Saint Mary’s Church, 14 Cushing Avenue

No. 276 Postcard: St. Mary’s Church, Dorchester, circa 1910.



The following information is from the National Register form for St. Mary’s Church.

14 Cushing Avenue

Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church property consists of two buildings situated onthe north-western section of Jones Hill, adjacent to Upham’s Corner, a historic commercial district of Dorchester in Boston, Massachusetts. The church, built in 1888 and designed by architect Henry Vaughan, was modeled after the rural parish churches of England. In 1893, the church was enlarged with the addition of the chancel and transepts, designed by the architectural firm of Hartwell & Richardson of Boston, that are contextual to Vaughan’s original design. Complementing the design of the original structure is the parish house built in 1907 and designed by Charles K. Cummings of Boston.

The Church and parish house are located on Cushing Avenue, between Stoughton Street on a lot of over 43,000 square feet. Cushing Avenue, which dates from 1875, is one of a series of short, irregular streets found in this section of Jones Hill, and is a narrow east-west road which curves past St. Mary’s where it connects with Columbia Road at Upham’s Corner.


Dorchester occupies the southern section of Boston and is bounded by Dorchester Bay, Roxbury, Mattapan and the Neponset River. Settled in 1630 and annexed to the City of Boston in 1870, Dorchester soon became a streetcar suburb which attracted the expanding, middle classes during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Contributing sociological and demographic changes during the twentieth century have made this area an ethnically diverse and densely settled section of the city in modern day.

St. Mary’s is a key institutional complex within the commercial and residential neighborhood known as Upham’s Corner. Active residential development, which began during the last part of the nineteenth century, overlapped into the early twentieth century and continued to attract upper middle class residents to this Victorian neighborhood. Today, Cushing Avenue and the surrounding Jones Hill streets are characterized primarily by Queen Anne, Shingle and Colonial Revival style dwellings built during this period.

The adjacent commercial district is distinguished by the Strand Theater, and numerous nineteenth and twentieth century commercial buildings of one to four stories. The Dorchester North Burial Ground, incorporated in 1634 and located at the corner of

overlooks this space from an elevated setting between Stoughton Street and Cushing Avenue and, while not associated with the burial ground, its setting into the hillside allows it to appear larger in mass. In this setting St. Mary’s commands a strong, unobstructed visual presence.


St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is a half-timbered building set on a high stone foundation with primary entrances on its 170-foot Cushing Street elevation. It is approximately 48 feet in height at the front and is built on an outcrop of Roxbury Puddingstone. The eastern elevation of the church is the most commanding due to the added height of the raised basement level. From this elevation the well articulated chancel of the church is defined. The front elevation of the church (western elevation) is in line with the residential architecture of Cushing Avenue in setback, height and domestic scale.

The church was completed in 1888 with just the nave built and a small crawl space serving as basement. In 1893, the majority of this space was excavated with the addition of the chancel and transepts, which increased the church’s usable space. The grade difference between the two streets allows the rear of the church to have two ground level entrances and three, full-size windows in the half-octagonal apse. Window configuration and placement in the foundation wall of the transepts is asymmetrical on the south elevation and symmetrical on the north. In addition, three, small rectangular window openings located under the aisles have been sealed with cinder blocks.

The church rests on a stone foundation of seam-faced and is granite complimented with brown, Longmeadow sandstone quoins which surround the window openings and entrances, and mark the building’s corners. Vertical half-timbering with stucco in-fill between distinguishes the clerestory, transepts, front and rear elevations. Wood trim is present in the form of barge boards, doors and frames, and the decorative trim of the porch dormers.

The roof has a small octagonal bell cote which is still covered in the original dark-gray slate shingles that once covered the entire roof of the church. Placement of this bell cote identifies the nave crossing in the interior of the church. On top is a spire which tapers inward and carries a wrought iron cross at its pinnacle. The wooden louver openings of the belfry are decorated with gothic, pointed trifoliate tracery. The roof carries an additional cross which is found on the ridge line at the point where the interior vaulting of the chancel meets. Installed on top of the ridge line between a service chimney and this cross is a copper cresting, pierced with a quatrefoil design.

