The growing success of the Cheney brothers’ silk mill, combined with an increasing number of Irish immigrants coming to Manchester for employment, brought about the need for a Catholic church on Manchester’s south side of town. Utilizing a valuable acre of land on Main Street donated by the Cheney brothers for construction of a new Catholic church, Irish immigrants dug out a foundation, and in 1874 the church’s cornerstone was blessed. Bishop Thomas Galberry dedicated the imposing building of Victorian Gothic design to St. James on August 20, 1876.
However, not every Manchester resident shared the Cheney view of welcoming Catholics. The town was the seat of anti-Catholic bigotry in the form of the Orange Lodge, a society comprised of men from Northern Ireland. In early May 1876, the unfinished St. James Church was vandalized in the early morning hours. Shortly thereafter, St. James received its first resident priest, Father Daniel Haggerty. In 1901, Father William McGurk purchased cemetery land and in 1922, St. James dedicated a brick school and convent on Park Street for the Sisters of Mercy. The school, known as Saint James School, was designated a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education in 2010 and is, at present, the largest Catholic elementary/middle school in the Archdiocese of Hartford.
You can read more about the history of St. James Church & School in our 125th Anniversary Celebration program.
Father John J. Loughran, pastor of St. James Church from 1947 to 1949, predicted that the rapid growth of Manchester’s Catholic population would require the parish to establish a mission. In 1953, Archbishop Henry J. O’Brien authorized the construction of a new church building on Adams Street. The Church of the Assumption was dedicated by Archbishop O’Brien on September 19, 1954 and Assumption was made a separate parish in June 1955, with Father Joseph E. Farrell appointed as the first pastor. In 1960, the Sisters of Charity from Baltic, Connecticut were invited to assist in teaching religious education to the parish’s children. In October 1961, Assumption School is dedicated by Auxiliary Bishop John F. Hackett. The school flourished for many decades, before declining enrollment led to its closure in 2015.
Today, under the leadership of Archbishop Blair and the Archdiocean Pastoral Planning Council, the Church of the Assumption is once again a mission of St. James Parish effective June 29th, 2017. The decree from Archbishop Blair can be read HERE with additional information available on the Hartford Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning website, stewardsfortomorrow.org.