1905 it begins!
The early history of the villages of Mapleville and Oakland appears to be that of a remote but pleasant region which developed at a slow pace. The first settlers in this area were the lumbermen and farmers who struggled to clear the land from the dense forests. These pioneers were soon followed by others who would develop a few modest cotton mills which constituted the area's first light industry. Yet, as late as 1855, we still find that only some 305 persons are listed as living in the Mapleville section of Burrillville.
But from that time onward, the twin villages of Mapleville and Oakland would grow at a significant rate. The impetus for this growth would be the large scale development of the woolen and worsted weaving industry in both villages.
In Oakland the manufacturing of worsted goods would significantly increase with the purchase of an existing mill in 1892 by the Metcalf Brothers of Providence, R.I. To this day, many of the older parishioners fondly recall that under the capable and just management of the Superintendent, Mr. William White, the "Oakland Worsted Mill" became the foundation for making Oakland one of the model "mill villages" of New England.
Within a short time, a number of new homes were built and eventually a Recreation Hall established near the mill to serve the needs of the factory workers. Oakland by this time was well noted for its picturesque atmosphere, as it lay nestled among its many wooded hills and calm streams.
In Mapleville during this same period, a succession of different owners caused some turmoil, which initially hindered the development of that village. The situation was not altered until 1901 when Mr. Charles Fletcher of Providence, R.I. purchased the then known "Mapleville Manufacturing Company.'' Mr. Fletcher bought not only the mill, but also the entire village of Mapleville; which he greatly improved by building a number of homes for the mill workers, planting a number of choice maple trees, introducing electric lights in the streets and homes, and by making a number of other fine improvements. If the Oakland residents were proud of their Recreation Hall, those in Mapleville were soon able to enjoy a greatly expanded version known as the "Casino."
The mill itself was also enlarged, and its name changed to the "Coronet Worsted Mill." Soon some 500 persons were working in this new mill, and they were able to produce an excellent assortment of textile products. The combination of all these factors would enable Mapleville to quickly develop into a prosperous mill town in its own right.
But who were these mill workers? For the most part they appear to have been the newly arrived immigrants who came to Rhode Island to work in the textile mills in order to obtain a better way of life for themselves and their families. At that time (1890-1910) the textile industry's rapid growth had caused a severe labor shortage. For many mill owners the only alternative was to encourage the importation and maintenance of immigrant labor. Of all the immigrant groups, the French Canadians during this time would be the ones who responded in the greatest number. Rhode Island in general and Mapleville Oakland in particular, would see a large influx of French Canadians during these years. By 1905 it was estimated that approximately 70% of the population of both villages were of French Canadian ancestry.
THE FOUNDING OF OUR PARISH
It was during this period of time that many of the good Catholics of Mapleville and Oakland expressed a desire to form a separate parish where their religious needs could be better served. Up until this time both villages were considered as a mission of the predominantly Irish parish of St. Patrick's in Harrisville, R.I.
After due consideration, the Most Rev. Bishop Mathew Harkins acceded to their request. Based upon the increasing population and the growing prosperity of the twin villages, the Bishop felt the time had come for these hard working French Canadians to have their own parish. On August 24, 1905 the mission was formally and officially raised to the status of a parish. On that same date the Rev. Hormisdas Mailloux was appointed the first pastor of the new parish.
At that time about 155 families were included in the new parish which comprised the villages of Mapleville, Oakland, Whipple and Gazzaville. On the very same day of his nomination, Father Mailloux called upon Father Thomas E. Ryan, the Pastor of St. Patrick's, to acquaint him of his appointment. Father Ryan then drove him into the field of his future labor with the intention of finding a boarding house. It was Mr. Charles Pelletier, an old pioneer of French Canadian descent, who offered the pastor the use of his home until Father Mailloux established himself in the parish.
Two of our senior parishioners, Charles Gaudreau and William Pelletier, each have some very vivid recollections of Father Mailloux during these years. It seems that both of these "youngsters" were living with their grandfather, Charles Pelletier, at that time. They remember Father Mailloux as being tall and lanky, with black curly hair. They also remember the young Pastor as an energetic priest who wasn't afraid of work, and who was loved and respected by all.
