IN THE BEGINNING…
In 1798, Father Tisserant, a Roman Catholic priest and refugee from the French Revolution lived with the Bellasis family in Wethersfield serving as a tutor. He was the first Catholic priest in our town to perform religious services such as baptisms.
In 1876, Reverend Lawrence Walsh of St. Peter’s Church organized the Sacred Heart of Jesus parish, the first Catholic parish in Wethersfield. Masses were held in private homes. In 1877,Sacred Heart became a mission church of St. Mary’s in East Hartford and later a mission church of St. Lawrence O’Toole’s in Hartford. In 1880, a church was constructed on Garden Street to accommodate the growing number of Catholics in Wethersfield. In 1897, Sacred Heart became an independent parish. In 1924, the church site was moved to Hartford Avenue and the old church was used as a community center.
During the next ten years, the parish experienced considerable growth, but was marred by tragedy when, in August of 1938 the Hartford Avenue church was swept by fire. Reverend George M. Grady, then pastor of Sacred Heart, Transferred the church temporarily back to Garden Street and, at the same time purchased an extensive tract of land on the Silas Deane Highway for the construction of a new church. The cost of the land was approximately $5,550. It has been said that the land had to be purchases in the name of a parishioner as intermediary because of “Yankee Resistance” to a Catholic endeavor. It was decided that the new church was to be a mission church of Sacred Heart instead of a replacement and given the title “Church of Corpus Christi”. Because of Wethersfield’s historic background, Major John J. McMahon designed Corpus Christi in the Georgian Colonial architectural style and construction of the church was completed in 1939 at a cost of $125,000. The Church of Corpus Christi was dedicated on November 26, 1939 with Bishop McAuliffe leading the solemn high dedication Mass. The guest speaker, reverend Thomas Duffey, supervisor of the Holy Cross Band in Notre Dame, Ind. commented, “People will come here hungry and go away filled with food from Heaven.”
Although some suggest that Corpus Christi was an independent parish at the time of its dedication in 1939, most agree that it was truly established in September of 1941 with the first baptism of David Gianetti occurring on September 25,1941. The first wedding followed shortly after with Clyde Nathan Simpson taking Kathleen V. Kelleher as his bride on October 4, 1941. The first pastor of Corpus Christi was Reverend Francis E. Nash who arrived in 1941.
As the parish flourished through the 1940’s and into the late 1950’s parishioners urged Reverend Nash to build a parochial school. Through various fundraising activities of the parishioners, the school and convent were constructed in 1960 at a cost of $830,000. The 1960’s were a decade of great physical, social and spiritual changes in our parish. The parish family continued to grow steadily and it became apparent that expansion was needed once again. In 1963 Archbishop Henry O’Brien announced the creation of a third Roman Catholic parish, to be known as the Church of the Incarnation.
The new church was built on Prospect Street and was completed in 1965. The 1960’s ended with a change in pastoral leadership – the retirement of Father Nash in 1968. Father Nash was succeeded by Reverend Robert W. Shanley who was pastor until his sudden death in June of 1983
In September 1983 the new concept of team ministry was instituted at Corpus Christi with the appointment of Co-Pastors Reverend Thomas B. Campion and Reverend James M. Moran. They immediately became known for their warm, friendly greetings to parishioners at Sunday Liturgy and their commitment to the further development of parish clubs and activities. In 1989 Reverend David W. Lonergan joined the parish as co-pastor with Reverend Campion. Reverend Lonergan previously served for 11 years as the Catholic Chaplain at Trinity College and the University of Hartford.
A family is a loving bond with all members working as one. For 60 years, the parish family of Corpus Christi, one Body in Christ has shared this bond in times of joy, sorrow and difficulty. We continue moving forward together in prayer, as clergy and laity, in renewed faith, hope and service to one another.