Monthly Archives: decembre 2014

St. Patrick Church

I believed that this would be an easy assignment. I mean, a great deal has been written on St. Patrick’s Church, right? So it cannot be that difficult to catalogue it in a chronologically correct way. Was I wrong. The problem is, that when something has extensive writings about it, it is just that much more critical that you get it right. So I first must thank local St. Patrick’s Church wizard, David McKean. David does not state that he is Irish, in fact he plays up his Irish and other ancestry’s, but if you need to know something about the subject of St. Patrick’s David is the person to talk to or see. So I would like to thank David before I start because I could never have started without his comments. I know that you usually add your thanks near the end of the article, but I could not have written the article without speaking to David first. So I thank him first. It seems the right thing to do.

We all know the Lowell story. Francis Cabot Lowell was fishing for a way to bring the plans for the textile looms from England to New England « across the pond. » He could not take notes with him, so he memorized every screw, widget, and string on the loom and carried them with him in his head, to Waltham, where there was a light power source in the dam there. Not « light power, » but a moderately powerful water dam to turn the waterwheel which would later be necessary to power the looms. However, as power sources go, this was an inadequate power source for the types of manufacturing that the Boston Associates had in mind. So, Francis Cabot Lowell made use of his time overseeing the manufacture of all of the parts of the loom that he had stored in his fabulous brain, and oversaw the completion of the first American-made piece of industrial espionage, the cotton mill.

His mill worked. He was written up in the history books. He and his friends, most of whom would found Lowell, Massachusetts as an industrial capitol, saw their invention work. It was powered in Waltham, but it was clear that more power was going to be needed if the project was to be successful. So Nathan Appleton and Kirk Boott, and others scoped out a river in Chelmsford for their power source. The river was the Merrimack, which meant, in native tongue, « the Strong Place. » There was a thirty one foot dip in the river starting above the falls and draining near what was then an island, called « Duck Island. » It was on these falls that the fortunes of the original dreamers lie. Mr. Lowell would not live to see his city built. He died shortly after testing the working loom.

That is the story that we learned in high school here in Lowell. Outside Lowell High School in 1969, the year that I moved here from Chicago, Illinois, there was a small train railing for an early train commemorating the opening of the Boston to Lowell Railroad. The first train in the nation, and I believe it to be the first train station on earth. Nothing was written anywhere about the mills and the canals that became part of the larger Lowell « experiment. »

Labor was a major catch at this time. The mill owners built their mills and lined up a group of women and girls to run the mills during hours of operation. They took care to take these women off of the farm and give them a comfortable bed to lie in and a room to live in. They also took care to make certain that all of these girls had a place of worship, and even required attendance at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church on Sunday mornings by the mill girls. They did not take into account the role that the alternate religions would play. They had no mosques, no temples, and certainly no Catholic churches in their perfect little town of Lowell. By 1826, Lowell would become incorporated as a town and by 1836, it would become a city. For the first few years, Lowell’s Catholic population did not have a church that was theirs. In 1831, that changed. In that year, the Archdiocese of Boston send a priest named Father O’Brien to the city on a monthly basis to cater to the needs of the burgeoning Catholic population. Sadly, once per month was not enough to really take care of those complex needs. As the numbers of Catholics died on the job, or through diseases like cholera, no one was there to bury them. Father O’Brien did the best that he could.

In 1831, St. Patrick’s Church was built. It was a fairly solid wooden structure, built by the Irish immigrants who worked as caretakers of the Protestant houses being built throughout the town. It was theorized that one source of the wood for the church was the stacks of wood left throughout the acre of land that Kirk Boott had given them and which they used to build shanties. It was said that there were some fights between the Irish and the Yankees; that the women often put small stones in their aprons to help the Irish fight off the attacks of the Yankees; and it is known that there were plans to build the church, although no deeds are in the Registry of Deeds which pertain to the building of this chapel. We do not really have any proof that the church was built except for the building standing now, and except for the writing down of some rudimentary facts on pieces of paper which date back to the time. We do not know, for certain, that the church was built with legal pieces of wood, or with wood that was supposed to be used to build the canals.

