History of St. Cecilia's

2. Becoming A Parish

On January 21, 1884, there is an entry in the Archbishop’s Journal that Father Michael F. Delaney of Somerville is to be parish priest at Ashland. Just above this is jotted, “New Parish in Ashland.” Thus began the parish of St. Cecilia’s. Father Cullen had found his parish too large and so the Bishop had divided it, leaving Father Cullen in South Framingham, Framingham Centre, and the Women’s Prison.

Father Delaney was only 35 years old when he arrived to begin his third assignment. He had spent six years in Canton and two in Somerville, both times as assistant. Now he became the pastor of nearly 700 souls. The citizens of Ashland were looking forward to an exciting future, for times were good and business booming.

Father said his first Mass on Sunday, February 2, 1884, and baptized Ida Garrand, the daughter of Nelson and Helen (Daly) Garrand on February 3. The baby was eight days old, the first of 44 children he would baptize that year.

Some problems faced the new pastor. There was a church debt, no rectory and Father was a staunch advocate of total abstinence, or at least temperance, for all, and illegal liquor was definitely available in Ashland.

The Central House on Front Street, noted throughout the state for the quality of the food served in its dining room, was Father’s first home. He soon rented a small cottage near the Church on Esty Street and in June, 1885, moved to the house on the corner of Park Road and Summer Street. Pew rents, fairs and an annual tax of one day’s earnings on all families helped pay off the $52,000.00 church debt. Land adjoining the church property was purchased for a new rectory. Father Delaney rented a hall on Summer Street as a reading room for the young men of the parish to keep them “away from the drinking saloon or gambling house,” the paper quotes him as saying.

The regular parish activities, Mass on Sundays and holy days, yearly missions given by the Redemptorist Fathers, baptisms, marriages, confirmations (74 in 1886) social activities such as a Christmas party with tableaux, confectionaries, oranges for all and books for the teachers, made busy times for pastor and people alike.

The death of Father John Walsh in Natick brought changes in Ashland. Father Delaney who had accomplished so much here was selected to shoulder the burdens of a larger parish. He spent the rest of his life at St. Patrick’s in Natick but returned to Ashland many times to celebrate with his old friends.

Father John Heffernan arrived in April of 1890. Father Delaney had collected money to build a rectory and that was one of the new pastor’s first tasks. In August, Mr. Cunningham put in the stonework for a two-story building, 32 feet by 50 feet in area. The building was rapidly completed but other problems were always appearing. Miss Annie O’Connor, for fifteen years the dependable organist at St. Cecilia’s was married in June of 1891 and settled in Milford after a wedding trip with her new husband, Mr. Horace P. Pond, a conductor on the New York and New England Railroad. Miss Annie Heffernan, sister of the pastor, played the organ when 123 young people were confirmed by Archbishop Williams on October 16.

The big event of 1892 was a fire. The alarm was given at 10:15 on Sunday evening, October 23. Mark Feeney on Union Street and Mrs. Paul Phenoff on Summer Street both saw the flames. Mr. Feeney and Mr. Phenoff hurried to help Father Heffernan remove what valuables they could, for the north wing of the church was burning. A general alarm brought more help. The bells were rung at the Congregational and Baptist churches as well as the one on the Engine House. Two firemen were injured as they fought valiantly but the wing was lost and also the staircase to the main church. Vestments and other items kept in the area were also burned and there was smoke and water damage throughout the building. The following Sunday Father Heffernan said Mass among the ruins on an improvised altar. Repairs began immediately, but not until June 11, 1893, were they completed. The church was refrescoed and a new organ installed in the choir loft. Father Delaney came from Natick to help the parish celebrate the rededication.

Again the needs of a neighboring parish affected St. Cecilia’s. Father Cullen, who had supervised the building of St. Cecilia’s, moved to Watertown and Father Heffernan took over the care of the Catholics in Framingham. As with Father Delaney, Father Heffernan’s second parish was his final home. He remained at St. Stephen’s for thirty years until his death in 1926.

Father Daniel J. Splaine began his tenure at St. Cecilia’s at a most unfortunate time. Economically, times were hard everywhere with many major businesses closing. He was 42 years old and none too well. His frail health had made it impossible for him to accept the burdens of a parish up to this time. He spent 11 difficult years in Ashland. The number of parishioners decreased and the ability of those that remained to support the church decreased also. Nevertheless improvements were made. Father Splaine had a new brass altar rail installed and a ten-foot-high candelabra. Both of these were his gifts to the parish. He also added more land to the church property. The parish societies, especially the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Father Matthew Total Abstinence Society, were very active and a class of 103 people was confirmed by Bishop Brady in 1896. That things were still difficult is emphasized by a news item which said the pastor would make a parish visitation in 1899 as he hoped to collect enough money to meet the current expenses so that it would not be necessary to ask for more financial help from the Archbishop. There is no record of how well he succeeded but the newspaper each week carried columns of foreclosures and auction sales and in October, 1899, the Thread Mill, the last of the major manufacturing concerns in Ashland, closed down.

The weight of his worries again affected Father Splaine’s health. It was a sick man who celebrated his Silver Jubilee in June of 1903. He stayed at St. Cecilia’s until 1906 but his health did not improve. He retired to serve as Chaplain at the Williams Memorial Home in Framingham and at St. John’s School in Newton Highlands but was not able to return to parish work before he died in 1928.

