A History of St. Joseph Parish, Springfield, Mass.
Prelude - Faith and Sacrifice 1948-1955 Joys and Honors
1873-1908 Auspicious Beginnings 1955-1962 A New Pastor
1908-1924 Additions and Subtractions 1960’s Service Through Organizations
1924-1933 A Building Parish 1967-1968 Building Again
1933-1939 New Challenges 1970’s The Future Starts Now
1939-1947 A Concerned Parish Epilogue
1947-1948 Celebrations and Ceremonies Recent Pastors and Administrators
Prelude Faith and Sacrifice

More than a century ago in Springfield, when the efforts of a zealous pioneer priest bore fruit in the establishment of a Franco-American parish after two predecessors’ attempts had failed, day-to-day living was in itself an arduous ordeal, in comparison with today. Fewer than thirty thousand people lived in what is now "the City of Homes," and their properties were situated about the two streams which ran through the heart of town to the Connecticut River. What are today considered "necessities" were unheard-of luxuries then. There were no electric lights, no telephones, no trolleys or autos. Horse-drawn streetcars — the only form of public transportation — provided hourly service over unpaved streets.

Reverend Magloire Turcotte had served the French-Canadian Catholic people of the Springfield area from October, 1869, to July, 1870. Reverend Augustus La Verdiere was their spiritual leader fromApril, 1871, to April, 1872. But it took the "Builder of Churches" — an energetic forty-three-year-old missionary priest who had already earned this title in Canada and in Vermont — to found the Parish of St. Joseph in the Diocese of Springfield, which had itself only been established in 1870. Having arrived in Massachusetts that same year, Reverend Louis Gagnier immediately founded two parishes within the diocese — St. Denis in East Douglas, and St. Ann in Manchaug. In 1871, he established the Parishes of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Ware and St. Aloysius in Gilbertville. The year 1872 saw him organizing St. Thomas Aquinas in West Warren and St. Paul’s in Warren. In addition to St. Joseph’s, other parishes established in 1873 were St. Aloysius in Indian Orchard and St. Guillaume, now St. Theresa, in Agawam. St. Louis, in West Springfield, was founded in 1895. back to top

1873-1908 Auspicious Beginnings
  On March 9, 1873, Father Gagnier celebrated Mass for the first gathering of his Springfield flock in the auditorium of the City Hall. Residing at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Marsolais on Old Dwight Street, he also offered weekday Masses there.
In April, St. Joseph’s Parish, now firmly established, moved its Sunday services to Gilmore Hall on Main Street. The following month, land on Howard Street was purchased for twenty thousand dollars. Construction of the church basement filled the summer months, with parishioners contributing their digging services and Father Gagnier working side-by-side with them in the dust and mud of the excavation.

On All Saints’ Day, 1873, the first Mass was said in the basement church of St. Joseph by this zealous pastor whose fame had become widespread. "The priest with the beard" was known by his stove-pipe hat and "Prince Albert" coat. He always carried a walking stick on his daily jaunts, but never an umbrella. He also carried, in his pockets, candy for the children he met and nickels for the way-farers. Although precise records were kept of each of the churches he founded and built, he did not involve himself with financial details — he left that entirely in the hands of God and his people.

In 1877, "the most beautiful and largest of all Father Gagnier’s churches" was completed. King’s Handbook of 1884 described it: "The structure is of brick, of simple architecture but extremely imposing. The edifice is 144 feet long and 65 feet wide. The tower is included in these dimensions. The basement area is 14 feet high; the walls of the nave are 21 feet high, which connected to the skylight area reach a height of 52 feet from floor to ceiling. The tower and belfry are 172 feet high. Total cost of the property and the present structure are estimated at sixty thousand dollars. The population of the parish is more than four hundred families."

It was in the Fall of 1884 that the Sisters of St. Joseph opened a parish school, with classes held in the church basement for an initial enrollment of one hundred and fifty.

By the time Father Gagnier purchased the Root property in 1890, electricity had replaced the gaslights on the city streets and telephones had been installed in many homes and business establishments.

In 1897, the parish was ready to build again. That Fall, Father Gagnier commissioned architectural plans from Chickering and O’Connell for a school building. The three-story stone-trimmed brick edifice, dedicated by Bishop Thomas D. Beaven on May 8, 1898, was considered one of the finest school buildings in Massachusetts, incorporating the most modern of heating and electrical systems.

In August of that year, Sisters of the Holy Cross came from their Canadian Motherhouse in St. Laurent, Montreal, to take charge of the parish school.

In its first quarter-century, the National Parish of St. Joseph, originally consisting entirely of French-speaking people of Springfield, West Springfield, Mittineague, and Longmeadow, had increased from fourteen hundred and sixty souls to over three thousand. Within the next decade, the school enrollment reached a peak of four hundred and eight students.

A history published in 1900 stated: "The people of this parish are generally of the laboring class, but many of them may be considered skilled workmen. They have amongst them builders and contractors. Some are in the professions and a few are merchants. They are known as an industrious and thrifty people."

