About Us - Church History

Msgr. Canning served St. Paul's as it's first curate and many years later, its second pastor. His history of the parish, here presented, was composed in the mid 1950's. Msgr. Canning passed away in 1964. Msgr. Tully followed as the third pastor.


The History of St. Paul's Parish began in the month of July 1907, with the following letter written by the Most Reverend Bishop of Providence to Reverend Michael J. McCabe, then assistant at St. Mary's Church, Pawtucket:


You are to proceed at once...

The area thus assigned extended southward by agreement as far as what is now known as Airport Road at Hoxie.

In view of the thousands of faithful now embraced in the parishes of St. Paul's, St. Peter's and part of St. Timothy's, it is amazing to learn that in the first parish census taken in the autumn of 1907, there were in this large area only 179 Catholic families and 770 souls.

While taking steps to provide a place of worship and to be at the service of his parishioners, Father McCabe accepted for a few weeks the hospitable invitation of Rev. James C. Walsh, pastor, to reside at St. Michael's Rectory.

In order to have Mass for the faithful, a temporary altar was set up each Sunday morning in the Edgewood Casino at 192 Shaw Ave., a local recreation center. This inconvenient arrangement served for Sunday morning needs until a church could be opened nearly three months later. Early in August the new pastor secured by rental, a residence at 134 Wheeler Ave., which served as a Rectory until 1910.

Strong ties of affection for old St. Michael's gave way quickly to active sympathy for the new pastor celebrating Mass in such crude surroundings. In the week following the first Mass in the Casino a church building association of men was formed and a women's auxiliary for a similar purpose. At the first meeting the sum of $1800.00 was pledged. It was decided to hold a parish bazaar in the new building before its completion for church services. This was prepared for by these active committees and was held in the unfinished church building between the dates of Oct. 16 and 23, the net receipts of which were later announced as $2800.00. Bishop Harkins was a guest one evening at this bazaar and delighted the workers by liberal spending at each table.

A parishioner of great generosity in the early days of the parish was William J. Higgins, first trustee with John A. Murray.

Meanwhile daily Mass was said by episcopal permission in the rectory.

The first records in St. Paul's once so new, now a half-century old, disclose that the first child baptized in the new parish was Louis Dragon of Lakewood, July 25, 1907.

The first marriage united Edward J. Norton and Mary V. Mulvehill on September 25.

The first funerals were those of Mrs. Hannah Fowkes and Evelyn Lovely on the 4th and 6th of November, seemingly related, as their Month's Mind Mass was one and the same.

To go back to the birth of the parish, a charter under the State of Rhode Island for the parish of St. Paul's Church of Edgewood was issued on July 25th by the Secretary of State to Matthew Harkins, Bishop, Thomas P. Doran, Vicar General Michael J. McCabe, Pastor, and two lay Trustees, John A. Murray and William J. Higgins.

The first meeting of the Corporation was held at the Cathedral Rectory. Bishop Harkins presiding and John A. Murray acting as secretary. At this meeting it was voted to purchase the land now occupied by St. Paul's Church and Rectory at a cost of $5850.00. It was further voted to erect here a building for church purposes at a cost of about $8000.00. The minutes of this meeting, comprising three long pages, are written beautifully by Bishop Harkins in his own handwriting and are preserved in the Church Corporation Book, which contains the record of all subsequent corporation meetings in parish history. Further permission was given to borrow money to finance the new Church building up to its final cost of $10,500.00.

The new pastor, Father McCabe, large in body, mind and heart, was loved and appreciated from his first Sunday in St. Paul's parish. He was admired for his moving eloquence, which some years before had won the hearts of thousands when he had preached missions in the Diocese of Providence, which then included the present diocese of Fall River, extending as far as Provincetown, Massachusetts.

A mission band called the Providence Apostolate had been formed by Bishop Harkins, whose members had preached in nearly all the parishes. Rev. William Stang, afterwards First Bishop of Fall River, was the Superior of the Apostolate, which included Rev. Peter E. Blessing, D.D., later for many years Vicar General of the Diocese, Father McCabe and later on Rev. Michael P. O'Brien.