The origins of the structure indicate that most of the wood used to build the first chapel was legally purchased by the Irish who, would make it their duty to oversee the building of the new church. While their shanties were not well built, their church was…and as time passed it became a stronger and more beautiful edifice.

Father O’Brien had his work cut out for him. At first, he could only come out once a month. Soon, he moved up here from Boston and handled the needs of the poor Irish in life and death situations. One of the first problems was with education. The boys were going to public schools which taught Anglican values instead of Catholic ones. The girls were spirited to their own schools run by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, who taught only young girls and young women. The man of the house was as likely to have nothing to do with helping their daughters and sons, because the Irish way was to have little of parenting substance for the father to do, except pass their wages to the wife {Paddy Camps}. From a schooling standpoint, children needed an Exit Public School Education pass to go to work {Ibid.} Girls not being educated in the schools of the Anglicans could not pass the exam that would get them that pass.

After Father William O’Brien left, in 1836, he was replaced by Father E.J. McCool. Father McCool would be replaced by one of Father William O’Brien’s brothers, The O’Briens were driven by their dedication to their parishioners. « For the O’Briens, community leadership was a logical extension of their role at St. Patrick’s. » {ibid} When some of the newer famine-driven Irish stepped up with the O’Briens, « new loyalty could be shaped. » {Ibid}

The Irish were becoming a political force to be reckoned with, and Benjamin Butler, the wealthy Lowellian, Civil War hero, and to be Governor used the new Irish to firm up his hold on Lowell’s citizenry.
For their part, the Irish immigrants now wanted to be accepted by « Yankee Lowell. » Meanwhile, Lowell’s officials were turning to a policy of institutionalization. Father O’Brien was replaced by Father Tucker who appealed to the Irish by importing Gaelic-speaking priests. {ibid.} The Know Nothing Party dropped out of institutionalization, and the Irish used the vacuum to build their community at the church.

Lowell was growing. By 1855 the census was 37,490 persons. By 1860, 65% of the work force was male. There was a push in the 1850’s to educate the Irish with the Yankees in order to further defiine the « Lowell Experiment. » « Lowell’s elected Yankee officials still believed in the link between learning and patriotism. » {Ibid. Page 116} This also served to keep the Irish in line, and it was noted that the Irish turned against public schools, which was not a huge surprise.

Other factors were happening in Lowell that would define the parishes, including St. Peter’s and St. Mary’s. At St. Peter’s a small boy would grow up to be one of the most powerful Cardinals in Catholic American history. His name was William O’Connell. He would become the powerful Archbishop of Boston, the man that film maker Otto Preminger memorialized in the 1950 era movie, « The Cardinal. » Political leaders of the day included those who dubbed the Archbishop with the moniker « #1. » O’Connell would lose some of his influence when it was found that he fabricated autobiographical material.

St. Patrick’s members took over businesses downtown, became cogs in the ‘Lowell Experiment,’ and moved into education and other civil positions. In 1853, the new stone building, which the Yankees claimed was built out of pilfered granite from the canals, was consecrated. Why consecration took so long was anybody’s guess. {Wikipedia}

Around this period, Catholics became members of the Knights of Labor, a strong labor union. Cardinal Corrigan, the Archbishop of New York, stood up to the Knights and condemned them. In the meantime, Catholics were taking their place in political circles. In the 1910’s, the Governor of Massachusetts was a Catholic; his name was David R. Walsh. {Ibid.} Dozens of State Representatives in Massachusetts, members of the State Senate, and even a Congressman were Catholics. When a visitor remarked how lovely the cobblestones in Scully Square looked, Irish-American who was also a Presidential sister strongly stated,
« Those aren’t cobblestones but the skulls of Irish laborers. » {A Nation of Immigrants » John F. Kennedy; Harper and Row Publishers}

By 1904 the interior of the church was gutted by a large fire, and tests to check the stone walls integrity were conducted. The steeple had come crashing down. Later, the steeple would rise like a phoenix from the fire, but at that point, things appeared to be fairly bleak. On Novmber 18, 1906, Cardinal O’Connell said The very beauties of this majestic temple are but reminders to us of our indebtedness to our fathers who labored and who died here, an indebtedness which we can cancel in only one way, by fidelity to all the high principles of our holy faith which we may profess without aught of the hindrances so common to them. (Dedication Sermon)

