God grant that it ever be so for them, for their children and their children’s children until the Lord comes!
St. Theresa of Lisieux Parish History (One Grace Avenue, Billerica, MA 01821)
In the early nineteenth century, Billerica was a typical Yankee farming town. By 1868 there were approximately 60 Catholic families living in town and efforts began to establish a church for them. In November of 1868, Father Andre Garin, an Oblate Father, started a parish in North Billerica, which became known as St. Andrew. By the time the Archdiocese took over in 1913, the church had become too small to accommodate the growing population. Thus a mission church was established in 1927 and construction was completed with its first Mass at the new St. Mary Parish in 1937. The Catholic population increased rapidly and by 1938 it was obvious that East and Central Billerica would need a parish of its own. A fund drive was held and on June 7, 1939 the white church on Concord Road (formerly owned by the Baptist Community) would be purchased. The church continued to be a mission church of St. Andrew Parish until Cardinal Richard Cushing appointed Reverend Daniel O’Keefe pastor of the newly established St. Theresa Parish in 1945. Fr. O’Keefe, upon his arrival had a church, but no rectory. He lived on Concord Road across the street from the church. In September, the house next door was purchased for $9,000.
Billerica was starting its tremendous growth with the return of WWII veterans. Young families from Greater Boston, Everett, Somerville, Malden, Cambridge were settling in this area by the hundreds. The first year, there were 2 marriages and 8 baptisms. In only 20 years the numbers jumped to 44 marriages and 245 baptisms.
By 1953, church enrollment continued to grow and Mass attendance became so large that there was standing room only. Time had come for a new church. Committees were formed and fundraiser began. Finally in 1959, the culmination of years of planning, meetings and activities came to the end with the ground breaking and construction of a new church on Boston Road – the present day St. Theresa.
In August of 1974, two major moves were made. First the rectory that had served so well was now too small. With activities ever multiplying, larger living quarters were needed and office space and meeting rooms were in demand. The old church on Concord Road was still used for meetings, but the purchase of the home at 80 Concord Road would be the new rectory.
By 1978, the fourth pastor, Rev. Henry Ronan arrived. Uppermost in his priorities was the CCD program. At this time there were approximately 3000 families. The former church became known as “the hall” and the former rectory was used for CCD offices and classes. Most often the classes were held in the homes of parishioners.
Soon it was evident that a new parish center was urgently needed. A committee was formed for the construction of the parish center that would hopefully accommodate the needs of the parish. There was a large area behind the church and consideration was given to building a rectory adjacent to the new hall or moving the present rectory building to this spot. Those ideas were tabled but the construction for the parish hall proceeded. It was October 1986 when the hall was officially dedicated and Cardinal Bernard Law celebrated a noon Mass.
In November of 1992, there was a farewell Mass and celebration as St. Theresa said good-bye to its fourth pastor, Fr. Ronan. The following month Cardinal Law announced the appointment of Reverend Eugene Tully as the next pastor.