The History of Saint Bridget Parish Church and School
Established – 1871
Re-established – 1930
Father Bernard Tevin of St. Mary, New Haven celebrated the earliest documented Mass in Cheshire in 1843 at the Booth homestead on Meriden Road. The same priest also celebrated Mass from 1852 until 1854 at the Main Street home of Michael Garde (currently the site of Christ Community Church). In 1854, Cheshire passed to the care of St. Rose, Meriden, whose pastor, Father Hugh O’Reilly, said Mass on Main Street at Baldwin Hall and later at the home of Martin Brennan. In 1855, Father O’Reilly bought an acre of land on Route 10, Highland Avenue for $200 and presented it to Bishop Bernard J. O’Reilly “in trust for the Catholics of Cheshire”. The local copper mines were attracting Catholic laborers, and Cheshire’s location on a canal and railroad line promised continued industrial development.
In July 1859, the cornerstone of the St. Bridget mission church was blessed. The first mission Mass was offered by Father Charles McCallion of Meriden on Christmas Day, 1859. The original St Bridget Cemetery dates from this period. The church was built adjacent to the Cemetery and was dedicated on September 29, 1861. From 1859 until 1862, the mission had been entrusted to Wallingford pastors but again reverted to Meriden in 1862.
Father Thomas Drea was appointed by Bishop Francis P. McFarland as Cheshire’s first resident pastor in 1871. The priest lived at the Beadle homestead but after a year he left Cheshire to found St. Thomas, Southington. St. Bridget Church was later both enlarged and improved by the addition of stained glass windows, a marble altar, and a bell. The enhanced building was rededicated on November 4th, by Bishop Lawrence S. McMahon.
Despite the early promise of economic growth and likely Catholic migration to Cheshire, the latter years of the 19th century saw frequent downturns and consequent sharp population declines in the area. By 1900, only about 100 Catholics (25 families) resided in the town so that St Bridget was maintained as a mission church.
The 20th Century
The first decades of the 20th century, however, witnessed a Catholic migration to Cheshire that resulted in the appointment of Father Patrick A. McCarthy, in January 1930, as pastor of St. Bridget. St Bridget was again made a parish. With the help of James H. Darcey, Father McCarthy raised money to purchase an 11.5 acre tract on Main Street. An old house on the property was his residence until a Gothic-style rectory of brick was built and occupied on November 10, 1931.
Father McCarthy then refurbished the original church, bought 7.5 acres on Higgins Road for a new cemetery, and watched the number of Sunday Masses rise to seven during the post-World War II era. The Sisters of Mercy from Waterbury taught catechism during this period. The pastorate of Father McCarthy also nurtured important parish organizations: the Ladies’ Guild, in 1934; Santa Fe Council of the Knights of Columbus, in 1946; and the Fides Club for young adults, in 1950.
Father McCarthy retired in 1957 and was succeeded by Father Arthur P. Hanley, first as administrator and then as pastor in 1958. A former Army chaplain, Father Hanley initiated expansion and aided by Mr. Darcey and Mr. Louis D. Ricciutti, Father Hanley raised a $300,000 in a capital development fund. In 1957 an auditorium complex was dedicated on the parish’s Main Street property. There were seven classrooms in the building and a large hall. Mass was held in the new auditorium.
Archbishop Henry J. O’Brien broke ground for a new church on the Main Street acreage after the fall Confirmation in 1957. December 7, 1958, the new St. Bridget Church was dedicated by Archbishop O’Brien. The Church was of contemporary design in spalding brick, and boasted stained glass executed by O’Duggan of Boston, a craftsman who used gold dust in the process to create a sparkling effect.
