PARISH HISTORY OF SAINT PETER CHURCH, HARTFORD, CT
continued . . .
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And St. Peter's retained care of the state prison, which it would continue to do for a few years longer.
In 1880 Father Tierney decided that a new convent would have to be built for the sisters teaching at St. Peter's. A building designed specifically for their needs could no longer be postponed. In 1875 the sisters had moved from the old convent at 24 Charter Oak Place into the building at 3'6 Main Street (later renumbered to 160 Main) which had been serving as a rectory. This building south of the church was roomier than the original convent but it was still inadequate.
The problem was where to build. The amount of land owned by the parish was quite small and there was only one spot that even approximated the size required. This was a narrow strip of land on the other side of the church. In hope of widening it Father Tierney sought to purchase a few feet of land froth the spacious private estate that neighbored the church property on that side. But the owners were not especially taken with the idea of a convent next door and refused to sell. Thus the size of the land could not be fitted to the needs of the convent. Father Tierney was not to be thwarted. He decided to fit the convent to the size of the land. The convent was erected on the site anyway, literally jammed between the north side of the church and the south property line of the neighbors who would not sell. The convent was so closely fitted in that these same neighbors felt constrained to approach Father Tierney to insure that the convent eaves would not drip water onto their property. What Father Tierney's reaction may have been is unknown. At any rate, he had his convent. It was brick, three stories high, 881/2 feet long, and of an irregular, trapezoid shape that shrank from a width of 401/2 feet in front to 21 V2 feet in back. It would never be an architect's dream, in 1880 or ever, but it would serve the needs of the sisters at St. Peter's for 77 years. The Sisters of Mercy moved into their new home in January 1881. The house at 36 Main Street was again renovated and the clergy, who had in the meantime resided variously at what were then 73 and 69 Main Street, again took it over as a rectory (April, 1881).
The construction of St. Peter's convent earned Father Tierney a reputation as an efficient, determined builder. This reputation was enhanced by the fact that, besides his parochial duties, it was Father Tierney's task to oversee the construction of St. Joseph's Cathedral, then in progress.
On Sunday, June 26, 1881, an important historical event was commemorated in St. Peter's Church the centennial of the first Mass ever said in Connecticut. In the early year of 1781 there were at the most only twenty priests working in the United States and none of them was in Connecticut. But the American Revolution was in full swing at the time and France was sending men and munitions to support the colonial cause. In 1781 six thousand French troops tinder Count de Rochambeau had embarked at Newport, Rhode Island, and were being marched across the "province of Connecticut" to reinforce George Washington's army in Virginia. On Saturday, June 23, these white-coated mustachioed men of Louis XVI had ferried across the Connecticut River into Hartford, landing near State Street. They then marched south along Front Street and east down "Charter Avenue," to encamp in the wide South Meadows at its end. The next day was Sunday the 24th and in those Meadows, in what would later become St. Peter's parish, Mass was celebrated for the French troops by their chaplain, Abbe Rodin.
It is true that there is no historical record to prove the fact of this Mass definitively, or to prove that it was the first Mass in Connecticut. Other claims are made that the first Mass was celebrated on other dates in other places, notably Lebanon, where another French army had encamped. But popular tradition has always maintained that the first Mass in the state was said in the South Meadows. For example, the great pioneer priest of Connecticut, "Father Fitton, who was in Hartford in 1836, said that the site was pointed out to him by an eyewitness of the Mass" (Catholic Transcript, Oct. 14, 1909).
At any rate, on the morning of June 26, 1881, Pontifical High Mass was offered at St. Peter's by Bishop McMahon to mark the centennial. Rt. Rev. _j. J. Conroy, Bishop of Albany, and Rt. Rev. J. P. Machebeuf, Vicar Apostolic of Colorado, led the delegation of clergy present, and Mayor Morgan G. Bulkeley was chief among the members of city government attending. The church was decorated for the occasion with bunting, festooned from pillar to pillar, banners and drapes. And because this centennial celebration had overtones of a patriotic nature ultimate victory over the British at Yorktown was due to the 1781 meeting of American and French forces the church was profusely decorated in and out with flags of America, France and Ireland. That night at pontifical vespers the talk was given by Rev. James Fitton. Old, almost totally blind, Father Fitton was to die within three months at his home in East Boston. He impressed all that night with his quiet talk on the early days of the Church in Hartford, when he alone was assigned by the Bishop of Boston to care for all of the Catholics in Connecticut.
