History of St. Cecilia's

3. Growing and Changing

Meanwhile another pastor came to St. Cecilia’s, Charles Augustus Donahue. He found a worn-out parish and gave it life. He came in May, 1936, and before the summer was over had taken a census, formed committees for a grand parish reunion, installed a new floor in the sanctuary and a new tabernacle safe, the church had been painted and a new heating system was ready for winter. The whole parish worked on the reunion held on November 25, 1936, and the whole parish had a wonderful time.

Father Donahue reactivated the Sodality and the Holy Name Societies and formed the children of Mary and Junior Holy Name Societies. A year after his arrival Father had distributed Holy Communion to 11,000 people. The parish also had a new grotto. It was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin in May, 1937, at which time everyone took part in a May Procession. There were three Queens; Helen Molloy was the May Queen and crowned the statue, Catherine Hogan was Queen of the Rosary, and Josephine Rice was Queen of Peace. All the other girls wore white dresses and veils and carried bouquets. As they passed in front of the grotto, they laid the flowers at the feet of the statue of the Blessed Virgin. The band from St. Ann’s Neponset, Father’s former parish, provided music. They weren’t asked back because Father Donahue planned to have his own band.

On September 5, 1937, he asked boys and girls who wanted to be part of a trumpet and drum corps to leave their names at the rectory. Lessons would be 25¢ a week, trumpets would cost $10.00, and the parish would buy the drums.

They met at the Town Hall. Drum majors were chosen from the older girls, Irene McGill, Irene Dzindolet, Bette Booth, Doris Dancause and Irene LeDoux. There weren’t any instruments yet, so marching instruction began under Mr. Edward Keady. They went round and round the upper Town Hall. When the trumpets came, Mr. Fred Adams arrived as teacher. For one whole week, 50 beginning trumpeters looked for “G” and played what they hoped was “G” while the neighbors suffered. Any child seen on the streets of Ashland with swollen lips was recognized as a trumpeter from St. Cecilia’s. They did learn and Father persuaded the Memorial Day Committee to let the band march at the end of the town parade. They had new uniforms, blue capes with red linings, made by Miss Martha O’Connor and they could play two very short marches. Within the next ten years, they became a prize- winning CYO unit, sought after for parades throughout the state.

Father rewarded the work of the group of young people. He planned an outing at Nantasket for them. They paid their own way, however, by selling small American flags throughout the town. It was a wonderful, hot, happy day and they sang all the way home on the bus.

Maybe that was what gave Father the idea of a minstrel show to raise more money for the band. Bands are expensive. September 15, the band members appeared for the tryouts. They had to sing. Most of the girls were willing; the boys were less sure. But after a few bars of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” the endmen were selected. The chorus wore their uniforms and made splashes of color by displaying, the covering, the red linings in time with the music. The endmen were farmer-boys in overalls and straw hats. It was a tremendous success.

So much was happening that Father needed help, and, for the first time, a second priest lived in the rectory on Esty Street. Rev. Edward Sweeney Joseph Galvin was ordained the same spring Father Donahue arrived but Father Galvin didn’t come until two years later on January 19, 1938, His stay in Ashland was brief. Even his life was not long for he died in 1964 shortly after becoming pastor of the Sacred Heart Church in Lonesville. Now it was time for a party for Father Donahue. He celebrated his Silver Jubilee, January 10, 1939. There was a High Mass with visiting priests, followed by the presentation of a Spiritual Bouquet by the Sunday School, and in the evening a dinner and entertainment. The occasion was saddened when Chairman George V. Sullivan of the Selectmen, who, as a member of the Executive Committee, had worked very hard for the success of the Jubilee and was to give an address of welcome, collapsed and received the last rites of the Church before he was removed by ambulance to the Framingham Union Hospital where he passed away at noon of the following day.

Until April, 1939, members of St. Cecilia’s parish were buried in Framingham, Natick or Hopkinton, since Ashland had no Catholic cemetery. Father Donahue arranged with the town fathers for a newly opened section of Wildwood Cemetery to be consecrated and thus available for the Catholics of Ashland. Many parishioners accompanied Father Donahue that spring Sunday afternoon as he fulfilled another of their needs.

There was another change in October. Father Donahue was needed in East Boston at the Sacred Heart Church and his friend Father Edward M. Hartigan was assigned to St. Cecilia’s.

Father Hartigan arrived on October 24, 1939, one day before his 50th birthday. His coming brought many more changes to the parish. It was time to redecorate the main church again. It looked dark and dingy, but with a whole new decorating scheme it seemed like a new building.