The highlight of Father Gagnier’s priestly career was the Golden Jubilee celebration of his ordination on December 5, 1905, which began with a Mass of Thanksgiving, followed by a huge banquet in St. Joseph’s Hall at which the Jubilarian was toasted by Bishop Beaven, Bishop Racicot of Montreal, Mayor Dickinson of Springfield, and three hundred priests. In the evening, a gala concert by some of the greatest musical artists of New England and Canada was presented in his honor at the Court Square Theater.

It was only in the following year, when Father Gagnier had already attained the age of seventy-six, that a curate was sent to aid him in his priestly endeavors. The only assistance Father Gagnier ever had before Reverend Joseph Mastaï Bissonnette arrived in 1906 was that of the La Salette Fathers of Hartford, Connecticut, on weekends.

In May of 1908, Father Gagnier presided at the final subdivision of his large parish. The French-speaking population of Springfield’s North End —"Brightwood" — was canonically erected in a parish under the patronage of St. Thomas Aquinas. back to top
1908-1924 Additions and Subtractions
  Another native of Ste Brigitte, Quebec, Reverend Joseph M. Bissonnette was ordained in 1898 in Holy Cross Cathedral, Boston, Massachusetts, by His Excellency, J. J. Williams, Archbishop of Boston. After serving as assistant at St. Aloysius in Indian Orchard and Holy Rosary in Gardner, he was assigned to St. Joseph’s where he filled the same role for two years until named to succeed Father Gagnier, on August 30, 1908.
Father Bissonnette continued what became the tradition of St. Joseph’s Parish — the building and beautifying of the church complex.

In 1913, parishioners installed a bronze plaque in the wall of the church entry. On it was sculptured an image of the church’s founder and a brief list of his accomplishments. A "major housecleaning" took place in the church that year, with walls and woodwork being cleaned and repainted.

Major repairs to the parish halls and school were undertaken in 1916. Father Bissonnette then instituted a subscription plan to defray the expense, which had mounted to twenty thousand dollars. He asked each working member of the parish family to contribute one day’s pay.

A new Casavant organ was purchased for ten thousand dollars in 1918. In celebration, a concert of sacred music was held on September 22nd under the direction of J. Ernest Philie, who served the parish as organist from 1917 until 1946.

In 1919, a series of oil paintings by Fillippo Santoro, depicting scenes from the lives of Jesus and St. Joseph were executed along the sanctuary walls and skylight area — a beautiful decoration that eventually faded and many years later resisted restoration attempts.

Father, this year, was already planning for 1923’s Golden Jubilee celebration, and his first project was to eradicate the church’s indebtedness of fifty-one thousand dollars. A ten-day subscrip-tion campaign in November with a goal of sixty thousand dollars netted pledges of over sixty-five thousand dollars. The eventual collection of eighty percent fulfillment did succeed in paying off the parish debt.

The timing of this couldn’t have been better, considering what was to happen next. First, from July 10, 1922, to September 20, 1923, life was disrupted by the widening of Water Street (now East Columbus Avenue), which also took away about half of the parish school building.

To compound these difficulties, on February 1, 1923, the gas works situated diagonally across from St. Joseph’s was rent asunder by an explosion. The Chroniques de Ia Maison St. Joseph gave the follow-ing account: "At about ten after one in the afternoon, just minutes before the beginning of afternoon classes, there was a deafening sound which was heard throughout the school. The entire building was shaken, glass was flying all around, and everyone wondered what could possibly be happening. The billowing smoke and rising flames made it evident that the explosion was the Gas Company tanks. This terrible accident caused millions of dollars of damage throughout the center of the city. At Saint Joseph’s School, doors were closed until February 5th in the evening during which time the laborers worked from early morning until late at night to restore order in the school."

Work began in earnest in July of 1923 to strengthen the church structure which had been badly shaken by the explosion. Steel rods were installed, crossing the church from wall to wall. At the same time, the church was partially refurbished.
The year closed on a note of joy, with the entire parish joining in the celebration of Father Bissonnette’s Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of Ordina-tion. A dinner, a concert, and a children’s program were crowned by the presentation of a very special gift from his congregation — a brand new automobile!

Although Father Bissonnette’s health had always been excellent, his physical condition had begun to deteriorate at this time. When Reverend Arthur J. B. Cayer came to St. Joseph’s in June of 1924 as assistant pastor, his aid was welcomed. back to top
1924-1933 A Building Parish
  Despite the fact that his health was failing, Father Bissonnette continued to push ahead with his plans for the parish. In L ‘Annuaire de Ia Paroisse St Joseph of 1924, he wrote: "The year 1924 will long remain in our memory as the opening of the era of major construction. We have, up to now, limited ourselves to eliminating debts and making necessary repairs. In 1924 we initiated a master plan of construction to bring St. Joseph’s Parish on an equal footing with the most flourishing Franco-American Parishes of the Diocese of Springfield."

