The First Catholic Church on Cape Cod was established in Sandwich

By Kaethe Maguire

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The Town that Glass Built is surely an appropriate tag for Sandwich. Imagine the culture shock to Sleepy Yankee Sandwich when it was invaded by people from the East Cambridge Glass Works of Deming Jarves, and from Europe to become the artisans of the Sandwich Glass Works in 1825.  At first approximately 20 families arrived, predominately Irish.

 

Many of these new-comers not only did not speak English as a first language since they were originally from Ireland and France, but also came with a different religion!

 

Now placing the shoe on the other foot, imagine the foreignness of rural Sandwich to these glass workers where they did not even have a church to call their own in order to form a community.

 

Catholics believe they should be buried in what is called consecrated ground, in other words, blessed ground. There was not a Catholic burying ground in Sandwich until St. Peter’s was established in 1865. The Old Town Burying Ground began in 1663. There are only 7 Catholics buried there.

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Deming Jarves established a non-sectarian burial ground later called Mount Hope on land called Sand Hill that he owned and sold in lots for $6.00 each. This is located on The Old King’s Highway west of Chipman Road

 

By 1825 the Industrial Revolution was not yet in full swing and certainly not on Cape Cod. For the most part industry was dependent on natural forms of power, like waterpower. But making glass took wood to burn primarily for power and that was still in abundance on Cape Cod.

 In 1820 the population of Sandwich, which then included what is now Bourne, so a huge geographic area, was 2,484 people, a thousand from the Bourne area. By 1830, once the Glass Works were well up and running, the population jumped to 3,361. 

By 1860, still before the 1884 breakaway to create Bourne, the Sandwich population was 4,479. The numbers speak for themselves.

There were grist mills from the beginning of settlement of course, and a few factories along the Shawme, both using the natural power of water.

 

The number of Catholics slowly increased as more came from the Boston area and from Europe to work in Sandwich. By 1827/28 a petition was sent to the Rev. Benedict J. Fenwick of the Diocese of Boston to provide a priest and a church. Bishop Fenwick came to Sandwich for a visit. The visit worked and Fr. William Tyler became the pastor. He lived with John Doyle and held Mass in his parlor.

 

By 1830 there were now 70 parishioners.  With Mr. Doyle as their leader, they purchased a small plot of

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The above inset taken from the Historic Jenny Jones Map indicates (red arrow) where the second St. Peter's Church was once located at the corner of Church and Willow Streets.

land for $125 in an area later called Depot Square, on Jarves Street. The framing for this structure was shipped from Boston and the new structure was dedicated to St. Peter on September 19, 1830 by Bishop Fenwick. This would be the first Catholic Church on Cape Cod and in 1865, St. Peter’s cemetery would be the first Catholic Cemetery on Cape Cod. 

Fr. Peter Connolly was appointed to serve Sandwich, but he also served Wareham, New Bedford, Rhode Island, Canton and elsewhere! Catholic priests were rare and those that were here were forced to travel all the time.

 

The number of Catholics in Sandwich varied with the economy and the amount of work provided by the Boston and Sandwich Glass Works.

 

However, the Irish Famine of the 1840s and the Railroad arriving in Sandwich in 1848 produced a growth spurt. The Glass Works helped to support this growing population by building still more homes for the workers which could be purchased on the installment plan.

 

The need for a much larger church was now obvious. Fr. Moran, who had served as a missionary to Native Americans in Maine, led this effort for a new larger church for Sandwich. The new construction began in 1852 and the difference between the first flimsy, small wooden structure and the new St Peter’s built to last for all time, was striking.

 

The original wooden church was sold and moved from Depot Square to a site on Jarves Street to be used as a grocery store. In 1972 the building was joined to stores adjacent to it. This structure remains at 23 Jarves St. and there is a plaque on the building which we call the MacDonald Arnold Building.

 

The church to last for all time almost immediately was hit by fierce storms, the first destructive one came in 1857 when the 160 ft. steeple with bell, clock and ruby glass ball was destroyed. Wisely a smaller bell tower replaced the tall structure

 

As perhaps a harbinger of things to come, a fire in 1887 badly damaged the interior of the brick St. Peter’s leaving the walls in serious weakness. Fr. Clinton played a big part in having these repairs done and restoring the church.

 

With the eventual decline of the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company came massive unemployment in Sandwich. However, the Keith Car Works in then Sagamore, part of Bourne was able to employ a small number of the former Sandwich glass workers. Poverty prevailed for many of the Sandwich families.

 

In 1898 St Peter’s was again badly damaged by a fierce storm known as the Portland Gale. The building was declared unsafe and shut in 1899. Many stepped forward with support and money to help build a new church. Sandwich resident Thomas Kelleher was awarded the construction contract.

 

Finally, the corner stone of what was then to be called Corpus Christi Church was laid in 1900. Old stained-glass windows and bricks from the inner walls of the St. Peter’s Church were used in the construction. 

Fr. Peter Connolly was appointed to serve Sandwich, but he also served Wareham, New Bedford, Rhode Island, Canton and elsewhere! Catholic priests were rare and those that were here were forced to travel all the time.

 

The number of Catholics in Sandwich varied with the economy and the amount of work provided by the Boston and Sandwich Glass Works.

 

However, the Irish Famine of the 1840s and the Railroad arriving in Sandwich in 1848 produced a growth spurt. The Glass Works helped to support this growing population by building still more homes for the workers which could be purchased on the installment plan.

 

The need for a much larger church was now obvious. Fr. Moran, who had served as a missionary to Native Americans in Maine, led this effort for a new larger church for Sandwich. The new construction began in 1852 and the difference between the first flimsy, small wooden structure and the new St Peter’s built to last for all time, was striking.

 

The original wooden church was sold and moved from Depot Square to a site on Jarves Street to be used as a grocery store. In 1972 the building was joined to stores adjacent to it. This structure remains at 23 Jarves St. and there is a plaque on the building which we call the MacDonald Arnold Building.

 

The church to last for all time almost immediately was hit by fierce storms, the first destructive one came in 1857 when the 160 ft. steeple with bell, clock and ruby glass ball was destroyed. Wisely a smaller bell tower replaced the tall structure

 

As perhaps a harbinger of things to come, a fire in 1887 badly damaged the interior of the brick St. Peter’s leaving the walls in serious weakness. Fr. Clinton played a big part in having these repairs done and restoring the church.

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With the eventual decline of the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company came massive unemployment in Sandwich. However, the Keith Car Works in then Sagamore, part of Bourne was able to employ a small number of the former Sandwich glass workers. Poverty prevailed for many of the Sandwich families.

 

In 1898 St Peter’s was again badly damaged by a fierce storm known as the Portland Gale. The building was declared unsafe and shut in 1899. Many stepped forward with support and money to help build a new church. Sandwich resident Thomas Kelleher was awarded the construction contract.

 

Finally, the corner stone of what was then to be called Corpus Christi Church was laid in 1900. Old stained-glass windows and bricks from the inner walls of the St. Peter’s Church were used in the construction.