Father McCabe's parish service had been in St. Mary's, Fall River and in St. Mary's, Pawtucket, where his Holy Name Society meetings filled a great church every month. In St. Paul's a congregation filled the new church every Sunday evening for years when the pastor preached a long series of Christian Doctrine sermons.

Once, while presiding at a St. Xavier's Academy graduation, Bishop Harkins was unwell and asked Father McCabe to speak to the class for him, without previous notice. His response was simple and moving, which the Bishop afterwards told his Cathedral Rector was the best impromptu address he had heard on such an occasion.


The new church, seating 650 persons, was blessed by Bishop Harkins on Sunday, October 27, 1907, preceding a Solemn Mass celebrated by Rev. Frank Craig, In the presence of the Bishop. The dedication sermon was preached by Rev. John C. Tennian, Fr. McCabe's former pastor at St. Mary's, Pawtucket. The Sunday Masses in the church for many years were at the hours of 8 o'clock and 10:30. An old tradition elsewhere was followed for a long time of renting pews at the last Mass on Sundays, a custom almost unheard of in our day when parishioners prefer to give a seat offering each Sunday at the Mass they choose to attend.

Automobiles were few in the early days of St. Paul's history. Radio and television were unknown. The old and blessed custom of Sunday School was not interfered with. It laid firm foundations of knowledge in Christian Doctrines. For many years thereafter the Sunday School was held in the body of the Church in the early afternoon where the sessions began with the daily prayers of Catholic life and the singing of a hymn, followed by the recitation of lessons. The session was interrupted in the middle with another hymn by the juvenile voices, and instruction by the priest in charge, and concluded with Benediction service.

A St. Paul's parish name covering a half-century in youth recreation and perpetuated in the present day O'Neil baseball leagues was that of Timothy E. O'Neil, the league's organizer and president. Before Sunday baseball was legalized in the cities, this Christian lover of youth held Sunday Games at Palace Gardens, south of Lakewood, in the later afternoon. Mr. O'Neil so held the affection and loyalty of youth that they willingly cooperated in his system of knowing and excluding from the grounds any boy who had not attended Sunday School in his own parish before the game. No boy cared to suffer this penalty or to lose the esteem of this kind benefactor of youth.

A name recalled from the first days is that of Judge William M. Connell of the District Court in Pawtucket, the pastor's first principal of the Sunday School while he was a college student. A record of interest is a notation that five persons contributed $500.00 at the first parish meeting for the building fund, July 28, 1907.

A devout and highly esteemed official of Providence was a first trustee of St. Paul's parish. This was John Andrew Murray, honest and incorruptible Superintendent of Providence Police. Chief Murray rose stop by step to the top of the police organization. In those days long ago, no less than now, opportunities to accept graft or bribery were common. All of these offers were straightway made known to his colleagues by Captain Murray of the Central Station, later Superintendent, and all paid tribute to his integrity to the end of his life. In long years as active head and Chief of the Police Department, it was an edifying feature of daily parish life that Chief Murray passed by his own street on the street railway to St. Paul's Church, a mile beyond to make his daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament and to say his devout rosary to the Blessed Mother.

A tribute for faithful service from St. Paul's first date must be paid to Chief Murray's daughter, Julia Grace Murray, afterwards wife of John E. Collins, Mayor of Providence. Her voice has been heard in about every High Mass and Benediction in our parish history.

Chief Murray was followed as Superintendent by another St. Paul parishioner. Chief Peter F. Gilmartin, noted for the same deep faith and integrity of life.

The second parish census was taken in May and June 1908, and an increased population was indicated by the excellent number of children enrolled in Sunday School at its second annual opening with 180 boys and girls.

The residents of East Cranston and Warwick observed with pleasure the marked improvement in the district which came with the founding and development of St. Paul's Parish. The triangular corner between Broad St. and Warwick Ave. had been a jungle of sandbanks, rough excavations, weeds, brush and fallen tree trunks. This was now transformed into a broad and level lawn, covering the property as far as the new frame church at the southwest end.