While he was at St. Peter's, Father Tierney greatly improved the church, upstairs and down. Among other things he installed a new organ, new confessionals and new, outward swinging doors. In 1877 he installed steam heat in the church, school and old convent. 1n the new convent which he built in 1880 the large rear room on each of its three floors was specifically designed for use as a classroom to relieve congestion in the school. But even this did not help matters for long. In 1882 another addition was but onto the school, the third since its construction in 1860. This material building was accomplished by an intellectual building up of the school. At this time every effort was put forth by the priests and sisters to raise the standard and increase the attendance of the school. At the suggestion of the principal, Rev. Paul McAlenney, a new curriculum was drawn up by the sisters, and the grading of the school commenced a new era for St. Peter's School. The impetus then given has never subsided. It was the first parochial school in the diocese to submit its pupils to the public high school entrance examinations. In those days the way into high school was by the narrow gate of examination; pupils assembled at a given date in the public schools and for two days took examinations from the hands of strange examiners. "The success of the pupils year after year was proof of the fact that brain power as well as religion was to be found in Catholic schools" (Catholic Transcript, August 14, 1902).
Further evidence of the accomplishment achieved by St. Peter's School has been the consistently fine record made by its graduates after high school. The number of vocations to the priesthood and sisterhood from St. Peter's is a constant and large one. And in other fields the graduates of St. Peter's have done quite as well. This is especially true in the fields of education, law, and politics. To check the list of prominent Hartford educators and lawyers from this time on is to see it in the teaching and legal professions. In politics, there is Mayor Joseph H. Lawler, who served from 1914 to 1916, who was elected at the age of 29 to become the youngest in years of any of the line of mayors of the city, and who was a member of the class of 1897. There is Frank A. Hagarty, class of 1884, who succeeded him in the mayor's office. (Mayors Richard J. Kinsella, 1918-20 and 1922-24, and Thomas J. Spellacy, 1935-43, were also from St. Peter's Parish.) And in the centennial year of 1959 graduates of the parish school are, as in the past, to be found in positions of prominence. A few who might be mentioned are: Martha L. Johnson, member of the Hartford Board of Education; James F. McCourt, city tax collector; Thomas F. Lee, Hartford Fire Chief; Joseph P. Cooney, legal counsel for the Archdiocese of Hartford; Superior Court Judge John P. Cotter; West Hartford Town Court Judge Richard T. Scully; John J. Bracken, former state Attorney General; and John M. Bailey, state chairman of the Democratic Party.
Under Father Tierney's direction all the parish societies carried on their work very commendably. The Land League, whose purpose was to aid the oppressed people of Ireland, was especially prominent.
In 1883 Father Tierney was appointed by Bishop McMahon to succeed as pastor of St. Mary's Church, New Britain. The people of St. Peter's did not wish to see him go. A crowded meeting was held in the church basement to see if in any way they could prevail upon Bishop McMahon to revoke the appointment. A committee of five was even organized to carry their sentiments to the bishop. Nothing was or could be changed, but the great regard of the parish for Father Tierney was vindicated in 1894 when he received another, higher appointment from Rome to succeed Bishop McMahon as the sixth bishop of Hartford. He was consecrated in St. Joseph's Cathedral by Archbishop Williams on February 22, 1894. He died in October of 1908.
