The earliest Catholic families living in Chelmsford, Dunstable, Lowell, Tyngsboro and Westford wanted a church of their own. St. Patrick’s, Lowell was a five to ten-mile walk. The families purchased the Meeting House of the Second Congregational Church of Chelmsford at the corner of Middlesex and Baldwin Streets, Lowell, in 1859. Fr. John O’Brien, pastor of St. Patrick’s, gave his hearty support and promised to have a priest come weekly for Sunday Mass. Fr. John was thoroughly impressed with the heroic faith of the people of St. John’s.
Men, who toiled in factory, foundry or farm, hurried to the holy work each evening. They struggled to move the building with the aid of horses and log rollers, a few yards at a time, for a distance of two miles along Middlesex Street. “Know Nothing” citizenry, a violent anti-Catholic group, made threats to burn the building and gained court injunctions to stop the building’s movement. The two-mile journey was made with at least four men, armed with shotguns, and guarding the Church each night. In the spring of 1860, Father Barretti of St. Patrick’s Lowell, celebrated the first Mass in the new St. John’s Mission.
For 33 years, Masses were said regularly each Sunday and Holy Day and the Sacraments administered under very trying conditions and often at great distances. From St. John’s Mission, a house Mass was said for Catholic families in Westford. St. John’s grew and Archbishop Williams established the new parish of St. John the Evangelist on January 1, 1893. The Rev. John J. Shaw, an assistant from St. Patrick’s, Lowell, was appointed our first pastor.
In 1903 the pastor of St. John’s was given an assistant, Father John McNamara, a French-speaking priest, because St. John’s was no longer a country parish. The community was integrating the French and Irish from Lowell. By 1919 St. John’s had two missions: St. Catherine’s in Westford (built 1893) and St. Mary’s in Chelmsford Center. At this time a second assistant, Father John J. Linehan, was assigned as pastor. These missions were dedicated later as parishes – in June of 1922 for St. Catherine’s and in December of 1931 for St. Mary’s.
In 1962 St. John’s had grown to more than 1700 parishioners (we now number more than 9,000 active parishioners) and was `bulging at the seams`. We needed religious education facilities, adequate parking and a new building. On October 20, 1963, the first Mass was celebrated in our present church building. It was solemnly dedicated on November 13, 1963, by His Eminence, Richard Cardinal Cushing. Our parish center and rectory were built in 1980, and then in 2009, ‘bulging at the seams’ again, a new parish center was built adjacent to the main church. This addition of 9 ‘meeting’ rooms, primarily houses our growing Religious Education program.
In 2012, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan, Disciples in Mission, was introduced. Part 1 of the plan, entitled “Strengthening Parishes for the Work of New Evangelization”, gives its attention to strengthening our parishes for the mission of evangelization. Recommendation #1 is to organize the 288 parishes of the Archdiocese of Boston into approximately 135 Collaboratives in order to foster common pastoral action and a common vision (click HERE for the entire document).
On June 2, 2015, in accordance with the vision as set forth in Disciples in Mission, St. John the Evangelist and St. Mary formed the Chelmsford Catholic Collaborative. Rev. Brian E. Mahoney was named Pastor, and installed as such on October 31st at St. Mary’s and November 7th at St. John’s. Other clergy named to our collaboration are Rev. Laurence “Ren” Tocci, Parochial Vicar; Rev. Thomas B. Corcoran, Parochial Vicar; and Rev. Arnold F. Collette, Sr. Priest in Residence. We are also blessed with two deacons: Deacon Francis X. Burke, Permanent Deacon and Deacon Robert Dzuris, Senior Deacon Assisting.
With this powerful pastoral team, we can continue to revel in our past one-hundred-plus years, celebrate our present vigorous parish life, and anticipate our continued Journey of Faith into the next 100 years as Disciples in Mission.
Click here to see all the clergy who, over the years, have formed us into the loving, vibrant parish family that we are today.