At the clerestory level the exterior of the church is decorated with vertical half-timber framing with diagonal bracing between the windows. These diagonals create a pattern of chevrons and visually tie the composition together due to the alternation of upward and downward placement of the timbers. The Cushing Avenue facade of the church displays a more elaborate half- timbered design and is divided into five horizontal parts. The first is a series of twelve vertical rectangles and above these is a row of arched diamonds. The next section, which is the largest of the five, incorporates two sets of slender vertical lattice windows, installed in the middle of the twelve segments. Above, a third segment repeats the same window configuration but half the length as below. Prominently displayed above this is a wooden Anglican cross set into the stucco with three upper segments of half-timber braces.

The church is of cruciform shape and the interior proceeds as follows: entrance porches at the left (north) and right (south) side elevations at the west end of the church lead into the rear of the church and• are covered by a small, pitched rafter and braced roof. Three lattice windows framed in trefoil tracery light the interior of the porch space. The entrance doors are arched, double-leaf with vertical board and batten on the exterior and, cross board and batten construction on the interior. There are two sets of doors per entrance which serve to protect the rear of the church from drafts. The porch floors are red brick, laid on their trimmer side in a herringbone pattern.


On the interior, oak parclose screens divides the rear of the church (narthex) and the last row of pews. The nave is flanked by side aisles which are covered by a lean-to roof of less pitch than the nave roof. The aisle roofs are constructed of exposed common rafters of soft pine, stained dark brown. The principal rafter and purlin for this roof is boxed over with Spruce which provides a sharp contrast to the darker rafters. The aisles lead into the transepts through a pointed, Tudoresque arch and both transepts are identical in size and design.

Located above the entrances and narthex is a choir gallery which measures 25 by 10 1/2 feet. A large window group on the western wall of the gallery is composed of four pair of narrow lattice windows of diamond-shaped panes set in diagonal strips and outlined with narrow pale yellow glass strips. Set into a heavy timber brace the shape of a cross, the window pairs measure 8 feet by 3 feet nine inches at the bottom and 2 feet by 3 feet, 9 inches at the top. The windows are set into wooden frames which have a round trifoliate design. Above the gallery window and flush against the wall is a collar beam which serves as the beginning of the truss system for the nave roof.

The interior of the church displays an intricate, exposed timber frame nave roof of aisled-construction based upon fifteenth-century medieval design and construction methods. The truss work has been acknowledged by architectural historian William Morgan as one of the finest arched braced roofs in existence. The interior woodwork of the church is predominantly of Spruce which through the years has oxidized to a honey color. The exposed truss work is soft pine and is stained a dark brown. Depending upon the light source, the actual height of the interior can be deceiving due to the sharp contrast between wood colors.

The nave rises to a clerestory which is lit by eight sets of lattice windows, four sets per side placed and aligned within the bays. Beginning in the gallery, the clerestory windows are configured three panels in one bay, two in the next, then three and finally two. These panels are also diamond-shaped, set in a diagonal and set in wood trifoliate frames. A framework of simple Spruce wood molding provides the interior window casing, and a horizontal wooden molding running under the sills connects each window together.

The nave is divided into six bays by seven octagonal wooden posts, (or piers) of Norman influence. These piers provide the main vertical support element in each bay and connect under the ridge plate of the clerestory wall at the junction of the aisle roof. Two of these piers are engaged; one at the chancel arch and the other at the beginning of each aisle. The piers rise from an octagonal plinth base with simple curved moulding and are topped with a capital.

The capitals are constructed of a series of cove moldings, and measures 5 3/4 inches, making the total height of the pier columns six feet five inches. Rising from this capital is a square timber post, chamfered on four sides by the use of two sets of cove moulding per side. The posts connect to the ridge plate at the clerestory wall and each pier post is reinforced by a pair of curved, longitudinal braces which are chamfered forty-five degrees on their four sides. The pier posts continue vertically and become engaged in the clerestory wall where they eventually become the under- part of the wall plate to which the beam system begins.

The narrow aisles are separated from the nave by this pier arcade, and their walls are wainscotted three quarters of the way with fitted, double boards and astragal batten. Above the wainscotting, and in all other interior areas not covered by wood, the walls are white-washed, rough-cast plaster.

The nave roof is supported by a combination of tie and collar beams which alternate between each bay. The common rafters of this roof are supported by two sets of purlins which divides this ceiling into three, equal horizontal segments. Support for these sections is provided by a pair of braced collars, which are found in the first two segments. The third segment is reinforced by the same collars which are now installed inverted but, in a reversed position below the ridge post. The four ends of these braces connect at the ridge line with the principal rafter and form a semi- arch brace on both sides of the rafter.

