St. Theresa’s first Mass celebrated in a South Attleboro diner 90 years ago

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By Linda Andrade Rodrigues
Anchor Correspondent
seaskyandspirit.blogspot.com

SOUTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. — In her autobiography, “The Story of a Soul,” St. Theresa of Lisieux wrote, “I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth.”

Her namesake, St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Parish, is testament to the good works performed through her intercession by the faithful people of the congregation for the past 90 years.

Concluding a week-long anniversary celebration at the church, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., presided at Holy Mass, concelebrated by the pastor, Father Jon-Paul Gallant, V.F., and assisted by Deacon Rick Varieur.

“We are blessed to welcome you here on the day of our actual founding,” said Father Gallant to the gathering. “The first Sunday Mass at St. Theresa’s was celebrated on Oct. 4, 1925 — of course, not in this church or in the old church but in the diner down the road.”

The parish was named after the newly-canonized saint and officially opened on her feast day. The first Mass was celebrated in the only space available at the time, a local diner owned by Charles O’Conner, at the corner of Bacon and Washington streets.

Responding to the requests of several ethnic groups, Bishop Daniel Feehan, the second Bishop of the Diocese of Fall River, assigned Father Joseph LaRue the task to create a single parish for the area, welcoming people of one faith and many languages. With the assistance of Sacred items loaned by St. Joseph’s Church in Attleboro, Father LaRue celebrated that first Mass on a showcase in the diner.

“Bishop Feehan was a real person, not just a high school,” added Father Gallant, and the congregation chuckled.

His first visit to the parish, Bishop da Cunha admitted that he was unaware that the diocese extended so far to the northwest.

“I didn’t know the other side of Route 195, near the border of Rhode Island; but if you are from Rhode Island, you are welcome too,” he said, laughing. 

In his homily Bishop da Cunha noted that the Sunday morning readings focused on Marriage and family, just as Pope Francis was opening a Synod on the Family at the Vatican. 

“We need each other, and we celebrate together because none of us were made to be alone,” he said.

He reflected on the life of St. Theresa, whose parents, Louis and Zelie Martin, are to be canonized at the conclusion of the synod.

“A holy family made a holy child,” he said. 

He also emphasized the importance of the family as the “domestic Church,” where the faith is transmitted from generation to generation, just as it has been transmitted through 90 years of parish life at St. Theresa’s.

“How many people have encountered God here?” he wondered. “We remember we are not alone, and we must share our time, our faith, our prayers. St. Theresa mirrors that so beautifully, reaching out to others with her little ways.”

He acknowledged that no one present in the church had been present at the first Mass in the parish, and that with the exception of the young children, none would be present 90 years from now — yet the faith would continue if we continue to witness it in our families and parishes. 

He noted that St. Theresa is the patroness of missionaries even though she never left her convent during her religious life. Likewise, we are all called to be missionaries of the faith in our families and parishes, even if we never travel to the ends of the earth. All we need do, the bishop urged, is to look up from our electronic devices and pray together, worship together, and experience the love of family together.

Following the celebration of Mass, Bishop da Cunha joined with a group of more than 200 parishioners in the lower parish hall for lunch and a “birthday” cake celebrating the occasion. Several parish groups presented the bishop with Spiritual bouquets. 

“I could see there is a real sense of welcoming and community and a very positive atmosphere that makes you feel at home,” he said.

Dominic Berardi of South Attleboro has been a parishioner of St. Theresa’s for 62 years. 

“I built my house here in 1952, and all my kids were baptized and confirmed here,” he said.

Matthew and Maire Magliozzi live in North Attleboro and drive an extra 20 minutes each week to celebrate Mass at his childhood parish.

“This is the church I grew up in, where I had First Communion, and I got married here last year, so St. Theresa’s has always been home to me,” he said. “Like the bishop said during his homily, the Church is another family. It always feels like home.” 

© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts