was Boston's first Catholic neighborhood parish.
The original location opened in 1829 on Richmond Street (now Old Rutherford Avenue) between Austin and Union Streets where the ice rink now sits. In 1840 the church was enlarged from its original 120 pews, but was still a tight fit for the growing Irish Catholic population.
The burgeoning parish found a site on Warren Street where building commenced in 1887. The new St. Mary’s, built to seat 1,200 parishioners, opened five years later.
This church's magnificence is reminiscent of a full-on cathedral and was one of the last important works of Patrick C. Keely--oft-considered America's most prolific church architect.
Keely designed a tremendous hammer beam oak ceiling for St. Mary’s, which eliminates the need for columns. As a result, all parishioners have an unobstructed view. The tremendous ceiling gives St. Mary's services the feel that attendees are safely traveling together, as if on a slow-moving boat. Keely also rendered the twelve angels that appear to be holding up the beams.
This organ, built in 1892, with over 3,000 pipes, is the largest instrument ever built by Woodberry & Harris of Boston. The on-off switch is the only electric component: it's otherwise operated by wood, metal, and air. The pipes have never been altered and, at 117 years-old, the organ is still used for about 300 services annually. In 1997 it received a citation from the Organ Historical Society.
The stained glass windows tell the story of Mary and her role in Jesus’s life. They were designed by Franz Mayer of Munich and were made from hundreds of hand-blown glass pieces. The colors were produced by adding different metal oxides to the glass while it was still molten. Since the colors are part of the glass, they never fade. Still, it's thought that they somehow mellow with age.
The Stations of the Cross were sculpted by Joseph Sibbel, also responsible for the statue of St. Patrick at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. The brass light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, meanwhile, are the 1890's originals. They're fitted to run on either gas or electricity.
- Where is St. Mary's?
55 Warren Street
- When was it built?
Between 1887 and 1893
- Who built it?
Patrick Keely, architect (1816-1896). Keely was a prolific Irish-American architect of more than 700 Roman Catholic Churches. He also designed St. Francis de Sales Church on Bunker Hill Street.
- What was it built for and who was the first occupant?
For worship; for the parishioners from the first St. Mary’s.
- Why was it built?
To provide a place of worship for a growing Charlestown Irish Catholic population.
- How was it built?
Of granite, in ‘pointed’ Tudor-Gothic style.
- What are the future plans for the structure?
In 2006 St. Mary’s and St. Catherine of Sienna merged to form one parish. St. Catherine’s, built in 1887 on Vine Street, is for sale. The newly formed St. Mary-St. Catherine of Sienna parish worships in St. Mary’s church. In 2008 the parish initiated a capital campaign and one of its goals is to complete the St. Catherine of Sienna Chapel in St. Mary’s lower church, and hope to integrate as much of the original artifacts from St. Catherine’s as possible.
Information for this article was compiled through information from ‘The Churches in Charlestown: An Historical Sketch’ by Carl Zellner, www.stmarystcatherine.org, and interview.