My Dear Parishioners

My Dear Parishioners

My Dear Parishioners:

St. Mary Church rejoices on the occasion of its centennial. Abundant graces and blessings have been granted by Almighty God and the intercession of Our Blessed Mother. From a humble beginning of 600 souls, the faith has flourished through the dedication, loyalty and sacrifices of priests and people. Today, in gratitude, this parish of more than 4,000 souls renews its mission of salvation.

I congratulate the faith and cooperation of the parishioners during its first 100 years. May the faithful departed of the parish receive their eternal rest! May the coming years continue the spiritual and material growth of the past in the spirit of the Vatican 2 from the decree on the Church, “The Church believes that Christ, who died and was raised up for all, can through His Spirit offer man the light and strength to measure up to his supreme destiny. Nor has any other name under heaven been given to man by which it is fitting for him to be saved. She likewise holds that in her most benign Lord and Master can be found the key, the focal point, and the goal of all human history.”

May God and His Blessed Mother bless each one of you, on this day, the birthday of your parish church.

Sincerely yours, in Christ,

May 2, 1976

The Reverend James F. Noonan, Pastor

The Reverend Paul A. Wirkus, Assistant Pastor

Devoted Parishioners of St. Mary Parish, Unionville

With all members of the parish family I join today in thanking Almighty God for the many treasures of the Catholic faith and spiritual graces bestowed through a full century of history of St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish and Church.

As the nation celebrates its bicentennial, you pause to recall those events that took place as this nation marked its centennial. Before 1876 the Catholics of Unionville, had been a mission from St. Mary Parish in New Britain and St. Patrick’s in Collinsville. But in 1876 this large church was built by the Pastor of Collinsville — a large church, indeed, for the 600 Catholics of Unionville.

One of the minor mysteries of the Archdiocese is the title: “Star of the Sea.” For Unionville is quite removed from the sea. The building pastor’s name, however, was Father Bernard O’R. Sheridan. Is it possible that he was named for the second bishop of Hartford, Bernard O’Reilly? And that he named this church to recall Bishop O’Reillys tragic death by drowning at sea in January of 1856, twenty years before?

At any rate, it is appropriate for you to pause today, to be mindful of those who in the faith left this centennial and perennial heritage, and to rededicate yourselves today to the highest ideals of parish life.

The spirit and spirituality of this parish are commendable. May you continue to be an inspiration to the community and the Archdiocese, an encouragement to your priests — and increasingly so as the years move on.

With congratulations and blessings, I am

Devotedly yours in Christ,

Most Reverend John F. Whealon

Archbishop of Hartford


Although the parish that today is recognized as St. Mary, Star of the Sea, dates from 1876, the story of Unionville Catholics seeking a place of worship goes back before this nation’s Civil War. Father Luke Daily, from St. Mary’s Church in New Britain, inaugurated services here in 1854 on the south side of the river in the Connolly residence, later known as the Curran home. Monthly masses were said in the old Merriman Hall, located near the present site of Friendly’s. Father Daly was followed by a number of missionary priests who served the needs of area Catholics.

Finally, in the nation’s centennial year, 1876, St. Mary Star of the Sea Church was officially established being formally incorporated into the Diocese of Hartford. A number of stories, none substantiated, exist as to the origin of the name. Incidentally, the cost of the original building was $30,000.

An early seating practice that characterized the congregation had the Slovak parishioners seated to the left of the main altar, the Irish to the right. The weekly prayer meetings of the Slovak Rosary Society (see related story) honored the tradition by taking place in the left half of the Church. It is claimed that remnants of this practice persist down to the present day and can be observed at any Sunday mass.

A second characteristic of the Parish of St. Mary’s is that it was founded as a working person’s parish. To a great extent, it remains so to the present time.

For the first few years of its existence, St. Mary’s functioned as a Mission Church, serviced by Father Bernard O’R. Sheridan, pastor in Collinsville. Although Father Patrick Fox, Father Sheridan’s successor, was the first resi dent pastor of St. Mary’s, his tenure in Unionville was brief. He did oversee the completion of the new church as well as the rectory. In contrast, the pastor who followed him, Father William Redding, served the parish longer than any other, from 1886-1919. During his stay, the rectory was enlarged and the church rebuilt following a fire. As a newspaper editorial expressed it following the death of Father Redding, “While there (Unionville) he grew to be a part of the town. His fellows in the ministry came to regard Father Redding and Unionville to be synonymous terms.” It was during his pastorate that the Slovak Rosary Society was formed. Incidentally, Father Redding’s career did not end with his leaving St. Mary’s. He went on to serve as pastor of a New Haven Church until his death in 1931.

