1800s to 2004: Building and Dedication

Picture2Written by and provided courtesy of Richard Heath

The Church of the Blessed Sacrament, in operation under the Boston Catholic Archdiocese from 1917 until 2004, was a campus church and the daughter of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Mission Church. The building was dedicated in the midst of WWI on June 11, 1917, at a ceremony attended by two thousand people including then Mayor James Michael Curley. The parish had begun operation in 1892 on the same land in a smaller chapel building.

The Church of the Blessed Sacrament began as a mission of the Redemptorist Fathers of Mission Church (located on Mission Hill in nearby Roxbury) in 1891. The Redemptorists were organized in Amalfi, Italy, in 1732 with a mission to serve the poor of Naples. In 1892 the Redemptorists built a mission chapel on Centre Street to serve the mostly German Catholics of the growing brewery, factory, and railroad working-class community south of Parker Hill between Centre and Heath Streets.

In 1891 the Fathers bought the three-acre estate of James Kenney, who owned three breweries on Heath and Terrace Streets. This property at Creighton and Centre Street included a large wood-frame house with an attached stable built about 1830. The land was originally the home and tavern of Phineas Withington who built his roadhouse home circa 1760 to serve travelers going on the Road to Cambridge (also known as Centre Street). After he sold the house in1805, the new owners built a new house, which the mission used as a chapel after it was purchased.

The church property backed up onto Sunnyside Street which had been built by the Workingman’s Building Association in 1889 as part of its thirteen-acre philanthropic housing development created and financed by Robert Treat Paine. One hundred and twelve wood-frame, single-family homes were built behind the Blessed Sacrament campus between 1889 and 1892. Link to JP Historical Society

The Blessed Sacrament chapel was razed a year later, in 1892, when a new building was built next to it called Columbian Hall (later St. Gerald’s).  It was a two-story, shingle-style building designed by F.Joseph Untersee, the architect of the Mission Church towers in 1910 and many other Catholic buildings in the United States. (Columbia Hall was later destroyed by fire, circa 1975.) In 1892 Blessed Sacrament became a separate parish independent of the Redemptorist Fathers.

The founding pastor was Rev. Arthur T. Connolly (1853–1933) who served until 1931. Father Connolly built Blessed Sacrament as a campus church because unlike the older St. Thomas and the later Our Lady of Lourdes churches, Blessed Sacrament owned one large, single lot unbroken by streets, like Mission Church. The three-story Colonial Revival rectory was built on this flat parcel at the corner of Creighton Street in 1894. A primary school was added in 1898, convent in 1896, Cheverus School in 1901, and St. Norbert School in 1926.

These buildings circled like stars around the great sun: the Charles Greco-designed Church of the Blessed Sacrament, built between 1910 and 1913. Fr. Connolly (who was elevated to Monsignor in 1927) wanted a great and beautiful church and he got it. It was “a superb example of early 20th century Italian Renaissance Revival ecclesiastical architecture . . . the finest in Boston” as Edward Gordon wrote on 1983 building inventory form for the Boston Landmarks Commission.

Charles R. Greco (1892–1963) designed Blessed Sacrament in a Latin cross plan with an octagonal belvedere dome ninety feet high, which has since been a landmark in Jamaica Plain. The building is approximately a half acre in size and is distinguished by one of the greatest church facades in Boston, which includes an entrance porch of two monumental Ionic columns sixty feet high supporting a pedimented attic. Under the pediment was set a gorgeous rosette stained glass window.  The prestigious professional magazine Architectural Forum featured the new church in its August 1917 issue. Greco liked the style; he used it again in a smaller plan for St. Matthew’s Church outside Codman Square in Dorchester in 1923.

The church was built at a cost of $115,000 which took three years to raise. In the end, the funds were apparently insufficient because the church was built without a basement. No expense was spared, however, for the fifteen magnificent stained glass windows designed and made by the Boston master glass artisan Charles Connick. The two largest windows were twenty-eight feet high and twelve feet wide. (In 2007 eleven windows were removed to the Sacred Heart Church in Weymouth.  Eleven have been photographed and are listed with dimensions on the web site for Lynn Hovey Studio as part of the Archdiocese of Boston Stained Glass Inventory.) The cornerstone was laid in a ceremony presided over by Cardinal William O’Connell on September 28, 1913, and the first mass was said in June 1917.

The church was closed in August 2004 and put up for sale by the Archdiocese of Boston on January 5, 2005.