First St. Mary’s Church

The picture of a proud Irish Mary Collins Stanley with her three boys Bill, Jim and Chick, taken over 100 years ago.

Plaque sponsored by Philip J. Shannon

Located at the intersection of Central Avenue & North Main Street

Once upon a time in Norwich, Irish immigrants fled to American to escape the “great hunger,” the Irish potato famine. Before the famine, many Irish had already settled in Norwich in this area now known as Greeneville. They built shanties along the railroad tracks in what they termed “Twomeyville,” and they earned the title of “Shanty Irish.” They were employed in great numbers to build the Norwich & Worcester Railroad. The Irish brought with them Catholicism, and in the early 1840s, Father James Fitton held Mass among the shanties, for there were few permanent building.

By 1843, the Irish Catholic population had grown sufficiently to require a church. The first Roman Catholic Church in Eastern Connecticut was in this very structure, consecrated in 1845, and remains a tribute to the settlers of Greeneville and the first St. Mary’s parish. By 1853, the Catholic population had increased to over 4,000, and St. Mary’s Church could no longer accommodate the many parishioners.

It was the Irish Catholics from Greeneville who funded the construction of St. Patrick’s Church, which is today St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This building was built to serve the first Catholic population in Norwich. Later, the Irish who fled the famine established themselves in their new world, Norwich. The Irish immigrant population later built for William Greene, about 1842, the mills in Greeneville where many were employed. Thereafter, the shanty town, “Twomeyville,” was officially known as Greeneville.

A Norwich native and parishioner of St. Mary’s, the Very Reverend William P. Brady was ordained and said his first Mass in this original St. Mary’s Church. He later went on to become President of St. John’s College in Brooklyn, New York.

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