History of Immaculate Conception Parish
IMMACULATE CONCEPTION PARISH - Winchester/Woburn, Massachusetts
The history of Immaculate Conception Parish begins with the devotion, generosity and dedications of the faithful community who worshipped first as part of the Boston community, next with St. Charles Borromeo, Woburn, then with both St. Charles, Woburn and St. Mary's, Winchester.
Prior to 1843, Catholics met their obligation to "assist at Mass" by traveling more than ten miles to Boston and later to Cambridge. At that time, it was necessary to walk or share a horse-drawn vehicle. Once monthly, Mass began to be offered in East Woburn in a large house that was converted into a chapel. Very soon, this space became too small for the fast growing population and the Town Hall in Woburn Center was used as worship space. During the 1850's, land was purchased and a small wooden church was erected and used for weekly Mass by the parishioners of St. Charles. The cornerstone of the new, large, church was laid in 1867.
As the population grew in Woburn, the area known as "South Woburn" became a town called Winchester. The community of Roman Catholics in the Winchester/Woburn area continued to grow; and in 1874 the Archbishop granted the Catholics of Winchester permission to establish their own church as a mission of St. Charles. St. Mary's was established, and a small wooden chapel was erected on the site of the present church. Soon more land was purchased, the wooden church was encased in brick and several other church buildings were erected. Two parishes now served the needs of the Catholics of Winchester and Woburn. Catholics who resided in Woburn were assigned to St. Charles Parish and Catholics who resided in Winchester were assigned to St. Mary's Parish.
The 1930's brought even more people to live in the Winchester/Woburn area. Many of these people were Roman Catholic. St. Mary's could no longer accommodate the increase in Catholic population. The north end of Winchester became densely populated, as it housed much of the blue-collar population, and was heavily Catholic. In 1931, Cardinal O'Connell of the Archdiocese of Boston acted. He decided to designate a new parish to accommodate the overflow from both St. Charles and St. Mary's. He put Winchester's north end and west side along with Woburn's south end, into a new Parish. This new parish was named Immaculate Conception Parish. The parish boundaries were slightly modified on November 23, 1952
Reverend James T. Fitzsimmons (1931–1945)
Father Fitzsimmons was appointed as the first pastor on September 21, 1931, by the late Cardinal, His Eminence William O'Connell. Being the first pastor, Fr. Fitzsimmons had the privilege of naming the parish. He received many suggestions and selected the Immaculate Conception, which was readily approved by the diocesan authorities.
With great enthusiasm, Fr. Fitzsimmons began the task of building the Immaculate Conception Parish. From 1931 until 1936, the parish rectory was housed at 928 Main Street, Winchester, in a home which was vacated by its owner, Mrs. Elizabeth Powers, for the use of the priests of the parish until a permanent rectory could be built. Daily Mass was celebrated in the temporary rectory and, because there was no Church building yet, the only other hall in the district, located at the Noonan School, was acquired through the generosity of the Winchester School Committee. The first Sunday Mass was celebrated on September 27, 1931. Two Sunday Masses each week were celebrated there by the Pastor. It was soon evident that two Masses were not sufficient to accommodate the parishioners, thus Reverend Charles J. Foley was assigned as Assistant. He remained in service at Immaculate Conception Parish for twelve years, until his transfer to another parish.
In order for the parish to grow and succeed, the pastor requested that each family, if possible, pledge or donate $100 and that each adult attending Sunday Mass contribute 50 cents seat money. Father Fitzsimmons was a sincere, holy pastor, who demonstrated good business qualities. The parishioners cooperated so well with him that four months later, on January 24, 1932, the first Mass was celebrated in the "temporary" small wooden church, now used as the parish hall. Although its construction was during one of the worst periods of the Great Depression, this first small wooden church, at its opening, was entirely free from debt. Shortly after the completion of the temporary church, a young parishioner making a visit to the church discovered a fire in progress at the altar and at a confessional. The Winchester Fire Department was notified and responded immediately, preventing any serious damage.
By 1935 more land on Sheridan Circle was procured and plans for a permanent Church and Rectory were begun. Construction on the rectory began in July 1936 and was completed six months later. Parishioners gathered for an open house in the spacious new rectory on the corner of Main Street and Sheridan Circle South on December 25, 1936.