Toward the end of 1923 and beginning of 1924, the parish had purchased four parcels of land, for a total price of sixty-one thousand dollars. Ground was broken for both convent and rectory in April. They were ready for occupancy that Fall. The architect was Mr. Donat Baribault, a parishioner who many people still remember.

The Summer of 1924 was surely the parish’s most eventful few months ever. While the
buildings were under construction, Father Bissonnette suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and had to be hospitalized; Father Cayer arrived to help with pastoral duties; and work on a new wing was begun to replace the schoolrooms lost when Columbus Avenue was widened.

After the school addition opened in the Spring of 1925, plans got underway for the redecoration of the auditorium, which was then returned to its original use.
Another attack in December of 1925 left Father Bissonnette almost a total invalid, and several months later Father Cayer was named administrator. The parish’s second pastor died quietly on October 27. 1926. The Most Reverend Thomas M. O’Leary, Bishop of Springfield, officiated at the funeral Mass three days later.

The loss of their beloved Father Bissonnette meant a new beginning for the people of St. Joseph’s Parish. The transition was made easier by another priestly servant they had grown to know and love.

Reverend Arthur J. B. Cayer, a native of Holyoke, Massachusetts who had been ordained in Canada in 1908, was named to succeed Father Bissonnette on August 1, 1927. He inherited a parish plant that was in excellent physical condition. The old buildings had been removed from around the church; a new rectory and convent had just been completed; the school had been repaired and expanded and now accommodated five hundred students; the church had been reinforced and redecorated.

And the sacrificial generosity of the parishioners remained steadfast. The parish debt was being paid off at a comfortable rate by means of regular weekly contributions and a monthly collection, as well as the annual one-day’s-pay subscription.

Father Cayer could now concentrate on spiritual growth, which he did. Attendance at Masses and special Devotions flourished. The devout allegiance to their faith helped the people of St. Joseph’s through the trying times of the Great Depression.
It was a grateful parish that feted Father Cayer on the Silver Jubilee of his Ordination in January of 1933. When the schoolchildren honored him with a special program on January 19th, Father Cayer surprised them by declaring the remainder of the day "a school holiday."

On Sunday, January 21st, a Mass of Thanks-giving was offered by Father Cayer at 10:30 a.m. That evening, in the Commerce High School audi-torium, a testimonial presented by his parishioners featured a vocal and instrumental program of music, directed by Ernest Philie, the extension of many good wishes, and the presentation of a purse containing twenty-five hundred dollars. Father Cayer was smilingly escorted on that occasion by his two curates, who had coordinated the details of the anniversary celebration, Father Albert Fleury and Father Oscar Charland. back to top
1933-1939 New Challenges
  The Depression was over; spiritually and physically the parish was well-nourished; but the mid-1930’s saw some new nightmares develop.

On the night of March 18th, and into the morning of March 19, 1936, the Connecticut River, swollen with torrential downpours, crested to twenty-five and thirty feet above its normal level. Thousands of families were evacuated and financial disaster left misery in its wake. Luckily for St. Joseph’s buildings, their elevated position preserved them from serious damage, but many parishioners were gravely affected.

Two months later, Father Cayer suffered a heart attack while driving through Worcester. He was forced to curtail all activities after that time, and his curates assumed the pastoral duties.

Reverend Albert A. Aubertin, who had been ordained in 1922, had served his very first priestly assignment as an assistant to Father Cayer. In 1937,he was again assigned to serve Father Cayer as a curate, being transferred to St. Joseph’s on August 6th of that year. His old friend was quite ill and there was a heavy pastoral burden to share.
Father Cayer had hoped to renovate the church’s basement hall to provide a large meeting place. During his last years he authorized Father Aubertin to begin the work and the fundraising necessary to cover its cost.

Then, on September 21, 1938, the already weakened walls and foundations of St. Joseph’s Church and School, which had withstood the 1923 explosion and the 1936 flood, were shaken by a hurricane. The exterior of the parish buildings suffered minor damage, but the pressing need was for safety measures to remedy possible unseen damage.

On Tuesday of Holy Week, Father Cayer suffered a massive heart attack. He was anointed by Father Aubertin. On Good Friday, April 6, 1939, Father Cayer died at the age of fifty-four.

After Bishop O’Leary offered a Pontifical Requiem Mass on the following Tuesday, an impressive funeral procession was conducted to Notre Dame Cemetery, South Hadley Falls. Members of the American Legion were present in final tribute to their fellow member; an American flag was presented to Father Cayer’s father at the burial service. back to top
1939-1947 A Concerned Parish
  From 1936, until the city passed an ordinance outlawing the game in 1943, "Bingo" proved a great financial boon to the parish. Every Friday meant fish at the dinner table, then fun and family reunions at the Bingo tables.