On September 3, 1905 the first High Mass was celebrated in the Recreation Hall in Oakland. This hall had been generously offered to the Pastor by Mr. William White of the "Oakland Worsted Mill." Upon discussing this historic event with Mr. William Pelletier, he recalled the excitement generated throughout both villages on this joyous occasion. Mr. Pelletier actually participated in this ceremony as one of the first altar boys, along with Amos St.Pierre and Jack Hetherman.
On September 8th, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the church was incorporated under the title of "L'Eglise de Notre Dame de Bonsecours" the Church of Our Lady of Good Help. Therefore, within a space of fifteen days, the parish had been formed, the first Pastor had been named, a hall had been transformed into a place of worship, and the parish officially incorporated.
Father Mailloux then immediately set himself about organizing the spiritual and temporal welfare of his worthy people. As related by one of our senior parishioners, Nellie Forcier, this was no easy task. Because of certain difficulties that existed between the people of the two principal villages, feelings were often strained on a number of occasions. Yet with much admirable zeal and a constant application to his work, the young Pastor pursued his purpose. By his eloquence, geniality and encouraging example, he soon created an enthusiasm that would work wonders in the formation of a true parish.
Father Mailloux then called for a general meeting of the men in the parish, and on September 13th in the Recreation Hall in Oakland, Mr. Charles Pelletier and James Maloney were elected trustees of the church. It was also decided that the parish should purchase some land which would be suitable for the eventual erection of a Church, a Rectory, and someday a School. It was further agreed upon that this land should be as central as possible in the parish, in order to accommodate all the people involved.
It was at this point that Charles Pelletier offered as a site for the Church, a knoll with irregular hill sides that commanded a beautiful view over the entire parish with its picturesque surroundings. This land had been used as a recreation area for picnics and dancing up to that time. The site was agreeable to all concerned, and arrangements were made to purchase it from Mr. Pelletier.
With the same dauntless spirit and ardor which was so evident among all the early French Canadian immigrants, the young Pastor and his flock began the work of clearing, felling and grading a suitable site for the future rectory and church. Father Mailloux himself was often found working alongside his willing parishioners with a pick and shovel. Most of the work was accomplished on Saturday afternoons by countless individuals who gave freely of their time. Additional assistance was provided by both Mr. Fletcher and Mr. White who furnished implements, horses and plows free, to encourage the community. Thus, within a few short months a wild, wooded, and irregular hillside was transformed into a lovely and level location which commanded a beautiful sight over the entire parish.
While these events were transpiring, the excavation for the construction of the rectory began on October 5, 1905. By December 6, 1905 a contract was signed with Nelson Robitaille of Mapleville to construct the rectory on the excavated site for $3700. Though certain delays were encountered due to Mr. Robitaille's untimely demise, the rectory was completed and occupied by Father Mailloux on September 1, 1906.
THE YEARS OF GROWTH
With the rectory completed, attention immediately focused on the construction of an appropriate church. Plans and contracts had already been formulated with the architectural firm of Fontaine and Kinnicutt as well as with the general contractor of Dorais and Dupuis. By September 22, 1906 the foundation of the new church was laid.
On October 14, 1906 the laying of the cornerstone was accompanied by ceremonies which are remembered to this date by some of the older members of the parish. The Most Rev. Bishop Mathew Harkins was the principal celebrant, and he spoke in both French and English to the assembled throng. The Bishop expressed his admiration and congratulations for the zeal, earnestness and courage of the Pastor and his people; he further lauded them for their devotion and their wonderful generosity.
Within a period of less than a year, the Most Rev. Bishop would return to dedicate the completed new church on May 30, 1907. That day was a gold letter day in the annals of our parish. In a ceremony conducted by Bishop Harkins, some twenty five priests of the diocese participated. The feast was all the more imposing and solemn because of the Confirmation Ceremonies involving sixty two children. More than six hundred persons attended the ceremony, and after the Mass another three hundred and fifty persons attended a banquet to conclude the event.
The work of organization and improvements would continue unabated. The planting of shrubs and trees, the erection of the beautiful retaining wall all along the land; each one added to the picturesque aspect of the church property.
