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St. Mary Church in Norwich to Receive $800K State Grant for Restoration and Preservation Work

Posted on June 21, 2023 in: News

St. Mary Church in Norwich to Receive $800K State Grant for Restoration and Preservation Work

The State of Connecticut has placed a grant of $800,000 for the repair of St. Mary Church, Norwich, in its budget for the new fiscal year. 

"With this grant we will be able to restore the church tower, not simply stabilize it," Father Bob Washabaugh, pastor of St. Mary, said. It also gives the church at 70 Central Ave. access to a $200,000 restoration grant from the CT Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as future grants.          

"There is still a great deal to do to repair the church: the front facade, accessibility issues, efficient heating, windows," Father Washabaugh said. 

St. Mary’s is the second oldest parish in the Diocese of Norwich, and the oldest in the diocese east of the Connecticut River. 



Article continues below video....



A Proud History

Dale Plummer, the Norwich City Historian tells us the history of St. Mary Church.  “The parish originated among the Irish workers constructing the Norwich and Worcester Railroad from 1835 to 1842…. While the early church congregation was comprised almost wholly of Irish Catholic Immigrants, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries other immigrant groups arrived in Greeneville (sic)  [the Norwich neighborhood where St. Mary’s is located] including Poles, Italians, and others from Eastern and Southern Europe, as well as Cape Verdeans. 

The significance of St Mary’s lies not only in its architecture and prominent place in the streetscape of Greenville, but as a parish that welcomed new immigrants and helped them adjust to an often-hostile new environment.  Today that tradition continues with the church serving Haitian and Hispanic newcomers to Connecticut.”

A Challenging Present 

Today, 400 families, most of them born in other countries, fill St Mary’s handsome Gothic revival building that stands as a reminder that the Catholic Church cares for immigrants.  Sunday Masses are in Spanish and Haitian Creole with a bilingual Sunday vigil Mass (English/Spanish).   

In April of 2022, examination of the front façade and church tower at St Mary’s revealed instability in the stonework so dangerous that closing the parish and demolishing the building seemed likely.  In this time of parish restructuring, plenty of parishes face the possibility of closure.  However, St Mary’s ministry with immigrants, migrants and refugees affects the calculation.  The immigrant ministry of St. Mary Church and several other parishes in our diocese is taking place in a time when immigration is a major concern.  Do we ‘welcome the stranger’ or not?  Catholic teaching says that we must!  The people of St Mary’s, and Bishop Cote share the same conviction: St. Mary Church is a landmark institution which must be kept at the service of Norwich’s new arrivals, many of whom are Catholic. 

The people of St. Mary’s are pouring themselves into the repair project through pledging, fundraising projects, raffles, and neighborhood appeals.  The parish is forging ahead, having put its reserves at the service of the repair. 

All told, St. Mary’s has pulled together $852,000 to repair its building.   The civic community is backing their efforts.  The State Office for Historic Preservation has granted St. Mary’s $220,000, and a $500,000 bond from the State Bonding Commission is pending.  Still, the cost of stabilization will approach $1,500,000.  Full preservation will cost more.  Quite a challenge!

A Bright Future 

Ten years ago, Pope Francis described the Catholic Church’s mission: “The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle.”  Today’s world does look an awfully lot like a battlefield strewn with bleeding bodies.  Our Catholic Church itself looks the same way.  So many of us feel broken and beaten down.  Strangely, what looks at first sight like tragic loss, can prove to be a bright opportunity, an occasion for us, the Church, to shine.  Shouldn’t we Catholics make every effort to let today’s migrants have the same opportunities that previous generations of immigrants had?  Don’t we heal our own wounds best by tending to those who are more wounded than we?  It is a funny kind of bright future we believe in.  But it is real, and it holds Christ’s own promise.

Contributions to St. Mary’s Restoration Fund are gratefully accepted at: jnccfaith.org

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    Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich
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    Norwich, CT 06360-4328
    Phone: 860-887-9294