Father Thomas Tiernan, who followed as St. Mary’s pastor, built the church to its present size and was responsible for finishing off the basement. He in turn was succeeded in 1930 by Father John Sullivan, whose years in the parish closely coincided with those of the Great Depression, leaving in 1939. His greatest contribution to St. Mary’s was putting the church’s financial affairs in order and freeing it of its debt, no mean accomplishment during those difficult times. This accomplishment provided the groundwork for the accomplishments of St. Mary’s “wartime pastor,” Father John Walsh, who served from 1939 to 1945. It was he who planned the Veterans’ Memorial in the cemetery and who had the Church redecorated, including the installation of new pews. He made certain that young men serving in the armed forces remained in touch with their home parish by sending to them pictures of the church’s new interior. Father Walsh died unexpectedly while walking homeward after responding to a sick call in Unionville. He was only 53.

The Veterans’ Memorial was completed by his successor, Father John Connor (1945-1954). The present parking lot property was purchased during his pastorate. It was in these years, also, that the diocese determined that the parish had grown sufficiently to warrant the services of a full time curate. An apartment was set up to accommodate this addition. Father Connor saw the church almost go up in smoke in 1949 from a fire started by a child who had been playing with matches (see related story).

Father John Phalen succeeded Father Connor and served as pastor until 1967. He introduced the first liturgical changes to St. Mary’s, the outgrowth of Vatican II. Parishioners for the first time came to grips with the English vernacular rather than Latin as the language of worship; with commentators and lectors; with the celebrant facing the congregation; with greater participation in the service. A new organ was installed during these years. The rectory was remodeled and enlarged to allow for a resident curate.

This brings us down to the present day and the pastorate of Father James Noonan. Most memorable of the accomplishments of Father Noonan was the total renovation of the church’s interior to accommodate the directives of the Ecumenical Council. The music, the liturgy, the rituals have all seen major revisions in these years. The St. Mary’s Parish Council came into existence. Even as this article is being prepared, Father Noonan is overseeing the implementation of the new ritual for Confession or Reconciliation. Aside from such milestones, Father Noonan purchased the Hart House and a convenient nursery was established for Sunday Mass. The parking lot was paved. The cemetery was added to.

The parish through the years has been fortunate in having a number of priests who assisted on weekends or who, in recent times, served as curates. Of the former, Monsignor Keough went on to become Bishop of the Providence, Rhode Island, Diocese and Father Francis Fries was elevated to the rank of Monsignor. They together with Father Eugene Kozar, C.P., are gratefully remembered. By 1949, St. Mary’s was assigned its first full time curate, Father Edward Doyle. He in turn was followed by Father Gilbert Cannon, Father John Ahern, Father Thomas Gaffney, Father David Lonergan, and of recent memory, Father John Regan. Father Paul Wirkus, although at St. Mary’s for a short period, has already proved himself to possess the qualities that have served St. Mary’s so well throughout its hundred years.

The individuals mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs are but a few of those who have left an indelible stamp during the century of St. Mary’s existence. There were, of course, countless others.

What were those others like? It is not so difficult to find out. Just look at those parishioners in 1976 who are making St. Mary’s Church go, whether with Religious Instruction, Ladies Guild, the Choir, or whatever. They are the same breed of dedicated workers that has always been a characteristic of Unionville’s own Catholic Church. The origins of the name St. Mary Star of the Sea may be lost to history but there is no question as to the direction this parish is heading as it begins its second hundred years.

An old postcard showing St. Mary’s Rector Rev. William H. Redding, pastor; the exterior of the church showing the steeple removed forty years ago; end the interior showing the sanctuary before it was expanded in 1922.

Rev. Father Redding

As I gaze from my window

At the people passing by

There’s a sad and lonesome feeling,

Comes to me, I’ll tell you why.

There’s an old familiar figure

Whose step I do not hear,

For he went away and left us

After three and thirty years.

When we assemble Sunday mornings

To Mass and take our place

Around the church and on the altar

Is a vision of his face

Who served a life so holy

We can’t but shed these tears

For our dear old faithful pastor

Of these three and thirty years.

He has taught us many lessons

Watching out both day and night

Ever guiding and chastening

All of us, to do what’s right

May our prayers and kindest wishes

Follow him, instead of tears

Even though he went and left us

After three and thirty years.

Winifred Higgins Crowe



St. Mary’s Parish Council came into existence in Feb ruary 2, 1969. Again an out growth of the Ecumenical Council, its purposes were threefold: 1) To encourage a more prominent lay involve ment in the life of the Parish Community; 2) To establish and serve as a medium of communication between the priest and laity regarding the spiritual and material needs of the Parish Community; 3) To advise and assist the Pastor in the administration and development of spiritual and material matters in the Parish.

Members of the first Parish Council were Miss Ann Connors, Mrs. Elizabeth Creehan, Mr. Edward Cruess, Miss Mary Landa, Mr. William LaPointe, Mr. John Miniter and Mr. William Ryan. The two Trustees of the Parish, Mr. Edward Crowe and Mr. Richard Rourke, were also included in the Council membership, along with the Church custodian, Mr. Joseph Gondek.