It was after so much work that Father Mailloux, on the 11th of December 1909, met with a very serious automobile accident which would incapacitate him for a very long period of time. During this period the Rev. H. Z. Sylvestre was named temporary administrator. Eventually Father Mailloux would resign because of the permanent hearing impairment that he had sustained. This dedicated "curé fondateur" continued to serve the church until his death on April 13, 1951 at "L'Hospice St. Antoine" in North Smithfield, R.I. where he served as Chaplain.
On October 30, 1911 the Rev. Father Mathias Hebert was appointed Pastor of Our Lady of Good Help. Father Hebert would encounter the same zeal and generosity that had been evident since the founding of the parish. With the drive that was so characteristic of him, the new Pastor began the work of completing the parish's ambitions. Soon Father Hebert would purchase an additional piece of land, adjacent to the church, which he intended to use for the erection of a school. This event was also accompanied by the purchase of a house which would later serve as a home for the Sisters of the proposed school.
While these events were transpiring, the parish would also witness a splendid feast. On April 13, 1913 a bell was blessed which had been purchased through the generosity of the parishioners. This bell is named after its most generous donors: Messieurs Hector St. Pierre, Charles Pelletier, Joseph Bilodeau and Joseph Godin. Later in the same year on December 13th, the parish would also celebrate the arrival of a new organ which was purchased from the Estery Organ Co. of Brattleboro, Vermont.
It was quite fitting that the parish took time at this point to organize an appropriate celebration to acknowledge its growth and success. In September of 1915 a splendid celebration took place, in which the parish acknowledged its tenth anniversary.
With their spirits renewed, Father Hebert and the parishioners continued the building operations established by their predecessors. Through the use of the new Pastor's financial methods, the parish debt was soon cleared and sufficient funds still remained to complete a parochial school by September of 1916.The Sisters of Divine Providence from Kentucky were soon given the direction of the new school which opened in October of 1916. This predominantly French speaking order provided five sisters for the school: Sister Mary Aquinata (Superior), Sister Mary Elise, Sister Mary Mechtilde, Sister Mary Charitas, and Sister Mary Marcia.
Mr. Roy Jarvis, gives us an accurate account of how the school operated during that first year of 1916 1917. There were four classrooms which held the eight different grades (two grades in each class). During that school year the students in Mr. Jarvis' second grade class were graded as to "Conduct, Diligence, Order and Neatness, Christian Doctrine, Reading, Spelling, Arithmetic, French, Grammar, and Home Work."
Within less than a dozen years, the parish was placed in a prosperous and flourishing condition. Between Father Mailloux and Father Hebert, Our Lady of Good Help had been given the proper leadership to grow and develop beyond anyone's expectations. In his book on "The Catholic Church in Burrillville" Father Ryan had these admiring comments concerning our parish: "On the whole, the marvelous work accomplished by these two intelligent and energetic pastors, within a space of less than twenty years, can hardly be paralleled in our diocese when one considers the rather slender resources at their command. It is likewise a striking proof, among many others, of the devotedness and generosity of those brave hardworking French Canadian people toward our Catholic Faith......"
The parish statistical report for 1920 is of further interest to us, as it provides an insight into the number and make up of the parish and its organizations at that time.
Among the most active organizations we note: la " Société du St. Nom de Jesus," les "Dames de Ste. Anne," la "Congrégation de Marie," le" Société St. Louis de Gonzague," la "Société de Notre Dame de Bonsecours," le "Choeur Paroissial," and la "Société Dramatique."
THE PARISH MATURES
In January of 1923 Father Hebert was named pastor of St. Cecilia's Church in Pawtucket, R.I., and the Rev. Hormisdas Sylvestre was appointed to succeed him. This was the same Father Sylvestre who had been the temporary administrator during Father Mailloux's earlier period of incapacitation. Father Sylvestre by his genial and large hearted ways grew steadily into the affection of his flock. Many parishioners can still recall his "visits" to the students at the school which often ended with a "petit congé" (small leave).
It was during this time that Father Sylvestre made great progress in the gradual cultivation of the lovely lawns which he bedecked with a variety of flowers and plants.
