For the better part of the 20th century, Dorchester and Mattapan had a strong identification as a Roman Catholic enclave. At the beginning of the Civil War, there were no Catholic churches in the town of Dorchester. But from 1850 to 1870, the population swelled by more than 50 percent, and in 1863 St. Gregory Parish was formed in Lower Mills to serve the growing number of Catholics in the town.
By 1929, another ten Catholic parishes had been formed, as an influx of immigrants from Ireland and Italy swelled our town’s population to more than 200,000. By mid-century, Dorchester/Mattapan was said to be the second most populous neighborhood in the city; indeed, it was considered the second largest metropolitan center in the state.
Today, even as the archdiocese of Boston undergoes a reconfiguration, and a smaller congregation population leads to consolidations and even closures, many of these historic parishes remain intact. One of them, St. Ambrose, which was founded in December 1914 to serve the flock in and around Fields Corner, is going to observe its 100th anniversary next month.
According to an updated parish history, the area for the new parish of a century ago was taken from the southeastern part of St. Peter Parish and the church was sited on a 36,000-square-foot lot of land at Adams and Dickens streets in a neighborhood once known as Dalrymple Junction and later re-named Fields Corner after a general store in the area once operated by two brothers, Isaac and Enos Field. Their store is now the site of a Store 24.
The first parish mass was celebrated Dec. 20, 1914 in the Park Theatre at the corner of Dorchester Avenue and Park Street. It took some ten years to design and build the church, and when it was dedicated in November 1924, with seating for 1,400, “the church struck many as another Notre Dame Cathedral [in Paris] with its twin towers. That church building was destroyed by fire in January 1984. The church was re-designed with a seating capacity of 450, with a groundbreaking ceremony in October 1985.
Father Dan Finn, the longtime pastor of St. Mark Parish who now doubles as pastor of St. Ambrose, told the Reporter this week that the centennial will take place on Sun., Oct. 5, with an 11 o’clock Mass, followed by celebratory meal at 1 p.m. meal at the IBEW hall on Freeport Street.
Fr. Finn has worked with parish staff and parishioners to produce a commemorative booklet about the history of St. Ambrose. The keepsake edition, to be distributed at the celebration, features a brief history, and some 22 personal stories told by members of the parish’s diverse community – priests and sisters who worked there, natives of the Dominican Republic, Ireland, Vietnam and other nationalities who currently worship there.
Fr. Finn writes: “I express our grateful appreciation for the wonderful manifestations of God’s abundant blessings we have experienced in and through the parishioners during the first 100 years the life and times of our parish community.
“Countless dedicated parishioners, religious sisters, dedicated priests have ministered tirelessly to build St. Ambrose’s vibrant community of faith, hope and love in the heart of Dorchester.
“Today St. Ambrose is home to people of many nations primarily from Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Ireland, and Vietnam. Their energy and devotion along with our long time American-born parishioners light up our parish and keep the flame of faith burning brightly in our hearts and community. But in a larger sense, though we are many, we are one in Christ who is the light of the world.”
– Ed Forry