Today, Catholics face further challenges as they work on collaboratives. St. Patrick’s will become tied to St. Margaret’s and the Church of the Holy Family in Lowell. One pastor will officiate over all three parishes. St. Patrick’s will play a large role in making the collaborative work. Its days of leadership, fidelity, and passion are not over. Only time will tell how we incorporate this multi-ligual church which is dedicated to the immigrants, into our lives. It amazes me that President John F. Kennedy could take the time out of his schedule to write a major book on immigration while performing the duties of the President of the United States. The fact is that he wrote this book in 1957 and 1958, before his presidency. He extolled the role of the immigrant in our society. He established the importance of immigration to this nation. It was not a barnburner then and will not be a barnburner now, but it is worth reading so go to your local library and ask for it. It will make the fight for human justice in Lowell’s St. Patrick’s Parish that much more understandable.


I have been asked to write my meanderings on something other than my meanderings, so I took them at their word and am writing about the meanderings of three, not well-known, souls who once meandered through Lowell before dying. Two died in the Civil War, which means that their names are etched in stone in the Memorial Library. One died at work. I have tried my best to find out what these men were doing while they were alive. I have had some success. We will start with the man who lived the longest, first. His name was Ezra W. Wright. I cannot find out what the middle W. stood for, although I believe it was William. William was a very popular name in that age, in 1822, and for that reason, I have taken poetic license with his middle name.

Ezra Wright was a menial laborer who was on the payroll of the Locks and Canals, Inc.. He worked at various low-paying jobs during his long (for that day) life and died while performing one of those jobs. He was a lucky man, blessed to have good health for most of his life,with the possible exception of a passing bout of smallpox as a young boy. Smallpox was loathed then, because the cowpox vaccine had not yet been passed on to poor young boys in Lowell. Polio was another killer, but it would be one hundred fifty years before a vaccine was found for that.

Interestingly, we always seem to have a new deadly disease to take the place of one once it is cured. Now that smallpox, polio, and consumption (tuberculosis) have been cured we raise money for cancer research. We are living longer, it is true, but there are still diseases that are frightening just by name. Cancer is one of them.

Anyway, Ezra did not have to worry about that. The average mortality rate for men at that time was fifty years. The normal man would live for fifty years and then die. Fifty was considered old age. Ezra lived until his fifty-eighth year. He was an antique during this time of his life. He died while laboring for the mill-owners in Lowell. Not that any of them knew him, there is no evidence of that. His epitaph states that he died instantly on the dam at Pawtucket Falls. Specifically, it says:

Ezra W. Wright
Feb. 21, 1822
Killed instantly at
Pawtucket Dam
June 15, 1875
Aged 58 years
« Call forth or name
but not them with hearts. »

Since he died fairly early in Lowell’s birth, he was buried at the original Lowell Cemetery which is on School Street in Lowell. The large Lowell Cemetery we have now was purchased to make room for the many people who would die and had to be buried in a larger place. I take it that Ezra Wright was well-loved by his poignant saying at the bottom of the tombstone. I took it to mean that he had a large heart and his family wanted him remembered. There is also the cryptic « Killed instantly at Pawtucket Dam… » His survivors apparently wanted him remembered for his life, not his quick death. The dangerous job was to replace the boards in March. He was on the dam in June of 1875. June can be fairly unforgiving on the dam. It certainly appears that way in this account.

I combed the newspapers for Ezra Wright and I had some success. He is listed in the City Directory as living at 60 Butterfield Street. He owned his own home. As stated, he was employed by the Locks and Canals Corporation. He was married and his wife lived on the street until her death on September 17, 1890. She moved at some point to number 40 Butterfield Street in Lowell. She is not buried with him, probably because the small graveyard was closed to the newly dead by 1890.

Ezra was not a veteran of any wars. The other two men I am writing about are not only veterans, they died during their time in the service.