A huge parish supper was arranged in the spring. Nearly 200 people enjoyed a ham dinner in the parish hall. This was followed in May by a band night when members competed against one another for prizes. The money raised by this event was used for band vacations. For many years Father Hartigan had run Camp Cedar Crest at Green Harbor. Now the children of Ashland would spend part of their summer as campers. Father had decided that new uniforms would make the band more like “his band.” The capes were replaced with fitted blue jackets, white skirts or pants, and white shoes. The drum majors had red jackets, new hats and boots! Now Father had his picture taken with the band.

The bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, changed the lives of all Americans but St. Cecilia’s still found things to celebrate. On June 8, 1942, Father Hartigan had been a priest for 25 years. There was a solemn High Mass sung by the children’s choir, after which Bobby Shaughnessy gave Father a Spiritual Bouquet from the parish and little Mary Hill presented one from the Sunday School. At 2:00 P.M., the new flag and flagpole were to be dedicated. Members of the American Legion and the band appeared in uniform. The rest of the parish was joined by neighbors and friends around the flagpole between the church and rectory. Professor Doyle of Boston College began a stirring address, for this was the sixth month anniversary of Pearl Harbor. The talk was a bit shorter than planned because the sky opened and it poured. Everyone adjourned to the nearby parish hall and the program was completed without further difficulty. The names of the 30 men and women in the armed forces were read. The flag and flagpole were dedicated to these young people. Certificates were given to their families. The day ended with a testimonial banquet and entertainment at the Town Hall with Lewis Rabbitt as chairman and toastmaster.

The celebrating wasn’t over then. At the Monday band rehearsal Father received a gift from the band members and shared a huge, specially decorated cake with them.

The band had been established for five years. That also was celebrated with a dinner in the parish hall. Two records were made that evening. One was sent to George Rice and the other to Edmund Nolan. They were the first and, at this time, the only band members to enter the service.

Cushing Hospital had been built in Framingham to care for the wounded. Trainloads of injured servicemen arrived on an irregular schedule. The Guild helped with the furnishing of a recreation room. Members of the parish joined their neighbors visiting the patients and helping in any possible way. The Junior Choir sometimes sang at the Sunday Mass in the Chapel, aided by parents who provided transportation in spite of gas rationing.

Another pastor came to St. Cecilia’s. William J. Conley, who had been ordained during World War I, came to Ashland during World War II. The war caused rationing and shortages but there was no shortage of energy at St. Cecilia’s. Eighty-nine men and women were now in the service.

The Guild was still being helpful. They had their annual banquet at the Kendall Hotel and helped to buy chairs for the parish hall. Father Donahue and Farther Hartigan came back for a St. Patrick’s Day Reunion. Father Conley thought Father Hartigan was the guest of honor and was quite surprised when, after being escorted to the stage by Selectman Martin Mulhall, he was presented with a beautiful wrist watch by General Chairman Lewis Rabbitt. Father enjoyed long walks. The watch was to help him keep track of the time on these walks. Drum major Irene Dzindolet was presented with a trophy suitably inscribed from the band. This was her final appearance as drum major and she was soon to be a bride.

In April the band went to Weymouth to assist at the dedication of a church flag and an American flag at Father Hartigan's new parish.

May brought one of the largest confirmations ever at St. Cecilia’s and the Most Rev. Richard J. Cushing, Administrator of the Boston Archdiocese, came here to confirm the children. There were two sets of twins in this class, Robert and Ronald Saunders and Curtis and Robert Greenwood. The Junior Choir sang at the Confirmation and later in the month they sang at the Spring Concert presented by the Ashland Home Study Club in the school auditorium.

The band was very busy, playing at a Red Cross blood donor rally, at the Marist Seminary, the May Procession, and the Memorial Day parade. In June they brought home a cup from the CYO competition at Boston College and played for the Sisters at Bethany also, demonstrating their ability to execute the drill maneuvers they had been practicing behind the church. They even gave a short concert at the Guild Strawberry Festival and all this before school let out for the summer.

In October another Silver Jubilee was celebrated. Father Conley received many gifts even before the parish gathered at the Town Hall with Father Donahue, Father Hartigan, Rev. Mr. Price of the Ashland Federated Church, State Senator Olsen, Father Lambert from the Marist Seminary, the Board of Selectmen and many priests who had known Father over the years. A substantial purse and a breviary were presented to the guest of honor and the evening closed after the people formed a long line to shake the hand of their pastor.

