Saint Leo Roman Catholic Church

No. 273 Postcard. St. Leo’s Church and Rectory, postmarked August 19, 1909.

In 1902 a portion of St. Peter’s Parish was given for the formation of St. Leo’s parish at the western end of Dorchester, on Esmond Street beyond Washington Street. The Rev. Thomas J. McGoldrick, assistant for almost eleven years at St. Peter’s, was the first pastor. He died in 1904 and was succeeded by the Rev. Francis J. Butler. The Pastor in 1930 was Francis A. Cunningham.

In 1901 Father Ronan of Saint Peter’s purchased the Bicknell estate on Esmond Street, for the purpose of building a chapel to serve the southwestern reaches of Saint Peter’s parish. When this structure appeared on the streetscape in 1902, Saint Leo’s congregation was predominantly Irish. In the 1940s Saint Leo’s became a separate parish. During the 1960s and 1970s, Haitian and African American communities replaced the Irish community.

Daniel Hay, who is studying Roman Catholic Churches in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, believes that St. Leo’s was built by architect Charles C. Bateman. He was City Architect of Boston in the late 19th century and also built Roman Catholic churches in Stoneham and Hyde Park.

In the early years of the 21st century and perhaps longer, the Catholic Charities’ Haitian Multi-Service Center occupied the property. In January they moved to a new building on Columbia Road at the site of the Old Gibson School, which had been demolished many years before. The new building was built with the assistance of the Yawkey Foundation.

On March 9, 2006, the Dorchester Reporter carried an article announcing that the St. Leo’s campus had been purchased by the Bethel Tabernacle Pentecostal Church. The sale included the Esmond Street church and three adjacent parcels and buildings.

For more information, consult:

Dorchester Old and New, 1630-1930. (Dorchester: Chapple Publishing Company for the Dorchester, Massachusetts, Tercentary Committee, 1930)

Emery, S.L. A Catholic Stronghold and Its Making. A History of St. Peter’s Parish, Dorchester, Massachusetts, and of Its First Rector the Rev. Peter Ronan, P.R. (Boston, 1910)

Religious Properties Preservation: A Boston Casebook. (Boston: Historic Boston Incorporated, 1991)

Reader’s comment from Gerard Devlin March 13, 2006

I do not believe that the assertion that St. Leo’s Church was part of St. Peter’s Church until the 1940s is correct.  To my knowledge the split severed the two parishes ab initio. My family were original members of St. Leo’s when it was established in 1902. Previously my grandparents were parishioners of both St. Pete’s and St Gregory’s Church while residing at 53 Bernard Street from 1895 as the parish lines were redrawn. Probably setting up a Catholic Church on the Bicknell Estate was a mistake. After the Chelsea fire in, I think, 1906, the area became overwhelmingly Jewish. During most of its existence the majority of the parish lived on the east side of the railroad bridge on Harvard Street There were no Catholic families on either Esmond or Bicknell Streets when I was growing up in the parish. I was baptised at St. Leo’s in 1933 as were all of my five siblings and I was married there in 1959.


Posted on

April 17, 2020