It has been called “Gardner’s most imposing structure”.
The 110-foot Romanesque tower that stretches skyward has been overlooking Gardner’s “French section” as well as the downtown part of town for a century.
On October 3, 1915, the Notre-Dame-du-Saint-Rosaire church was completed at a cost of $ 80,000 and consecrated.
Under the direction of the Reverend Jules Graton, who became parish priest in 1901 and spearheaded the campaign with the parishioners, the dedication ceremony attracted more than 1,000 people that day. High Mass, with an invocation by Bishop of Springfield Thomas D. Bevin, also included the blessing of the tower’s enormous bells.
The church, which is now part of the Annunciation Parish along with the former Holy Spirit Church, has become a source of faith and strength for the French-Canadian population of Gardner. For many, it has become a way of life practiced with perseverance and sincerity, as well as a rallying point for the ethnic survival of Acadian settlers in the community.
In the 1870s, when New England’s industry began to develop, new labor was needed and the first to provide labor were French Canadians. At first, the trip to Gardner was considered only temporary – long enough to learn a trade, then return to their homeland with new wealth.
However, once they settled in Gardner, many immigrants were content to call this town their new home.
Initially, they worshiped at the Church of the Sacred Heart, which was Gardner’s first Catholic church, established in 1874. This continued for about 10 years before the congregation grew too large for the building’s dwellings.
French Canadians believed they could maintain their own church and were looking for such a building that would also preserve their language and customs, as well as a priest of their mother tongue.
In November 1884, a Roman Catholic parish for French residents was established by Reverend Isaie Solis with services initially held at an ice rink on Nichols Street.
The French pastor, helped by a group of residents, organized a six-day fair and later a huge picnic in Crystal Lake to raise funds for the purchase of two acres of land in the heart of the Canadian Quarter. French between Nichols and Regan streets. , on what an ancient story calls “the great ravine”.
The ravine was filled in at a cost of $ 7,000 to the parishioners, and much of the building was built at Solis’ personal expense.
Lapoint Construction Co. of Turners Falls was awarded the contract to construct the new place of worship for the French Catholic Society in August 1885. The building was constructed in Turners Falls and brought to Gardner in sections, to be erected in October.
In September the church was standing and the cross on the dome was in place, and in mid-October the first masses were held.
In 1886, the chapel was completed. It was a combined structure that served as a church, school and presbytery, with a capacity of 500 seats. Later in the year, due to poor health, Reverend Solis resigned from his pastorate and was replaced by Reverend CE Brunault.
Soon Brunault established a parish school taught by lay teachers in the basement of the church and had some 125 students aged 4 to 12. Of the three teachers, two taught exclusively French and one taught both French and English so that students could have the advantage of teaching in both languages.
French families wishing to send their children to public school could do so. However, the French have an increasing tendency to preserve their mother tongue and to allow their children to converse only in French at home.
Following improvements made to the church in 1889, including the expansion of the tower to hang a large bell, a fire broke out three years later in the part of the building serving as the rectory, causing slight damage.
At that time, a new priest, the Reverend Alfred Langevin, while restoring the building had it enlarged to increase the capacity of the school.
Langevin also enlarged the parish buildings, built the current presbytery and began work in 1895 on the Romanesque structure which serves the parish to this day. Initially, masses were held in the basement and the facade of the church consisted of a tall brick facade made up of giant double doors that led to a false facade and down the stairs to the basement.
Regular classes at the parish school ceased after 1896 and Sunday school classes were held thereafter.
In 1901 Reverend Graton became the parish priest and during that year great efforts were made to revive the school permanently.
Ten sisters of the Order of the Presentation of Mary in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, arrived in 1903 to resume school. Classes were held in the renovated church and over 500 students registered on this first day.
It was at this time that the increase in the number of parishioners forced the church to study the possibility of erecting a larger building to meet the needs of the population.
And it was in October 1915, a proud moment in the history of the Church of the Holy Rosary indeed, when the imposing structure which still highlights the Gardner landscape was dedicated to the inhabitants of the parish.
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