The five collar beams are supported by an arch brace of Spruce which begins on the clerestory wall as part of a two-piece, wall plate of Spruce and pine. The wall plates are backed by engaged pilasters which are continued from the pier posts below.  The plates  eventually connect into the principal rafters. The last arch brace is installed flush against the chancel arch and in turn, provides an evenly proportioned frame for this arch.

The tie-beams also use a shorter and broader format of arch- bracing whichappears on the underside of the beam in the form of Spruce. A king post prevents the tie-beams from sagging under their own weight and in this instance, the king post rises from the center of the tie beam and attaches to the underside of a collar beam. Two large transverse struts are found on either side of the king post and connect from thefirst quarters of each tie-beam into the principal rafter, at the junction of the first purlin.The collar beam, which is placed a third of the way down from the pitch of the roof, has two small transverse braces which tie into the principal rafter, above the second set of purlins.

The chancel arch is constructed of pressed brick laid in a common bond, anduses bricks which are chamfered at a forty-five degree angle on one corner. Thismethod provides the edge of the arch with a series of continuous ribs which meet at the apex. The arch is approximately thirty-five feet in height from the chancel floor, is 17 ½ feet wide, and forms a lancet at it the apex. The chancel is paneled in spruce wood,stained a dark brown. Between the chancel and the sacristy is the choir section of two rows of pews per side.

The altar, constructed of blonde oak is paneled and decorated with simple trifoliate designs, and has perpendicular gothic sprockets at its crest. In front of the altaris the brass communion rail which is ornamented with a rinceaux, (or serpentine) scrollon its underside. The lectern is also of oak and has nine symmetrical sides decorated in perpendicular gothic tracery. Within the chancel and just beyond the choir, is a pair of five-light, wrought iron wall sconces. Originally gas, they were most likely electrified in1909-1910 when the church converted from illuminating gas.

A door on the east wall of the north transept provides access to the organchamber which houses the pipe ranks and bellows for the organ. A lancet arch openinginto the choir serves as a decorative display for the organ’s major pipes, which are heldtogether by a quatrefoil banding. The organ is an 1888 manual-tracker made by George Hutchins of Boston.

Beyond the south transept (right side) is the vestry which opens to the right sideof the choir section. The vestry contains a small fireplace and hearth of pressed brick with a simple mantle surround. This room is lit by two pairs of lattice windows, the same style as found elsewhere in the church. Access to the ground-level and sub-basement of the church is through a door in this room, or through a door on the south transept’s eastwall. The ground level of the church provides storage rooms and is used for the Ruth Darling Day Care Center. Beneath this level is the sub-basement which serves as afurnace room.

The chancel ends in a half-octagonal apse which has eleven window openings, nine of which are stained glass. The remaining two are lattice windows. The chancel is paneled in dark brown spruce and meets the sills of the windows, which are framed in rounded-shoulder, wooden frames. Approximately two feet above the chancel windows is a dark brown moulding which divides the walls before they arch upward to form the ceiling. All corners meet and intersect at the ridge seam which connects to the rear of the chancel arch.

The three bays which divide both transepts from the nave are decorated with a set of “screens” installed above and between the piers. Each set is designed with a middle gothic arch, pointed and trifoliate, and is supported on either side by two pointed and trifoliate arches. Above two smaller arches are trifoliate squares.

The parish house, designed by Boston architect Charles K. Cummings is contextual in style and massing with the design of the church. Cummings was associated with the firm of Hartwell & Richardson briefly during this period, hence the connection. Built on a foundation of white, seam-faced granite blocks the first floor begins after a ten-inch setback on the foundation. The shape of the parish house also resembles a cruciform, but its placement is oriented lengthwise and its long side parallel to Cushing Avenue. Its main gables face St. Mary’s Church and on the other side, a neighboring house. The orientation of the parish house actually allows it to appear smaller in mass than the church. While considerably close to the property line this placement allows the church to be the center focus of the composition.

The parish house is a two-story, half-timbered stucco building in the Tudoresque style; it is approximately 35 feet in height. Compared to the church, the use of vertical timber framing is restrained on the parish house. Framing only appears on the rear and front (west and east) second story projections and on the north elevation between the eaves. Half timber frame patterns are not present in the south elevation which faces the church. The pitch of the parish house roof is steep and does not have exposed rafters on the interior.