The sixth pastor of St. Peter's was Rev. Thomas W. Broderick, who came to Hartford from St. Mary's Church, New London, in June of 1883. He was of a family of churchmen, having three brothers serving as priests in the diocese, and was himself a churchman by nature as well as by vocation. He was a noted speaker and intellectually very gifted. His talents were so varied that at the tune of his death he held, besides his pastoral duties, four different diocesan posts, chief among them the office of Defender of the Marriage Bond in the Hartford Matrimonial Court. While he held this post the Court had to handle one of the most intricate marriage cases which had yet developed in the United States. The finding of the local court was disputed and reversed by the metropolitan tribunal of Boston. Father Broderick was so certain of his stand that he refused to accept the Boston reversal and the matter was carried to Rome. Final judgement there supported the decision of the Hartford Court and won it anal Father Broderick a wide reputation. Indeed, when Bishop McMahon died in 1899, the consultors and permanent rectors of the Diocese of Hartford (who were then still entitled to vote for the next bishop) selected Father Broderick's it', one of three navies to be forwarded to Rome. That of Father Tierney, the proceeding pastor of St. Peter's, was ultimately selected, but the very nomination shows in what high esteem Father Broderick was held.
"Fr. Broderick took a pastor's pride in the success of St. Peter's school. His visits were few and far between. He used to say that he did not like to spoil a good thing by interference; and he had unlimited confidence in the ability of the sisters and priests in charge, to whom he was ever an inspiration" (Catholic Transcript, August 14, 1902).
Father Broderick's efforts at St. Peter's were highlighted by renovation of the parish school, as well as by the complete and beautiful redecoration of the church. A notable aspect of the latter was the series of paintings done on the sanctuary walls depicting the life of Christ. Those at either side were the work of the noted Austrian painter, Adolph Khuen. Those over the altar were the work of the celebrated artist, Louis Lamprecht of Vienna. This artist was brought to the United States by John LaFarge, the interior decorator, to work on the Baltimore Cathedral. He brought Lamprecht to St. Peter's and the Vienna artist later did paintings in the original St. Joseph's Cathedral on Farmington Avenue. The redecoration of the church was so thorough that it was solemnly rededicated by Bishop McMahon in 1887 (September 25). The musical program at the rededication was very elaborate. Besides the organ and usual choir there was an orchestra and chorus of 60 voices. The orchestra consisted of "fifteen first class musicians selected from the best in the city and of Springfield and Boston" (Connecticut Catholic, September 24, 1887).
During this time, among the benefactors of the parish, the name of Patrick Cavanaugh stands out in special prominence. In 1897 he left his entire estate to St. Peter's to be devoted to religious and charitable causes. Among the converts to Catholicism received in the parish were Miss Spencer, Miss Hammersly, and Mr. Frederick Tudor, all of whom were members of old and prominent families of Hartford. Mr. Tudor was a direct descendant of Samuel Tudor, the Protestant gentleman who so graciously received Bishop Cheverus when he made his first formal visit to Hartford front Boston and who helped make arrangements for the bishop to offer Mass in the Hall of Representatives of the Old State House.
Father Broderick was the first pastor to die at St. Peter's (August 13, 1900). He was succeeded by the Rev. Paul F. McAlenney. Father McAlenney had been ordained a priest December 23, 1876, and began his career in the priesthood at St. Peter's, serving it as a curate from 1877 to 1881. He then became first resident pastor of St. Paul's Church, Kensington, and in 1885 he went to St. Rose Church to Meriden. His first words on ascending the pulpit after his return to St. Peter's were, "I have come home." As soon as he was "home" Father McAlenney under took some repairs, notably in the sanctuary of the church. Also, the church walls, built in 1865, were becoming weak and were badly in need of attention. Excavations were made and new retaining walls put up, which greatly strengthened the edifice.
Under Father McAlenney, in May of 1902, the parish was able to purchase the Peck estate to the north of the convent. This was the same estate from which Father Tierney could not buy even an inch to widen his convent in 1880. Times and the owners had changed. The land had once been owned by John Welles, the last Quaker preacher in Connecticut. The mansion on it was built in 1840 by Mr. Ellery Hills, whose brother was the architect. It was sold to the Peck family in 1850. It became the new, present rectory and the priests moved into it in September of 1902. With four massive Ionic Greek columns, it is one of the finest and best-preserved Greek-revival mansions of the mid-nineteenth century type in the world. The old rectory to the south of the church was renovated for use by the Queen's Daughters Society and was occupied by them for about ten years, until ii was tom down to make way for a new parish school.
