Archbishop Henry J. Mansell talks with Anita Raymond, baptized at St. Thomas in 1927, left; and Florence Triano, who was baptized there in 1915. (Photo by Mary Chalupsky)
SOUTHINGTON – With deep roots into its century and a half of history, St. Thomas Parish marked its 150th anniversary with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Henry J. Mansell on Sept. 19.
But for parishioners, it is their strong heritage, generations of parish family traditions and love of their faith-filled community that have made it a close-knit parish.
"It’s a wonderful parish," said Florence Triano, who was baptized at St. Thomas in 1915, and was confirmed, received her first holy Communion, was married, and then took part in the baptisms of each of her four children there. "We love it here. Everybody is so friendly. I feel so at home here."
Anita Raymond, another lifelong parishioner, also received all of her sacraments there, starting with her baptism in 1927. Her four children also were baptized there.
"It’s a wonderful parish and church," she said. "I love coming here. Every Sunday, I look forward to coming to Mass. It doesn’t matter how I feel. I say, ‘I’m going to church.’"
Following the Mass, parishioners enjoyed a reception with Archbishop Mansell in the school cafeteria. The parish also held a picnic on Sept. 26, and plans to have an anniversary gala on Nov. 13 at the Aqua Turf.
"We give God thanks and praise for the ways he has blessed us through the years," said Father Nicholas P. Melo, Pastor of St. Thomas, who accepted an apostolic blessing from Pope Benedict XVI on behalf of the parish council. He also received a proclamation from the Southington Town Council dedicating the month of September to St. Thomas Parish.
Organizations in the active parish, which hosts a popular Passion play every year, includes a Ladies’ Guild, pro-life ministry, Italian Rosary Society, Dominican Associates, men’s and women’s retreats, lap blanket ministry, prayer ministry, Knights of Columbus, Marriage Encounter, social justice, Small Christian Communities, stewardship, and a home and school association.
St. Thomas School, with 178 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade, opened in 1964 as a middle or junior high school to respond to the growing number of families in the Apple Valley.
Dan Valente, chairman of the parish council, clearly enjoyed the day.
"It’s just awesome," he said. "It’s remarkable to have everyone gathered as a parish family. It’s not only a faithful parish but a faith-filled parish. People here really believe and practice their faith."
As the oldest parish in Southington, St. Thomas dates back to 1852, when priests from Meriden began celebrating Masses in the homes of the predominantly Irish families that settled in the area.
A tract of land was purchased for $300 in 1859 on what today is Bristol Street, and a simple wood-framed church seating 300 people was dedicated in December 1860 as a mission church of St. Rose Parish in Meriden.
Two years later, it was made a self-sustaining parish with Father Thomas Drea as the first pastor.
Quickly outgrowing the small church, the parish added wings to either side of the church around 1867, which doubled its seating capacity.
In 1884, the parish purchased land for what today is St. Thomas Cemetery on Meriden Avenue; in 1885, it organized the first Knights of Columbus council in Southington. Today, Isabella Council 15 is the 11th oldest active council in the world; it celebrates its 125th anniversary this year.
In 1961, St. Thomas Parish was divided to form St. Aloysius Parish on Burritt Street and Mary Our Queen on Savage Street in Plantsville; and in 1970, it helped establish St. Dominic Parish. St. Thomas had also assisted with the establishment of Immaculate Conception Parish to serve the growing number of Polish families, who later built the existing structure on Summer Street in 1922.
Besides Father Melo, concelebrants were Msgr. Thomas Ginty, Fathers Joseph Pettit, Thomas Bennett, Arthur DuPont and John Cockayne, all of whom have served there; Father Harold Heinrich, in residence there; and Rev. John Blackall.