City’s first Catholic church celebrating 100th anniversary
“We are a church of little money but a lot of heart,” said Reverend Roland Simoneau, pastor of St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church.
The church also has a long history of firsts, including being the first Catholic church in the city.
With the city population growing and an increasing number of Catholics in 1907, Bishop Matthew Hawkins approved Reverend Peter Malone’s request to purchase Shawomet land for $1,000. Three years later the Shawomet Beach Chapel was blessed. Over time the tiny beach chapel congregation grew and soon the chapel needed to expand to fit its needs.
In 1914 expansion began when Reverend Michael F. O’Brien purchased two lots on Beach Avenue establishing St. Benedict Church, the first Roman Catholic Church in Warwick. The church cost $8,000 to build and opened the following year.
Now in 2014, St. Benedict is celebrating its 100th anniversary at the end of September.
St. Benedict expansion didn’t stop with the church.
A building on West Shore Road was purchased as a convent for the Sisters of the Presentation in 1927. Then in 1939, land was bought next to the church and a convent was built on Beach Avenue. After the convent was closed, the building was used for a shelter and sold to the Rhode Island Family Shelter in 2002.
Every Warwick Roman Catholic Church can find roots from St. Benedict.
With a large parish and the surge in Warwick’s population with the growth of the suburbs, St. Benedict split in 1950 to help establish St. Timothy Parish. Six years later the same thing happened to create St. Kevin Church.
As a church of firsts, St. Benedict built the first Catholic school in Warwick in 1957. That school closed in 1986.
Fr. Simoneau believes St. Benedict lost many younger families to Catholic churches with schools, a trend he sees changing. Fr. Simoneau said the demographics of the neighborhood have been changing and some younger families have started to come to the church.
“We have a great parish. Everyone is faithful and active in the church. Every time the church needs fixing up or help, people rush to help,” Fr. Simoneau said.
Claire McMahon has been a member of St. Benedict all her life and now at 87 has seen many of the changes the church has gone through.
She said, “I have always loved it at St. Benedict’s Church. I have been very happy there. It has been a big part of my life, I’ve gone there all my life; I naturally loved it.”
Fr. Simoneau, who was named pastor in 2005, wanted to liven up the church and bring some new color, literally, to the inside of the building.
He wanted to paint the concrete walls and bring “new life” to the place of worship. Parishioners came out to volunteer and donate materials to help revitalize the church.
“We exist because of the willingness of the people to come forward and help,” Fr. Simoneau said. “They are generous with themselves and they keep the parish alive.”
Similarly, within the last year, the Parish Center has been refurbished as well under Fr. Simoneau. A new ceiling, dance floor and stage have been installed.
Fr. Simoneau said with a smile, “This church still has something to offer. People come and feel part of one another and part of the bigger purpose, to serve and love God. This church still has a lot of life even after 100 years.”
The 100th Anniversary celebration will be held Saturday, Sept. 27th with 4 p.m. Holy Mass. There will then be a dinner held in the new and refurbished parish center behind the church. There will be a cocktail hour and then dinner with live music from JoAnn Lurgio as well as Bryan and MaryAnn Barrette.
Only 250 tickets are available and they go on sale Aug. 16. Tickets are $40 per person. For more information or tickets, call St. Benedict’s at 737-9492.