Soon the Guild members were busily at work on preparations for a Harvest Fair. One feature of the evening was a children’s amateur night. Prizes were defense stamps. Little Johnnie Horne, a piano accordionist, took first prize, a 25¢ stamp, while Carol Ann McManus and Janet Magnani received 10¢ stamps for their songs.

The interests of the Guild had expanded. They still raised money for the parish and contributed money and time to Cushing Hospital. Now they also sent gifts to the Marist Missions in the Solomon Islands. Mrs. Awad was War Bond Chairman and a good salesperson. Members knitted afghans from donated yarn when not otherwise occupied. In March they donated 230 articles of clothing to aid war sufferers. The whist parties continued as they had since the Guild began. Again this year the band played at the seminary, the May Procession and Memorial Day parade and brought home the Division III cup from Boston College. There was a dedication of a hemlock tree given to Henry Warren by the Telechron Associates. The tree was planted in Gordon Green Square to the music of St. Cecilia’s band. In the fall they helped dedicate the World War II Honor Roll beside the Post Office.

The Harvest Fair this year included an OPA Office of Price Administration booth in charge of the local rationing board. This was well-stocked with leaflets on such subjects as "Meat Buying Under Price Control," "How Point Values Are Set" and "Your Fair Share at a Fair Price."

A special event this year was an operetta, “In Mozart’s Time.” It was presented by the Guild and had an all-girl cast, featuring Theresa Dancause in the leading role.

Nineteen forty-five was as busy as the year before. Special events included a lecture and slide show by Father John E. Murphy on “Ireland’s Sacred Glories.” This was naturally the St. Patrick’s Day celebration. The Guild met monthly and the band played for the May Procession and Memorial Day. The trip to Boston College was different. Each year the band had returned the trophy won the year before, but when they brought it home this year, it was theirs to keep, for they had won it three years in a row. And there was a new band picture. It was now “Father Conley’s Band” and 23 former members were in the armed forces. The whist parties continued and the Harvest Fair was held again with members of the 4H Canning Club displaying their work. This really was a time for celebrating, for the war was finally over and the men and women who had gone from Ashland were coming home.

At Christmas time, under the guidance of Sister St. Gabriel, the Sunday School presented “The Pageant,” a series of ten tableaux which told the story of the birth and childhood of Jesus. All of the Sunday School took part either in one of the scenes or as members of the choir which sang appropriate carols for each picture. The pageant was also shown to the Sisters at Bethany.

Nineteen forty- six. This year the town was 100 years old. A picture of the members of the parish was taken near the flagpole. There were two floats to be built. The Guild made plans for a parish float and looked for a girl to portray St. Cecilia. They chose Theresa Dancause. Sr. St. Gabriel took charge of the Sunday School float. There were parts enough and work enough for everyone. Mr. Leverone offered one of his huge trailers on which heavy equipment is carried. He couldn’t lend it for long. Mr. Geoghegan of Sunshine Dairy had some wood but didn’t really want it cut up. A plan was drawn up to Sister’s specifications by John Hogan. Boards were selected, cutting very few. They were marked and stacked. Miles of crepe paper—red, white and blue— were sewn into fringe. Costumes were found or made. Friday afternoon, the workers assembled at Bethany, praying for good weather. By Saturday morning all the platforms had been built, the columns were secure and the whole, even the cab, was covered with fringe and crepe paper. The children climbed on and formed three separate tableaux on the float. The Blessed Virgin stood on a high platform between two fluted columns. Since all the children would not fit on the float, there was a line of children on either side wearing red and blue sashes and holding on to a long gold cord that stretched from the first child by the cab to the last one beside the V-for-Victory at the very end of the float. The parish float of St. Cecilia won a red ribbon which Father Conley presented to the Guild for all they had done.

The band had many engagements through the spring and summer but found time to put on another minstrel show directed by Mr. Daniel Keefe of Framingham. Featured in the show were a boys’ ballet and 11 Hula Boys. Since it produced bother money and enjoyment, everyone felt it was a great success.

In the spring the band played for the Annual St. Patrick’s Day Reunion. Father Donahue and Father Hartigan were honored guests. The entertainment featured Ashland’s talented dance team, young Bobby and Patty Walter. Then followed a dance for everyone, only this time square dances were included, called by Mr. Albert Haynes, the leader of the orchestra.

After taking first prize at the Legion Competition at Stone Park, the band enjoyed another trip to Nantasket Beach and Paragon Park. Since it was a rainy day, the amusement park was far more inviting than the beach.