Although the games continued to be held in the school auditorium, the hall in the church basement was officially opened in April of 1939, shortly after the death of the pastor who had planned its creation.

Anxiety over the safety of the school building, weakened by the past disasters but untended because of Father Cayer’s illness and other pressing parish projects started previously, dictated the renovation of this edifice as a top priority concern. Extensive repairs proved necessary and were undertaken.

Father Aubertin next began one of his major projects — the renovation of the church’s first vestibule — the sacristy and baptismal area. The beautiful adornments provided in this complete renewal included a colored flagstone floor, arches of stained-glass windows, oak closets, the construction of a transept, which thereby necessitated elimination of one window, and the addition of a repaired and beautifully refinished baptismal font acquired by Father Gagnier years before.

The church itself was next — those supporting rods installed in 1923, the dirt-covered oil paintings, the uncomfortable old pews — all begged for a remedy. Engineers advised the parish that although the building’s foundation was sound, the walls and roof could collapse if hit by another windstorm.

A complete church restoration plan was devised which would provide a larger sanctuary, a nave of Italian Renaissance style with two transepts in close proximity to it. Between the arches and skylight there was to be a wide frieze, Imposing colonnades, the length of the church, and luxurious lighting fixtures to harmonize with a more symmetrical and lower arched ceiling, were included in the architectural plans. For greater safety and convenience, a totally-covered stairway at the front of the church was suggested.

Then — Pearl Harbor! Construction materials were scarce or non-existent. The war effort had to take priority. Authorities did grant a building permit for safety measures, however, and a steel framework was installed in the church roof and its walls were buttressed.

Within a two-month period during the Summer of 1943, the parishioners of St. Joseph’s purchased over one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars’ worth of War Bonds in a campaign — "The Franco-American War Bond Drive" — by French-Americans of New England to purchase a Liberty ship for the U.S. Merchant Fleet before Labor Day. In purchases made through the church after Sunday Masses and on Monday nights, the parish more than doubled its original quota of sixty-two thousand dollars.

As the war dragged on, more and more of the parish debt was being paid — twenty-five thousand dollars in the years of 1944 and 1945. The restoration plans grew more elaborate.

When peace was finally officially declared, the parish mobilized its plan of action. The basement area was transformed into a temporary chapel; three Christmases were celebrated in this "temporary" chapel, as work continued above.

In spite of many delays and the continual rising costs, work progressed at a good pace. Although a final cost above the original estimates was expected, Father Aubertin had to borrow seventy-five thousand dollars in 1947 to continue the work already begun. back to top
1947-1948 Celebrations and Ceremonies
  Another Sacerdotal Anniversary to be commemorated by the people of St. Joseph’s! Preparation began in April, 1947, for Father Aubertin’s Twenty-Fifth Anniversary, which was celebrated on June 8th and 10th in the parish’s usual enthusiastic manner.
Parish affairs were rolling along smoothly and it just seemed natural to continue putting everything in order. The school cafeteria was in great need of renovation, so it became the next project. Next, the classrooms and corridors were redecorated. The dusty dirt playground got a thick coat of hardtop, which helped to maintain the cleanliness of both the school and the students.

The people of St. Joseph’s never shirked their responsibility to their church. They considered the care and upkeep and enhancing of the parish complex just as much a normal obligation as their own monthly mortgage payments.

This was the House of God. This was their Christian home to share with Him and to honor Him. Their prayers and sacrifices over the years continually elevated His name, His glory, and His tabernacle.

Joys and sorrows were unpredictable, but the one unchanging surety in an uncertain world was the faith of these people and the strength it brought to them through their Father in Heaven.

As the year of 1948 began, it became evident that even the proceeds of the 1947 loan were not going to stretch to keep up with skyrocketing costs as construction progressed. Deliberations and consideration led to the launching of a major fund-raising campaign. "The Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Campaign" opened on Sunday, April 25, 1948, with a goal of seventy-five thousand dollars.

Under the excellent direction of Reverend Adrien T. Remy, a battery of workers, armed with aggressive perseverance, visited the families of St. Joseph’s Parish. Their dedicated endeavors were well-rewarded by the generosity of Father Aubertin’s faithful flock. Pledges amounted to $92,539 by the campaign’s close on May 7th. And, these pledges were fulfilled, demonstrating again the sacrificial generosity of the people of St. Joseph. The "Victory Banquet" on June 10th was a truly joyous event for the fund drive’s two hundred workers.

At the completion of the restoration, the parish debt stood at $172,000, but the delight of the people in the finished masterpiece was unbounded! The exterior had been enhanced by the addition of buttresses and transepts that beautified the church’s architectural lines; the sandblasted brick was vividly renewed. Church entrances were fitted with massive oak doors, each punctuated with panes of colorful glass. A granite stairway flanked by solid bronze railings led to the main entrance. The driveway was moved and replaced by a flourishing lawn — the later site of the St. Joseph Statue. What is most striking as one enters the church, is the magnificence of the Italian Renaissance style. Concrete columns on each side form six fully arched openings. A wide, artistically created frieze surrounds the nave and sanctuary. Between the frieze and the column crests is a series of medallions, symbols of Christ, the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, and other Patron Saints, as well as the coat of arms of Pius XII and the Bishop of Springfield.

