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St. Patrick's School

St. Patrick's School
Jul 24, 2017 (Edited Dec 03, 2019)

St. Patrick’s School, recently closed, began as a church-school, in order to relieve some of the stress brought upon Sacred Heart Church Parish, the population of which had outgrown its perimeters. Just as Sacred Heart was a cut-off from St. Dominic’s Parish, St. Patrick’s was created to deal with the needs of the Catholics in Libbytown, mostly Irish. As early as 1896, Harmon Hall on Congress Street had been used for church services while Sacred Heart Church was being built. It later served the Catholics of Libbytown and Stroudwater.

In November 1921, Bishop Louis Walsh announced that a new parish would soon be established. Property was purchased on the corner of Congress Street and Whitney Avenue and on July 16, 1922, the cornerstone of the new church was consecrated. Walsh appointed Father Timothy H. Houlihan, rector of the Cathedral, as the church’s first pastor. The first Mass was celebrated in the downstairs classroom section of the building on November 5, 1922. In the fall of 1923 the school was officially opened, with 120 pupils and two Sisters of Mercy as teachers.

Fr. Houlihan served as pastor until March 1927 when he was succeeded by Patrick F. Flanagan, of St. Athanasius Church, Rumford, Maine. Father Samuel M. Donovan, longtime principal of Cheverus High School, was the pastor of St. Patrick’s from 1942 until his death in 1955. A native of Quincy, Massachusetts, Donovan received his Doctor of Sacred Theology degree at St. Anthony’s College, Franciscan House of Studies, Rome and was ordained in Rome in July 1904. When the priest was feted to a 50th Anniversary dinner of his ordination at the Eastland Hotel, a local paper ran a story on him and his faithful friend, an Airedale named Toro Taurus Secundus (see Sunday Telegram, 4 Jul 1954). Donovan was succeeded by Father Neil A. Burke as pastor of St. Patrick’s.

In the mid-1950s St. Patrick’s Church had outgrown itself as more and more Catholics moved to the suburbs following national upward mobility trends in the wake of World War II. Bishop Feeney purchased property at 1342 Congress Street, known as the Blakemore Farm, in 1957. Later, in May 1962, a massive fundraising drive raised over $230,000 for a new church to be built. A Parish Hall was completed in early 1964 and a new rectory occupied a few months later. Bishop Feeney dedicated the new St. Patrick’s Church on August 16, 1964, with some one-hundred priests present. Among the stained glass windows was one of the recently slain President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, believed to be the first such window in a church in the country.

When the new rectory was opened, the old rectory on Frances Street near the school was renovated and reopened as a convent for the Sisters of Mercy who had been commuting from the Motherhouse for over forty years. Sister Maureen Thornton, from a local Irish family, became the new superior and principal.

Father Neil Burke retired from active ministry in the spring of 1978 after serving twenty-three years as pastor. He was replaced by Father John J. Feeney in July 1979. Feeney, the son of emigrants from Connemara, County Galway, had a ceremony of the burning of the mortgage of the church and rectory in March 1986. Father Coleman P. O’Toole, another Portland boy and the son of Connemara natives Patrick and Delia Curran O’Toole, became the pastor of St. Patrick’s in July 1987 and retired from here in the early 2000s. An Army veteran of World War II, Fr. O’Toole was a diocesan priest at St. Joseph’s Church, Portland, for five years.

In 2007, the Diocese of Portland closed St. Patrick’s and the students were transferred to St. Joseph’s School, merging both elementary and middle schools into a new school aptly named St. Brigid’s. The diocese also announced in November 2007 that it may close St. Patrick Church and sell it to a developer who owned nearby Westgate Shopping Center, due to years of financial problems.

Author Matt Barker
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