In 1902 St. Peter's was again divided and another parish, St. Augustine's, was established in the south end of Hartford. Creation of the new parish and the appointment of Rev. Michael W. Barry as first pastor were announced at all Masses on Sunday, August 31. St. Augustine's was a small parish at first, comprising only 630 persons in about 100 families. Its beginning was so modest that in the whole of 1903 only three marriages were solemnized in the new parish. Remarkable growth since then has made it one of the foremost parishes in the city and a credit to its mother church. As Father McAlenney said on November 16, 1902: "(St. Augustine's) is a child of this parish. This then is the mother church. The success of the child will be the joy of the mother" (Parish Announcements, 1902, p. 196).
Ground was broken for the new school at St. Peter's in October of 1913. Such a building had long been needed. The old school was regularly instructing more than 800 students a year, but was nevertheless a relic of the past. It was completely of wood inside, dangerous in case of fire. And it had become a hodgepodge of additions and extensions put up over the years. Despite all this topsy-like growth, the old school building was still too small. Classes were still being held in the rear of the convent as they had been for years. And a class or two was even being held in the shed behind the old rectory. With the tearing down of the old rectory at 160 Main Street (1912) this shed was also razed. The site of the shed would be the actual site of the new school. But even then the classes held in it did not immediately better themselves. They merely moved to another shed attached to one of the stables in back of the new rectory, to await completion of the new school.
Whiton and McMahon were the architects of the new school, and T. R. Fox and Son were the builders. The cornerstone was laid May 3, 1914. This ceremony aroused great interest. Hartford has rarely witnessed a larger Catholic outpouring. A great parade preceded the actual cornerstone laying. Under blue skies and a warm sun, eighteen of Hartford's police led it off, resplendent in dress coats and white gloves. Two thousand people followed in the parade members of St. Peter's and other local parish societies and several fife and drum corps, some from outside the city. The line of march was from the corner of Ann and Chapel Streets, down Main Street to the new school. Thousands of people lined the way to applaud. In the schoolyard, Rt. Rev. Msgr. Thomas J. Shahan, rector of the Catholic University in Washington, D.C., gave the major address, and Mayor Joseph H. Lawler, himself a graduate of the old St. Peter's School, also spoke. Among the guests were several Episcopal ministers, a Jewish rabbi, and the superintendent and principals of several public schools. The Bishop of Hartford, Most Rev. John .J. Nilan, also said a few words and made a prophecy: "It has been whispered in the last decade or so that St. Peter's has been asleep. When we saw the struggles of this church to snake a place for humanity within its walls, the suspicion seemed true. Now St. Peter's is awake and will not sleep again" (Catholic Transcript, May 7, 1914).
The total cost of the school was $150,000. It was dedicated on December 2, 1914, and opened in February of 1915. The most noteworthy aspect of the new school is its fireproof nature. It was so advanced for its day that progress in fire safety has, up to today, demanded only one major alteration, the blocking in of a central stairwell. Unlike the old school, the only wood in the interior is in the door trimmings. It is of reinforced concrete from foundation to roof. A new composition type of flooring was used that serves as a non-conductor of both heat and cold. This marbloid had been used in other structures in the city, but this was the first time that it had been put to use as the flooring of schoolrooms. The exterior is of brick, trimmed with Indiana limestone. All told, it had 20 classrooms on three floors and, on the top floor, a large auditorium.
The children of the school would no longer have to use the church basement or one of the stable buildings behind the rectory for assemblies. With completion of the new school, the old one was torn down. Only one section of it, that attached to the rear of the church, was left standing. In sub sequent years this part of the old school would serve many purposes, from janitor's quarters to offices for the parish Vincent De Paul Society.