In the front of the church we find a vast uniform cupola covered with gold leaf. A majestic baldachin of hand-sculptured wood, with four angels at each corner, stands guard over the Blessed Sacrament. As principal motif, an elegant dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, adorns the front of the canopy. The Crucified Christ, of normal height, is sculptured from a single block of wood. It is as perfect a reproduction of an exhausted man drawing his last breath as could be found. Finally, there is the Altar of solid marble, discreetly veined and multicolored. On the Altar, in excellent taste, are six bronze candlesticks and a heavy marble tabernacle with bronze doors.

The sanctuary area, which has been extended, is covered with polished tan and white marble squares which rest on a base of reinforced concrete. Oak furniture in the sanctuary is designed to blend with the pews and wainscotting in the nave.
To the sides of the Main Altar on a somewhat lower level there are two side Altars also of marble, similar in style to the Main Altar. One is dedicated to the Blessed Mother and the other to St. Joseph, Patron of the Parish.

The communion rail, which extends from one side altar to the other, and which rests on a parquet two steps lower than the sanctuary, is also of marble, alternately of solid block and open sections supported by small columns. Bronze doors grace the central and side openings.

Finally, a tour of the choir loft reveals furnishings of solid oak in much the same styling as the church pews and sanctuary appointments. Mounted on the balcony is a railing of bronze. Extensive repair work to the organ itself included the addition of several essential organ-stops. Covering the organ pipes is a coating of gold leaf. The startlingly beautiful solid Italian marble Altar is highlighted by the gold dome above it, which is decorated with gold leaf and handcarved wooden figures.

On December 26, 1948, Bishop O’Leary visjted St. Joseph’s Church to officiate at a Rededication Ceremony in Honor of the Seventy-Fifth Anniver-sary of the arrival to the parish of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. He was assisted by fifty-four priests at a Pontifical High Mass, at which the Nuns’ Order was represented by Very Reverend Mother Mary of St. Fabian, Assistant General of the Sisters of Holy Cross of Canada. That afternoon, Bishop O’Leary confirmed a class of one hundred and seventy-five children and adults — a reason for celebration in itself! back to top
1948-1955 Joys and Honors

When the parish debt had been reduced to $133,000, on January 1, 1953, a large band of dedicated members joined "L’Association de Families — Paroisse Saint Joseph," founded and established by Reverend Archibald R. Lajoie, a curate at the time. By the end of the year, this on-going activity had collected $275 over its goal of $60,000 to be used as an anniversary gift to the parish at the Eightieth Anniversary Banquet.

The day of celebration, December 13th, began with a procession of societies to an 8:30 a.m. Solemn High Mass offered by Father Aubertin. Bishop Christopher J. Weldon sang the Benediction after the Banquet Dinner which followed.

Springfield and the Church of St. Joseph became known to the faithful of Canada when a Montreal radio station broadcast its evening message from Paul-Emile Cardinal Leger, Archbishop of Montreal, as he visited our church for the Eighteenth Congress of L’Union St. Jean Baptiste d’Amerique, which convened here from May 23 through May 26, 1954. Known as "the Cardinal of the Rosary," as well as "the Cardinal of the Poor," Archbishop Leger’s custom was to recite the family rosary over CKAC every night in his native Canada.

Just six months later, another honor came to St. Joseph’s when Pope Pius XII elevated Father Aubertin to the rank of Domestic Prelate with the title of Right Reverend Monsignor. His Investiture was conducted by Bishop Weldon at St. Joseph’s Church on the afternoon of Sunday, January 16, 1955. Chaplains to the Bishop were Reverend Romeo C. Rheaume, Pastor of Notre Dame Church, North Adams, and Reverend John T. MacPherson, Rector of St. Michael’s Cathedral. A dinner was held for the clergy in the school auditorium following the ceremony, at which time Bishop Weldon praised the accomplishments of Monsignor Aubertin’s pastorate, testifying that he had "revivified the parish, both in its plant and in its spirit."

Monsignor Aubertin’s spiritual charges seconded that motion at a parish reception held in his honor on January 23rd. back to top

1955-1962 A New Pastor
  In May of that same year, the people of St. Joseph’s were shocked to learn that their pastor, who had always enjoyed good health, had been stricken with a cerebral hemorrhage. As the summer wore on, his condition grew progressively worse. On the morning of Sunday, August 14, 1955, Monsignor Aubertin died in Mercy Hospital. His friend, Reverend Romeo C. Rheaume, Pastor of Notre Dame Church, delivered the eulogy at a 10:00 a.m. Solemn Pontifical High Mass sung by Bishop Weldon on Wednesday. More than one hundred priests attended the funeral, as did several civic officials. One of the fifteen members of the Priests’ Choir was Reverend Gerard A. Lafleur of Chicopee Falls.