The front and rear elevations are identical in design, with both displaying gabled projections that give the parish house its slight cruciform shape. The second story of each projection overhangs at the second story and is supported by protruding girt-joists. The ends of the joists are floriated with leaves and bell flowers and appear hand-carved but are actually of precast concrete, mortared in place and painted to resemble wood.

The front elevation has a window cluster of three, large double-hung sash windows on the first floor which contains nine over twelve panes. The middle window was altered and turned into a door which leads into the assembly hall. Adjacent , and on the same floor is a grouped pair of double hung sash windows. Aligned above this

pair is a dormer which is installed with a pair of double-hung sash windows.

The first floor three-window group is the second floor overhang which is divided into seven vertical segments and three distinct horizontal sections by the use of half  timbers. The middle three of the first seven segments are installed with double-hung sash windows which take up only half of each vertical segment. Above, in the middle of the next section is a small window, again half the segment is used. This is the same configuration for the rear of the building which has been altered by the 1917 addition of a balcony.

Located on the second story of the parish house’s south elevation is a large window in a rounded top frame, which mimics the large gallery window located on the front elevation of the church. A covered walkway connects the parish house to the church. Constructed of wood, its support posts are reinforced by the use of carvedwooden braces which are ornamented with carved bell flowers and leaves.  

The interior floor plan is designed without the use of significant hallways, with circulation facilitated by a central staircase which located upon entering from Cushing Avenue. This floor plan allows the parish house the maximum usable area per floor, a function which allows the parish house to have a large meeting hall on almost the entire first floor. The second floor is the rector’s residence and on the third floor under the eaves, (attic level) is a small apartment andmeeting room. The basement of the parish house contains storage rooms and a gym. A basement level tunnel from the parish house provides access to the basement of the church.


St. Mary’s Episcopal Church possess an important collection of stained glass by Tiffany Studios, Wilbur H. Burnham, Charles J. Connick, Harry E. Goodhue and A. B. Cutter of Boston. The interior of the church is dominated by the collection of nine windows which are installed above the altar, with the center three by Tiffany. These three windows represent early work from Tiffany Glass Decorating Company and were given in memory to Martin Luther Bradford, a warden of the church for forty-four-years. They are the first windows one sees upon entering the church and were installed shortly after the Chancel was built in 1893.

Compared with the 1913 Tiffany window, “The Annunciation, ” which is located in the north transept, one can easily see the evolution in style, design and execution of craft which evolved at Tiffany Studios. The Bradford windows display technical faults which plague some early Tiffany windows and is caused by the use of heavy enamel paints and frequent temperature changes.

Throughout the post World War Two period St. Mary’s Parish continued to encourage its parishioners to memorialize their departed in a stained-glass window. The Rector’s report of 1949 stated that the “Garlands of Memories memorial,” which involved prayers and flowers was a fine idea and method for remembrance. However, “flowers fade and die, but a stained glass window brings joy to many for generations to come.”

The south transept features a five-window series from the studio of Harry E. Goodhue, created in 1909-10. The series, picturing Moses the Law-Giver; David, the King; Isaiah, the Prophet; Matthew, the Evangelist; and Paul, the Apostle, was given in memory of former church officials, parishioners, and longtime philanthropist Robert Treat Paine. Only the rendering of Isaiah is signed by Goodhue.

The north transept’s four windows represent a longer time span, and a variety of studios. Tiffany Studio’s 1913 window, The Annunciation, displays exceptional glass-layering methods in shades of blue, white, and faint green. A.B. Cutter Company’s Angel memorializes Sunday School teacher Mary Lizzie Boyd, who died in 1901 at age 26. Connick Associates two windows of the series, Heavenly Achievement Through Earthly Trial, and Christ Blessing the Children date from 1949 and 1960, respectively.

Both sides of the sanctuary contain windows executed by the Wilbur H. Burnham studio of Boston. Along the right side are Martha (1937), Mary of Bethany (1926), and Lazarus (1947); while the left side exhibits Simon (1941), Virgin with Christ Child (1926), and Anna (1920). In the center an 1893 triptych Our Blessed Lord and the Angels is attributed to the Tiffany Glass Decorating Company of New York. Although the three panels are not signed, the signature may be covered over under a glass strip, under which are faint letters. The panel is listed in the Tiffany Studios registry as “Bradford Memorial Window.”

