The Beginning

The parishioners of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish joined in the celebration of their first Mass as a parish on Monday, January 4, 2010, the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Although our parish is young, it is blessed with the rich history of the Catholic Community of Northampton. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish was formed after five (5) former Northampton parishes closed on January 3, 2010.

The five (5) former parishes were:

  1. St. Mary of the Assumption, founded in 1866
  2. Annunciation, founded in 1878
  3. Sacred Heart, founded in 1886
  4. Blessed Sacrament, founded in 1899       
  5. St. John Cantius, founded in 1904

Today, we utilize Sacred Heart at 99 King St. (our main Parish Church), Annunciation at 87 Beacon St., Florence (our Chapel) and Blessed Sacrament at 336 Elm St. as our places of worship. The St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Youth Center is located in the former Annunciation School on Beacon St. Our Parish Hall is located at 10 Hawley St. and is the former Parish Center for St. John Cantius Church. Our Parish Office is in the former St. Mary's Rectory at 3 Elm St. The Rectory is the former Blessed Sacrament Rectory on Elm St.

St. Mary of the Assumption Parish

The first Mass in Hampshire County was celebrated in 1806. The occasion was the hanging of two (2) men - Dominic Daley and James Halligan - accused (and later exonerate) of murder. The Mass was celebrated by Rev. John Louis deCheverus who later became the first Bishop of Boston.

In 1834, Mass was celebrated at the home of a Leeds resident and continued to be celebrated sporadically for several years.

Land for the first Catholic Church and cemetery in Northampton and Hampshire County was purchased in 1841, and the first Mass was celebrated on Christmas Day, 1845. The parish was named St. Mary of the Assumption, but the church itself, located at the corner of King and Church Streets was dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The church, of wooden construction, was 40 feet long and contained three (3) pews.

In 1866, while still part of the diocese of Boston, St. Mary of the Assumption received the status of permanent parish and was assigned a priest, Fr. Patrick Moyce, to serve as its first resident pastor. Twice the little church on King St. was enlarged, and the number of Masses was increased, but the church was still too small to accommodate the growing numbers of Catholics who traveled great distances to attend Mass. Because there was no public transportation on Sundays, many parishioners walked from Florence, Williamsburg, Easthampton, Hatfield, Hadley and Amherst.

In 1870, the Diocese of Springfield was created.

In 1873, the Mansion House property at the foot of Elm St. was  purchased for approximately $21,000.

By 1881, sufficient funds were accumulated to provide for the razing of the old Mansion House. On August 14, 1881, the cornerstone of St. Mary of the Assumption Church was laid, and on May 10, 1885, Bishop Patrick O'Reilly dedicated the church.

In 1909, St. Michael's School was constructed on State St. for an enrollment of 500. In less than eleven (11) years, the school was overcrowded. In 1929, high school students began attending class in the new addition to St. Michael's. By 1949, the school accommodated more than 700 elementary and high school students from Northampton, Florence, Leeds, Haydenville, Easthampton, Amherst, Hadley, Hatfield, Whately, and South Deerfield. In 1975, the school closed due to declining enrollment. Today, it is Michael's House,  a senior residential community.

Source: "Centennial History of St. Mary of the Assumption Church, Northampton, Massachusetts", by Margaret Clifford Dwyer

Annunciation Parish

In 1878, Annunciation Parish in Florence was founded, under the leadership of Rev. Cornelius Foley. This church served the Catholics of Florence, Leeds, Haydenville and parts of Bay State. In 1884, the triangular lot at the junction of Pine and Beacon Streets was purchased. In October 1924, work was begun on Annunciation School. It was dedicated in September 1925, with a beginning enrollment of 108 students and four grades in operation during the first year. One grade was added each successive year until 1930 when a total of eight grades were in session. In 1939, due to overcrowding, the former Pine Street School, referred to as "The Little School" was purchased from the Northampton School System for use of first and second grade students. At its peak, enrollment at Annunciation School in 1962 was 396 students. Various factors contributed to the decline of Catholic school enrollment. In 1971, the seventh and eighth grades merged with St. Michael's School in Northampton and "The Little School" was closed. In June of 1973, Annunciation School said "goodbye" to students for the last time.

Source: Our First One Hundred Years 1878-1978

Church of the Annunciation, Florence, Mass, Eileen Mahar, Editor

Sacred Heart Parish

In January of 1886, Sacred Heart Parish for French-speaking Catholics was organized with Rev. Noel Rainville as its first pastor. The first Mass was celebrated at Northampton's City Hall. St. Mary's little wooden church on Church and King Streets was rented by the parish for $120 a year. In 1889, the Erastus Hopkins estate on King St. was purchased for $9,400.

In March 1891, a combined chapel and school were constructed. In 1903, another piece of land was acquired to build a new school which opened in September, 1911. This school, located on the site of the parking lot, was razed in 1995.
With the additional land acquired in 1889, 1903 and 1911, there was ample space to construct a new church to house the ever increasing parish population. The new church, of Georgian ecclesiastical architecture, was constructed at a cost of $60,000 on the site of the former chapel. It was dedicated on November 12, 1916. The Latin inscription on the frieze of the main facade proclaims, "This is none other that the house of God and the gateway to heaven."

Source: "The History of Sacred Heart Church 1886-1986", compiled by Father J. Donald R. LaPointe and Gerard R. Vanasse for Sacred Heart Church 100th Anniversary 1886-1986

Blessed Sacrament Parish

To establish a more convenient site for the Catholic population of Bay State, property on Elm St. was acquired in 1899 for $5,000. The site was one of the best in the center of a section without a church. The lot was large and was the site of two (2) small houses. Blessed Sacrament Parish, with a church of Swiss design, measuring 100 x 45 feet was established in 1899. Today, it is the only one of Swiss design and of its type in the diocese. The copper box, deposited in the corner stone, included the names of all 800 parishioners. Rev. Thomas P. Lucey, the curate of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish was chosen as the first pastor.

St. John Cantius Parish

In April 1904, St. John Cantius Parish was organized for Polish-speaking Catholics, with Rev. Peter C. Reding as its first pastor. The Blodgett House on Prospect Street was purchased for use as the church for $14,000. In July 1908, property on Hawley Street was purchased for a new church. In August 1911, construction began, and in April 1913, the church, of Roman architecture, was dedicated. In later years, land in back of the church and rectory was purchased and cleared by the youth group for use as a recreation area, including parish picnics. Later, a house and land on Phillips Place were purchased to allow access to the area and to make building a Parish Center a reality. It was completed in 1969 and currently serves as the Parish Hall for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish.

A World War II monument dedicated to twenty (20) young men from the parish was erected on the front lawn of the church. In May 2011, the monument was relocated to St. Mary Cemetery to the area named "Veterans Green at St. Mary Cemetery".

Moving Forward

The history of the five (5) former parishes continues to enrich our new parish. May God continue to bless the Catholic Community of Northampton.

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