The excellent streetcar service of the time carried a multitude every day and evening on the way to its terminal at Pawtuxet Bridge. In addition there was a fast express passenger service as far as Buttonwoods, by way of Warwick Ave.


A new and beautiful hedge enclosed this formerly unsightly spot, and the well-watered and well-kept green acre of lawn attracted admiration. The grass was so green as to cause comment and question, and one more or less friendly citizen said that it was evidently due to the 'holy water'. Soon real estate firms began to add to their house advertisements the words 'near to St. Paul's Church'.

Many years later, when the great new stone church had been built, William H. Cherry, a well-known Providence merchant who lived in a show-place on Narragansett Boulevard, expressed the thought of himself and the community that Father McCabe had led the way to beauty on his side of Edgewood, as he and many others had tried to build a beautiful Edgewood along the shore of the Bay. Mr. Cherry asked to be allowed the privilege of making a contribution of $1000.00 to the parish treasury. It was appreciated in later years that the first pastor led a successful movement to prevent building a moving picture theatre at St. Paul's Square.

We come now in our parish history to a serious and near-fatal event. In the third year of St. Paul's parish life, plans were drawn by a young member of the famous architectural firm of McGuinness and Walsh for a new rectory to stand on the south side of the wide lawn. A quarter century later it was regretted that a larger house, as first planned, was not erected. The smaller house was built in the year 1909 and was ready for occupancy in February, 1910. It was then that the community was shocked by the news that in his first weeks in the new rectory Father McCabe had contracted pneumonia, a disease of high mortality in the days long before the new wonder drugs reduced the death rate of the malady, especially critical in persons of large body and weight.

Deep sympathy and sorrow was expressed on all sides, which took many practical forms in addition to prayer. The Street Railway Company ordered its drivers to slow down all cars to a minimum of speed and noise.

Father McCabe survived the crisis of pneumonia but it was necessary to perform a surgical operation called empyema. This crisis, he also survived, but a similar and related affliction returned time and again, requiring surgical treatment at seasons for the rest of a rather long life.

In this first grave emergency of the parish Bishop Harkins asked Rev. Dr. Blessing to send Reverend Patrick S. Canning, a young priest, to be with Father McCabe for a few weeks until the pastor resumed active work. It turned out that a 'few weeks' became many years and Father Canning became the first curate in St. Paul's history and long years later the second pastor.

The first curate, now pastor, recalls clearly that his first Mass in St. Paul's was served by altar boy William T. Halloran, then a schoolboy, who in after years became a nationally recognized rules expert and top official in football and major sports. His employment since school days has been with the United States Postal Department and since 1953, he has been Assistant Postmaster of Providence.

A name, obscure in the early days of St. Paul's Parish, but later known far and wide was that of Mrs. Katherine Gibbs, a widow with two small sons, who with her sister Mary Ryan, built a commercial and secretarial school around a shorthand system called the 'syllabic'. These valiant women risked their relatively small capital, derived for the most part from the sale of some Edgewood land, to set up a school on a small scale in Providence. Both were cultured graduates of the Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart. They improved their system of shorthand and found that their students learned it quickly. One drawback was that the young students became proficient technically while remaining undereducated and incompetent in English and liberal studies.

To overcome this handicap the course was lengthened, liberal studies were added, and the course soon lengthened to one and then to two years. The Providence school was extended to be in the neighborhood of Boston University, and before long another school was opened near Columbia University in New York.

The latter school soon became the principal one, and the Providence and Boston schools disposed of to other management and ownership, Since the death of the foundress her younger son, Gordon Gibbs, of our early Sunday School, has been in charge of the Katherine Gibbs school in New York.

The early days of St. Paul's parish were passed in a quiet world. The American people were all practically pacifist. Wars seemed outmoded and unlikely. The last greet war in America, the Civil War, was almost a half-century past. The more recent war with Spain in 1898 was so brief as to cause little more than a flurry in the current of American life. Little did people then think of the tragic changes there would be and the terrible future that was before the world.