Other memorials and works of art include a bust of Phillips Brooks, Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts and composer of the Christmas carol “0 Little Town of Bethlehem,” a member of the parish; and the “Garlands of Memories” Chapel, honoring Harry Skelding Timmins, author of “Garlands of Memories.”


St. Mary’s Episcopal Church parcel includes a church and parish house, both well-preserved buildings constructed in 1888 and 1906. The church is typical of an English Parish church and is based on fifteenth-century Gothic designs and medieval construction techniques. In 1906, Henry Vaughan along with George Frederick Bodley (whom he had apprenticed with) were designated architects for the National Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in Washington, D.C. Upon Bodely’s death Vaughan inherited responsibility for the National Cathedral undertaking.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is Vaughan’s only commission to design an entire church in Boston, and represents his fifth church commission after his emigration to the United States. Of these five, four are still standing and only three are intact. During his career Henry Vaughan became the leading church architect in New England. Vaughan is respectfully mentioned in the memoirs of Boston Architect, Ralph Adams Cram as Cram’s mentor. (During the late 1880’s Cram had served an architectural apprentice to Vaughan) Both men remained friends throughout their careers and were neighbors on Boston’s Beacon Hill. Vaughan died in 1917 and is buried in the National Cathedral. He left no office records, memoirs or writings. He never married and led a quiet life.

Born January 17, 1845 in Bebbington, Rockferry, Cheshire, England, Henry Vaughan was primarily an ecclesiastical architect. However, his work also includes private residences, libraries, academic structures, and ecclesiastic furnishings such as organ cases, altars and reredos. Henry Vaughan is also noted for designing the Font and Chapels of Saints Boniface, James, Ansgar and the Potter Memorial Pulpit at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City (1916-18).

Vaughan received his training with the preeminent Gothicist in England, George Frederick Bodley, and was Bodley’s chief draughtsman from 1867 to 1881. Both Bodley and Vaughan were followers of George Augustus Pugin who called for the return of English gothic to its roots prior to Henry the Eighth’s break with Rome. As a result, Bodley denounced Ruskinian Polychromy and other non-English sources of the Victorian gothic as practiced by William Butterfield, George Edmund Street and other English architects. Like his mentor, Henry Vaughan shared this religious and aesthetic philosophy as well.

Both Henry Vaughan and George Frederick Bodley were highly influenced by the Ecclesiastical Society which evolved from the Cambridge Camden Society founded in England in 1839 by Benjamin Webb and John Mason Neale. Ecclesiology began as a reform movement within the Anglican church that called for a return to more traditional medieval forms in church ritual and the science of church architecture. They believed that a liturgy based on medieval precedents could only be correctly administered in a ceremonial place which was equally medieval in design and feeling.

The society provided specific instructions regarding church layout, ornamentation, and furnishings. According to the Society, design requirements for a church included a steeply pitched roof which was believed to be more essential to the Christian effect of a church than a tower. The Society stipulated that the interior of a church should be of exposed and darkened rafters, and advocated for the removal of plaster work. Included was the reintroduction of a distinct and elevated chancel which was separated from the nave by a strong architectural feature such as an arch. Descriptions and placement of ceremonial furniture was likewise specified.

In the United States, Ecclesiology became an important and direct influence on the development of Gothic Revival in America. The movement was further encouraged by the increasing fears of rapidly growing industrial cities and the romantic conviction that life in a small, rural medieval town was better than life in a modern industrial city. By the mid-nineteenth century the principles of ecclesiology were acknowledged and began to appear in ecclesiastical architecture in America. Henry Vaughan was named in the Ecclesiastical Society’s journal of approved architects, capable of designing in this medium.\

Many examples of the Ecclesiastic Society’s influence were incorporated into St. Mary’s Episcopal Church by Henry Vaughan. Present are the sequence of interior spaces, the arrangement of the nave and chancel on a single axis (which represents churches of the middle ages), the interior chancel arch, the use of natural materials, the elaborate trussed roof system of exposed rafters and the avoidance of a plaster ceiling.

