No. 1305 Postcard. St. Gregory’s Church, Dorchester, Mass., circa 1910.
In 1844 a Catholic parish was formed in South Boston under the name of Saints Peter and Paul. Its territory included all of South Boston, Dorchester, Milton, Hyde Park, Canton and Stoughton. Prior to that time the Catholics of Dorchester and Milton went to church in West Quincy or in Roxbury. Many immigrants moved to southern Dorchester because they could find work in the mills along the Neponset River and in the large homes in Lower Mills and Milton Hill. The pastor of Saints Peter and Paul, Father Fitzsimmons, and his associates found it difficult to serve such a far-flung parish, and in 1847 found a lot on the corner of Washington Street and Churchill’s Lane across from Richmond Street in Lower Mills where they hoped to establish a new parish.
Anti-Catholic sentiment prompted Father Fitzsimmons to use a straw to purchase the property, but soon the news leaked out, and a group of citizens attempted to buy the land from Father Fitzsimmons at a price even higher than he had paid. He refused, but opposition grew when rumors circulated that he intended to open a burial ground on part of the property. The townspeople attempted to influence that state government to pass a law forbidding a cemetery to be opened without the consent of the mayor and aldermen of a city, or the selectmen of a town. The law did not pass, but the strong feeling was clear.
Father Fitzsimmons began building but ran out of money, and the bank holding the mortgage foreclosed. On July 4, 1854, the building was set on fire, and it burned to the ground. Speculation was that the church was blown up by the “Know-Nothings”, the political arm of the nativist movement. In December, 1862, Father Fitzsimmons named Thomas R. McNulty as pastor of a new parish including all of Dorchester, Milton, Hyde Park and a section of Quincy called Atlantic, Squantum. Soon after, Father McNulty purchased land on Dorchester Avenue in Lower Mills close to the site of the earlier unfinished church. Construction of a new church building at 2221 Dorchester Avenue in the Romanesque Revival Style began on August 16, 1863.
St. Gregory’s parish covered a large area, and since there was a large concentration of Catholics in the Meeting House Hill section of Dorchester, Father McNulty began a mission there. In 1870 Hyde Park became its own parish, Hyde Park being a new town made of parts of Milton, Dedham and Roxbury. In 1871 Atlantic was added to the Quincy parish. In 1872 St. Peter’s parish at Meeting House Hill was set off to cover the northern half of Dorchester.
Father McNulty died in 1875 and was succeeded by Father William H. Fitzpatrick who served until 1913. In 1880 Father Fitzpatrick purchased land in the Neponset section of Dorchester and built a church that was ready for use in December, 1881. St. Ann’s remained part of St. Gregory’s until it became a separate parish in 1889. In 1888 he found land on Norfolk and Darlington Streets and two years later built a church there. The church opened in 1890 and became St. Matthews’ parish in 1900. In 1899 Father Fitzpatrick bought another piece of land at Dorchester Avenue and Rosemont Street to build a chapel that became St. Mark’s parish in 1905.
In 1878 Father Fitzpatrick bought a piece of land abutting St. Gregory’s for a new rectory. By 1890 the parish had enough money to rebuild and enlarge the rectory. He purchased the Hannon estate to the rear of the Church and part of the Kelch estate. He later purchased an acre of land across the street from the Church bordering the Baker estate on the corner of Richmond Street and Ellen McMahon’s property (now the site of the St. Gregory High School and Convent). This site is now the location of St. Gregory’s Grammar School. As part of an expansion beginning in 1894 a new facade with two towers was added, and in 1902 the church was re-dedicated. Father Fitzpatrick died in 1913.
In 1894-1895 a new facade was added to the St. Gregory Church building including two towers. The basement was enlarged at this time. In 1895 the expansion of the upper church was begun.
Francis X. Dolan became the pastor in 1914. He undertook the construction of a grammar school which opened in 1915. A convent was opened in 1921. E. Ambrose Gallagher replaced Father Dolan in 1944. In 1952 Bernard J. McNulty became the pastor following the death of Father Gallagher. In 1954 a new rectory was built and the site of the old one became the garden of the crucifixion. Father McNulty retired in 1970, and Paul Sweeney served as pastor from 1970 to 1978. William Glynn served from 1978, followed by Paul T. Ryan in 1981.
Daniel Hay, who is studying Roman Catholic Churches of Massachusetts and Rhode Island wrote: St. Gregory was apparently built by Providence architect James Murphy, a contemporary of Patrick Keeley (St. Margaret) and Patrick Ford, who seems to have been responsible for the rebuildng and enlarging of St. Gregory’s in the 1890s.
For more information, consult:
Parise, Michael. The History of Saint Gregory’s Parish, Lower Mills, Dorchester and Milton, 1862-1987. Dorchester: Published by Saint Gregory’s Parish, 1987.