(A revised history will be coming in the near future)
Holy Ghost Church is located in the north end of Tiverton, R.I. We are surrounded by God’s natural beauty. At one time, pastures of grazing animals and large fields of untouched land were taken for granted by those who lived here. We are bathed by Mount Hope Bay, a part of Narragansett Bay near the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. A summer sunset in Tiverton is truly a sight to behold.
In the year 1870, Tiverton was little more than a large meadow, the property of several farming families known as “the blueberry or huckleberry grounds”. At the time, events took place which changed the very aspect of the town. Two large cotton mills were erected, one at Tiverton’s very gate. The Shove Mill was built in 1870 and later the Bourne Mill in 1881.
The prospect of earning fair wages attracted settlers. The farms were converted into house lots and were quickly bought by the settlers and land speculators. Year after year the population grew. A cottage with sufficient land for a poultry yard and garden was more attractive than a tenement house in the city. The first settlers were generally non-Catholics. In 1874 the first Catholic family established itself in North Tiverton.
Many French Canadians emigrated to Tiverton appreciating the nearness to their daily work, the quiet of the county and its wholesome climate along the seashore. Portuguese from the Azores began to settle here, thus establishing the third major national group found in the town at the time: English, French and Portuguese.
In May 1908, the late Bishop Matthew Harkins confided to the Holy Ghost Fathers the whole territory comprising the towns of Portsmouth, Tiverton and Little Compton, with Portsmouth as the seat of the whole parish. Passing through North Tiverton to acquaint Rev. Christopher Rooney, C.S.Sp., the first pastor with his vast parish, the Bishop said to him, “Eventually there will be a church here, and it will be part of your parish.”
In the year 1913, Bishop Harkins authorized the erection of a Mission Church in North Tiverton. At its founding, it was known as the Church of the Holy Paraclete. In 1920, Bishop William A. Hickey changed the name to The Church of The Holy Ghost, a name favored by the parishioners. Father Rooney assumed responsibility for the new mission while still residing in Portsmouth.
On June 6, 1915, the church was completed and dedicated by Bishop Harkins. Ralph Boardman and William V. O’Connell, the first two altar boys in the parish, served at the dedication of the new church. Also serving as altar boys were Joseph Simpson and Thomas Williamson. On this same day, the Sacrament of Confirmation was administered at the mission for the first time.
Initial construction of the church hall, formerly the Judson Street School, was authorized by Bishop Harkins in 1917. The following year Father Rooney resigned due to ill health. The mission was placed in the hands of Rev. Joseph Boehr, C.S.Sp. “Father Joseph”, as he was known by all, was a missionary from the Portuguese African Congo. For eight years, there was no rectory at the mission. Father Joseph served North Tiverton while still residing in Portsmouth. The trolley car of those days did not always get through the winter snow, but Father Joseph did. One snowy Sunday morning it took him four hours to walk from Portsmouth to North Tiverton. He arrived cold and a little late to celebrate Mass. Finally, bishop Hickey made it possible for him to rent a room near the church, and in due time, a rectory would be built in North Tiverton.
Early parishioners worked untiringly at church suppers and lawn parties to defray the building cost at Holy Ghost. There was a spirit of unity among these people that is unsurpassed to this day. A July, 1920 edition of “The Evening Herald” described one such party:
Several hundred people, a cool summer night with starlit skies and more than a dozen booths entwined in pastel shades of crepe paper, were the prominent features at the seventh annual lawn party for the benefit of the Church of the Paraclete, which opened last night on the parish grounds, Judson Street, North Tiverton and which will continue this evening and Friday night. Young and old patronized the booths which were well stocked with useful articles and hundreds enjoyed the chicken salad supper served in the parish hall under the supervision of Mrs. Manual P. Fernandes.
While still a mission, various church societies were established including the Holy Name Society for the men with forty-five members, the Sacred Heart League or Altar Society for the women with forty-nine members, the Children of Mary Sodality for girls with sixty members, and later a Junior Holy Name for young boys of the parish. The Ladies of St. Anne Society was organized in 1916 with Mrs. Joseph Lafleur as first president. The St. Vincent de Paul Conference was founded at Holy Ghost sixteen years later in 1932 with a membership of fourteen.
By the year 1923, the mission was raised to the status of parish, with Father Joseph Boehr as pastor. In 1924, land was purchased for the building of the rectory. Construction was begun on June 13, 1924.
In 1932, the men of the parish began weekly bingo parties. They were held in the basement of the hall. Prizes were awarded to winners at this time because money gifts were not allowed by law. The first Saturday night that money prizes were initiated, they found themselves with an overflow crowd. Tables were quickly set up in the upper hall to accommodate the players. A man was stationed on the stairs to relay the numbers to the people upstairs. By the next Saturday night, Mr. Frank Charrette had set up a public address system; from then on the upper and lower halls were used on Saturday night.
Twenty-eight years later in 1960, Albert Hurel, Ralph Boardman, Alfred Beaulieu and Constantine Andrade were honored at a testimonial at White’s for their many years of dedicated and continuous work for the parish bingo parties. Mr. Albert Hurel still serves as one of the Trustees of the parish.
The ministry of the parish was a complicated one due to the different nationalities of the parishioners. In 1934, there were two Sunday Masses, one at 7:30 and the other at 9:30. At both Masses announcements were made in three languages. At the 9:30 High Mass, the sermon was in English. At this time, the parish consisted of 347 families as compared to 258 families in 1914.
The year 1941 was a memorable one for the parish with the ordination of its first parishioner to the priesthood, the Rev. Zennon St. Laurent Jr. In 1943, Rev. Kerry O.C. Keane succeeded Father Boehr, who retired because of ill health. Under Father Keane’s direction, the parish prospered and the church building underwent extensive renovation work in 1950.
The year 1958 brought forth the realization of the parishioners’ hopes for a Catholic school. The Holy Ghost School was blessed on June 15. It was staffed by the Sisters of the Holy Union of the Sacred Heart. The convent was built across the street from the rectory in 1962. The architect was none other than Edward M. Corbett, the man who had designed and built the first chapel for Father Rooney.
The Women’s Guild of Holy Ghost Parish was begun around 1952 by a group of women who wanted to help the children of the parish. Mrs. Yvonne Kearns was elected first president of the Guild. Mrs. Rose Martin began the tradition of the “hot dog roast” for the children of Holy Ghost School.
In 1967, the Holy Ghost Fathers turned the care of the parish over to the Diocese of Providence and Rev. John J. Condon was named Pastor, succeeding Father Keane. During Father Condon’s administration, the church was completely renovated to meet the requirements of the new liturgy.
The parish was saddened to learn that Holy Ghost School would close in 1970. The Holy Union Sisters could no longer staff it; and it was with regret that they left the parish at the end of that school year.
Rev. Peter G. Young was appointed pastor in 1971. Because of his concern for the religious education of the children of the parish, he saw the need for a full time CCD coordinator. Thus in 1972, Holy Ghost was blessed with the addition of Sister Mary Alexis Nolan to our parish. She was to be our first full time CCD coordinator.
The Parish Council was begun in November of 1972. And in 1976, Holy Ghost Parish was comprised of 1,150 families and 4,140 parishioners.