Henry Vaughan’s emigration to the United States in 1881 was made without conventional architectural contacts in this country, but rather through his connections within the Episcopal Church. His reason here was primarily as Bodley’s emissary to design a chapel for the Society of St. Margaret, a sisterhood founded in 1855 by John Mason Neal, one of the founders of the Cambridge Camden Society.

The whereabouts for Henry Vaughan’s original drawings for St. Mary’s Episcopal Church are not known. In 1893, the transepts were added to the church and were designed by Hartwell & Richardson of Boston. A well-known Boston architectural firm, Henry W. Hartwell, (1833-1919) and William Richardson (1853 -1935) became partners in 1881. Both Richardson and Hartwell had studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in Europe. Their design for the transepts reflects a contextual affiliation to Henry Vaughan’s work.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church also represents the exceptional craftsmanship and construction of Woodbury and Leighton Contractors of Boston. Established in 1875, Issac F. Woodbury and George E. Leighton were once the largest and most successfulcontractors in Boston. Versatile contractors, Woodbury and Leighton constructed numerous important buildings such as the Boston Public Library, Massachusetts State Capitol Extension, Church of Christ Scientist and the Steinert Building. Woodbury & Leighton’s construction fees for St. Mary’s Episcopal Church was $17,685.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church possesses an important collection of stained glass windows by well-known artists. Four of the windows in St. Mary’s stained glass window collection are the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) the son of Charles Louis Tiffany (1812-1902), who founded the eponymous New York jewelry store, Tiffany’s. Louis Comfort Tiffany began his career in decorative arts as a painter and studied with landscape artist George Inness ( 1825-1894). Tiffany is considered an important contributor to the revival of medieval stained glass methods. During this era Tiffany and many of his colleagues, rejected the painted glass methods, and returned to the older methods of production of pot metal glass and banning.

Tiffany’s work is well known due to the size of the company, their use of naturalistic elements, motifs and experimentations with glass. Works by Tiffany Studios can be found in many Boston area churches: Arlington Street Church, Church of the Covenant and Emmanuel Church in Boston. Church of Our Savior in Brookline, Massachusetts; Wellesley College Chapel, Wellesley, Massachusetts; Emmanuel Church and Theodore Parker Church in West Roxbury and First Church Congregational in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In the north transept two windows by Charles Connick are installed on either side of a window by A. B. Cutter Company. Cutter is noteworthy for having rented part of his studio to Charles Connick when Connick received his first commission in 1909 from Ralph Adams Cram for the George H. Chaplin Memorial Window at All Saints Parish in Brookline, Massachusetts. When Connick received this first commission he was employed as a designer for Spence, Moakes and Company. Connick had worked for this firm previously and and returned to work for them in 1907-08 after having worked for a brief time for Tiffany Studios, in New York City.

Charles Connick (1875-1945), is well known for the work he did for churches designed by Ralph Adams Cram and Maginnis & Walsh. In comparison to Tiffany, Connick’s work is more directly medieval in execution and representation. His neo-medieval figures are elongated, flatter and with less depth than Tiffany’s representations.

In 1925 Connick was a United States delegate to the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. Connick died in 1945 and upon his death the company was run by Orin Skinner until 1986. The two Connick windows in St. Mary’s were executed after Connick’s death and ironically, their placement on either side of the Cutter window was by sheer accident.

In the south transept is a five-window series from the studio of Harry E. Goodhue (1873- 1918), with all five windows contextual in theme and coloring. Goodhue was theyounger brother of Bertam G. Goodhue (1869-1924), who was also Ralph Adams Cram’s partner from 1892 to 1913.

Cushing Avenue represents the second location for the parish of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. Organized in August of 1847, St. Mary’s parish began on July 16, 1843 as an invitation to the Reverend John P. Robinson, rector of Christ Church in Quincy, Massachusetts, to form the first Episcopal church in the city of Dorchester. The parish has had a continuous history of social missionary which continues to this day. The parish of St. Mary’s became the mother church to three Episcopal churches in Dorchester: All Saint’s Church in Lower Mills (1874), St. Anne’s (1876) and St. Marks. St. Mary’s parish was also home to Boston Episcopal Bishop, Phillips Brooks who was a member of St. Mary’s parish and confirmed at the old church. Bishop Brooks was a visitor to the Cushing Avenue location, making his last visit two weeks before his death in 1893.