The parish was still in mourning when a new pastor was named on October 11th. Father Romeo C. Rheaume came from North Adams to assume its spiritual care. Born and brought up in Precious Blood Parish, Holyoke, Father Rheaume studied for the priesthood in Quebec and was ordained on December 17, 1921. His extensive priestly background made him an excellent choice to assume the commission of revitalization begun by his predecessor.

In this same spirit of "Ever Onward and Upward" was the Family Association, which declared as its new motto, as it entered its fourth consecutive year of debt-reduction labors, "Brulons ‘Hypotheque en 1956." The dedication and zeal of these hard-working parish servants did just that!

A new threat to parish buildings arose in 1960, but this time it was a political hassle rather than a freak of nature. The Springfield Department of Public Works went on record as favoring the "easterly route" for the extension of Federal High-way No. 91 — a route that would follow a line along the east side of Columbus Avenue from Broad Street to Elm Street, its wide swath completely demolishing St. Joseph’s physical plant. Private and public debates and discussions dragged through the year, with parish plans remaining in a state of suspended animation.

In 1962, when this question had finally been definitely resolved, Father Rheaume decided to make an addition to the church property. A statue of St. Joseph the Worker, sculpted in Italy of Carrara marble, was donated by the good pastor, and erected on the lawn where the original rectory had once stood. back to top
The 60’s Service Through Organizations

The migrant pilgrims who formed the National Parish of St. Joseph in Springfield, established right from the start a tradition of hard-working and fun-loving societies. Their need to worship in a familiar tongue was combined with a desire to further their Faith and their community’s welfare through service. This spirit of Christian brotherhood has manifested itself over the years in a number of special activities.
The year of 1965 was a thriving one socially for the Parish of St. Joseph, beginning with the receipt of a charter in January for the sponsorship of Explorer Post 67, another milestone in the Scouting program that had begun in the Fall of 1957 It was then that Reverend Gerald Malboeuf, curate, had invited a few men of the parish to join him in a meeting where it was decided, with the approval of the pastor, Father Rheaume, that St. Joseph Parish would sponsor a troop of Boy Scouts. All local boys, aged eleven to fourteen, regardless of religion or ancestry, would be eligible for membership. Father Malboeuf served as chaplain and Emile Asselin as Scoutmaster. Mr. Asselin has been all these years and still is the soul of the Scout movement.

The first annual charter for Troop 67 was granted in January, 1958, and by the end of that year the roster had increased to thirty boys and twelve men.

Reverend Robert Choquette. who served St. Joseph’s as a curate for eight years, was one of the most enthusiastic promoters of Scouting, both locally and nationally. It was largely through his efforts that the Explorer Post, providing a program for boys aged fifteen to eighteen, was organized at St. Joseph’s. In January of 1966, he also was instrumental in establishing a Cub Scout pack for eight to ten-year-olds.

Another organizational highlight was the March 29, 1965, "Evening of Recollection" for the students of the Deanery "A" CCD Program, representing ten diocesan parishes. Guest speaker was Reverend Gerard A. Lafleur, then serving as a teacher of Religion at Cathedral High School. The 7:00 p.m. Mass was celebrated by Father Choquette, CCD director for St. Joseph’s Parish.

June 9th marked the formation of the St. Joseph’s Athletic Club, under the spiritual guidance of Reverend Donald Dube, "for the physical and educational welfare of the children of this parish." The club began the "Spelling Bee," a derivative of "Bingo," which was utilized until Bingo was again legalized and the club could take over its operation for the benefit of the parish.

Money raised has paid for physical training instructors and equipment for the schoolchildren, the sponsorship of two basketball teams, overhead projectors for four classrooms, library and science laboratory furnishings, new paneling and lighting to brighten classrooms, and student lockers.

Another organization that has helped the parish in numerous ways over the years is the Cercle Social St Joseph, founded in 1931 to promote "sociability, children’s welfare, and civic organizations." Typical of the fundraising events to support its many welfare projects are the society’s annual Silver Teas held in May. And typical of the projects was the one begun in the Fall of 1969, when Reverend H. Labreque, O.M.l., visited a special meeting, to tell the members of his work in the Mission lands for the previous forty years. Father Labreque, a chaplain in South Africa, was in charge of three hundred persons afflicted with leprosy — both adults and children. The Cercle spent many hours making bandages for these poor desolate people.

In recounting the history of this key unit in the Mystical Body of Christ, it is essential to note all the elements that constitute the whole. Obviously, all individual members and families of the parish community have contributed to and continue to share in what happens at St. Joseph’s. It would be impossible to record the full story of what this means. God will certainly take care of such recognition, but it is imperative that all organized efforts which have enlivened parish life be properly noted.

