Dear Parishioners and Friends,
Here are a few points of history relating to our very special parish. The primary source of this information is Catholic Pittsfield by Katherine F. Mullany and our parish Centennial Book written and edited by Kevin O’Hara.
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The History of the Parish
In exploring the history and people of Saint Charles Parish our fourth pastor, Father William J. Dower, is worthy of many remembrances. It was Father Dower who first inaugurated a public celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ, in the City of Pittsfield. On the octave of the feast in 1905, the Blessed Sacrament was carried outside in procession before Mass was celebrated to honor this central truth and gift of our faith. By 1908, the observance of Corpus Christi had taken on greater proportion with the praying of Vespers and with a full procession including all the school children, all the members in every parish society and many parishioners. The line of march extended from Briggs Avenue to Wahconah Street, returning to the lawn of the church where an outdoor altar was erected for the Mass. This manifestation of faith continued annually for many years.
History often contains more than the gift of memory. It often contains the realization of some great truth that has been “misplaced” along the way. Certainly, the Saint Charles Parish Community of former years calls us to renew our dedication to the Blessed Sacrament and to our public witness to this great gift of Jesus. Eucharist means “thanksgiving”. We need to renew our sense of thanksgiving for the gifts of faith and love bestowed on us. Processions are in our lives every day as we walk among many people carrying in our very souls the Body and Blood of Christ as a benediction for ourselves and for others.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a People of God’s own so that you may announce the praises of Him who called you out of the darkness into the light.” (1 Peter 2:9) With these words every child receives the mark of his or her baptism.
Throughout the ages, the words of Saint Peter resonate into the very soul of each person baptized in the Roman Catholic Church. These words of blessing and anointing are a gift, a challenge, and a commitment to each Christian. It seems fitting and prophetic that the key phrase of this message should be integrated with the beautiful facade of Saint Charles and used as a logo, a symbol of the parish.
To be called by God to a leadership role and a sacrificial role is a blessing. We look no further than the daily newspaper to recognize our call to be a people of faith and of peace. We, as a nation, and as a part of the greatest global Church history has ever known, offer ourselves with the crucified Christ and with the Eucharistic Christ to be the most loving, the most charitable people the world has ever known. And we as a parish form a vital body of believers offering a welcome, a hope, a faith; true light to all who wish to share the gift of God’s love. May this logo announce our call to witness to Christ as “a chosen race”; may it challenge us constantly to be another Christ, a “royal priesthood” to all, and may it remind us of the legacy of former faithful parishioners who left us a sacred dwelling place in which “to announce the praises of God who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light” to meet Christ and one another.
Have you ever wondered how Saint Charles Borromeo received its name?
On November 4, 1893, the Feast of Saint Charles Borromeo, our first pastor, Reverend Charles J. Boylan, arrived in Pittsfield. A building called the Coliseum, or Rink occupied the site where the convent building now stands. Gathering a group of area residents together on November 5, Father announced the name of the new parish. The first Mass was celebrated in the Rink on the following Sunday, November 12. Somehow the area which was to be the site of the church had come to be known as “Evening side Hill”. As the evening bells now resound from the bell tower, let us raise our evening song of prayer and praise in loving memory of these faith-filled pioneers and their pastor who laid the foundation for our present church, Saint Charles Borromeo, and our community of faith.
Have you often wondered why the stairs leading to the main church are imposing but, also, very high compared to many other churches?
Ground for our beautiful church, Saint Charles Borromeo, was broken on May 20, 1894 and within seven months the first Mass was celebrated in the finished basement. Aware that the depression made further building too great a burden for his people, Father Boylan and the builder attempted to make the basement as “church. like” as possible. For the next four years, the parish community of Saint Charles gathered to worship. In 1898 the present church was built up and over the firm foundation that had served as a church for four years.
Take a minute at your leisure to explore the many vestiges of the early days. The graceful windows shine brightly as light pours onto the supporting poles and into the arched north exit which once framed the statues of St. Therese and St. Joseph. The platform area once was the sanctuary. In the rear area once used for vesting, visitors can see the outline of a small fireplace used to warm the sacristy on cold Berkshire mornings. Observe the front of the church closely and note the shape of the original doorways now bricked in with only the keystone giving witness to former days.
Take a moment to see with new eyes the foundation of this beautiful church of Saint Charles Borromeo and: in your prayers, offer thanks for our founding families whose strength of faith infused every brick with their love of God. We live their spirit into the present coupled with our own.
Did you know that all bells are given a name to give them “voice”?
When our beautiful church was completed, there was a lofty bell tower standing as a sentinel of God’ s presence yet, in the tower , there was no bell to give voice to the hours of prayer and celebration.
Our second pastor, Father William H. Goggin, (notice the remembrance of him on the Crucifixion window behind the high altar) enlisted the aid of two parish founders, Mr. P. P. Curtin and Mr. James W. Sheehan, who donated the funds necessary for a bell. To them was given the pleasure and privilege of naming this new sound on “Nobility Hill” and they chose the names of their beloved wives, Maria and Julia. From the day of its blessing and ascendancy, our bell, named for these two women of the faith, proclaims the moment of another woman’s faithfulness to God so long ago: “The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary…”. It’s solemn toll mourns with those who mourn yet lifts the spirit and the hope of the faithful. Each rich tone faithfully calls all to the Eucharistic celebration of Jesus in union with all of God’s people.