Father McAlenney was, materially, the second founder of St. Peter's School. He also made it the modern school it is in other ways. He had, for example, in 1905, discontinued separation of boys and girls into separate departments, a custom which had been followed at St. Peter's from its foundation until then. True to Bishop Nilan's prediction, St. Peter's did not "sleep again." Father McAlenney, having rebuilt St. Peter's School, turned his later attention to the church building itself. In 1922 he had five new exits put in the church. Two of them were in front and were placed at street level. This made for easy access to the church and greatly aided in emptying it after services. And in January of 1925 plans for much greater improvements in the church were disclosed. This was done at a Communion breakfast at the Hotel Garde for 550 members of the Holy Name Society. Father McAlenney had not been well for most of the preceding year, and his appearance at the breakfast was his first public appearance after the long illness. But it was a notable one. He revealed plans for the completion of the exterior of the church, left incomplete since 1868. It was hoped that the job could be done by December of 1926, when Father McAlenney would celebrate the golden anniversary of his ordination. An intensive drive was run in the parish by the 800 members of the Holy Name Society to defray the expense of the project. The south tower, complete with tower chimes, was finished, changed from its original 1868 concept of a spire to a more graceful square tower with pinnacled terminations. A new subordinate north tower was also added which together with a gable coping and cross, materially changed the appearance of the church. New steps extending completely across the front of the church were also added, replacing the original separate stairways leading up to the three front doors. And steps which were at one time inside the vestibule of the church were placed outside, making the outside church steps higher and leaving the vestibule floor on a single level. Father McAlenney saw the long-dreamed of completion of the exterior of the church edifice. He did not, however, live to celebrate the golden anniversary of his ordination. He died February 15, 1926. He had been pastor of St. Peter's for 25 years.
Rev. John J. Downey was appointed to succeed Father McAlenney as pastor of St. Peter's. Father Downey was no stranger to Hartford. He first came to the city in 1895 to serve as an assistant at St. Patrick's and in 1900, when St. Patrick's was again divided, he became first pastor and builder of tile newly formed St. Michael's parish. He remained there until his transfer to St. Peter's. He undertook many needed repairs in St. Peter's convent and rectory and in 1927 commissioned architects to undertake alterations of the interior of the church, much of' which was coming to show the disintegration of time. In April of 1928 redecoration of the church interior was begun.
The church, since its erection, had undergone many alterations and additions, to such an extent that many of its original lines had been changed. In consideration of the general excellence of the interior design, no major alteration were no", made inside except for the enlargement of the choir gallery. A new Austin organ was installed, and to support its greater size and weight new steel supports were installed, running to the church basement and resting on concrete footings under the basement floor. A new iron stairway to the choir loft was also installed.
The changes in the sanctuary were the most obvious of all. A crowning feature of the redecoration was a new high altar of white Carara marble, with side altars in the same modern Gothic style. Marble wainscoting was placed about the sanctuary walls to a height of five feet, and the sanctuary floor was altered to be on one level instead of two, as originally. To make up for the difference in height an extra, third step was made to the Communion rail.
A new communion rail of cast bronze was put in, as well as new windows of figured art glass. Hanging bronze church lanterns replaced the old clusters of light bulbs on the upper parts of the church pillars. The walls were repainted in cream buff and gold and the Stations of the Cross, originally decorated in colors, were redone in ivory and gold to match. Also in the nave, new pedestals and molded bases of quartered oak were placed on all supporting pillars. These gave the impression of pillars resting on bases, instead of disappearing amidst the pews as before. A new floor, new pews of Gothic design and new wainscoting along the lower walls of the church, all in quartered oak, were installed. And a new heating system, with radiator cabinets under the windows, replaced the pipe rails running under the pews. New steel beams and columns were installed in the vestibule to support a new concrete floor. The floor itself was finished with grey flint tile and the walls of the vestibule were finished with Italian travertine. Many changes were also made in the sacristies. The small north sacristy remained basically unchanged but the old sacristy behind the old high altar was abandoned and became an ambulatory, and the south sacristy was augmented by the addition of two former school rooms on the ground floor of that part of the old school which was still attached to the church. The first room became the priests' sacristy, the second the altar boys' sacristy.
