A 150th Birthday for Saint Mary’s

Jane Lebak
Saint Mary’s Parish Celebrates a Century and a Half of History and Community
A banner over the front entrance welcomes visitors to St. Mary’s Parish during this milestone year.
Issue Date: 
April, 2020
Article Body: 

On November 29th, 2020, Saint Mary’s Parish in Holliston will be having its 150th birthday, and the parish has scheduled a whole year of activities to celebrate.
Reverend Mark Coiro, pastor of Saint Mary’s, is excited about this milestone anniversary. “Any anniversary is an opportunity for taking stock and for self-reflection. When we look at where we’ve come from, it invites us to look to where we’re going, at what we’re doing well, and at what we need to do better.”
This combination of introspection and celebration has led to a number of ways parishioners and the wider community can acknowledge the parish’s century and a half of service to the people of Holliston.
Betty Febo, parish librarian and chair of the anniversary committee, sees the anniversary not just about the parish as an institution but also as a community.
“It’s important to reflect back on why Saint Mary’s was established in the first place, what’s made it last so long, and why do people care so much—which is what makes it the vibrant place it is today.”
To that end, Febo is working on two major projects for the anniversary: a series of videos about the parish (co-created with fellow parishioner Virginia Calapa) and a book telling the parish’s history. Febo, who worked as a research librarian for twenty-five years with Wellesley College, sees the parish’s history not just as the details of who, what, and when, but rather as the story of the parish’s people. “There are people who have been here a long time, who have relatives who were some of the fist parishioners of St. Mary’s. It’s important that we remember our ancestors in faith who came before us.”
Father Mark also sees the community as central to the anniversary. “One of the most important things was that the anniversary not just be about us, but that we find ways to turn it into a blessing in the lives of other people. Maybe the best example of that is our decision to adopt a sister parish which we’ll enjoy a mutual prayer relationship with.” The sister parish is Saint Mary’s in Beit Sahour, Bethlehem. “We’ll offer material support of different kinds, too, and that will give us a chance to learn about life in a different country and culture.”
Many of the ministries at Saint Mary’s have outreach as a primary concern. Father Mark says, “Our middle school youth program has about two hundred fifty kids in it, and about twenty-five percent of that is non-Catholic. They sign up just as enthusiastically for the social outreach projects as they do for snow tubing or white water rafting. They’ll make four hundred sandwiches for the homeless, run BINGO nights or a prom night at Saint Patrick’s Manor. We run a cookie walk which raises several thousand dollars for the poor in Haiti, or send out a hundred fifty kids to Christmas carol at area nursing homes to bring cheer and the joy of youth to the elderly. That’s just one example of how just one group impacts the community.”
Many people in the area, Catholic or not, visit St. Mary’s for the music. Father Mark says, “Our concert series appeals to people of all backgrounds.” As part of the anniversary celebration, St. Mary’s is scheduled to hold a concert on May 22nd, featuring the Adult, Youth, and Children’s Choirs, plus a full orchestra.
In early February, St. Mary’s kicked off its anniversary celebrations with a three-day parish retreat, led by speaker and author Jon Leonetti. The next planned event was a pilgrimage to the Holy Land on March 6th, which would have included a visit to the sister parish, but that had to be postponed for one year due to COVID-19.
In May, Cardinal Sean O’Malley will have his first official visit to say Mass at St. Mary’s. Febo says, “Whenever you have a cardinal come to your parish, it’s special.”
The book of Saint Mary’s history will be available later this year. Febo says, “The people behind the history is the story I wanted to tell. I want to connect the original parishioners with the current parishioners to give our current parishioners a sense of pride in their parish. I’m hoping these connections make current parishioners feel like they’re part of the history.”
One of the treasures Febo is using for her book is the original ledger of Father Richard Quinlan, the founder of Saint Mary’s parish. Febo says, “A parishioner found it in an antique store, recognized it, bought it, and brought it to Father Mark as a donation.” The ledger contains details of everyday life in Saint Mary’s, with notations for work and other supplies, salaries, and financial donations. “It brings the story of Saint Mary’s to life.”
Major renovations were completed in 1995, adding two hundred seats to the church by adding the two transept wings. This past year, the parish reconfigured the pews to improve accessibility, with designated places for up to ten wheelchairs.
Father Mark says, “I think when a parish has existed and grown for a hundred fifty years, it gives a sense of stability to the community—a sense of tradition. There’s something about knowing Saint Mary’s is always there for you, and will always be there for you, that is comforting.”
For more information about Saint Mary’s, the various ministries, and a schedule of events, please visit https://stmarysholliston.com.