The only Catholic Church in Acushnet , Massachusetts , St. Francis Xavier Parish began as a mission in 1906 under the care of the Very Rev. Bernard Pierson, SS.CC, Superior of the Sacred Hearts Monastery in Fairhaven and Father Charles DeBaetselier, SS.CC. Previously in 1905, the Fall River Diocese’s first bishop, Most Reverend William Stang DD invited three Sacred Hearts Fathers to come to America . They came from a French order founded in Paris in 1800. It was these same priests who became the Congregation of Fathers of the Sacred Hearts in Fairhaven and who started the mission in Acushnet. At that time, however, there was no church building so services were held in a transformed grain and feed store. The location of this particular store is where the first church was built. On January 1, 1911 , a new chapel was blessed by Bishop Daniel Feehan, Bishop of Fall River. Regular celebration of Mass and the Sacraments began on this day. The very first baptism recorded in the parish registers is dated 19 June 1910 , Joseph Arthur Bisaillon. On February 2, 1915 at night, a fire destroyed this first church. Services were held in the town hall of Acushnet for some time afterward.
Two months later, on April 7, 1915 , St. Francis Xavier mission became a parish. Father Seraphim Ooghe, SS.CC. was appointed the first pastor. Two short years after that, the basement of the present church was completed and the church was dedicated on April 9, 1916 by Bishop Daniel Feehan, Bishop of Fall River. By 1924, due to the large amount of parishioners and students of the parish school, the need for a new church building was obvious. The new church was designed by Joseph I. Higgins of Fall River , who also designed St. George Church in Westport , and was built over the existing basement church at a cost of $50,000. The new church was constructed of red brick with a red tile roof described by an earlier historian as being Romanesque architecture. The Stations of the Cross were taken from the old chapel and were hung in the new “upper church”. The church tower, as an accessory, has a large bell. In June of 1925, this new church was dedicated.
The basement church was then used for classrooms, which accommodated 350 pupils, and is still being utilized today as the Parish Offices, Hospitality Center and Religious Education classrooms.
At the request of Father Andrew Lariviere, SS.CC, the Dominican sisters started teaching in 1922 in Quonset huts, which were adjacent to the church and with the completion of the upper structure of the church in 1925, the 7th and 8th grades were added. In the 1960’s, Father Alexis Wygers, who was pastor form 1953-1963 began raising $250,000 for the new St. Francis Xavier Elementary School . In 1965, a new modern school building was opened at a cost of about $550,000. At present there are eight grades with pre-school and Kindergarten and a student enrollment of about 225.
The Dominican Sisters convent used to be Captain Shockley’s house, and in the niches along the stairs where there were once models of ships, there were statues of saints. The convent was a summer home for many of the out of town sisters. On some summer nights, as many as 36 sisters would sleep in the summer house, some having to sleep on the front porch. On the 60 acres of land the convent originally owned, the sisters would plant vegetables and pick fruit to preserve them. Some were sent to the mother house in Fall River , and some were kept in Acushnet. The convent no longer houses any occupants, but acts as a storage space for the Parish and School.
In 1976 a new Rectory was built near the church and the old rectory property was sold to the New Bedford Institution for Savings Bank. It now is the Acushnet Federal Credit Union.
In 1996 the Congregation of the Sacred Heart Fathers turned the parish over to the Diocese. In 1996, Fr. Paul Caron was named the first Diocesan priest as Pastor In 2000 the Rev. Richard Beaulieu succeeded Fr. Paul Caron until April 18, 2001 when the Rev. Daniel W. Lacroix was named Pastor. This was Fr. Lacroix’s first pastorate; he was formerly the parochial vicar of St. Mary’s Mansfield. On June 25th, Monsignor Gerard O'Connor became the Pastor and continues to serve the parish.
Copyright 2012 St. Francis Xavier Elementary School. All rights reserved.