Prior to 1852, the Catholics of Andover traveled to St. Mary’s in Lawrence to worship. As the number of parishioners grew, so did the dream of having their own mission church in Andover. Their dream came true in 1852 when Andover’s first Catholic chapel was built on Central Street. In 1866, the Archdiocese of Boston assigned this independent parish to Michael F. Gallagher, O.S.A.
In the 1870s, the Catholic population of Andover flourished and the chapel on Central Street soon became too small. Pastor Ambrose Mullen, O.S.A. acquired the property on which the church and friary now stand. The men of the parish excavated the basement to serve as the parish chapel until the whole church was completed. On September 2, 1883, Fr. Maurice J. Murphy, O.S.A. dedicated the splendid new wood frame structure.
Tragedy struck only ten years later when faulty wiring sparked a fire that completely consumed the church. The Catholic community of Andover was devastated and people of all denominations reached out including offering to share their space for Mass. While grateful for their good intentions, Fr. Thomas Field, O.S.A. instead arranged for use of Town Hall for Sunday Mass. The reception room of the friary was fitted as a sanctuary for the Blessed Sacrament and Mass and the sacraments were offered there as well.
On August 18, 1895, the cornerstone was laid for a new brick church. The $40,000 mortgage was quickly paid thanks to the diligence of several women in the parish. Every week they visited the homes of Andover Catholics and collected a “widow’s mite”; a donation of 50¢ to 75¢ per family. On May 6, 1900, the present day St. Augustine Church was dedicated by the Most Rev. Bishop Brady, Auxiliary Bishop of Boston, and Richard A. Gleason, O.S.A. of Villanova preached the sermon.
Recognizing the needs of his parishioners from the southern section of town, St. Augustine’s pastor Maurice J. Murphy, O.S.A. purchased property in Ballardvale and, on February 4, 1866, began celebrating Mass in the hall over the Boston and Maine Railroad Depot. Priests traveled weekly from downtown Andover on horseback for the convenience of the Catholic community of Ballardvale, but by the end of the 1870s, it was evident the hall was inadequate. In response, St. Joseph’s Mission Church was built overlooking the village with enough pews to accommodate 200 people. The wood frame church with its Gothic white marble altar, two small side altars, and choir loft was dedicated on October 23, 1881. While the church has undergone many renovations during the past 125 years, nothing has changed the spirit of the people who continue to create a community of cohesiveness and love.
St. Augustine School Established
As the population of the Church grew, so did the need for a Catholic school. With the generosity and cooperation of parishioners, Frederick S. Riordan, O.S.A. purchased the Tyer estate at the corner of Chestnut and Central Streets. When Horace Tyer, owner of the estate, learned that the property was bought by the Church, he unsuccessfully endeavored to repurchase it. The interior of the residence was remodeled for a school and convent, and the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur were chosen to be the school’s foundation community. On September 8, 1914, Sister Superior Helen Bernadine, Sister Marie Monica, and Sister Philip Mary (a novice who died shortly after from the flu) welcomed their first 88 students. As needs continued to grow, donations were again collected and on September 8, 1917, the cornerstone was laid for a new school at a ceremony presided over by Father Vasey, O.S.A., Augustinian Provincial. Sealed within the cornerstone strongbox were medals, blueprints of the school, copies of the Lawrence Tribune and Pilot of the day, relics, and a gold piece. When completed, the school consisted of eight classrooms, a music room, and an auditorium. The following day after Mass, it opened its doors to the excitement of 237 children and their grateful parents.
One of the best remembered traditions of St. Augustine School was the Annual May Procession. More than 200 school children marched up Chestnut Street, down Main Street, and past the Musgrove Building to end at the steps of St. Augustine Church for the coronation of Mary and Benediction.
On August 28, 1927, the parish diamond jubilee was observed after a well-attended triduum. Each of the three days was highlighted by Mass, with Fr. Charles Driscoll, O.S.A. celebrating the Jubilee Mass.
More major renovations to the church, including the addition of an organ and three marble altars, took place in 1942 under the direction of Fr. Thomas Austin, O.S.A. Ten years later, as many anticipated the 100th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine Parish, Fr. Patrick J. Campbell, O.S.A. planned for the installation of a new heating system. Growth continued under Fr. Henry B. Smith, O.S.A. and in 1956 the former Brookover Estate on School Street was purchased and transformed into a convent and parish center. Repairs and improvements began immediately, with the Mother’s Guild cleaning and polishing while the men painted and washed windows. When the work was completed to their satisfaction, the Mother’s Guild sponsored a Silver Tea and Open House on October 28th for more than 500 people. The next year, the land adjoining the friary between Essex and Pearson Streets was excavated, graded, and paved for the Church’s first parking lot, with most of the work donated by parish contractors.
Around the same time, the original school, which was designed for 250 students, needed to double in size. The parishioners and Henry B. Smith, O.S.A. conducted a Building Fund Drive to raise the necessary $300,000. Generous parishioners quickly responded, especially one individual who left his estate to the Church, and the fund raising brought in $406,000. In 1961 the new wing of nine classrooms and a cafeteria were completed. As the doors of St. Augustine School re-opened in 1962, a record 537 pupils were enrolled and the faculty had increased to thirteen Sisters and three lay teachers.
In July, 1962, the friary was remodeled to provide more space and conference rooms. Finally, twenty-five years later in 1987, another extensive parish project was undertaken under the guidance of Fr. Arthur D. Johnson, O.S.A.: new pews were added to the church, hall renovations were made, and the third floor of the friary was fashioned into living quarters, a common room, and a chapel.
With the increasing needs of the religious education programs and expansion of the school’s gym and science labs in the late 1990s, it was once again time for a capital campaign: “Building a Faith Community 2000 and Beyond.” Led by Fr. Alfred Ellis, O.S.A. and managed by a hard-working steering committee, $3,000,000 was pledged to start the work on phase one of this endeavor. Through the diligence and the generosity of many and the leadership of Fr. William Cleary, O.S.A., the Center for Education and Ministry was completed in 2006. The Most Reverend Archbishop of Boston, Sean Cardinal O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap. dedicated and blessed the center on March 10, 2007. This wonderful new building is home to more than 1100 religious education students, ministries, and offices of the parish staff.
To quote a lifelong parishioner, Jim Doherty, “We have been truly blessed by the work of our parents and grandparents whose sacrifices built this church and passed on to us the spiritual heritage as well as the physical plant. We must thank God for all the gifts with which we have been freely bestowed. It is now our responsibility to nurture them and pass them along on to the next generation.”
It is evident St. Augustine Parish is a community with a rich and diverse heritage that is filled with individuals willing to share their time, talents, and treasures for the benefit of others. We have evolved over the last 150 years because of our belief in God and our commitment to one another. May we continue to have God’s daily blessings, and may we always recognize the needs of those around us, while we continue to grow.