Image: No. 276 Postcard. St. Mary’s Church, circa 1910. This is the church on Cushing Avenue.
The Rev. John P. Robinson, then Rector of Christ Church, Quincy, conducted a service for a group of about 50 in Dorchester on July 16, 1843. This is the first time, so far as is known, that the book of Common Prayer was publicly used in Dorchester. The first service of St. Mary’s as an organized.
Parish was held in Lyceum Hall on August 23, 1847. Soon after, Catherine Dodge gave land on Bowdoin Street at the corner of Topliff across from Olney for the construction of a church, and the Building Committee approved an architectural plan by Arthur Gilman. The church building was consecrated in September, 1849. St. Mary’s became one of the strongest and most prosperous parishes in the Diocese outside of Boston. The building was enlarged in the 1860s, and in 1869 a tower with a bell was blown down and never rebuilt. The unexpected social results of the annexation of Dorchester to Boston–the centralization of all interests in the city proper, the removal of many wealthy citizens to the city and effects of the financial crisis following the great fire in Boston in 1872 greatly affected the fortunes of the church.
St. Mary’s acquired land on Cushing Avenue and Stoughton Street for the construction of a new church in the English Gothic style of the 15th century. St. Mary’s Church, designed by Henry Vaughan in Jacobethan Revival style and built in 1888, is a prototype of modern gothic. Saint Mary’s was one of his earliest American commissions and his only known example of a building in the City of Boston. The first service in the new church was held on December 25, 1888. The church was enlarged in 1892-93 (transepts by Hartwell and Richardson), and a parish house was dedicated in September, 1907. The church contains an important collection of stained glass windows by Tiffany Studios, Wilbur H. Burnham, Harry E. Goodhue, and Charles J. Connick, all completed between 1902 and 1911. The building displays extraordinary exposed timbers on the ceiling.
The early 1900s witnessed the exodus of the rich, leisured class from Upham’s Corner and the influx of the working and middle classes. Many of the new residents were Catholics, and membership at Saint Mary’s began to decline. The post-World War II move to the suburbs also hastened the decline. Today low and middle income parishioners from the surrounding neighborhood attend the church. Upham’s Corner is still predominantly Roman Catholic.
In 1867 the Rev. William H. Mills began a mission at Milton Lower Mills that later became All Saints’. The mission of St. Anne’s on Cottage Street, near Dudley, was begun in a barber shop in 1876 by the Rev. W.W. Silvester. In 1879 it was placed under the control of the parish of St. James, Roxbury, and later became a separate parish. The removal of the church from Bowdoin Street necessitated services in the area of upper Washington Street, and these efforts were organized as a Mission in September, 1888. In September, 1894, the Rev. Charles E. Barnes was engaged to take charge of what had become known as Grove Hall Mission. Is this the same as St. Mark’s Episcopal Church?
The rectors of St. Mary’s and their periods of tenure were:
G.W. Porter, 1847-1852
E.L. Drown, 1853-1860
William H. Mills, 1860-1874
W.W. Silvester, 1874-1878
L.W. Saltonstall, 1878-1891
Walter E.C. Smith, 1892-1902
George L. Paine, 1902-
Henry E. Edenborg
In recent times the building is used by Saint Mary’s Parish and the Iglesia Christian Reformada.
For more information, consult:
Dorchester Old and New, 1630-1930. Dorchester: Chapple Publishing Company for the Dorchester, Massachusetts, Tercentenary Committee, 1930.
Fiftieth Anniversary of the Foundation of St. Mary’s Parish, Dorchester, 1847-1897. Dorchester: Printed for the Parish, 1898.
Orcutt, William Dana. Good Old Dorchester: A Narrative History of the Town, 1630-1893. Cambridge: The University Press, 1908.
Shand Tucci, Douglass. Church Building in Boston, 1720-1970. Issued by the Trustees of the Dorchester Savings Bank. Concord, NH: The Rumford Press, 1974.
Shand Tucci, Douglass. The Gothic Churches of Dorchester. Boston: Tribune Publishing Company, 1972.
St. Mary’s Church: Its Year Book of 1907 and Its History, 1847 to 1907. Dorchester, 1907. Written possibly by Guild H. Copeland.