Father Downey was a man known for quality of taste. This was evident in such a trivial matter as his selection of mystery magazines he read them regularly, but only the good. It was most evident in the magnificent job of redecoration done in St. Peter's Church. Under his direction, the old "eel pot" became a finished work of art. The total cost of the work was $200,000. The church was solemnly re-dedicated on Sunday, December 9, 1928, at the 11:00 o'clock Mass by Bishop Nilan. Rev. Thomas P. Mulcahy, pastor of St. Peter and Paul Church in Waterbury, a graduate of St. Peter's School, gave the talk at solemn vespers in the evening.
Father Mulcahy had graduated froth St. Peter's School in 1890. In that same class with him was another student, Maurice F. McAuliffe, who was born in Hartford on June 17, 1875, was baptized June 20 at St. Peter's, and grew up in St. Peter's parish. He had also been ordained a priest, and had then served as professor and rector at St. Thomas Seminary. In December 1925, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Hartford. And on April 27, 1934, Bishop McAuliffe was named eighth bishop of Hartford to succeed Bishop Nilan. He directed the diocese until his death December 15, 1944. He was the first native of the state of Connecticut to become bishop of Hartford, and St. Peter's was thin the first parish in the state to see one of its sons become the spiritual father of the Catholics of Connecticut.
Another native of St. Peter's Parish who was raised to the episcopate was the Rev. Bonaventure F. Broderick. He was born in Hartford on Christmas Day in 1868 and was ordained a priest in Rome in 1896. Upon his return to Hartford (1898) he became a professor of Italian at the recently established St. Thomas Seminary, where he taught for two years. He subsequently served in Branford, Connecticut, and then, for a short while, in the Philippine Islands. In 1903 he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Havana, Cuba. His later years were spent in the service of the Archdiocese of New York, where lie diet in 1943. A noted historian, he was also the author of several fine books on archaeology, including The Jewish Catacombs in Rome.
From 1925 until the middle of the 1930's a series of annual spelling bees used to be sponsored by the Hartford Tines for the grammer school children of the Hartford area. The students of St. Peter's School labored long and hard over their spellers and dictionaries before each of these word matches, and they were tutored as well as directed in their efforts by Rev. Thomas L. Greylish, who served as principal of the school from 1924 to 1934. The students' efforts were not wasted. This was proved by their mastering such words as exchangeable, verbiage, and amenable in the contests when others failed, and by their walking off with the champion's cup five times in a period of seven years in 1928, 1930, 1931, 1932, and 1934.
Rev. John Downey died in November 1939, after nine months of illness. He was 77 years of age, and in one month he would have been 51 years a priest. Rev. Jeremiah J. Broderick became ninth pastor of St. Peter's in January 1939. He was the second priest of that surname to hold the office. Like Father McAlenney, when Father Broderick came to St. Peter's he was returning to a parish he already knew. He had been ordained in 1907, spent two months in a summer assignment, and in September, 1907, was assigned to St. Peter's as an assistant. Then, with the exception of a short time in 1918-19 that he served as a United States anny chaplain in Europe, lie spent all of his curacy at St. Peter's. In September of 1924 he left to become pastor of St. Bernard's in Tariffville, and eight years later he was transferred to the pastorate of St. Vincent's Church, East Haven. Father Broderick did such yeoman work there that he was now sent back to St. Peter's as its pastor to do a seemingly impossible job - to reduce the parish debt. Father Downey had found this difficult, almost impossible to do, because shortly after St. Peter's had been rebuilt the depression of 1929 made every effort in this direction discouraging. The task seemed so monumental that, when Father Broderick first returned, one of his parishioners' first words were to warn him not to worry about the debt. Certainly not, Father Broderick replied, in his unique accent with its down-Maine inflection, but it would do no harm to figure it out. He did more. By the time of his death (July 16, 1954) through uncommon financial prudence, Father Broderick had made the parish debt free.