In 1849 the laying of the cornerstone for the original church took place on Bowdoin Street in Dorchester, with the parish remaining there until a fire destroyed the building. The fire and subsequent rebuilding of the church occurred during the ministry of the fifth rector, Reverend Lindall Winthrop Saltonstall (1878-1891), who managed the parish through this difficult time.

In October of 1887, a new site was selected on Cushing Avenue and by July of 1888, the cornerstone was laid. Site selection was performed by the vestry members who were concerned with the location’s accessibility for parishioners. The new location on Cushing Avenue was described by the vestry as ideal and “more easily accessible by means of the various horse car lines.”

Reverend Walter E. C. Smith became the Sixth Rector of St. Mary’s and it was during his pastorate that the transepts and chancel were added. Upon his departure in 1902, George Lyman Paine (b. 1874) was elected to become the Seventh Rector of St. Mary’s.

George Lyman Paine was a Christian Socialist who concerned himself with the poor and working classes in his ministry. Prior to arriving at St. Mary’s, Paine served a Pastorate at St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, New York City; a parish well known for its social missionary work with the poor. Reverend Paine is considered a an important Episcopal clergyman who was famous in his day for his work on behalf of world peace, and is considered the first “modern era” minister called to St. Mary’s.

The greatest change came to St. Mary’s during Paine’s Rectorship as social and demographic conditions began to change Dorchester from the rural suburb of the rich and leisured, to the home of the middle classes. Rising immigrant populations and residential shift patterns within cities were beginning to replace the original residents who were relocating away from the growing city. Many of these residents were the older and better to-do families who generously supported St. Mary’s throughout the years.  The increasing concentration of immigrants meant a decreasing average wealth for the parish, a factor Reverend Paine acknowledged in an article he authored for the magazine The Church Militant in February, 1907. Despite his fears and the demographic changes, the parish prospered and continued to be supported by over 380 communicants.

During Reverend Paine’s ministry (1902-11) the parish house was proposed and built. In addition, the church mortgage was discharged which allowed the church to be consecrated. In 1907, the parish house was erected from donations including $10, 230 from Philanthropist Robert Treat Paine, the father of Rector Paine. The idea fora parish house was thought of by Rector Paine and his father, while on a trip to Cuba earlier in 1906. The elder Paine attended Harvard Law and invested wisely in railroads and mining properties, which enabled him to pursue various philanthropic interests.

Robert Treat Paine’s interests in religious mission work, generous donations to St. Mary’s, and philanthropic logic of “enlightening public sentiment concerning the duty of society toward the poor and unfortunates of the great cities,” was inspired by the same sources which influenced the establishment of the Ecclesiastic Society. Philanthropic work and the Society’s stance on church architecture were both reactions to the aggressive effects of the industrial revolution. Similarly, Henry Vaughan’s design for an English parish church is a physical answer to these ra physical answer to these reactions, as the parish church represented spirituality and salvation. It also represented community life, the gathering place for all members of the parish.

During the ministries of the Revered George L. Paine and his successor, Reverend Henry E. Edenborg, the majority of the stained glass collection was added to the church. Edenborg served twenty-seven years at St. Mary’s, which included World War Two when many young men left to enlist in the Armed Forces. During the post war period, social and demographic changes continued to change and shape the population character of Dorchester as parishioners began to move to the outlying suburbs. By 1947 when the parish celebrated its 100th anniversary, conditions were discouraging, but not hopeless.

In 1947 St. Mary’s began accepting students from the Episcopal Theological School for training in parish life, a practice which would continue into the 1960’s. During this time the parish continued to experience the loss of parishioners to the suburbs. In 1980 Reverend Gary B. Rundle became Rector of St. Mary’s and “inherited an urban church victimized by vandalism and financial problems.” Despite these problems and the decreasing number of parishioners (about 160 communicants), St. Mary’s parish continued to prosper. In present day, despite somewhat similar hardships, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church continues to thrive and serve its community. 

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church meets criteria ” A” and “C” at the local level. It retains integrity of location, setting ,design, materials, workmanship, feeling and association. Although the church is still used for religious purposes and provides a vibrant social center to the community, its primary significance is derived from its architectural and social importance with the Jones Hill and  Upham’s Corner section of Dorchester. Likewise, from its historical importance to the Episcopal Diocese of Boston.  St. Mary’s presence and appearance bring an important symbolic component to this neighborhood.


Posted on

April 10, 2020