In August 1914, Europe burst into flames of war with all the engines of destruction that modern invention could furnish. Peaceful Americans awoke from sleep filled with nightmares of multitudes of men crouched in trenches under fire from the most destructive artillery. But in Europe it was not nightmares. It was awful reality.

More unbelievable to Americans -- in less than three years it was our war, constriction was in force, millions of man had begun training and were crossing the ocean and of these 140 were from the young St. Paul's Parish.

Subsequent years have seen a greater war, but it is probable that mental adjustments to war were not so extreme as those in the pacific generation at the time of World War I.

Before the men returned from war, St. Paul's parish was ten years old. The number of families had increased yearly. The pastor was speaking of his dear project to build and open a parish school.

The smaller Church was still adequate for Sunday Masses but the parish was increasing in numbers. But Father McCabe was resolved never to build the great church in St. Paul's until he had first built the school and the required convent for teaching Sisters.

His zeal for a school was soon matched by the desire of the parents of young families, eager for this safeguard for the faith of their children, and the atmosphere of religion in a school where education and religion would go hand-in-hand, under teachers dedicated to God through His Immaculate Mother, the patroness of all family life.

Wages were not yet high. Money was scarce. The parish budget was low, but above the average for its numbers. Various additions to the parish treasury came through annual Lawn Festivals. A bank balance began to grow, with the result that the firm of R. J. McIntyre began to build St. Pau1's School early in 1921 to provide for its opening in 1922.

Meanwhile, Bishop Harkins had founded Providence College. To assist the aging Bishop, the Most Reverend William A. Hickey, a classmate of Father McCabe, was chosen as Coadjutor Bishop.

The new Bishop conferred ordination on several priests in Advent 1919, and one of these, the beloved Reverend Joseph B. Boyd, was assigned to St. Paul's to begin the year 1920. By this time the parish had 2500 souls and now had the service of three priests.

There are more kinds of war than one. Bishop Harkins, at every Confirmation service, never failed to warn that life is always a warfare and for it, we are made soldiers of Christ. But this was in the religious and moral kingdom.

Yet In secular life the seeds of industrial war were growing as the result of the so-called Industrial Revolution of the Nineteenth Century brought about by the development of machine production of goods. Capitalistic owner- ship had shackled the working population with long hours of labor, difficult and unhealthy working conditions and shamefully low wages. Any limitation to the powers of ownership was denied. The Gay Nineties were not very gay for the submerged 10,000,000. Before World War I, a man of some wealth in Edgewood employed a gardener, caretaker and driver, who was paid $10 per week to support himself and small family. But when a 13th week came in three months the man was not paid for this week as the employer interpreted $10 per week as $40 per month.

With a pan, a great scholarly pontiff, Pope Leo XIII, 'fired a shot heard 'round the world,' his encyclical, 'The Condition of the Working Classes' issued in 1891. In it he taught the dignity of man, the working-man's right to a living wage for self and family, the right of labor to organize, the right of the laborer to share in the product of his labor.

The wheels of change turn slowly against self-interest but it was noticed that soon the emphasis in secular colleges was placed less on self-interest and personal success and more on what was then called altruism, a concern for the welfare of humanity.

The foremost teaching champion in the workers' cause was the scholar, Monsignor John A, Ryan of the Catholic University, in the early twentieth century. Change came slowly but Divine Providence, which always derives good out of everything, brought great and swift changes out of an upset world, and especially in the years of the great depression of the 1930's, which gave government opportunity to put into practice social plans which would not have been possible inaugurate had the hard shell of old ideas and control continued to be unbroken.

The firm of architects for the permanent structures at St. Paul's was that of Ambrose Murphy, well known as a church designer.

One of his assistants on St. Paul's School plans was the young and talented Samuel M. Morino. Nearly a decade later when the permanent church was built, he was the chief architect of the firm. This Gothic Church, so beautiful and perfect in design, is the realization of an architect's dream of his masterpiece as it developed and took form as the years passed.

