St. Anthony’s Church: Original Cornerstone

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The earliest Catholics to arrive in Litchfield were Acadians, French inhabitants of eastern Canada expelled from their homeland by the British in 1755 during the French and Indian War. Technically prisoners of the British, over 11,000 were dispersed among Britain’s American colonies.  In 1759, the town of Litchfield authorized that its selectmen “may provide a house or some suitable place in the town, for the maintenance of the French.” There is little evidence of the presence of other Catholics in town until 1848, when Rev. John Smith, a visiting missionary, said the first recorded mass in Litchfield. It was noted that the second mass held in town was at the home of John Ryan on the west side of North Lake Street by Rev. Philip Gillick in 1853. There were twenty in attendance, and in the same year Gillick performed Litchfield’s first Catholic marriage.

In 1858, Julia Beers purchased a small house on South Street (that still forms part of the rectory) for use as a church. An altar was set up in the dining room and masses were said there until 1861 when increasing numbers necessitated a move to the courthouse.  Between 1861 and 1882, pastors from Winsted – beginning with Reverend Daniel Mullen –  also officiated at the Litchfield church. In 1882, Rev. M. Byrne became the town’s first resident priest.

In 1867, construction of a permanent church began and was the first service held there was that year’s Christmas mass.  This structure was a sign of the town’s growing population of Irish and Italian immigrants. In his bicentennial history of the Litchfield, Alain White wrote, “The building of St. Anthony’s Church in 1867 shows that they were by that time a well established part of the community. From that time on, in their growing prosperity in trade, in the fairs for the church, their minstrel shows and St. Patrick’s Day dances they have made their definite contribution to the community life.”

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A new church – shown above from an early 20th century postcard – was erected between 1885 and 1889 at a cost of $23,000. This was an ornate Gothic Revival structure, with buttresses and stained glass windows. In 1890, the parish’s Knights of Columbus chapter began, and in 1907 the Emma Deming Council No. 265 Catholic Women’s Benevolent Legion started. As a sign of the church becoming an established institution in the town, the St. Anthony’s service flag was prominently featured in Litchfield’s 1918 Armistice Day parade.

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A massive fire destroyed the church on October 5, 1944. Masses were held at the Congregational and Methodist churches for the next four years while a new structure was completed. With World War II raging, building materials were harder to come by, eliminating stained glass windows from the plan. A simpler design was the result, as seen in the postcard above.  The steeple and passageway to the rectory were added in later years, but at the back of the church is the cornerstone from the 1887 structure, salvaged from the ruins of the fire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hidden Nearby: Charles Grandison Finney’s Birthplace

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Monument at the birthplace of Charles Grandison Finney on Cunningham Road in Warren.

There were no great battles fought in Litchfield County, nor were any presidents born here. The county has, however, left an indelible mark on American history, perhaps in no area as great as in religion. The county was the home of Joseph Bellamy, Lyman Beecher, Horace Bushnell, and Michael McGivney. Another extremely prominent American religious leader who called the county home was Charles Grandison Finney, born in Warren in 1792. Finney was the youngest of fifteen children, and the family moved to upstate New York soon after his birth.

Charles Grandison Finney

Charles Grandison Finney

Finney has been called the “Father of American Revivalism,” and the area in western New York in which he operated became known as the “Burned-Over District” for the intensity of the religious revivals there. The high point of Finney’s revivalism was 1825-1835, and they were particularly popular in towns like Rochester that were undergoing dramatic economic transformations brought on by the opening of the Erie Canal.

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Rochester, NY 1830

Finney preached salvation through faith alone, but also wrote of the role of the individual’s will in achieving salvation. Finney’s religious views led him and his followers to promote social reforms, especially abolitionism and educational opportunities for women. These beliefs led him in 1835 to Oberlin College in Ohio, which accepted both genders and all races. Finney would go on to serve as the school’s president from 1851 to 1866.

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Getting to this monument is very challenging; it is advised that those seeking it walk or mountain bike down Cunningham Road. Thanks to Warren historian Ellen Paul and the dog walker I fortuitously met along Cunningham for the directions! Thanks also to Jason and Amanda McGrew for their assistance.

For more on Finney and his revivals in Rochester, see Paul Johnson’s wonderful A Shopkeeper’s Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815-1837.

Hidden Nearby: Sharon’s Moravian Monument

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Jan Hus

The Unity of Brethren, better known as the Moravians, also played an important role in the early religious history of the county.  The group’s nickname stems from the refugees from Moravia, an area of the present day Czech Republic.  The Moravians were essentially followers of the Catholic revolutionary Jan Hus, who advocated for giving lay people a more prominent role in the church and having masses said in vernacular languages.  Hus was burned at the stake in 1415.

