Stow Independent... Online
Oct. 12, 2011
St. Isidore Celebrates 50 Years
By Ann Needle
Stow’s Church of St. Isidore was founded in 1961, Roman Catholics were
enjoying a heyday of sorts in the US, with the nation’s first Catholic
president, John F. Kennedy, in the White House. Now celebrating its 50th
anniversary, St. Isidore has grown to be an integral part of Stow,
while reflecting the changing times in the town and beyond.
Today, St. Isidore is known as a mainstay of the Stow community. The
church hall hosts countless community groups and events, from Scout
meetings and exercise classes to Red Cross blood drives. Its pastor, the
Rev. David Doucet, is chaplain of the Stow Fire Dept.
But it wasn’t always that way. When the Archdiocese of Boston
purchased the land for the church from a local real estate agent, Stow
was a staunchly conservative, mostly Protestant place, according to St.
Isidore Deacon Charles Cornell.
“They had to buy it through a third party,” explained Cornell, who
moved to Stow with his family in the mid-1970s. Church records show the
land belonged to Harry and Ethel Herrick. “When the news came out, some
people in town were upset,” said Cornell.
Yet, it was the growth in the number of Catholic families in town
that prompted St. Isidore’s founding. Cornell recounted that most of the
Catholic families in Stow at the time attended St. Bridget’s Church in
Maynard, while some went to St. Michael’s in Hudson. St. Bridget’s
counted 115 Catholic families in Stow — a growth rate of 25% over four
years — enough to warrant their own parish.
Before St. Isidore, Stow Catholics “really didn’t gather as a
parish, they went to Mass and went home,” Cornell said. Longtime Stow
resident Beverly Benoit agreed, “I just brought my children to Sunday
school, and I went to Mass.”
Benoit and her clan were one of the founding families of the new Stow
parish, which was dedicated by Richard Cardinal Cushing on Dec. 31,
1961. Appropriately enough for what was a small, country town, St.
Isidore was named after the patron of farmers.
A Community Mainstay
It was the Rev. Charles Glennon, the first
long-term pastor of St. Isidore, that was key in winning over the town’s
acceptance of its new church, Benoit maintained. Glennon served at the
parish until 1969.
“Father Glennon walked into the town and overwhelmed everyone. Many
became extremely fond of him,” she said. “He knew how to handle people.
He just had a way about him that was very kind and understanding, the
greatest guy you ever wanted to meet. He was more than a priest, he was a
He also reached out to the town as a whole. After the former Hale
High School burned down, leaving the selectmen with nowhere to meet,
Glennon invited that group to use the parish hall, which they did.
Once the church was formed, the social opportunitues for parishioners
took root. Looking back at St. Isidore’s beginnings, Cornell offered,
“It was out of that spirit of anti-Catholic sentiment that the Parish
grew a social life.”
There was a Holy Name Society and Blessed Virgin Sodality, the
organizers behind card parties and parish dinners. Dances for the
teenagers were held regularly. The annual Christmas fair was always
packed, and the summer carnival — complete with amusement rides and
games — even more so. There even was a bowling league, which played at
the old Crowell Bowl, said Benoit.
Of course, parish life wasn’t all play. Members worked together to
rally around the running of the property. “When they first opened St.
Isidore, four of us were sent into Boston to buy towels, sheets,
linens,” Benoit recalled. “And a lot of us helped out with the cooking
and the cleaning [at the rectory]. I washed every window in that rectory
twice a year, as long as Father Glennon was there.”
Benoit had generous words for St. Isidore Custodian Arthur Gangne,
stressing that he made the church something the entire town could be
proud of while he served there from 1964 to 1974. “He kept the grounds
immaculate, it looked great all the time,” she said. “Any little thing
that broke in the church, Arthur fixed it. Before Easter, he waxed all
the floors, and he did it again at Christmas. That church just glowed.”
Meanwhile, the parish weathered changes through the years. The
convening of Vatican II in 1962 brought with it often dramatic changes,
such as conversion of the liturgy of Mass from Latin to English. But,
some of the more minor changes still were met with resistance.
Reminiscing about St. Isidore in the 1970s, Benoit noted that the pastor
at the time “wouldn’t take down the altar rail, though there were other
parishes doing that.”
Cornell recalled his arrival at the church in that decade. “It was
primarily an older parish; I was struck by that. We were the
‘conservative’ parish, so the people who were dissatisfied with the
‘liberals’ at St. Elizabeth’s [St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Acton] came
here,” he laughed.
The conservative tone began to change in the 1980s, “when we saw lots
and lots of families move into the town with kids,” Cornell said.
One of the church’s defining moments came in 2004, when the Archdiocese
put St. Isidore on the list of parishes to be “suppressed”, perhaps
becoming a chapel to another local parish. “As part of preparing for it,
we did a lot of introspection about what our parish is, what our role
is in the community,” Cornell recalled.
Luckily, the Archdiocese reversed its decision. But Cornell said the
experience was enlightening. “We have a clearer experience of who we
are than if we were not scheduled to be suppressed.”
asserted that most of the changes St. Isidore’s has seen have been for
the better. Talking about her role as a Sunday school teacher for 15
years, Benoit stressed that these changes have helped make today’s
students more outspoken and introspective about their faith.
Teaching her granddaughter’s class years ago, Benoit recalled how
the children would readily accept answers she provided regarding church
doctrine. But, by the end of her Sunday school career, “I could see then
that they wanted real answers,” Benoit observed.
In celebration of its 50th anniversary, St. Isidore plans to hold a
dinner/dance November 4, 6 pm, at Butternut Golf Club. For more
information, go to stisidorestow.org, or e-mail email@example.com.