As the parish began to grow, the Sodality of Our Lady, Holy Name Society and St. Vincent de Paul Society were established. Religious Education was initiated and conducted by dedicated lay women of the parish.
While occupying the original temporary church, Father Fitzsimmons began planning for a permanent church. With the financial assistance of the enthusiastic parishioners, he raised a considerable sum for this purpose. Before reaching his goal, Father Fitzsimmons was transferred to Saint Ann's Parish in Neponset on December 24, 1945. Father was thanked for his untiring efforts and was wished every blessing in his new assignment. Father Fitzsimmons was elevated to Domestic Prelate. He went to his eternal reward, unexpectedly, on September 5, 1952.
Reverend Edward C. Sliney (1945–1949)
Fr. Sliney, a retired Army Chaplain, replaced Fr. Fitzsimmons effective December 24, 1945. Under Father Slineyts guidance, the parish continued to grow and work toward the goal of constructing a permanent church building. During Father Sliney's pastorate, a weekly newspaper was published by a group of young men and women who gathered weekly in the basement of the rectory. Father Sliney was also responsible for developing an Honor Roll listing the names of World War II servicemen and women. This was placed in the church. Gold stars were added to the names of those who made the supreme sacrifice during this conflict. The Immaculate Conception Club, which combined the Holy Name Society and Sodality of Our Lady, was organized under Father Sliney's guidance. This organization was later disbanded and each society returned to its original structure. The Holy Name Society met regularly for communion and business. Often a light breakfast at the Town Line Restaurant would follow Communion Sunday.
With the children of the parish in mind, Father Sliney secured the services of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur from Saint Charles Parish to conduct religious and development classes. The Confraternity of the Christian Doctrine, a committee of laypersons, was active in working to enhance the religious programs of instruction in the parish. Members paid $1.00 dues and planned activities that were instructional, social, and recreational for the youth. They also published the ICC News which told of the many goings on within the Parish. One interesting event was the collection of burlap bags from sugar, potatoes, etc. for sandbags to enclose a skating area at Loring Field, to be built in conjunction with the Playground Commission in Winchester.
The Catholic Youth Organization, C.Y.O., sponsored several musical extravaganzas. On March 4 and 5, 1946, "The United Nations Revue", was one such show. Thirty skits of song and dance rang throughout Woburn High School Auditorium and provided an evening of toe-tapping entertainment.
Father Sliney also worked together with Father John J. Sheehan to form the very successful and self sustaining Drum and Bugle Corps and Girls Drill Team, known as the Queensmen and Queen's Cadettes respectively. This popular youth activity flourished under Father Sliney's leadership, winning many awards and trophies. They were even invited to and participated in the Pageant of Bands extravaganza at the Presidents Ball that was held in Boston Gardens in January of 1949.
Father Sliney retired on May 9, 1949 and received the best wishes of his parishioners for a very healthy, happy retirement
Reverend Herbert K. A. Driscoll (1949–1974)
Father Driscoll became the third pastor on May 9, 1949. Shortly after his arrival, Father Driscoll expanded the Religious Education Program for the children of the parish. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur could no longer supply the personnel or increase the hours allotted to our parish due to previous commitments at Saint Charles. Father then secured the services of the Sisters of Saint Joseph from Saint Agnes Parish in Arlington.
Father Driscoll brought to fulfillment the building of the permanent church and school. The plans for the new buildings were drawn up by the Edward J. Shields Associates, Inc. Architects of Quincy. The general contractor was the Patrick F. Beresford Company. At 10:30am on March 25, 1954, coincidentally the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and in the year solemnly proclaimed by Pope Pius XII as the Marian year, the groundbreaking for the new church took place.
Father Driscoll turned up the first shovel of earth, assisted by his curates, Rev. Fr. Stephen Burke and Rev. Fr. Mark Coakley. The estimated cost of the building was $350,000. The buildings were erected with efficiency and were ready for occupancy in a little over a year's time. Rt. Rev. Robert J. Sennott, Chancellor of the Archdioceses of Boston, consecrated the altars on September 8, 1955. His Excellency, Most Reverend Richard J. Cushing, DD., Archbishop of Boston (and later Cardinal), officially dedicated the new church and school on September 10, 1955, under the title of The Immaculate Conception. Throngs of parishioners attended the impressive ceremonies. More than 50 priests, including former curates of the parish and clergy from neighboring parishes, were present for this great event in the history of the Immaculate Conception Parish. The new church was designed in a modern, contemporary style of architecture and built of brick and Indiana limestone. The interior was of simple design, which lent dignity to the new house of worship. The sanctuary was finished in quarry stone and Colorado marble.
The statues and the Stations of the Cross were of finely carved imported Tyrolean wood. The stained glass panels in the church windows were of soft, rich colors and portray the joyful and glorious events in the life of Our Lord. The simple yet dignified lines of the church interior culminate in the beautiful marble high altar, with its imposing marble columns and golden baldachino and damask dossal. This altar was the generous gift of Mr. and Mrs. Michael McGonigIe in memory of their son, Sgt. Charles D. McGonigle, who lost his life as an Army flier in World War II. The side Altars carry out the simple pattern of the Main Altar. The Blessed Virgin Altar, consecrated under the title of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was the gift of the Sodality of Our Lady, and the Saint Joseph Altar, consecrated under the same title, was the gift of the Holy Name Society. The windows and the Stations of the Cross were most generously donated by various families of the church and the Altar Crucifix was made possible by a donation from the Arthur L. Boudreau family. This was a very rewarding day for those parishioners who had suffered through a great depression and world war and had given so much of their lives through personal funds and talent to the parish.
Fr. Driscoll then converted the original church to a parish hall, with a seating capacity of 230, to serve the many activities of the parish, including the Sodality of Our Lady, youth activities and the now inactive Holy Name Society.
As an extension of the church community, a fine new Parochial School, Immaculate Conception School, was opened on September 19, 1955. The initial enrollment was 82 children in grades 1 and 2. Sisters of the Congregation of Saint Joseph were in charge of the school, with Sister Mary Rosanna serving as Principal and teacher in the second grade and Sister Leo Francis teaching the first grade. In the fall of 1956 a third grade was opened with Sister Mary Huberta as teacher, making a total enrollment of 135 pupils. Each new year another grade was added to accommodate the highest grade level moving up, until it expanded to grades 1 through 8. In 1962 Immaculate Conception School had its first graduation exercises. The sisters resided at Saint Agnes Convent, Arlington, while Father Driscoll accomplished his next project, the building of a convent for them. The two-story, simple brick structure with redwood trim harmonized with the architecture of the church and school. It consisted of 22 rooms and was dedicated on August 22, 1959 by Monsignor John J. Mulcahy, Vicar. The Sisters of Saint Joseph lived in the convent and taught in the parish school until its closing in June of 1972.
Much activity took place within the parish between the school, the church, and social organizations. The annual Christmas Bazaar was always a favorite, with its many stalls of crafts and goods. There was plenty of fun and food. Santa was the main attraction, but in 1967 he shared the limelight with Rex Trailer. Along with fairs, meetings, and parties, the Parish Hall was found hopping with dancing and music on many occasions. A "Gay Nineties" dance was sponsored in the mid-1960s with music by the Billy Radds Orchestra. Admission was a mere $3.00 per couple.
During Father Driscoll's pastorate, in response to the needs of the youth of the parish, the parish sponsored C.Y.O. baseball and softball teams, as well as a boy's hiking group. The C.Y.O. also participated in a C.Y.O. Parade of 80,000 marchers in Boston. The I.C. Queensmen of Winchester-Woburn was one of less than half a dozen Massachusetts corps ever to have won the class "A" Eastern Massachusetts Circuit Championships three years in a row. They accomplished this in 1952, 1953, and 1954. In 1954 they were one of the top ten Junior Corps in the entire country. Many of the members aged out during this year, so, in 1955, The Queensmen disbanded for a very short span of time. By 1957 they were reorganized and ready to continue their hard work and practice. The Queensmen and Queen's Cadettes continued to distinguish themselves in competitions and parades due to their commitment and professionalism. Father Driscoll demonstrated his commitment by marching with the units at all parades and accompanying them to all Eastern Massachusetts Drum and Bugle Corps competitions and invitationals. Father Driscoll was known affectionately as "Herbie the Derby" because of his penchant for Derby hats which he wore at all outings. Due to the huge increase in the expense of training, instruments, busing, etc., the Queensmen Drum and the Queen’s Cadettes Girls Drill Team were disbanded once again in 1969.
Father Driscoll was ably assisted during his pastorate by fine and devoted priests, including Father Leonard Pelletier (1969–1975) and Father William Cummings (1972–1978), both of whom did outstanding work with the youth of the parish.
In the early 1970s, the C.Y.O. was revived with sports, dances, banquets, and musical shows. The Queensmen were brought back into action for the third and final time with the hard work and dedication of Fr. Cummings and a group of volunteers called the "Fund Raisers." Even before reaching their fundraising goal of $35,000, they decided to hold a registration for new members. Over 100 boys and girls registered in a 2-day sign-up. The first parade of the new Queensmen was held on Memorial Day, in Winchester in 1975.
Father Driscoll, whose pride and joy was the Immaculate Conception Parish, retired on April 23, 1974, after many years of faithful and productive service. He was called to his eternal reward on June 5, 1982.
Reverend George F. Murray (1974–1978)
Fr. Murray became the fourth pastor on April 24, 1974. He established the first Parish Council to assist him in the various functions pertaining to the religious and secular activities of the parish. The Christian Service Commission monitored communion to the patients at the CCU and the homebound. The inclusion of Extraordinary Ministers in Eucharistic celebrations was aided by members of this committee. Secular activities in the parish were reported by the Parish Activities Commission. The many activities included were the Ladies Bowling League, C.Y.O., Sodality functions, Irish Night, Holy Name functions, Spaghetti Suppers, Musicals, and Banquets. The Administrative Commission discussed repairs and renovations to the buildings and grounds.
Father Murray opened the parish convent to several retired and teaching Sisters of Charity of Halifax in August of 1975. These sisters became an integral part of parish life, taking part in parish affairs as Sodality members, lectors and as extraordinary ministers visiting the sick at Winchester Hospital, nursing centers and private homes.
Father Murray initiated a maintenance project including contracting for the papering and painting of the church walls. He also secured the services of a parish auditor and secretary, relieving him of abundant clerical work in order to more fully perform his pastoral duties.
In 1975, Father Murray organized a Bingo/Beano Committee. They were responsible for setting up the process of obtaining a permit from the Town of Winchester, selecting the evening for the game, purchasing equipment and supplies, and obtaining volunteers to take charge and perform numerous functions as required by the Massachusetts State Lottery Commission. The game was very successful, largely due to the extraordinary commitment of dedicated volunteers. It contributed a very large portion to the parish financial structure. Father Murray also edited and published the weekly parish bulletin.
Unfortunately, Father Murray passed away on July 10, 1979 before he could implement his plans for upgrading the parish property. Parishioners and friends mourned his untimely death.
Reverend John H. O'Donnell (1978–1993)
Fr. O'Donnell was assigned as the fifth pastor on September 26, 1978. The parish grew steadily in spirituality during Father O'Donnell's pastorate. He secured the services of two Sisters of Saint Joseph, who acted in the capacity of pastoral assistants until 1990. The first Healing and Anointing Masses were celebrated in the parish hall. Attendance was encouraged by a number of volunteers who acted as care givers, driving parishioners to the service and organizing a luncheon after the service. Father O'Donnell, with the assistance of Father George J. Dufour, Parochial Vicar from 1978 to 1993, continued to serve the spiritual needs of the sick at the Winchester Hospital, the nursing homes and the homebound.
Beginning in the mid 1980's and continuing until the mid 1990's, Father Frank Keaney, a Columban Father and native son of the parish, assisted very generously at Immaculate Conception. Father Keaney had served the Church in the Philippines for twenty years before returning home to be near his elderly parents and family. In addition to celebrating Masses and providing sacramental ministry here, Father Keaney brought Holy Communion to a great number of shut-ins and hospitalized parishioners over the years. He was also devoted to the bereaved, attending many wakes and funerals. After his years of valuable service here, Father Keaney was assigned by the Columban Fathers to serve as a chaplain at one of their retirement and nursing facilities in Bristol, Rhode Island.
The Golden Jubilee of the parish was observed on September 13, 1981 with a Mass celebrated at 12:00 noon by Most Reverend John J. Mulcahy, D.D., Auxiliary Bishop of Boston. This was the initiating event for the anniversary year. The theme for the year was "Fifty Faith-Full Years." It was a beautiful day, and after the religious celebration, the congregation gathered at Loring Field for an old-fashioned field day party. There were foot races, pie-eating contests, costumes, music, and an exhibition by the Queensmen Drum and Bugle Corps. The day ended with the release of dozens of red balloons, messages of faith and love attached, to the heavens. Throughout the year, many special events took place in honor of the celebratory year. An Evening of Thanksgiving, Pioneer Day, and a Memorial Mass were held in the Fall. A Children's Celebration took place during the winter and a Holy Week Triduum, Golden Anniversary Dinner Dance, and Final Mass of Thanksgiving were held in the Spring. Cardinal Humberto Medeiros concelebrated the Mass of Thanksgiving along with Father John O'Donnell, Father George Dufour, and Deacon John Walsh.
Many structural changes and upgrades of parish buildings took place during Father O'Donnell's pastorate. The parish hall was completely refurbished, a furnished kitchen, lavatories and storage area were added along with a new roof, insulation, vinyl siding, an improved heating system, handicapped ramp and front vestibule.
All underground oil tanks were removed, since the heating systems had been converted to gas. The roofs and gutters of the rectory, convent and church/school were also repaired.
A ramp was built on the right side of the church and new front steps and railings were installed along with new front and side doors. Father O'Donnell also had a new parish sign erected in front of the rectory. In 1982, Father O'Donnell, with the help of Arthur Carr, Esq., secured a small portion of land on Main Street that was not yet owned by the parish, but which was surrounded by parish property, in order to build the parking lot adjacent to the rectory.
Father O'Donnell's final contribution to the parish was the establishment of a Finance Committee, Due to serious health problems, Father O'Donnell retired on July 20, 1993. Our prayers were with him during his long suffering which ended on March 19, 1994.
Reverend Charles R. McGahey (1993–1994)
Father McGahey succeeded Father O'Donnell on September 28, 1993 as the sixth pastor. He immediately took a keen interest in the Religious Education Program and the Sodality of Our Lady. Father continued the work of his predecessors in maintaining and updating the various buildings. The inside of the rectory was papered and painted, floors were refinished and carpeting was replaced where needed. An updated electrical system was installed in the church.
Father McGahey's pastorate was cut short due to illness and his resignation was accepted on April 20, 1994. Although his tenure was of short duration, Father McGahey made a great impression on his parishioners. His piety, concern for others and his devotion to duty, especially those in hospitals, nursing homes and those receiving home care was an inspiration to all. Father continued celebrating Mass once a month at the Nursing Centers and visiting the homebound. The Sisters of Charity of Halifax assisted him from the parish vent. During Father McGahey's pastorate, the assignment of a parochial vicar was discontinued.
Reverend Thomas J. Naughton (1994–1998)
Father Naughton, a retired Army chaplain, became the seventh pastor in July of 1994. With the assistance of the parish council and the finance committee, he was very active in parish activities. Father Naughton established an extremely successful restoration fund and installed plaques in the church listing the names of benefactors or memorials. He contracted for the removal, repair and reinstatement of the stained glass windows in the church and the installation of clear protection glass on the outside. New front steps and landing, plus extra railings were installed in the church. Due to weather deterioration, the parish sign in front of the rectory was also replaced. In addition, the telephone and answering machine systems were completely updated.
The Divine Word Fathers conducted two very successful and spiritually rewarding renewal programs. One program was held after morning Mass and the second was held in the evening. Both were well received by many parishioners.
An updated parish census was conducted in 1997 and, as a result, the parish census was completely computerized. Father Naughton, assisted by the Sisters of Charity, offered Mass once a month at each of the nursing centers in Winchester. Volunteers led the recitation of the rosary one day a week in each center. The religious education of the children was expanded under Father's guidance with the support and enthusiasm of the coordinator. A Youth Ministry Program for students in Grades 3 through 9 was instituted in the spring of 1997. Several worthwhile activities took place, including walking tours, bowling and fundraisers.
Father also served as Spiritual Director of Our Lady's Sodality, which continued to be a focal point of spiritual and secular activities in the parish. As Spiritual Director, Father offered Mass and joined in programmed activities and financial support programs organized by the officers and board of directors. With his support and encouragement, a program of outreach and focus of family and children became the theme of this organization. The Ladies Sodality celebrated their years of faithful service at their Golden Jubilee Banquet on November 12, 1996.
Father Naughton continued to support the Bingo fundraising activities on Saturday evenings. The "game" was conducted by dedicated personnel, many of whom served for over 20 years for the financial benefit of the parish.
Father Naughton was transferred in March of 1998 and, after a temporary assignment, was appointed pastor of Sts. Martha and Mary Parish in Lakeville.
Reverend Thomas S Foley (1998 — 2004)
On April 1, 1998, Father Thomas Foley was appointed Administrator of the parish. A native of the parish, growing up on Pond Street in Winchester, Father Foley celebrated his first Mass in Immaculate Conception Church on June 8, 1986. Since serving as a parochial vicar at Sts. Martha and Mary Parish in Lakeville from 1986 to 1989, Father Foley has had the rare distinction of serving in all three parishes in Winchester. From 1989 to 1994 he was assigned to St. Eulalia's Parish in Winchester and from 1994 to 1998 he served at St. Mary's Parish in Winchester, where he was baptized.
The Archdiocese of Boston had been involved in planning for the future of parishes since the mid-1990's. In this effort, parishes were grouped into clusters to study ways of sharing resources, programs and personnel to better serve the mission of the church. One important reason for this planning effort was the serious shortage of priests facing the Archdiocese in the foreseeable future. Having served in each of the parishes that comprise the "Winchester cluster", Father Foley and Immaculate Conception Parish gained a unique opportunity to plan for the future. Immaculate Conception parishioners were very active in meetings with both St. Mary's and St. Eulalia's, often times spearheading programs of group interest.
The Mass on the Common was one such program that offered an opportunity for the Catholics of Winchester to celebrate in praise and thanksgiving as a larger community. Committed as we were to the wider mission of the church, Father Foley and the parish worked diligently to re-vitalize and improve Immaculate Conception Parish. Building on our heritage as a friendly, hardworking and tight-knit community, we sought to be a welcoming community that celebrated the beauty of our Catholic faith in prayerful worship and in supporting the life of faith in one another and in our families. Since 1998 we have been blessed with a modest increase in our parish enrollment, Mass attendance, the number of Baptisms and Marriages, and financial contributions. The parish sponsored an annual spiritual retreat and began Eucharistic adoration on the first Friday of each month for an increase in vocations to the priesthood. Sunday Mass was the center of our parish life. We were blessed with dedicated lectors, ministers of Communion, servers, musicians, ushers, and the children who contribute to our regular "family Mass."
A major initiative was undertaken in 2000 to stabilize the parish and provide for the future. The 27,000 square foot, ten-classroom school building, built in 1955 adjacent to the church, was leased to Creative Corner Children's Learning Center, a childcare center and pre-school founded and directed by Winchester residents. Since the parish school closed in 1972, the building was used on a regular, but limited basis, for religion classes, parish meetings and Bingo on Saturday evenings.
Whereas the building was being under-utilized and expensive to operate and maintain, and with sincere concern about the future ability of Bingo to contribute to the financial needs of the parish as it had for 25 years, the parish decided to lease the building. The advantage to the parish was that Creative Comer would take over the regular maintenance and utilities expenses of the school, and would provide the parish with considerable rental income over the seven-year period of the lease. Creative Corner leased the building in May of 2000 and opened in August.
All parish activities, except for Bingo, were re-located to the Father Driscoll Parish Hall, the original church built on Sheridan Circle in 1932. It was determined that the parish hall was not large enough, nor properly equipped, for Bingo, and, thus, with great sadness but equally great appreciation for 25 dedicated and successful years, the Saturday Bingo closed in May of 2000. Religion classes, Sodality and a newly formed Boy Scout troop now used the hall on a regular basis.
In the fall of 2000, a new Faith Development center was constructed in the convent basement to accommodate religious education classes and offices. The Sisters of Charity graciously welcomed this use of their large basement, which had its own entrance to the outside. Five classrooms, a lavatory and office space was built. Floors, walls, heating, lighting, plumbing and furnishings were installed and the center was dedicated and opened in December 2000.