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Nicolaus von Zinzendorf

One of the principal tenets of the Moravian church is the “ideal of service,” which emphasizes the importance of educational and missionary work.  At the forefront of these ideals was Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, a German social reformer and Moravian bishop who led efforts to spread Christianity through the Native Americans of the Northeast.  Around 1740, von Zinzendorf himself came to America, and preached to Indians in New Milford.  He was so successful in igniting the fire of Moravianism that the natives agreed to move with Zinzendorf to Bethlem (today Bethlehem), Pennsylvania.  Harsh conditions and illness, however, soon led the Native Americans to return.

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Monument to Rauch in Pine Plains, NY. Courtesy of Ancestry.com

Around the same time, a second Moravian mission was established in Sharon to minister to the settlements at Shekomeko (Pine Plains, NY), Wequagnock (near Sharon), and the Schaghticokes in Kent.  The mission was founded by the Reverend Christian Henry Rauch, who presided for two years before turning the work over to 26 year-old Reverend Gotlieb Buetner, who died two years later, and was buried at the site of the mission.

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New York State chased the Moravians out of their borders in 1745, fearing that the missionaries were secret emissaries of the Catholic Church.  This led numerous Christian Indians to settle around Sharon, where the Moravian mission continued under the leadership of David Bruce, a Moravian teacher from Edinburgh, Scotland.  In 1789, George Loskiel wrote of Bruce’s activities in his History of the Moravian Missioners Among the North American Indians:

Bruce … resided chiefly in a house at Wequagnock … but sometimes resided at         Schaticook, whence he paid visits to Westenhunk, by invitation of the head chief of the Mohikan nation, soweing the seeds of the gospel wherever he came …. Twenty Indians were added to the church by baptism.  Brother Bruce  remained in his station till his happy departure out of time …. He was remarkably cheerful during his illness, and his conversation edified all who saw him.  Perceiving that his end approached, he called his Indian brethren present to his bedside, and, pressing their hands to his breast, besought them fervently to remain faithful unto the end, and immediately fell asleep in the Lord.

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That was July 9, 1749.  A monument to Bruce and Joseph Powel, a later Moravian missionary, was erected in Sharon in October 1859, 110 years after Bruce’s death.  The monument still stands, hidden deep within the woods along Route 361.  On its east face is the following passage from Isaiah:

How beautiful upon the mountains

Are the feet of him that bringeth

Good tidings, that publisheth peace,

That bringeth good tidings of good,

That publisheth salvation.

Special thanks to my friend and colleague Warren Prindle of Sharon for not only bringing this monument to my attention, but also hacking through the woods with me to find it!

Hidden Nearby: Bethlehem’s Joseph Bellamy Monument

2013-06-29 08.52.55This monument on the Bethlehem green marks the location of the church where Joseph Bellamy preached.  Bellamy was one of the leading Congregationalist pastors and theologians – as well as a prominent educator and writer – of the late 18th century.  Born in Cheshire, Connecticut, in 1719, he graduated from Yale in 1735 and studied for a time under the famed minister of the Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards.

Muddy_roadBellamy was licensed to preach in 1738, at the age of nineteen.  That same year Bethlehem, a community of fourteen families, was granted “winter privileges.”  Because of the poor nature of 18th century roads, settlements were given the privilege of hiring their own minister for the winter months instead of traveling to the nearest established church.  Bellamy began preaching on November 2nd of that year and 1740 formally became the town’s minister.

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Bethlehem, 1836. The Congregational Church is on the right.

Initial services were held in a barn, but by 1767 the townspeople had voted to tear down the old meetinghouse and hired workers at four shillings a day to construct a new meetinghouse, with dimensions of 60 by 43 feet.  The new meetinghouse would have a “good decent bell” and a “lightning-rod” and the interior would be arranged for “men not to infringe on women’s pues.”

2013-06-29 08.51.52It has been stated that no theologian of the time – except for Edwards – had the impact  that Bellamy had.  This was due largely to his teaching of theological students and the publication of his twenty-two books, which laid out the basic ideas of New Light Congregationalism.  New Lights largely accepted the revival movements of the Great Awakening and as such brought political divisions to largely Old Light New England.  In response to these divisions minister Gideon Hawley, wrote to Bellamy in 1763 that he didn’t “know of but two clergymen however in the country that appear to like your principles.” In spite of his controversial views, Bellamy served as the pastor in Bethlehem for more than half a century, until his death in 1790.

A future post will examine the history of Bellamy’s house, now maintained as the Bellamy-Ferriday House and Gardens.