In September, Father Conley was transferred to a much larger parish, St. Joseph’s in Amesbury. Under his direction, the repairs to the rectory had been completed, but all his plans for renovating the parish hall had to be left to his successor, Father John R. Wall.

Plans for the band’s 10th anniversary were already underway. It was held in the Town Hall which was gaily decorated in red, white, and blue. Fifty-seven active band members attended and many alumni also came. The Board of Selectmen; the minister, Rev. Hampton E. Price and his wife; Father Wall and parents of present and past members enjoyed a turkey banquet. Honored guests were Father Donahue, who gave the invocation, Father Hartigan, Father Conley and especially Mr. and Mrs. Fred Adams. Mr. Adams had been with the band from the start, first as trumpet instructor and now as bandmaster as well. Mrs. Adams was the accompanist for all programs. The success of the band owed much to them. Mrs. Rose Awad, band mother from the very beginning, was thanked for the many times she was there when needed, whether to polish a smudged trumpet, whiten with chalk the stain on shoes or skirt, or comfort a carsick youngster whose excitement had gotten the better of his or her tummy. As part of the evening’s program, amusing and interesting stories from the band’s history were read by one of the former members, Catherine Hogan. A trophy was given to Ernestine Awad, the only charter member still active. Letters came from the Archbishop and Sister St. Germaine who as Irene LeDoux was one of the original drum majors. A program given to each one contained a list of all present members and all the alumni, many of whom had come long distances to attend.

As the band celebrated its tenth anniversary, a new group was forming. About a dozen young women, mostly former members of the Junior Choir, began rehearsing a program of Christmas music to be presented at the Guild Christmas Party. They found the meeting fun and, when Christmas was over, decided to sing together as St. Cecilia’s Glee Club. Evidently they fulfilled a need, for they were asked to sing often. Father Wall joined the group, now 16 in number, when the newspaper asked for a picture.

At the Annual St. Patrick’s Day Reunion, the glee club sang, Charles Garbarino played his accordion, and the Eagles Drill Team of Framingham performed. Bob Augustine, who was drill instructor for the band, was drill master and drummer for this group. The band lost another drum major that night. Marjorie Murphy had retired the previous fall and now Father Wall presented a trophy to Dorothy Mack for her many years of faithful service.

The band and the glee club continued to perform and the Guild worked at fund-raising and other service projects. At Christmas, Father decided to add something new. Dick Fannon arranged a loud-speaker system with the speakers on the rectory roof and the microphone in the parish hall. The glee club arrived at 11:30 Christmas Eve and sang carols until midnight when Mass began. This was repeated for several years.

St. Cecilia’s was blessed by having the seminary of the Marist Fathers so near. Priests from this order had helped out here for many years, until some members of the congregation called Father Lambert, jokingly, the assistant at St. Cecilia’s. Now the Marist Fathers suggested that perhaps the parish would be interested in the Third Order of Mary. Once permission was received from the Chancery, an active unit was begun in the parish.

Sunday May 24, 1949, was a very special day. Fourteen children received First Communion and Father Wall celebrated his Silver Jubilee. The Town Hall was decorated with hothouse plants and blue and white streamers. The glee club sang. Father Donahue returned as did Father Conley. Edward J. Shaughnessy presented Father Wall with a substantial purse, a huge cake was cut and a reception followed. Father Wall, who had been an instructor in the sociology department of St. Margaret’s School of Nursing and who was Archdiocesan Director of the Guild of Catholic Social Workers received tributes from Father Grady of Boston College High School and John Cavanaugh of the Boston College Club and Rev. Taglino, his very old friend and an honored guest. Father Conley came from New York to add his good wishes and said he still took long walks as he had in Ashland.

The busy days passed quickly. Another project to raise money for the parish was planned for February 14, 1950. In spite of a snowstorm there was a good turnout at a Valentine Cabaret in Dennison Memorial Hall. Red and white cupids decorated the windows and red and white cloths covered the tables. The program began with a baton-twirling contest. Louise Demarini received the trophy. The glee club sang and tiny Marla Moran delighted everyone with her acrobatic dancing. Diane Holland, the pride of St. Cecilia’s trumpeters, played two numbers and Father Wall thanked everyone for their efforts and for coming out in such weather.

Again it was time to attend to the church building. The upper church needed fresh paint and the old organ was not doing well. But before Father could attend to them he was notified that he was to be pastor of the Church of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes in Newton Upper Falls.