During the First World War, Father Broderick had served as chaplain of the 51st Pioneer Infantry, Fourth Army Corps. During the Second World War, on July 26, 1942, he conducted what were the first religious services within a war plant in this country. He celebrated Mass at 6:30 and 7:05 that Sunday morning for 300 workers who had to get to early jobs at the Colt's Patent Fire Arms Company on Huyshope Avenue. The services were held in the recreation room of the plant, and the table on which the temporary altar was erected for Mass was given added height by placing it on wooden cartridge boxes. Two Masses were scheduled by the priests of St. Peter's at the plant every Sunday for the duration of the War.
Rev. Joseph A. Healey was appointed tenth pastor of St. Peter's parish in 1954. A native of Waterbury, Father Healey made his studies for the priesthood at St. Charles College, Catonsville, Maryland, and St. Mary's Seminary II, Baltimore. He was ordained by Bishop Nilan at St. Joseph's Cathedral in 1933 (little 10). After ordination his services were loaned to the Archdiocese of Baltimore for a year. Upon his return to the Diocese of Hartford Father Healey became administrator of St. Joseph's Church, Poquonock (1934), and subsequently served as curate at St. Mary's, Greenwich, and St. Joseph's Cathedral, Hartford. While at the cathedral, in 1946, he was made director of the Diocesan Purchasing Service, a position he held until the service was terminated in 1958. In April of 1954 Father Healey was given his first pastoral appointment at Sacred Heart Church, Suffield. Five months later he came to St. Peter's.
Upon his arrival, Father Healey found that many things in the parish required attention. The first was the rectory - it was still a fine, spacious building. But it was becoming clingy, inside and out, with the dust of years. A thorough job of painting remedied this part of the problem. The rectory was also rewired. This had long been needed. The original electrical system was grossly inadequate; as far back as 1941 (August 14) it had even caused a fire, which resulted in considerable damage on the second floor of the rectory. A number of new furnishings were obtained to complete the refurbishing of the building.
The heating system, which serves both the church and school together, was also in need of attention. The boilers had served for a long time and served well, but had now decided to enter retirement. No matter how much coking, stoking, or fixing was done, they refused to work steadily for more than a day or two at a time, and it was often debatable whether the school or the church was the colder. Accordingly, new oil burners were installed to replace the old coal burners.
But time had raised another far more serious problem in parish facilities and, again, it was the problem of a convent building. The convent at 188 Main Street, well built for its day, was beginning to show its 77 years. Plumbing, wiring, flooring, all these especially showed them. Far more than in the case of the rectory, very drastic work was obviously necessary to rehabilitate it. And so, in 1955, Father Healey commissioned the architectural firm of Polak and Sullivan of New Haven to draw up plans for enlarging and modernizing the convent. When final plans were turned in, it was found that the total cost would approach almost half of that of a completely new building. With the blessing and approval of the Archbishop of Hartford, the Most Reverend Henry J. O'Brien, the decision was made to build anew. It was also decided to locate on a plot of land facing 11 Charter Oak Place, away from the noise of modern Main Street. Located in back of the school, this land and its mansion had once been owned by Gideon Welles, United States Secretary of the Navy under Presidents Lincoln and Johnson; he had lived there from his retirement in 1869 until his death in 1878. "Doubtless he hardly gave a thought to the little Roman Catholic church to the west of him or dreamed that it would one day control his property" (Hartford Courant, September 23, 1911). Control of the property was obtained for St. Peter's by Father McAlenney, who purchased it in 1911, with the idea that the parish might some day have use for it. Since then, like other once plush abodes on the street, the mansion had been eking out an existence as a boarding house and was now far past its best days.
In 1957 the old Welles mansion was torn down. St. Peter's was now to take full advantage of Father McAlenney's foresight. Standard Builders of Hartford, following a completely new set of plans by Polack and Sullivan, erected the present structure. The building is of modern design with steel framework and brick exterior and it features combination storm and aluminum windows. It has a large utility basement. On the first floor are the chapel, three visitors' parlors, a dining room and kitchen, recreation room, and cook's living quarters. On the second floor there are a study and superior's office and cell. The remainder of this floor and the entire third floor are occupied by sisters' cells. All told, the convent can accommodate 22 nuns. It was completed in March 1958. In April, during Easter week, the Sisters of Mercy moved into their new home.
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