In 1957, the Sisters of Charity of St. Louis assumed responsibility for the religious education of the parish. These religious soon occupied a new convent on Creamery Road. In 1964, St Bridget Parish began what has evolved to become a long standing parish commitment to Catholic education, when Father Hanley opened a Catholic Junior High School. The school continued to serve children for nearly 20 years but (as were many other catholic schools) was forced to close for what would, by the grace of God, be a brief period. At the closure, the building began to function as a much needed Parish Center
The first team ministry was appointed in 1984, consisting of Fathers Neil F. Fitzgerald and Daniel James Sullivan. They began immediate renovations of the church. Fathers James B. Gunnoud and Brian W. Monnerat were named co-pastors in August 1990. As a result of the leadership of Fathers Gunnoud and Monnerat, and the great participation of the parishioners, St Bridget School reopened on August 30, 1994 as an elementary school, initially serving pre-kindergarten, full-day kindergarten and first grade. Eventually, all grades up through Grade 8 were opened and the first 8th grade class graduated in 2002. More details regarding the rich history of the school can be found elsewhere on this website.
The 21st Century
Father Gunnoud retired in 2005 and was succeeded as pastor by Father Robert Ricciardi who had been Parochial Vicar for several years. As pastor, Father Ricciardi continued to minister to the parish with great care for all. When Father Ricciardi was called home to the Lord in November 2013, people far and wide mourned his passing.
In May 2014, after a brief period during which Father Mark Suslenko was administrator of St. Bridget Parish, Father Jeffrey Romans was installed as Pastor. Father Romans came to us after serving the Archdiocese as Secretary to the Archbishop and Assistant Chancellor for the Archdiocese for six years. It was clear from his first day in Cheshire that he was excited to be back in parish work and has worked to bring our parish family together. Since his arrival in Cheshire, we have witnessed an increase in participation in the life of our parish especially through various new social activities like an Oktoberfest, a No Turkey Thanksgiving Parish Dinner, a Mardi Gras, and of course an outdoor Mass and Annual Picnic with entertainment and activities for parishioners of all ages.
Father Romans has worked very hard to provide for our spiritual needs as well as he restored daily Mass for everyday of the week, added Eucharistic Adoration every Friday from 1-4p.m., added a weekly Mass on Fridays at 9AM for the school children which is open to all parishioners, added bible studies, book clubs, a new Prayer Shawl Ministry, a new Adult Education Program, a new Social Outreach Ministry, a new Youth Group and more. The parish is very much alive and always looking forward to welcoming new members. Since May of 2014, we have also seen opportunities for parishioners to assist in the ministry of our parish increase with the addition of a Parish Finance Council, a new Buildings and Grounds Committee, and a Children’s Choir.
In 2014, Father Roberto McCarthy was assigned to assist Father Romans in his ministry at St Bridget Parish as our new Parochial Vicar. Together these priests provided energetic new leadership for the parish as evidenced by the increased participation of parishioners in numerous new and revitalized ministries.
In the summer of 2015, with the number of activities and programs increasing Father Romans sought a pastoral associate from a religious community. The Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus assigned Sister Patricia Cigrand, ASCJ, as the new Pastoral Associate for Saint Bridget Parish. Sister Patricia brings with her years of experience in parish ministry and a unique ability to bring people of all ages together to grow in their faith. She indeed is a blessing among us.
In June of 2016, we welcomed newly ordained Father Philip T. O’Neill as our new Parochial Vicar to replace Father McCarthy. Father O’Neill was ordained in May of 2016, and is no stranger to the Saint Bridget Parish Family as he served here his last summer prior to Ordination. Father O’Neill brings a youthful spirit to his ministry as he embarks on the beginning of his priestly service among the people of our parish family. We feel blessed with his presence and look forward to this next chapter in our parish history.
Today, approximately 175 years after that first Mass was celebrated in Cheshire, St Bridget Parish is firmly rooted in the lives of about 2,800 households and poised to grow and flourish in the years ahead. As the history of the parish shows, bringing the Joy of the Gospel to Cheshire and the surrounding communities in order to build up the Kingdom of the Lord continues to be the goal of our parish life.
The initial part of this history was taken from the following:
Hartford’s Catholic Legacy Archdiocese of Hartford, 1994 By Joseph W. Duffy