Old St. Mary Roman Catholic Church
The oldest Roman Catholic church in New Hampshire, St. Mary's was erected in 1823-24 under the supervision of the Rev. Virgil H. Barber. A former Episcopalian, he was the son of the Rev. Daniel Barber, a rector of nearby Union Church.
St. Mary's is difficult to describe stylistically, although most of its
features are Federal. Wooden urns (probably not original) are used at the
and on the rectangular tower, the loft of which is decorated by unglazed
bull's-eye windows. Triangular relieving arches above many of the windows
beginnings of the Gothic Revival in the region. The Rev. Barber used the
first floor as a chapel and the second as a high school. Irregularities in
of the south wall show where the church was once connected to the Barber
residence next door.
"Old St. Mary's" was the first Roman Catholic church in New Hampshire, and is, of course, the oldest Catholic building in the state. It was erected in 1823 by The Rev. Virgil H. Barber (d. 1847), the son of The Rev. Daniel Barber. Daniel Barber resigned as Rector of Union Church across the road when he "embraced" the Roman Catholic faith in 1818.
Following ordination, Virgil Barber was sent to his hometown of Claremont in 1822. He made three trips to Canada to collect funds for the architecturally-unusual brick building. An older two-story frame house attached to the south side of the church for nearly a century was the home of Daniel Barber. Father Barber lived on the upper floor, connected to the schoolroom above the church, and Academy students lived on the lower floor. In this first Catholic school in the state, several prominent early churchmen were educated. The Academy was also patronized by Protestants and continued after Father Barber left.
Father Barber administered the sacraments to some 150 parishioners in a large area which included eastern Vermont. In 1827, he began work with the Penobscot Indians in Maine, and was later at Georgetown College. "Old St. Mary's" was a mission of St. Bernard's Church, Keene, in the middle of the century, at which time the faithful from as far as Newport walked to services. In 1876, the buildings were offered for sale, but evidently remained the property of the parish, which had erected the present church on Central Street in 1870. The old church decayed during fifty years of use as a cemetery tool shed, and the original furniture has disappeared.
More than $30,000 was raised by the Knights of Columbus throughout New Hampshire, and in 1965, Bishop Primeau presided at ceremonies celebrating the restoration of the building. C. John Young of Claremont has served for many years as a devoted custodian and historian of the church.
The earliest graves in the adjoining St. Mary's Cemetery are near the church and unmarked.
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