As the freedom bell of our Independence celebration peals throughout the land on the 4th of July let us be mindful and grateful to God for our great nation. Let us also give thanks to God for the freedom to ring from our St. Charles Church tower an instrument of our voices which resounds to the heaven. Maria and Julia continue to ring out loud and clear that we are a people of faith, a people of joy and a people of freedom. Thanks be to God!!!
As we reflect on the beautiful church handed down to us we are drawn to the reflection of light which radiates on us through the stained glass windows. Central to each window is a symbol of our great faith. The Eucharist and chalice, the Cross and the crown and other symbols reminds us of Jesus’ great love in suffering and in sacrament. The forty shades of green enhancing each window replicates a sign of heritage shared by many of the Irish who built the church. Characteristic to each window is the lovely Gothic arch gracefully bringing the eye heavenward.
The circular window in the choir loft opens the interior of the church and defines the embracing welcome to all. Without a doubt, no detail which would enhance our devotion, our faith and our comfort was left undone.
Let us take time to appreciate the gift of each window, the light of God’s love which shines through and the donors and those who restored each window in remembrance of loved ones. Our faith is light to the world, let it shine!
Often we pass by a city site without realizing its historical significance. For example, Briggs Avenue is intended to remind us that General Henry S. Briggs led the first unit of the Army from Western Massachusetts answering the call from President Lincoln in 1861.
In our parish history we find a remnant of the fabric of our lives in the naming of Charles Street. Here on the corner of North and (now) Charles Street was the first rectory purchased by Father Boylan. Formerly known as the Noble House, Father opened the rectory for daily Mass until the church was available thus establishing God’s presence to the parameters of the parish and beyond.
Of great significance, Dower Square stands on Wahconah Street as a life-giving remembrance of our fourth pastor, Reverend William I. Dower. It was Father Dower who walked the neighborhood ministering to the poor with great acts of charity. In 1916 he established a parish charter for the Saint Vincent de Paul Society. We can only guess at the works of charity that emanated from this organization inspired by the compassionate ministry of Father Dower. Father died on May 20, 1926 but his caring was not forgotten. In 1976, the City of Pittsfield chose to honor him with the naming of the new housing complex at the foot of the hill. To this day, many enjoy a warm home known collectively as Dower Square.
The present day St. Charles Pantry and charitable donations continue to make our parish St. Vincent de Paul Fund a caring, compassionate tribute to the past and to the present parish community. What a rich tradition of caring!
It may be a simple thing to notice but it is a small wonderment that the three stairs from the road to the sidewalk across from the church lead only to a lawn. From our parish history we learn, however, that those little stairs led directly to the front door of the former convent building. As a preparation for the building of Saint Charles School, Father Dower purchased twelve building lots, one of which was converted into a convent for the ten Sisters of Saint Joseph who would arrive in the summer of 1924.
The house built for a single family around the turn of the century would provide housing for the Sisters until a fund was established in 1957 to build a convent to accommodate twelve Sisters ministering in the school. On September 12, 1959 ground was broken for the new convent. The design of the new building literally wrapped around the standing structure until the Sisters could move into the new edifice in October of 1960.
Take time to notice these simple stairs which now lead to a stone memorial on the north lawn. Many Sisters moved prayerfully and happily back and forth from the convent to join in prayer with the congregation they loved so much. The monument and school stones in memory of the faculty and students of Saint Charles School invite us to pause and whisper a prayer of thanksgiving for all that has been. Stairs too always lead us to newness of life! The convent building now serves as a vibrant center for our young students and for pastoral ministry.
In exploring the history and people of Saint Charles Parish our fourth pastor, Father William J. Dower, is worthy of many remembrances. It was Father Dower who first inaugurated a public celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ, in the City of Pittsfield. On the octave of the feast in 1905, the Blessed Sacrament was carried outside in procession before Mass was celebrated to honor this central truth and gift of our faith. By 1908, the observance of Corpus Christi had taken on greater proportion with the praying of Vespers and with a full procession including all the school,children, all the members in every parish society and many parishioners. The line of march extended from Briggs Avenue to Wahconah Street, returning to the lawn of the church where an outdoor altar was erected for the Mass. This manifestation of faith continued annually for many years.
History often contains more than the gift of memory. It often contains the realization of some great truth that has been “misplaced” along the way. Certainly, the Saint Charles Parish Community of former years calls us to renew our dedication to the Blessed Sacrament and to our public witness to this great gift of Jesus. Eucharist means thanksgiving. We need to renew our sense of thanksgiving for the gifts of faith and love bestowed on us. Processions are in our lives every day as we walk among many people carrying in our very souls the Body and Blood of Christ as a benediction for ourselves and for others.