Anonymous gift will fund All Saints renovation

Karin Friedemann, Special to the Reporter
Apr. 18, 2013

An unnamed foundation has pledged to cover the entire cost of restoring and renovating the elegant All Saints Church at Ashmont, an offer of unexpected generosity that is being hailed as a well-timed miracle for the historic building that has been called a “treasure house of Gothic Revival art” and whose details include the lovely carved wood and polychromed Shrine of Our Lady of Dorchester.

All Saints is widely acclaimed for its Choir of Men and Boys that professionally trains youth recruited from elementary schools primarily from Dorchester and surrounding neighborhoods to perform classical choral music for their church services. The building also serves as a meeting place for the Boston City Singers and many other music, arts, education, and community organizations.

All Saints was the first church designed by the young architect Ralph Adams Cram, who later designed stunning cathedrals in many other US cities including Detroit, Cleveland, and New York. All Saints Church is recognized by art historians as a masterpiece of the Gothic Revival style of architecture. Filled with world-class carving in wood and stone, the wood paneling in the chancel alone incorporates over sixty small sculptures by the master wood carver John Kirchmayer, whose widely recognized masterpiece is the carved oak Triptych in St. Mary’s Chapel.

This Episcopal church serves as a spectacular showcase for the work of many more 19th century artists who contributed paintings, icons, and metalwork, and designed building elements such as the stained glass windows:

Originally a mission of St. Mary’s Church in Dorchester, the Parish of All Saints was founded in 1867 to serve Church of England workers in Lower Mills who worked for the Old Colony Railroad and other local industries. In 1882 the wood frame church was physically relocated a mile north on Dorchester Avenue, near its present location and on the site of the current Ashmont Station. 

The “Brief History of the Parish of All Saints” tells the beautiful story of how Colonel Oliver and Mary Lothrop Peabody of Milton ended up worshipping at this modest wooden church in Dorchester, although they had actually intended to attend services at King’s Chapel in downtown Boston, which is now a popular stop along the Freedom Trail: 
“On the Feast of the Holy Innocents in 1879, Colonel Oliver and Mary Lothrop Peabody, prominent Boston Unitarians, boarded their horse-drawn carriage to attend services at King’s Chapel. They journeyed in the sorrow borne of the recent death of their only child, Amelia.

“As they descended Adams Street from their Milton Hill home, the heavens opened and heavy snow began to swirl about. Their driver, concerned about the balance of the trip, suggested they attend his church, All Saints. The Peabodys agreed. They sat unobtrusively in the back of the church. Father Bennitt, then Rector, preached a sermon about the Holy Innocents. It struck a particularly resonant chord for the Peabodys, for they too had recently lost a child.

“The next Sunday the Peabodys returned to All Saints. This time they stayed for the entire service, and when they left, Colonel Peabody pressed a princely sum for the poor into the hand of the stunned rector. The Peabodys did not return to King’s Chapel. They received instruction, and were confirmed.” 

Soon after joining the church, the Peabodys donated the $100,000 balance needed to build the gorgeous stone building which now stands on Ashmont Street at Dorchester Ave. 

The magnificent edifice made from Quincy granite and Nova Scotia limestone that graces Peabody Square was begun in 1892 and consecrated by Bishop Lawrence on November 24, 1895. Now over 120 years old, the building is in immediate need of comprehensive repair and restoration. The Rector, Fr. Michael Godderz, reports: “With the help of significant foundation funding, the Parish has assembled a nationally-known and highly respected team of architects, consultants, and contractors to plan for and oversee the careful restoration of the buildings beginning in the spring of 2013.”

However, as a condition of this generous gift covering all restoration expenses, the anonymous donor is requiring the Parish to raise $500,000 in order to create a source of funds for the ongoing maintenance of the church buildings after they are restored. These funds will be matched three to one by the foundation, creating a $2,000,000 capital maintenance fund “to help ensure the long-term preservation of All Saints’ historic buildings for use by future generations.”

In order to meet this challenge, All Saints has launched a capital campaign to raise the $500,000 needed to create The Parish Preservation Fund. This is an ambitious goal for the Parish, whose membership already struggles with the regular costs of church services. The All Saints fundraising campaign is therefore reaching out to everyone, regardless of religious interest or affiliation, who wants to play a part in preserving this historical landmark that not only plays a critical role in its Dorchester community but is also a nationally significant architectural treasure. 

As Capital Campaign Manager and long-time Dorchester activist Jeffrey Gonyeau notes, “We are well on our way to achieving 100% participation from within in the Parish, and have also received generous donations from many other friends and supporters. In fact, as of Easter Sunday, we have reached the $400,000 milestone toward our minimum $500,000 goal. We are hoping that the Dorchester community will rally behind this effort and show its support, as well, since All Saints is such a vital center of community programming and civic activity in Dorchester.”

For information about contributing to the campaign, please e-mail or call the Parish at 617-436-6370.