Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, February 25, 2018

125_StAnneArchbishop Henry J. Mansell blesses the recently restored baptismal font at St. Anne Church in Waterbury as part of the parish’s 125th anniversary celebration. From left are Deacon Carl Gerstung; Father Michael Carlson, temporary administrator; Father Jeffrey V. Romans, secretary to the archbishop and assistant chancellor; and Archbishop Mansell. (Photo by Mary Chalupsky)

 

 

WATERBURY – Descendants of some of the original families of St. Anne Parish were among those who gathered Aug. 7 for the 125th anniversary of the founding of the parish with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Henry J. Mansell.

 

During his homily, Archbishop Mansell praised the beauty of the French Gothic church as a "special gift" for everyone to enjoy … including the thousands of motorists who pass by the church at the intersection of Route 8 and I-84 every day – more people, he noted, than pass by the famous St. Anne de Beaupré Shrine in Canada.

The archbishop also blessed the church’s baptistery.

"This is wonderful," said Lucille Delage, who added that her family’s affiliation with St. Anne’s goes back five generations and that relatives also attended the parish’s 75th anniversary.

Noting that the church has been the site for countless family baptisms, confirmations, first Communions and weddings, she exclaimed, "It’s like I want to say out loud to everybody how happy and proud I am of our parish."

St. Anne Parish was organized in 1886 to serve Waterbury’s French and French-Canadian Catholics. But, it would take 36 years until the current church, built of granite and Vermont blue marble with its distinctive copper dome and two lofty spires, was completed.

Established as the fourth parish in Waterbury, the first St. Anne’s church was built in 1888-89 on Dover Street. Work began on the current church in 1906, with the exterior completed in one year. The parish began using the basement for services in 1912. Because of delays as a result of World War I and the need to raise funds, though, the new church wasn’t dedicated until 1922.

During its peak years, some 7,000 parishioners attended Mass there, and 1,000 students attended the school run by the Daughters of the Holy Spirit. Eventually, shifting demographics, including a drop in parishioners of French descent, led to a decline in attendance.

After the church survived fires in 1971 and 1978, work was undertaken in 1979 to repair the two spires and dome.

In 2006, along with a renovation of the church’s elegant "feminine-gothic" interior with silver accents, Archbishop Mansell breathed new life into the parish by initiating a move to transform the church into an archdiocesan pro-life shrine.

That year, the parish applied to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for national shrine status as the Shrine of St. Anne for Mothers, seating 1,400 people.

"Archbishop Mansell’s support of our parish has been nothing short of outstanding," said Roger Boucher, chair of the parish’s finance committee. His French-Canadian family reaches back three generations.

"Giving the parish the status of a shrine gave us something that we’ve been able to build upon," he said. "It’s been amazing to see everything evolve into a rebirth for the parish," he said.

In addition to the pro-life shrine that draws families from Avon, West Hartford and Sandy Hook, the parish also celebrates the feasts of St. Anne and St. John the Baptist in July with a French dinner; the French Boar’s Head Festival in January with medieval pageantry to mark the feast of the Holy Family; a music concert series under the direction of Jason Fontaine, parish music director; and a Mother’s Day Mass of Roses, according to Deacon Carl Gerstung. Father Michael Carlson serves as parish administrator.

Parishioners also provide tours of the church, which houses relics of the true cross and St. Anne.