Many parish societies and groups came into being for specific purposes. And as times changed, their objectives did, too. Others just had to be updated. St. Joseph’s would not be the full complement of Christian life that it is if this history did not also recount the contributions made by groups not mentioned earlier. These are:
Les Dames de Ste Anne: This organization literally nurtured the family spirit and prayer life that has characterized St. Joseph’s, especially dedicating itself to promotion of the annual novena to St. Anne.

Ligue du Sacre Coeur: A dedicated group of men who fostered personal spirituality among the men, promoted devotions for First Fridays, and energized the retreat movement. They have been an inspiration to the parish.
Les Enfants de Marie: This group has actively promoted devotion to Our Lady. This year marks the twenty-fifth year since the establishment of a baby-sitting service to allow busy mothers to attend Mass though they have very young children. Their devotion to work in the parish is unique. The Nursery they run will long be remembered.

Choir: Singing the praises of the Lord, it is said, is twice praying. St. Joseph’s is known for its excellent choirs. And in this day when song has even more prominence in the celebration of the Mass, the choir continues to excel.

Ushers: No parish could function without the efforts of the faithful men who bring order to the traffic of people at Sunday Mass. The generations of ushers who have served St. Joseph’s deserve a salute. Those now doing their bit have the collective thanks of the parish for their good work as they welcome this Christian community to worship the Lord.

Liturgical Aides: In the liturgy of our times, special tribute must be paid to the extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist who assist the celebrant, the lectors who double as cantors, and the acolytes — all of whom make worship so much more meaningful.

In the end, however, all efforts of the societies and seriously concerned individuals, priests, and Sisters, would be for naught, if the people of God in St. Joseph’s Parish weren’t the special segment of God’s creatures on earth that they are. You are a worshipping, devoted, zealous, loyal Christian community. That’s what being Catholic is all about. May God continue to bless us all. back to top

1967-1968 Building Again
  Make it known to your parishioners that each one must make realistic contributions — not because we are helping our Nuns and our children, but that we are contributing from our hearts, for the love of our God — promoting and motivating with that spirit, you cannot fail." This was Bishop Weldon’s message to a committee that met with him at his residence on October 9, 1967. The group was the Executive Board of the St. Joseph’s Convent Building Fund Committee — Father Rheaume and Father Choquette, Directors; Mr. Robert Berube, Chairman; Mr. Armand Milette, Vice-Chairman; Mr. Raoul Ricard, Treasurer; Mrs. Blanche Doyle, Secretary. The meeting’s purpose was the presentation of plans to His Excellency for a major construction project — an addition to the convent and the replacement of two furnaces which had been deemed unsafe by Springfield building inspectors.

The work on the church and school heating systems, for which thirty-five thousand dollars had been earmarked, was already in progress by this time, and two proposed architectural plans had been drawn for the annex. The lower-priced plan, which was chosen at the meeting, would cost approximately one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars without equipment and furnishings.

Over three hundred and twenty-five parish boosters attended the January 13, 1968, "Kick-Off Dinner" to inaugurate the fund drive, which had a goal of two hundred thousand dollars. Bishop Weldon was the principal speaker and guest of honor. Other guests included Postmaster General Lawrence F. O’Brien, a native of this city, who was married in St. Joseph’s Church to parishioner Eleanor Brassard in 1944; United States Representative Edward F. Boland of Springfield; Mayor Frank H. Freedman; State Representative John P. O’Brien of Springfield (an alumnus of St. Joseph’s School); Springfield Postmaster Arthur B. Morin, and fifteen Holy Cross Sisters.

A successful drive was assured when pledges of over forty-two thousand dollars were obtained in the very first week. In July, ground was broken for the convent addition. The occasion was made even more joyous by the announcement that Bishop Weldon had donated ten thousand dollars to the building fund.

Work progressed quickly and the parish was again graced with the Bishop’s presence on November 24th when he dedicated and blessed the Sisters’ beautiful new home. The 2:30 ceremony was followed by Solemn Benediction, an "open house" in the convent, and refreshments in the parish hall. back to top
The 70’s The Future Starts Now
  His Excellency, Bishop Weldon, presided at a Mass of Thanksgiving on December 19, 1971, when the Parish of St. Joseph joined Father Romeo Rheaume in the celebration of his Golden Jubilee of Ordination. It was a joyous occasion which preceded by only six months the beloved spiritual leader’s retirement to the position of Pastor Emeritus.
Reverend Gerard A. Lafleur was an assistant at St. Theresa’s Parish, South Hadley, when he received his pastoral appointment to St. Joseph’s in June of 1972. This was the same month in which Father Choquette was transferred to St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, Springfield.

Father Lafleur, the thirteenth of fifteen children, is a native of the Parish of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Willimansett, Massachusetts. His theological training was undertaken in Maine and Canada and he was ordained on May 30, 1953, at St. Michael’s Cathedral by Bishop Weldon. In the year of his assignment to St. Joseph’s he also was elected president of the Diocesan Priests’ Senate, of which he had been a member since 1970.

