Our History: The Growth of a Parish
The history of St. Catherine of Siena parish is the story of its people - those who led and those who followed.
It is a story of people who, each in his or her own way, gave their time, talent and treasure that Christ might be made manifest in the community. The story begins on Thursday, May 8, 1913, when the Most Rev. John J. Nilan, D.D., Bishop of Hartford, commissioned the Rev. Nicholas P. Coleman to organize a parish for the welfare of the Catholic residents of the Riverside area.
Msgr. N. P. Coleman
1913 - 1936
Just three days later, on Pentecost Sunday, May 11, 1913, Father Coleman looked out from a portable altar in the little two-room Mianus School located on top of Riverside Hill and made the following announcements: ..."Wednesday, Friday and Saturday are Ember days. Volunteers are requested to report as Sunday school teachers and also as altar boys. Instructions will be held in the Mianus School on Monday afternoon at 3:15 and in the North Mianus School on Friday at 3:15 pm."... This was the first Mass of the new parish.
Mianus / Riverside School
Where the first Mass was celebrated by
Rev. Nicholas P. Coleman on
May 11, 1913
The approximately fifty people gathered in the little classroom that May 11th, sitting at children's desks heard this first call for volunteers... and respond they did!
The Annual Report for 1913 indicates that fourteen women volunteered to teach 114 children catechism. Catechism was taught in Riverside, Mianus School, and North Mianus School.
Father Coleman chose as the patron Saint of the new church the muchcultivated St. Catherine of Siena, who had devoted her life to keeping what the Lord Himself called the first and the greatest commandment: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind" and who had been equally generous in fulfilling the second: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself for the love of God." Bishop Nilan had purchased the rectory building on the Post Road and the adjoining land for a church. About four months after the first Mass in the little schoolhouse, the cornerstone for the first church was laid on Sept. 21, 1913. During the year preceding the dedication, Masses on Sunday were celebrated in the little schoolhouse and daily Masses in the rectory. Once the lower level of the church was completed, Mass was celebrated there. It was there that the first Christmas Masses of the parish were celebrated. Just one year after the first Mass in the schoolhouse, the first church of St. Catherine of Siena in Riverside was dedicated on May 10, 1914.
First Church of
St. Catherine of Siena of Riverside
Dedicated May 10, 1914
During that year, parish activities were organized. The women of the parish sponsored a lawn fete and the men ran a bazaar. The Rosary Society was formed in 1913 and the Holy Name society was organized in 1914. Over the next several years, other social events were held to help form a parish community.
St. Catherine's parish grew steadily and became a leading force in spiritual and education life of the community. Father Coleman soon perceived that plans, however nebulous, would be needed during the coming years as the Catholic population increased with the population of the Riverside section. Father Coleman's vision for St. Catherine's parish included a school for the children of the parish.
During Father Coleman's administration between the years 1913 to 1936, he worked toward that goal of a Catholic School at St. Catherine's. In 1936, the three-acre Olive Oddy estate on Riverside Avenue was purchased and St. Catherine's school was started. The house on the property became the first parish convent. The first, second and third grades were opened in September, 1936 in the convent, with fourteen pupils enrolled. This was the beginning of St. Catherine of Siena School. Shortly after the opening of the school year, Father Coleman was named pastor of St. John's in Stamford where he continued to serve God and His People. In 1954, His Holiness Pope Pius XII named him a Domestic Prelate with the title of Monsignor. Monsignor Coleman died in 1963. There are still a few parishioners that remember him fondly. Parishioners who were members and builders of the parish Father Coleman came to establish in Riverside.
In October 1936, the Rev. Joseph A. Ganley became the second pastor of St. Catherine's Church coming here from St. Cecilia. He had been principal of St. Augustine's School in Bridgeport before taking up his first pastorate at St. Cecilia's in Springdale.
The Rev G. A. Ganley
1936 - 1956
Father Ganley faced the twin problems of a growing parish and the increasing need of a fully complemented parochial school. Decisions were needed and he made them. The new school was built in 1938 by the same contractor who built the church, Chimblo Bros. The original building contained nine classrooms, an auditorium-gymnasium, a library, and medical and dental rooms. Twice in the years that followed, a growing enrollment required the building of additional classrooms. In 1950 a new wing of four rooms was added, while in 1955 the building was expanded to provide two more classrooms.
During his years at St. Catherine's the church societies continued to grow and contribute to the life of the parish. In 1941, the St. Catherine's Women's Guild was formed primarily to help the school. Father Ganley worked closely over the years with all of his parishioners and the different societies.
Crowded conditions at the church necessitated "doubling up" by celebrating simultaneous Masses in the auxiliary chapel in the church basement. The church dedicated in 1914 could accommodate about 200 people. Even though Masses were scheduled in both the main church and downstairs chapel, people still were forced to stand on the outside steps of the church. In 1946 Father Ganley purchased three more acres on Riverside Avenue, land north of the school and convent. Later on additional land was purchased on Riverside Avenue opposite the convent.
In 1955, St. Catherine's conducted a Building Fund Drive hoping for pledges totaling $250,000 to build the new church - more than $320,000 was pledged (with a very notable percentage being contributed.) Before he could begin to build the new Church, in March of 1956, Father Ganley was appointed Pastor of St. Charles Parish in Bridgeport. Those who knew him and worked with him on committees and societies were sorry to see him leave and all where shocked and saddened by his death in May 1958.
Rev. John F.X. Walsh of Our Lady of Peace Church, Stratford, Connecticut, succeeded Father Ganley as third pastor of St. Catherine's Church. It fell to Father Walsh to build the new church and rectory. After determining the plans, it was decided to build the new church at the corner of the Post Road and Riverside Ave. Mr. Gustave A. Steinback was the architect assigned and the contractor was again Chimblo Bros. Construction Company.
The Rev. F. X. Walsh
1956 - 1967
Meanwhile additional property across from the school was purchased and it was immediately paved as a parking area for the new church. In June of 1957 the Most Reverend Bishop Shehan came to Riverside and performed the ceremony of breaking ground for the new St. Catherine's. St. Catherine of Siena Church, the Church as we know it today, was dedicated on December 15, 1957.
On that day, when Father Walsh stood on the altar and looked out over the large congregation in this beautiful new church, there must have been those in the pews who could look back to that day in May of 1913 when Father Coleman turned to a handful of people in the small Mianus school and read his first announcements to mark the beginning of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Riverside.