Our Lady's Sodality continued to be an active and vibrant women's group that made an enormous contribution, spiritually, socially and financially, to the parish. They undertook a philosophy to always share what they had and gave to others. Their monthly meetings were spiritual, as they always began with Mass, and social. The ladies enjoyed an Italian Festa, Games Night, Irish Night, Craft Night, a baby shower, and so many enjoyable times. They served coffee, donuts, pancakes, pastry, punch, sandwiches, and smiles every time.
Pastoral care of the sick and homebound continued to be a priority with monthly Masses at the nursing homes and weekly visits for Holy Communion and the rosary thanks to the Sisters, the Sodality and the dedicated extraordinary ministers of Communion.
In 1999, the area behind the convent was cleared and a meditation garden, named Our Lady's Garden, was built by Tom Pecora and Jack McHugh. A statue of the Blessed Mother was installed along with two benches, dedicated to the memory of Kathleen Pecora and Kay McHugh. A walkway was built and flowers planted. These flowers were maintained by Tom and Jack. Lighting was installed by John Regan. Many events either began at or ended at Our Lady's Garden. It became a peaceful meeting spot for reflection and prayer.
Physical improvements continued to be made to the parish property, notably a new roof on the church, reconstruction of the church steps and re-paving of the church driveway in June 2000. The church kneelers were replaced and a new carpet was installed. New drapes for the confessionals were obtained. A new organ was purchased in 2003. A new stage curtain and window drapes were acquired for the Father Driscoll Parish Hall and the floor in the hall was refinished. New paving and drainage was installed in the parish driveway and convent area.
In reaction to the tragedy of 9/11/2001, a prayer service and prayer board was established for the service men and women. Parishioners were actively involved in asking for prayer and responding in prayer.
In light of the church scandal, a monthly holy hour was instituted. The parish continued to pray for healing at our daily Exposition of the Eucharist and recitation of the rosary. Again, the people of Immaculate Conception Parish responded humbly and conscientiously to the needs of others.
The parish was blessed with the presence of seminarians from Blessed John XXIII Seminary since 2002. The seminarians came to the parish for field education. Being "delayed vocations," the seminarians brought varied and rich life experiences. They inspired us with their desire to prepare for the priesthood after being successful in other careers. Parishioners with good memories recall other times in our history when Immaculate Conception welcomed seminarians to teach religious education and to serve here as deacons.
For several years we were privileged to have the assistance of Father David Meskell, a senior priest of the Archdiocese of Boston with family roots in the parish and whose family still resides in Winchester. Father Meskell has been very generous in celebrating Masses here, so that, unlike many other parishes with only one assigned priest, Immaculate Conception offered Mass every day of the week and two Masses each weekday during Lent.
In October 2003, the parish welcomed Father Ronald Lawson, a Vermont native and retired Army chaplain, to live in the rectory and assist in the parish. Father Lawson is an adult convert to Catholicism and shared with us his deep belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and his loyalty to the Church. Father served in the military for over twenty years and is a veteran of the Gulf War of 1991.
In the spring of 2004, a memorable banquet in honor of our Sisters of Charity of Halifax was held. So often had the people of Immaculate Conception Parish benefited from the loving care that the sisters offered, that they felt it was long overdue to show appreciation for them. The sisters were treated to a luncheon celebration in the Parish Hall. Parishioners spoke of each sister in turn, identifying biographical highlights, sharing humorous stories, verbalizing fond memories, and heartfelt feelings. Their ever-present grace and humility, so often taken for granted, will be missed, as they move on to new homes, prompted by the reconfiguration of our parish.
In 2003, Pope John Paul II appointed Most Reverend Sean P. O'Malley, OFM, Capuchin, to be Archbishop of Boston. Archbishop Sean, following St. Francis of Assisi, has set out to "rebuild" the Church in the Archdiocese of Boston. An ambitious plan of reconfiguration of parishes was announced in December 2003.
