About Our Parish

From 1850-60, the Catholic population in this area was composed mostly of immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Poland, and Germany. Catholics were so few in number that they were easily enclosed in a large circle extending from the Charles River to the boundaries of Worcester, and often traveled as far as Saint Mary’s Church in Milford for sacramental celebrations, including weekly Mass. Many walked the several miles; the more affluent drove horse-drawn carriages. The faith and endurance that led the Catholics of Millis and its environs to travel far afield for Mass and the sacraments is the same faith and endurance that led to the founding of Saint Thomas the Apostle Parish and its church building.

Right in the middle of the American Civil War (1863), Saint Joseph Church in Medway was established and served the Catholic community in what is now Medway, Bellingham, and Millis. Its first parish population comprised no more than forty families, also a testament to the fact that the size of a parish should not determine its necessity and importance to those who find it both a spiritual home and sanctuary. To this day, parishioners still make daily visits to the Blessed Sacrament at Saint Thomas the Apostle morning and evening.

The population of Millis increased significantly by 1885, and in January 1909, the Reverend William Dwyer, along with Jeremiah Shannon, a former Millis selectman, purchased a parcel of land fronting on Exchange Street near the Millis Railroad Station as the future site for a new Catholic church. The first formal meeting to discuss building plans was held on August 10, 1936 at The Pines, the estate of Mrs. David Gentles. Fifty-four parishioners and friends attended and formed both women’s and men’s clubs to promote the Millis Chapel Fund. The Building Committee, led by the Reverend Henry M. Tattan, then-Administrator of St. Joseph’s in Medway, worked with a number of dedicated residents to raise money to break new ground for the church on October 12, 1936. Four months after the ground breaking, the sum of $15,000 toward the goal of $25,000 had been raised. The seeds of Saint Thomas the Apostle Parish were planted, and they have not stopped growing since.

Dry goods store at right became church's small hall.

The first High Mass was celebrated on Sunday, February 14, 1937 at 10:15 in the morning, with the Reverend John J. Sullivan, Pastor of Saint Catherine, Somerville, presiding. Father Tattan could not attend due to illness, but composed the homily, which was read by Fr. Sullivan. The church building and altar were consecrated, and the cornerstone laid by the Reverend Erminio Lona. The Stations of the Cross were dedicated and prayed that afternoon by the Reverend John J. Carroll, C.M., with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament immediately following. The first baptism in the new church was celebrated for Thomas, the twelfth child of Mr. and Mrs. Dennis J. Murphy. For the next three days, a Triduum was conducted by Father Carroll in thanksgiving for the opening of the church.

In October 1937, the Millis Chapel ceased to be a mission of St. Joseph’s and was named Saint Thomas the Apostle Parish. The Reverend Frederick J. Mulrey was appointed the first pastor and the Reverend George P. Gallivan the first curate. Saint Theresa’s Chapel in Sherborn and the Women’s Reformatory in Framingham became missions of Saint Thomas at this time.

Late 1930's: Confirmation group outside church. Bishop Spellman (not seen) officiated the service.

Father Mulrey was succeeded as Pastor in 1944 by the Reverend John N. Cunningham, who oversaw the establishment of a unit of the Catholic Daughters of America (Court Archbishop Cushing, #1390). In 1947, he was succeeded by the Reverend Thomas F. Ferris, who oversaw the redecoration of the church and alterations at the rectory.

In 1950, Saint Thomas introduced the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD), which survives to this day under the capable administration of Mrs. Dorothy Shulman and Mrs. Marie Pozniak. The Religious Education program educates hundreds of children each year in matters of doctrine and spiritual life, and also brings children to the sacraments of Penance, Eucharist, and Confirmation. Several teachers volunteer to staff the program and oversee such endeavors as Sandwiches and Socks for the Homeless, the Winter Coat Drive, and outreach to Willowbrook Manor in Millis and the Battered Women’s Shelter in Medway.

After his transfer in 1953, the Reverend John L. Parsons was named pastor, and it was under his leadership that the Saint Thomas Large Hall was purchased, built, and then dedicated by Richard Cardinal Cushing in September 1957. When the Reverend John P. Leonard became pastor in 1959, the parish was thriving and rapidly expanding, and he oversaw the parish for over a decade, replaced in 1971 by the Reverend Francis W. Beksha. Fr. Beksha has the second-longest tenure as Pastor of Saint Thomas, with the longest tenure to date held by his successor, the Reverend Henry G. Chambers. Fr. Beksha was known as a humble, pious, and holy priest, one who quietly performed his pastoral duties and gained the affection and respect of his parishioners. During his tenure as Pastor, the parish saw a number of church organizations flourish, including the Holy Name Society, Altar Society, the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, the Knights of Columbus, Boy Scout Troup #115. Memorable events, such as the Parish’s Annual Field Day and the Bayberry Fair also were introduced during Father Beksha’s administration.