Mr. Morino was a member of a Jewish family who became a Catholic, instructed and received into the Church by our first pastor, Father McCabe, thirty years ago. Among this convert's works in Catholic action, was his zealous activity in the Serra Club, a diocesan, national and international society of laymen in North America, formed to promote vocations to the priesthood. Of this club he was an international trustee who attended all meetings and at the time of his sudden death in 1953 had made arrangements to attend the annual meeting at Seattle.

The most complete survey of Catholic educational institutions and plans for the future was made and published in 1953 by the New York Sunday Times. Catholic school authorities in every diocese were interviewed. The program for future developments was vast. The difficulties were summed up in two principal ones: the expense and the difficulty of securing teaching personnel. Religious vocations in large numbers would be needed to give to schools their essential religious quality with the Christopher motive and dedication. In the same year Paul Blanshard was busy writing and lecturing on the menace to democratic life In America due to private religious schools. The then president of Harvard University was swept along in the prevailing artificial propaganda of the year to make a statement that this nonpublic kind of school was injurious and divisive In influence. On the other hand, it might be well here to quote a decision of the U. S. Supreme Court rendered in the year 1924. 'The fundamental theory of liberty, upon which all governments in this Union repose, excludes any general power of State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the more creature of the State; those who nurture and direct its destiny have a right, coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare for additional obligations.'

In the concern for a sound religious education in the past decade, Protestant church authorities in National Council at Cincinnati, declared, "Our founding fathers did not mean to insist upon separation of Church and State but rather sectarianism and state" and their World Council of Churches declared, "They were certainly not aiming at the separation of religion and education." Another pronouncement was, "While we want separation of Church and State, we must avoid becoming a nation of religious illiterates." They were connecting this sad condition with a religious vacuum apparent in public school education.

Catholics in America, early and late, took steps to avoid this illiteracy through a religious educational program.

A system of education which leads children to love God and pattern their lives after the Son of God is not apt to imperial democracy, while history has repeatedly demonstrated that a government or democracy that rules out the teachings of Christ is soon perverted into a tyranny or despotism under arrogant and stupid men.

The faithful of St. Paul's Parish had an inspirational leader in their first pastor, Father McCabe, and they responded generously to meet the financial need mentioned in the Times survey of later years, - that is to erect, equip and maintain year after year the school and the required convent for Sisters.

The other need, that of dedicated lives, was met by the religious congregation of Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart.

As the time approached for the opening of the parish school, many parents expressed regret that all of their children had not had this ad- vantage of Catholic school education.

This eagerness of parents was apparent when in September 1922, all of the eight grades opened with a large attendance. Surprise was general in the community when having finished seven other grades in other schools, boys and girls took their graduation year in the new school, which conferred diplomas on a class of twenty-five in June 1923. Most of these attended a twenty-fifth anniversary reunion of the class in 1948.

A Fr. Curran, in the coal mine district of Pennsylvania, was a valiant champion of the poor worker. President Theodore Roosevelt praised him publicly and appointed him to a commission to investigate strikes and wages.

Rev. Edwin V. O'Hara of Portland, Oregon, late Bishop Of Kansas City, and Rev. John O'Reilly, O.S.A. of Lawrence, Mass., were outstanding champions of the working man.

In 1931 Pope Pius XI issued a strong encyclical on the subject entitled "Fortieth Year" after Pope Lea's challenge of 1891.

The City of Providence and the Town of Attleboro were the jewelry manufacturing centers of the country. Most of the workers in the earlier years of parish history worked in the offices or shops of the jewelry firms. The business of jewelry was largely seasonal, which gave the workers more vacation than they desired. In all areas of employment, the 1920's after World War I were not very prosperous years until nearer to the later Coolidge years, Coolidge Prosperity, followed by the sad years of President Hoover, begun in such bright promise.

It was not easy, therefore for St. Paul's to carry the expenses of the now school and at the same time look forward to the building of a great new church, now beginning to be pressingly needed.