During the year of 1926, Father Sylvestre became incapacitated and the Rev. George Cochet, S.C.J. a missionary, was named administrator of the parish. He remained here until a successor was named as pastor following the death of Father Sylvestre on October 29, 1929. Father Cochet is best remembered for his interest in athletics and other outdoor activities. Under his guidance numerous activities flourished for the youth. Of special interest were the "Cadets" who participated in numerous hiking and camping activities.
On July 9th, 1929 Father Donat L. Lussier was appointed Pastor. Most of the parishioners remember him as a quiet and distinguished man. One important highlight of his stay here was the celebration of his Silver Jubilee on Sunday, December 17,1933.
Father Lussier was succeeded by Father A. E. Olivier, who stayed only three years. In 1937 Father Ovide Plasse was named Pastor of Our Lady of Good Help. Father Plasse would remain here until his death in 1952.
Though we have covered these last years rather quickly, they were nevertheless filled with many significant moments. Shortly after 1924, Mr. Fletcher died and the mill in Mapleville closed. Not until it was reopened as a branch mill of the "Stillwater Worsted Company" did prosperity return. Yet this prosperity was to be short lived, as the depression would play its harsh role. Many parishioners have provided us with a deep insight into the privations associated with that era.
Shortly thereafter the Second World War would call, and many of our young parishioners would leave to serve their country. Among those who did not return were Armand Lapierre (who died in France shortly after D Day) and Edward F. Tessier (who was killed in a plane crash while on a training mission in Montana).
The death of Father Plasse in 1952 brought Father Ernest Martineau to the parish as Pastor. His stay was short and he was succeeded by Father Henry J. Laliberte in February of 1955.
Father Laliberte was an energetic pastor who contributed greatly to the success enjoyed by the parish's 50th Anniversary Celebration which was held in 1955. This event is still well remembered by the many people who participated in it. Among the many invited guests we note the presence of Father Hebert, who returned to Our Lady of Good Help to visit with his former parishioners.Father Laliberte's stay as Pastor was extremely short and he was replaced by Father Francois X. Bouchard in 1958. It was during this time that the custom of having sermons in French and English was discontinued. Up until that time, the use of both languages was always employed at all of the parish's official functions and ceremonies. Father Bouchard continued to administer to the needs of his parish until he was succeeded by Father Rene Guertin on January 31, 1969.
Since the end of the 20th Century, OLGH has grown from a rural to more suburban parish, reflecting the growth in the town of Burrillville. In 1994, parishioner Richard Lapierre was ordained a permanent deacon and continues to faithfully serve OLGH. Several pastors have come and gone since 1980, each bringing with them their respective gifts, visions and sensibilities.
In 2005, OLGH celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the parish. In 2015, OLGH was yoked with St. Theresa's in Nasonville, sharing one pastor and pastoral resources, beginning a new chapter in the life of the Catholic Church in Burrillville. Despite this change, OLGH continues to serve as a viable spiritual home for Catholics in Northern Rhode Island. Merged formally with St.Theresa Shrine in 2019, the future is bright!
PASTORS OLGH 1905 to Present
REV. HORMISDAS MAILLOUX 1905-1911
REV. HORMISDAS-ZENON SYLVESTRE 1909-1911
REV. MATHIAS HEBERT 1911-1923
REV. HORMISDAS SYLVESTRE 1923-1929
REV. DONAT LUSSIER 1929-1934
REV. A. E .OLIVIER 1934-1937
REV. OVIDE PLASSE 1937-1952
REV. GEORGE McCRA 1950-1952
REV. ERNEST MARTINEAU 1952-1955
REV. HENRY J. LALIBERTE 1955-1958
REV. FRANCOIS X. BOUCHARD 1958-1969
REV. RENE GUERTIN 1969-1980
REV. ARMAND V. VENTRE 1980-1985
REV. JOHN ALLARD 1985-1996
REV. TIMOTHY LEMLIN 1996-2004
REV. JOSEPH PESCATELLO 2004-2010
REV. ROBERT MARCIANO 2010-2012
REV. ROMAN MANCHESTER 2012-2014
REV. MICHAEL J. McMAHON 2014- PRESENT.
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