Father Lafleur’s pastorate was assured of an auspicious beginning — and a busy one — for it was preparation time for the Centennial Celebration of St. Joseph’s Parish. To commemorate the One Hundredth Anniversary, a sanctuary renovation was completed in time for the Christmas Midnight Mass, official start of the year-long celebration. The remainder of the restoration was scheduled for completion by May 27th, when Reverend Mr. Ralph H. Adair, a Deacon serving in the parish, was ordained in the church by Bishop Weldon. This was the first ordination ever held in St. Joseph’s Church.

The changes planned by Father Lafleur could be considered "radical" by old-timers and some parishioners were a bit concerned about the final effect. They soon discovered, however, that their new pastor’s decorating talents were as fresh and vital as his instantly-endearing personality. The beauty of St. Joseph’s Church was enhanced and glorified by the "new look" it acquired for the Centennial Year.

In the sanctuary, the Carrara marble Altar was moved closer to the congregation; shelves that had once been a part of it were removed, leaving a flat mensa and providing enough extra marble to create a matching lectern. The Cross mounted on the new lectern was a "recycled" one — reclaimed from an old golden Processional Cross. Part of the communion rail was removed and put behind the Altar. The inside walls and ceilings, dulled with soot, were cleaned and painted a creamy "French vanilla."

The beautifully carved wooden pulpit and baptismal font — part of the church’s original appointments — were cleaned and polished. Plastering, new lighting, sanding, painting, and cleaning restored the church’s French elegance of the past, epitomized in the solid gold leaf dome crowning the sanctuary and the intricately detailed scriptural symbols in the small stained-glass window arches of the vaulted ceiling. A centennial fund of thirty-five thousand dollars — in the remembrance of those whose faith and sacrifice in the previous one hundred years made this possible — was organized and completed as a memorial by the present generation of parishioners.

"We have the scriptures exposed with the baptismal font, as a symbol of initiation into the church through the Water and the Word of God," explains Father Lafleur. "On the other side of the Main Altar, we have the Altar of Reservation; the exposed sacrament on one side of the Eucharistic table and the exposed word on the other."

Although the parish has suffered the second and third generation losses typical to a National Parish, Father Lafleur estimates that eighty percent of his parish is still comprised of French-speaking people or their descendants. One Mass is still celebrated in French, each Sunday. The school, which now has one hundred and thirty-six pupils from the parish and sixty-seven from others, is still run by the dedicated Sisters of the Holy Cross from Manchester, New Hampshire. Some loyal French families travel from their homes in Connecticut every week. Many others of different nationalities are now members.

"The parish is largely middle-aged," says Father Lafleur, "but it is young at heart." A story in the Catholic Observer told of the young pastor’s getting-acquainted period:
What was and is Father Lafleur’s approach to becoming the sixth pastor of St. Joseph s? He said that he realized that contact with his parishioners — "warm, loyal people" —was essential. ‘So the first thing, the first weekend, I stood outside and shook hands.’

Father also did much of the census of his parish by telephone and made contact with many of his people. "I knew things were going to go well the first day I got here, last June 17, " he said. How? "I attended a scheduled parish council meeting and told the members that although I had only been here for 12 hours I already felt at home.’

Their reply: "What took you so long?"Pastoring a century-old National Parish in a rapidly-changing inner-city area is a special challenge; serving the many ages of man requires a talented pastor — one who can assess their varying needs and can meet them jointly and individually. Father Lafleur is a man who can provide the spiritual and physical guidance for this task, but it must be the people, as it has always been, who will carry the banner. These faithful followers of The Lord’s Way have erected an impressive parish complex in Springfield over the years, but more than the buildings is the force of faith that inspired them. In an ever-changing world, the people of St. Joseph’s know that Christian love and Christian brotherhood are still the ties that bind. back to top
  History is but prologue to what can and will be. The thousands of men and women who came before us labored in behalf of their Church with a fervor of spirit evidenced in the achievements we note, with justifiable pride, in this recital of facts. They left us an honored legacy of work, sacrifice, and prayer, which will be an inspiration to all who reflect on the special time in history this past century represented.

Ours is now the challenge to carry the banner of Christ into the new century at St. Joseph’s. As was the case in the past, the story of St. Joseph’s will continue to be that of the people who are its parish. St. Joseph’s exists essentially to render spiritual service and mutual help to all and to mold its people into a community of faith.
It is from this unity that the parish derives its strength. Even in an ever-changing world, the bonds of brotherhood and Christian love will prevail over any human adversity.
God will continue to shower his graces on present and future generations who come to St. Joseph’s as a fount of Christ’s grace. May the example of our predecessors inspire us to ever more Christ-like living so that those who follow will be likewise challenged towards personal spiritual growth, with the result that when it is our time to share in "the joys prepared for us," we will be welcomed into that special fraternity of Christians in Heaven reserved for St. Joseph’s people. back to top