Bishop Harkins had impressed upon Fr. McCabe, the first pastor, that the first church should be a temporary one, not too costly nor too good that the faithful should be satisfied with it indefinitely, for the Bishop foresaw the growth of Edgewood into a well-to-do residential district without industrial development, where the faithful would be prosperous perhaps beyond the average, and who should therefore erect, when the time came, a worthy church for the Divine Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Lord. Should anyone's house in a parish be more beautiful than the Lord's?

It would be difficult for anyone born and reared in later years to gauge the relative value of money then and now.

Our costly part in World War I did not cause inflation such as resulted in the recent War.

Henry Ford's revolutionary minimum wage of Five Dollars per day was still higher pay than most skilled laboring men received. Business profits were low in the same proportion.

All the more remarkable for this reason was generous giving manifested in St. Paul's parish in the years 1921 and 1922 when the American dollar was worth almost 100 cents, but unbelievably scarce.

Looking forward to the building of the School, a Lawn Festival in 1921 netted the sum of $13,500.00 . To promote this undertaking, the curates of the church ran up many hundreds of miles on the speedometers of their bicycles, the customary mode of travel for their state in life in those days.

The great financial promotion took place in the following year when the school building was partly completed.

A call was made by Father McCabe on Sunday May 21st for men of the parish to meet on Thursday May 25th, to make plans to finance a convent for the Sisters and to make a large payment on the new school building. The enlarging of a house already owned would cost more than $15,000.00 to make it into a becoming convent building.

A meeting of men was large and enthusiastic. A decision was reached to hold a parish drive for the needed funds, It was announced the following Sunday that the sum of $12,000.00 had been pledged at the meeting and measures were taken to form a men's appeal committee to visit all homes.

A second meeting was called for men and women to meet on May 29th. The spirit manifested was truly wonderful. The first drive committee of 45 men was formed to visit parishioners' homes in pairs to receive donations and pledges which might run into a six month's period.

It was shortly announced that there were already donations - four of $1000, three of $500, fifteen of $200, four of $150, one of $325, forty-two of $100, one of $60, twenty-five of $-50, twenty-eight of $25; that is, a total of $15,500, by 123 families. Visits by this men's committee were begun on June 26th.

By Sunday, June 11th, the total pledges amounted to $22,540, by June 18th to $25,540. Three months later all but $2500 of a total of $26,000 had been paid on the pledges made.

The men's committee formed in 1922, with necessary substitutions and additions is the same which has made the parish visits for all the diocesan appeals since that year. These include Diocesan High School Fund in 1923, 1923 and 1925 and twenty-nine Catholic Charity Fund Appeals.

The eloquent pastor frequently spoke of the need of the new Church for God's glory, and the increasing needs of the congregation. The 770 souls of 1907 had become 3200 in 1923, when the first, curate, Rev. Patrick S. Canning, was appointed by Bishop Hickey to be senior curate to Rev. Louis J. Deady, aged pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Pawtucket. In his place Rev. Patrick W. McHugh, assistant at St. Joseph's Church, Newport, was appointed senior assistant to Fr. McCabe.

Father McHugh, at St. Paul's, directed the brief but moving Passion Play, "The Upper Room" every Sunday evening during Lent in St. Paul's School auditorium.


Two indoor Bazaars were held for the school debt fund in 1924 and 1925. Soon the debt was greatly reduced and by 1927 meetings were being held, looking forward to the erection of the great church. The Bishop, Most Rev. William A. Hickey, approved the project and the architectural firm of Ambrose Murphy was soon ready to submit the main plan of the church to be erected on the corner lot reserved for it since 1907. The architects and draughtsmen of the firm were working hard on the specifications of the church which the first pastor hoped to be the equal of any church in the diocese of Providence. Many thousands of people maintain that he succeeded. But as Cardinal Gibbons said after the first decades of the Catholic University of America, the rains of sorrow and adversity beat upon it before the sunshine of success brightened the day. Father McCabe was to face the anguish of the great depression just after the completion of the great church at its high cost. In the 1950's, in this era of easy spending, how few remember or wish to be reminded of the depression twenty-five and twenty years ago.