A native of Holliston took over from Father Splaine. The Rev. Alexander J. Hamilton arrived in Ashland in February, 1906. He was a Holy Cross graduate and a graduate of St. John’s Seminary in Brighton. His last assignment had been in his native town where he was dearly loved by the parishioners. Four months after his arrival in Ashland, friends from Holliston presented him with a testimonial, a check for $300.00.

Evidently feeling the need for both money and parish spirit, Father Hamilton encouraged a variety of activities including musical and literary programs, baseball and other sports programs, a lawn party and a garden party. The garden party alone raised nearly $400.00. Father was an able leader, acting as general chairman of each event and organizing large committees to assist him.

Nor were the spiritual needs of the parish forgotten. There were special meetings of the Holy Name Society and another confirmation, meetings of the Total Abstinence Society, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the St. Cecilia Club, and the fife and drum corps organized by the A.O.H. as well as fairs, bazaars and dances. Reunions were held each year. Father Hamilton was only in Ashland for five years but they were unusually active years. One May festival brought the mayor of Boston, John F. Fitzgerald, to the Town Hall where he spoke on “The Story of the Catholic church in New England” and then rendered his favorite song, “Sweet Adeline.” Father Hamilton also added more land to the parish property. Then, in May 1911, it was time for him to move on.

Father Daniel F. Horgan, who had been assistant in Cambridge, was the next pastor of St. Cecilia’s. It was also his third parish and first pastorate. He must have been an exceptional speaker for he gave many lectures here on a variety of subjects.

The church building was showing signs of wear. The treads on the wooden staircase leading to the main entry had to be replaced and other minor repairs attended to by the new pastor.

Plans were made for the Annual Field Day in July. This year Governor Walsh and Congressman Mitchell were invited guests. The Congressman delivered an address at the field ground. Governor David I Walsh came to the supper and spoke in the banquet hall. There was also a program of songs by the noted baritone, Alessandro Alberini. Mr. Lewis Rabbitt was chairman of this extensive and successful event.

Another year brought another pastor. Father Horgan was assigned to the Church of the Annunciation in Danvers where he later supervised the building of St. Rose’s Church in Topsfield. St. Cecilia’s new pastor was Father James Francis Regan who arrived in November of 1916.

The country was soon to enter the war with Germany. Seven young men from Ashland would die in this conflict and before the war ended Father Regan was killed in a railroad accident. He died March 15, 1918, only a little more than a year after coming to St. Cecilia’s but during this time he had reduced the debt on the rectory by $1000.00.

Father John Joseph Cronin, who had been serving as assistant at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Salem, was the man selected by Cardinal O’Connell to be the next pastor. He served the parish for the next 18 years, longer than any other priest. There were, of course, many changes during these years. The war ended and the boys came home. The church was over 30 years old and needed repairs. The inside was redecorated. A new entry replaced the old, well-worn, wooden stairway with one made of cement. New radiators and a new heater as well as repairs to the windows must have made the church more comfortable in the winter. The outside of both buildings received a coat of paint and were set off by new shrubbery. Then in 1929 the stock market crash brought financial difficulties to most families. At that time there were about 100 families attending St. Cecilia’s.

Thirty women of the parish met at the Town Hall in January of 1932 to form a service and social organization. Mrs. James Buckley was elected the first president of St. Cecilia’s Guild. The Guild arranged for another parish reunion which was held in the newly renovated parish hall. It was an active group that could be counted on whenever help was needed. They met twice a month and included lectures and instruction as well as entertainment as features of these meetings. They also ran innumerable whist parties and other fund-raising events for the parish and to provide the money for their charitable undertakings. They were very concerned about those in the parish who were really feeling the effects of the depression.

In July, 1932, the parish was shocked by the death of Father Michael J. Heenan. He had been born in Ashland, attended Ashland schools and graduated from Ashland High School. His family still lived here. On Sunday, July 24, he had celebrated Mass at St. Cecilia’s and then left on a vacation trip with his two sisters. He was struck by a car while crossing a street in Montreal and severely injured. He died next day in St. Luke’s Hospital. He had been serving as assistant at St. Joseph’s in Lynn but was buried from St. Cecilia’s. It was the largest funeral the town had ever seen. A Priests’ choir sang the requiem Mass accompanied by the organist of the Holy Cross Cathedral. Every store in Ashland closed during the funeral, for Father Michael was loved by all who had known him.

When Father Cronin came to Ashland he brought two relatives with him, his sister, Miss Annie Cronin, who was his housekeeper, and Miss Mary Gorman, a niece who became Sister Francoise. Both of these women were well liked by the parishioners. When Miss Annie Cronin died after a lingering illness, the parish mourned along with their priest.

The Protestant churches in Ashland found it necessary to federate during World War I as a means of saving coal and avoiding the need for three ministers. Now it was time for the Catholics to economize. The upper church was closed and all services were held in the lower hall as they had been when the church was first built.

Father Cronin’s health broke under the strain and the Cardinal appointed him Chaplain of the Academy of the Assumption in Wellesley. His love for children made this a happy choice and until he entered the hospital in 1939, a year before his death, he was able to continue his service to God in surroundings he enjoyed.


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