On Sunday, February 15, 1987, Saint Thomas the Apostle celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by Bishop Daniel A. Hart, D.D. On Sunday, October 14, 2012, we were very pleased to celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the parish with another Mass of Thanksgiving offered by His Eminence, Seán Cardinal O’Malley, OFM, Cap., Archbishop of Boston.

From 1991 until his retirement in 2012, Father Chambers shepherded Saint Thomas the Apostle into the twenty-first century. He brought many people to the Catholic faith and preached a message of love, inclusion, and spiritual nourishment to which anyone could relate, no matter where he or she was on life’s journey. Father Chambers availed the parish to the theological expertise and fine preaching of the Reverend Alfred McBride, O.praem, who joined us for the Easter Triduum since 2000, and to the pastoral sincerity and kindness of the Reverend Joseph M. Kane and the Reverend William Pearsall, who assisted Father Chambers on the weekends. It was during Father Chambers’s tenure as pastor that the Saint Thomas the Apostle Choir flourished.

In recent years, the choir was directed by Mr. Terrence Kerr from 1997-2009. Kerr brought his expertise in organ and choral conducting to Millis, and galvanized the choir’s production of two full-length albums: O Come Let Us Adore Him! (2003) and Only in God (2008). Over $8,000 in proceeds from these albums were put toward a new organ for the church, which was purchased and dedicated in 2007. In 2009, Dr. Jason C. Zysk assumed leadership of the Music Ministry. His first priority was to create a trans-generational choir that would bring children and adults into a cohesive group. The Parish Choir was comprised of nearly twenty adults and children. Zysk also instituted a youth cantor ministry, which has now trained four young women to be psalmists and leaders of song at Sunday Mass. A piano, gifted by the Gannon Family, was restored, retuned, and moved to the loft in 2011, and is now used during weekly worship. The people of Saint Thomas the Apostle sing, and they sing well! The parish enjoys a balanced repertoire that combines selections from the treasury of sacred music, contemporary music, and chant. The parish has also been extremely successful in implementing the textual and musical changes of the New Translation of the Roman Missal.  Mr. Michael Maslauskas took over the Music Ministry in the fall of 2013. 

When Father Chambers retired in 2012, Saint Thomas the Apostle was administered by the Reverend Brian R. Kiely, Pastor of Saint Patrick Parish in Natick, who along with the Reverend David C. Goodrow and the Reverend Hal Obayashi, served the needs of our parish with dedication and deep pastoral care.

In early 2012, Cardinal O’Malley appointed Father David Goodrow (seen above ) as Administrator.

There are many unique and noteworthy Gothic features in both the interior and exterior of the church. Specially designed wrought iron hanging lamps enhance the open-ceiling structure. The arrangement of windows in the supporting walls was planned to allow the maximum amount of light to enter through the colorful stained glass. There are two beautiful rosetta windows, one over the sanctuary and another over the choir loft. Within the sanctuary are the main altar and two side altars. The master craftsmanship of the baldacchino (the framing structure over the main altar), the supporting standards, and the candelabra testify to the talents of Frederick A. Brunner.

The carved crucifix hanging over the main altar is praised as a rare piece of church art. The side altars are similar in design and feature statues of the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph. In 2012, the tabernacle was moved to the center of the sanctuary and placed on a small altar built by Mr. George Burke of Natick.

Over the years, Saint Thomas the Apostle has witnessed many vocations to the priesthood, deaconate, and religious life from its parishioners. These vocations comprise: Fathers Joseph Cassidy, Leo McCarthy, Richard E. Cannon, Kenneth Cannon, Robert J. Congdon, and Joseph G. Arsenault; and Sisters Winifred Kerwin, Theresa Gillis, Mary Franceline Braun, Mary Peter Kerwin, M. Eugenia Sullivan, Rose Christopher Clancy, and Maura Denis Murphy. Now in its seventy-fifth year, Saint Thomas the Apostle remains a vibrant, energetic, and integral parish at every level. Each year brings an influx of new parishioners, and each year witnesses the celebration of the sacraments by the faithful of this parish who keep Christ, the Good Shepherd and the Bread of Life, at the center of their lives.

Small yet mighty, Saint Thomas the Apostle was built on the tremendous faith of its original parishioners. The flames of faith stoked within these walls and spread outside these doors must never be snuffed. May Saint Thomas the Apostle prosper as pilgrim people and Church of God.

This history is based on several prior histories of the parish authored by Dr. John Fitzgerald (1968), Mr. Anthony P. Meleski (1980), and the Reverend Richard E. Cannon (1986). This version is based on Mr. Meleski’s document and has been revised and amplified by Dr. Jason C. Zysk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 
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