We are telling this story in reverse chronological order. Therefore, the next man to be highlighted is an army veteran who died during the second day of the attack on Gettysburg. His name is John L. Fiske. I have no idea what his middle name was, although I feel it was, because of his birthdate and age, Luther, after Martin Luther. Maybe it was and probably it was not.

John L. Fiske died on July 2, 1863, the second day of the attack on Gettysburg. After extensive research at the Memorial Library, it is most likely that he was in the infantry. According to the barely legible lettering on his memorial stone, he was a member of the Massachusetts Volunteers, in the Seventh Battery. According to the records, he was a cannoneer. He fired cannons, and Gettysburg was the site of the greatest cannon battle of all time. It was common in the medical field of that time that a wound which caused the amputation of a limb resulted in the death of the wounded person. It is unknown whether he died of a wound or a direct shot, all that is known is that his father was well-off enough to have his body transported by rail to Lowell for burial in the Lowell Cemetery. That would have been an expensive proposition.

I believe that his father was Amos Fiske of 34 Cabot Street in Lowell. Cabot Street is no longer there. Nothing is mentioned about his mother. According to his gravestone, he was born in Lowell in 1839 on April 3rd. He volunteered for three years, the longest allowed, and served in Regiment II or 11, I cannot tell which one. His stone is barely readable, and that is recent, in the past twenty years. When I first found it, you could read the stone, even the Latin inscription on the bottom of the stone. Now it is virtually unreadable.

In July of 1863, the Lowell « Courier-Citizen » reported local news. Stories included a speech given by Texas General A.J. Hamilton which was enjoyed by all, « …not since Sumner has spoken, » had they had a better time. It says alot for Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. The Sumner Tunnel in Boston is named for him.

What was interesting about reviewing the newspaper was that it was so mundane. War news was briefly written, and was not very flattering. It took until July 4th. to tell about Gettysburg. Mr. Fiske had been dead for two days by that point. It was more interesting to talk about the rumor of a great grain yield in the Confederate states. The report simply says that that report « …is not true. The report has been got up by speculators for their own advantage. » {Thursday, July 2, 1863} When they talked about the war, they made comments such as:

« The strange delay of Lee to get moving is thought by judges to put him in great peril. » {July 4, 1863}

The newspaper stated, in its article, « War Matters » that « In Pennsylvania a battle took place at Gettysburg on Wednesday between General Reynold’s and Howard’s Corp and the rebels under Generals Hill and Longstreet. » {July 4, 1863}

According to the stone for George Sherman IV hewas the son of Otis Sherman, who is listed as a real estate broker. Judging by his advertising in the « Courier-Citizen » he was fairly good at it. His son died in Anderson, Georgia. It was later to be referred to as Andersonville. George died there in 1861. His body was sent back to the Lowell Cemetery. Again, that was an expensive move. He is in Lowell, where he grew up.

In 1861, there was a column on City and County events. There was more space dedicated to « The Sale of Sea Shells » than war news. Other articles that dominated the news were « Lowell Post Office Summer Sale Announcement. » and the need for the « …warm feeling of womanly and simple mercy. {July 4} » While extolling that warm feeling, they wrote in the same page that a Cininnati « crazy woman, » went to her daughter’s school armed with butcher knives to kill the pretty girls and leave the homely ones at the school. Since no one knew who the homely girls were, they all assumed that they would be labeled « pretty » and killed so they escaped. She was later arrested and sentenced.

So that is the story of the three men. The New York Herald stated that, at Gettysburg, « the fighting yesterday (Friday, Pickett’s Charge) was beyond all parellel. » {Page 3, July 4, 1863} By that point, Ezra was probably home for the July 4, celebration; John L. Fiske was dead for two days; and George IV had been buried for one year. By July 8, 1863, the newspaper reported that Grant had taken Vicksburg. That was on Page 1. The fortunes of General Lee were changing.

The Civil War was slated to last for another two years. Brutal killing marked the battles. Grant was not interested in death tolls, he was interested in victories. Many Lowell veterans would come home, where they kept track of them in the local hospitals. Their behavior was monitored. History often shows that the soldier is permanently scarred. Today we call it Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. It had its own name after the Civil War. But it was recognized.