Changing demographics, a shortage of priests and declining Mass attendance were cited as reasons for the reorganization. In early 2004. Immaculate Conception, together with St. Mary and St. Eulalia parishes, participated in an intensive series of “cluster meetings” in order to recommend to the Archbishop which parish or parishes should close if he deemed that consolidation was necessary. The representatives from Immaculate Conception went to great lengths to articulate and document the viability and recent growth of the parish. Nonetheless, the majority of the Winchester Cluster recommended that no parish close in town, but if the archbishop needed to close a parish then the Immaculate Conception should be the one to close due to the smaller number of parishioners. Then the local vicar, the regional bishop, the Central Committee of the Archdiocese, and finally, the Presbyteral Council all made their recommendations to the Archbishop. In May, 2004, Archbishop O’Malley announced his intention to close 65 parishes, including Immaculate Conception. The reason given was our relatively small number of parishioners and our proximity to other parishes. Parishioners and our Parish Pastoral Council appealed to Archbishop Sean but the Parish Council received a reply in July, 2004, indicating that the Archbishop intended to go ahead with his plan to close this parish.
On September 26, 2004, the eve of the 73rd Anniversary if the founding of Immaculate Conception Parish, an afternoon celebration was held on the parish grounds. Its purpose was that if giving thanks to the Lord and our Blessed Mother for 73 years of parish life.
It further allowed an opportunity to honor the wonderful people, past and present, who have made Immaculate Conception Parish the faithful and loving community it is. Nearly 800 parish family attended the event on a breathtaking Sunday afternoon. The area behind both the rectory and the convent were tented for seating and food tables. The Parish Hall was also utilized for seating and food service. The party flowed from Hall to outdoors and back while parishioners listened to music, shared memories, reconnected with old friends, and basked in all that had been good at Immaculate Conception Parish. It truly was an afternoon of thanksgiving for the lives we have been fortunate to share in.
On September 1, 2004 Father Foley began his new assignment as pastor at St. Ann's in Neponset. He was given the duty to manage both his new assignment as well as keep things running at Immaculate Conception Parish until the time of closing. Fr. Lawson continued to reside in the rectory until mid-October, at which time he moved his residence to St. Ann's rectory. Weekend Masses were held on a regular schedule with priests from St. Charles, St. Mary's and St. Eulalia's filling in where needed. Daily Mass continued with the help of Fr. Meskell and Fr. Lawson. On October 10, 2004, many friends of Father Foley gathered at the Sons of Italy Hall in Winchester to wish him well and present him with a very special gift.
On Saturday, November 6, 2004, the final Mass was offered in our beloved Parish Church. Our Sisters of Charity led the community in the Rosary prior to the Eucharistic Celebration. The theme of the Mass was, Our Light, that burned so brightly, willingly, faithfully for 73 years, now burns through the darkness, to a new home. Representatives from both St. Charles and St. Mary's received the Light and carried it back to our Welcoming parishes. Immaculate Conception Parish was officially closed, but the Light within the parishioners will continue to burn brightly, wherever we go, as we remember our beloved home at Immaculate Conception Parish.
The Immaculate Conception Parish has been blessed with many able religious leaders and lay people, including those parishioners who entered the priesthood and religious communities since its founding on September 21, 1931. Much has been accomplished in a spiritual and secular way. As we look back on the history of our parish, we wish to acknowledge and thank those who have given so much of their time and talent and treasure to the enrichment of the parish. We have been blessed with the help of
- Parochial Vicars and Pastoral Assistants
- Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
- Sisters of Saint Joseph
- Sisters of Charity of Halifax R.E. Program directors, coordinators and teachers
- Youth Activity Ministry coordinators
- Sodality of Our Lady Spiritual Directors, officers and members
- Saint Vincent de Paul Society
- Holy Name Society
- Lay ministry, lectors, extraordinary ministers, servers, choir directors, cantors and choir members, ushers, and visitors to the Aberjona and Winchester Nursing Centers and Winchester Hospital members of the parish council and finance committee
- Bingo committee officers and workers
- Office staff, sextons, household staff
Appreciation is extended to all who have contributed in any capacity to enrich the quality of the spiritual and social work of the parish.
Compiled October 27, 2004. Special thanks to: Miss Mary McLaughlin, Mrs. Donna Humphrey, Mrs. Colleen DeBruyckere,
Reverend Thomas S. Foley, Administrator