St. Mary’s Parish Council, which meets at least four times annually, has in a comparatively short existence provided a needed voice to the laity of the Church community. Presently headed by President William Ryan, the Council is an excellent position to guide the activities of St. Mary’s as she begins her second hundred years.


Elected members of the Church Council with Father James Woonan (center) and Father Paul Wirkus are (On the rail) William LaPointe, Elizabeth Creehan and Richard Rourke; rear, Edward Crowe, Edward Cruess, William Ryan, Anne Connors and John Miniter. The Council traditionally includes also the president of St. Mary’s Guild rid one other person appointed by the pastor.


The cornerstone of St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church, laid November 29, 1885, was opened March 28, 1976, and was found to contain newspapers of the time, including The Connecticut Catholic, predecessor of the Catholic Transcript; ten English coins, undoubtedly brought from Ireland by immigrants who founded the parish; three United States coins, an 1859 Indian Head penny, an 1865 two-cent piece, and an 1874 five-cent

piece; an 1864 French coin (cinq centimes); a coin with Chinese characters, possibly

a 200 year old coin used by the British in trade with the Orient; a medal with the

Inscription “Saint Ann Pray For Us,” and a small statue of Saint Joseph.

The cornerstone also con tained the following descrip tion of the ceremony in both English and Latin:

in the year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty five, on the twenty- ninth day of November, His Holiness Pope Leo the Thirteenth happily reigning, His Excellency Grover Cleveland being President of the United States of North America, and His Excellency Henry B. Harrison being Governor of Connecticut, and Martin B. Parsons First Selectman of the Town of Unionville, His Lordship Lawrence Stephen McMahon D.D. Bishop of this Diocese (sic) of Hartford in the presence of the Rector Rev. Patrick Fox, the speaker Rev. WA. Harty, and of the lay trustees, lanies Connelly and Paul Hayes, and of the archi tect Charles Keeley and of the builders, the McKone Brothers, and, a large con course of clergy and people joyfully laid the cornerstone of this Church under the invocation of Saint Mary Star of the Sea to the greater glory of God.

In the sequence above the stone is removed by Antheim Masse and Gerald Masse, the contents are removed and examined by the Reverend James Noonan, Pastor, among the assembled congregation, and finally the newspapers and account are read to those assembled by Centennial Chairman, William A. LaPointe.


For the sixty years of its existence, the Slovak Rosary Society of Saint Mary’s left a unique imprint on the parish. Founded as a group of thirty members in 1912-1913 by Gabriel Manyak and John Gregerick, it met faithfully each Sunday afternoon at the Church for prayer service. At the time of their induction, new members agreed to remain in the Society for Life. Upon the death of a member, another assumed the prayers until a replacement could be found. One woman said the prayers for her sister for a period of five years. Once a month, each member was given a card containing the number of prayers he or she must say during the month. The cards had to be returned each month. If the required number of prayers were not said, the rosary remained incomplete until the missing prayers had been made up.

A Fiftieth Anniversary of the Slovak Rosary Society was celebrated at the old Knights of Columbus Hall on South Main Street in August, 1963. In attendance were members of the St. Mary’s group as well as those of other area societies. Father Eugene Kozar, CF., celebrated a Mass that morning in the Church.

The Society continued in existence another ten years. The death of Father Kozar the previous year, 1972, following fifty faithful years of service to the Society, combined with a declining membership, brought about the demise of the organization.

Mrs. Lawrence Erha and Mrs. Thomas Dooley are the sole surviving members of the original society.

During its sixty years of existence, the St. Mary’s S yak Rosary Society stood as a symbol of the dedication that has been a characteristic of a people and of a faith. It stands as an important phase in the development of the St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish.


“O whoever you are who, in the sea of this world, feel yourself rather tossed about between storms and tempests than walking on the earth, do not look away from the bright ness of this Star if you do not want to be submerged by the waves.

“If the winds of temptation blow, if you stumble against the reefs of tribulations, look at the Star, call Mary. If you are agitated by waves of pride, of ambition, of murmuring, of envy, look at the Star, call Mary. If anger or avarice or seduction of the flesh agitates the fragile ship of the soul, look at the Star, call Mary. If disturbed by the enormity of crimes, confused by the guilt of soul, terrified by the severity of the judgment, you feel yourself pulled into the vortex of melancholy, into the abyss of despair, think of Mary.

“In dangers, in troubles, in doubts think of Mary, call Mary. Let her not depart from your bps, let her not depart from your heart; and to obtain the help of her prayers, do not lose sight of the examples of her life. Following her you do not go astray; by praying to her you do not despair; thinking of her you do not err. If she upholds you, you do not fall; if she protects you, you have nothing to fear; if she accompanies you, you do not tire; if she is propitious to you, you will arrive at the goal and thus experience, in yourself, how rightly it was said: ‘and the virgin’s name was Mary.’”