The new pastor, Rev. William J. Callahan, came from Gate of Heaven Church, South Boston. He arrived at this, his first parish, on September 17, 1950, and faced the usual busy year. He added visiting with as many parish groups as possible to his activities and in June was in the hospital, with Father Lambert attending to the needs of the parish during this time.

The parish was still growing and the number of automobiles grew faster than the number of families. Parking on Esty street was a definite problem. There was room beside the church, so parking spaces for 50 cars were provided there.

The Archdiocesan TV Center was airing Mass on Sunday mornings with groups from various parishes attending. Several times Father Callahan said Mass for groups from this area. Since it was necessary to leave very early to be in time for the pre-program preparation not everyone was wide-awake when leaving Ashland. One gentleman was glad the program was in black and white since he found when leaving the studio, that one of his shoes was black and the other brown.

The parish again celebrated the Silver Jubilee of their pastor. On May 20, 1952, in the Central Street School hall, a reception was held for Father Callahan. There was an interesting musical program as entertainment. He received congratulations from the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, George Tegelaar, Jr. and Father Lambert. Then two representatives of the Girl Scouts of Gate of Heaven, South Boston, gave Father a beautiful statue of the Blessed Virgin, a card and check from his former parishioners as a token of their affection. There was a huge cake and a reception line before the evening closed.

St. Cecilia’s was still growing and indeed there was more than enough work for two priests. It was a happy day for Father Callahan when help came. Father Charles R. Kane was not quite 25 years old and full of energy when he arrived on October 12, 1953. Father Callahan's band, organized by Father Kane, now represented the parish. A major change was the color of the uniforms. Until this time they had worn royal blue but these uniforms were red and the hats were overseas caps.

Now it was the rectory that needed renovating again. The strain of parish worries certainly didn’t help Father Callahan. December found him in the hospital again and Father Kane alone in the rectory. Father Callahan was able to resume his parish duties in January, however.

In September, Marian High School, staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph, opened in Framingham. This was one of the regional schools organized by the Cardinal. Until this time children from St. Cecilia’s could attend parochial elementary school in Framingham but had difficulty commuting to a Catholic high school. Many were delighted with the opportunity offered and became members of the first class to enter which graduated in 1960.

Several years before, land across from the parking lot had been offered for sale to the Church but the diocesan authorities did not think it a wise purchase. Now the land was offered as a gift, but with the restriction that it could only be used for religious purposes such as a school or convent. Again the offer was refused; but after the restriction was changed to an understanding, the church was happy to accept the land. It was needed, but the danger was that that it would have been impossible to sell the land at any time in the future if circumstances were to make this desirable.

Father Callahan loved to read. In order to make his library available to the parish, a lending library was set up in the church entry. Religious books not usually available through the public library were loaned without charge and new books were added regularly.

With two priests it was now possible to have four Masses each Sunday. But religious instruction between the 8 and 10 o’clock Masses was no longer possible. There were too many children. Classes for all children from the first to the seventh grade were moved to Saturday morning and another Mass added each Sunday. There were many activities provided by the Church for the children. There were troops of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the Junior Choir, the Junior Tabernacle Society, and Altar Boys were always needed.

With two priests and a housekeeper living in the rectory there was little room for visiting clergy. Another quite extensive alteration of the rectory was begun and completed just as Father Callahan was notified that he was needed at St. Stephen’s in Framingham.

The new pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Francis Moriarty, had Father Kane and a newly formed parish council to help him. Father Moriarty enjoyed being the pastor of St. Cecilia’s. He wanted to meet his new flock and offered to bless the homes of the new families. Many new homes were being built in town and Ashland was growing rapidly. Property adjoining the parish land was offered for sale. The house at the corner of Esty and Union Streets was purchased.

The grotto was rebuilt and Discussion Clubs formed. The parish wanted an official welcome for Father Moriarty so a testimonial for both Father Moriarty and Father Callahan was organized by a committee composed of the officers of all parish societies and held on October 16. Father Callahan was happy to visit with old friends and now Father Moriarty felt really welcomed to Ashland.

Father Kane’s time at St Cecilia’s, however, was ending. In February, 1957, he left for St. Joseph’s in Medford and newly ordained Rev. Frederick M. Cameron arrived. Two months later, Father Moriarty also left. He had enjoyed his stay in Ashland, but the strain of managing a growing and active parish had been too much. He was unable to continue and retired to spend his remaining days in residence at St. Patrick’s and then St. Peter’s in Dorchester.


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