The history of St. Florence Church begins with the devotion, generosity and dedications of the faithful community who worshipped in the Holy Mary del Carmine Chapel on Water Street back in the early twenties. That small, stone chapel served as a Mission Chapel of St. Joseph Parish and had developed as an outgrowth of the desire of the Society of Holy Mary del Carmine to have a meeting place for its members. As construction progressed, the idea to use the building as a chapel for the Italian parishioners of St. Joseph's was adopted, and the members worked diligently to accomplish this goal. The first Mass was probably celebrated in the Chapel in July, 1924.
At first, an Italian-speaking priest would come to Wakefield on occasion to celebrate Mass in the Chapel. However, it wasn't long before the ever increasing devotion of the little community was served by regularly scheduled Masses and religious education for the children. The priests of St. Joseph's would celebrate the 8:00 AM Mass and direct the Sunday School in the afternoon. The visiting Italian-speaking priest would celebrate the 10:00 AM High Mass.
As Wakefield grew, so did its Catholic Community, and the communicants worshipping in the Chapel became a mixture of various ethnic backgrounds. St. Joseph Parish had grown so dramatically that geographic lines were drawn and, on April 24, 1947. St. Florence Parish was formally established. On the date, Rev. William J. Kenney was appointed the first pastor of St. Florence Parish by His Excellency, Richard Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, and the Holy Mary del Carmine Chapel was renamed St. Florence Church in tribute to Rt. Rev. Florence Halloran, beloved pastor of St. Joseph Parish.
We have a letter written fifteen years later by Rt. Rev. James T. Cotter, then pastor of St. Florence, to Cardinal Cushing on the occasion of the dedication of the new church on Butler Avenue. In it he identifies our parish patron saint as St. Florence, born in Ireland, who became a Confessor Pontiff and died as Bishop of Strasbourg.
In the first days of the new parish, Father Kenney resided in St. Joseph's Rectory and commuted across town to shepherd his faithful flock at the little stone church. On May 2, 1947, the property at 540 Salem Street was purchased to become the St. Florence Rectory, and the new parish continued to grow in faith and love of God. Among our fond memories are the St. Florence May Processions, introduced on May 21, 1950, and so wonderful that they became famous annual events. These beautiful and elaborate processions in honor of Mary, Our Blessed Mother, would begin at the Princess Theater parking lot, proceed to Crescent Street onto Main Street to the churchyard off Water Street, where the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary would be crowned and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament would follow.
On May 23, 1961, His Eminence, Richard Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, named the Rt. Rev. James T. Cotter, a native of Wakefield, to succeed Father Kenney as pastor. Monsignor Cotter left his position as vice chancellor of the Archdiocese of Boston to assume his duties here.
Later that year, the Cardinal officiated in the solemn and beautiful dedication of St. Florence Church on Saturday morning, September 16, 1961. The ceremony began with the blessing and laying of the cornerstone at 10 o'clock, followed by a procession of more than 60 priests, monsignors and acolytes preceding the Cardinal and the Ministers of the Liturgy into the beautifully decorated church. Among the priests present were several of Wakefield's native sons.
The Wakefield Daily Item's coverage of this joyous occasion gave a detailed description of the church's interior, including the following, "Those attending the ceremonies were especially impressed with the two windows of stained glass which were imported from Florence, Italy, and installed only last week ...(they) depict symbolically the great truth and reality of the Catholic faith and the mystical body of Christ." The memorable dedication weekend culminated that Sunday with a reception for Monsignor Cotter, pastor since May, which was attended by hundreds of parishioners and friends throughout the community.
Beginning with prayer and thanksgiving for their beautiful church, Monsignor Cotter and the St. Florence parishioners embarked upon many years of active and lively parish community life. Among the 'first' to be celebrated in the new church were the baptisms of Paul Michael DeFeo, Jean Marie DeFeo and Ann Marie Wheeler on January 8, 1961. The first marriage ceremony was performed on January 21, 1961, uniting Charles McCauley, Jr. and Sally Confalone in Holy Matrimony.
The Sacrament of Confirmation was administered to a class of 186 children on April 24, 1961, by Most Rev. Eric MacKenzie, D.D., Director of the Marriage Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Boston and Pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Newton. Sponsors of the Confirmation class were Massachusetts Governor and Mrs. John Volpe. First Holy Communion in the new church was first celebrated for a class of 68 children on May 13, 1961. Also, the first Parish Mission took place here on November 5, 1961, Cardinal Archbishop of New York.
Through the years, the activities of the St. Florence Church Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD), the Sodality of Our Lady, Holy Name Society, Junior Catholic Club, Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) and Parish Unity Through Social Happenings (PUSH) enhanced spiritual growth, provided community service and sponsored social activities, all of which reflected a strong and viable parish. It is significant that so many of the parishioners named on the committees and rolls of parish organizations in the newspaper accounts of events then are still active participating members of the St. Florence faith community today.
On April 23, 1977, another milestone was reached when we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Parish. Most Rev. Jon J. Mulcahy, D.D. came to celebrate Mass and was the guest speaker at the catered dinner in the Church Hall. Once again, many friends, parishioners and priests helped us give thanks. We had come a long way since April 24, 1947, and an even longer way since that first Mass in the little stone chapel in 1924.
The next few years passed quietly for St. Florence Parish, and in July, 1985, Monsignor Cotter resigned as pastor because of failing health. In that same month, His Eminence, Bernard Cardinal Law, Archbishop of Boston, appointed Rev. Arthur L. Reardon, former pastor of St. Mary's Parish, Winchester, as our new pastor. A concelebrated Mass and installation of the new pastor was held on January 12, 1986, with Most. Rev. John J. Mulcahy, D.D., Auxiliary Bishop of Boston of the Lynn Vicariate, as principal celebrant. Immediately following the ceremonies, the parish organizations sponsored a warm and well attended reception for Father Reardon in the Church Hall.
With the arrival of Father Reardon's new and vigorous leadership, parish life quickened and we were off and running again. His inspiration for "New Beginnings for New Horizons at St. Florence" became the motto for Parish endeavors. The St. Florence Church Ministers of the Eucharist, Lectors, Altar Servers, Altar Society, Ushers and Choir became our ministries of love and service. Working in concert, the Sodality of Our Lady, the Holy Name Society and our social organization, "New Horizons" sponsored the monthly parish activities enjoyed during the Silver Anniversary Year, 1986. That June "Young Horizons" was established for our high school age youth. Bible Study classes, and a new Religious Education Program directed by our Director of Religious Education, Sister Patricia M. Halliday, S.N.D., attest that religious education at St. Florence is vibrant and meaningful for all ages.
We were honored when one of our own parishioners, Friar Michael Dominic W. Ledoux, OFM, was ordained to the Priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ on April 12, 1986, here in St. Florence Church. His Excellency, Most Rev. Maurice Muldoon, OFM, D.D., Bishop of Olancha, Honduras, Central America, was the ordaining Bishop and Presider. Fr. Ledoux's reception in the church hall afterward was thronged with proud and jubilant friends and parishioners. He celebrated his first Mass in St. Florence Church on Sunday, April 13,1986.
Through the years there have been minor physical changes to the interior of the Church to conform with the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council. The renovation of the Church Sanctuary undertaken with Father Reardon's guidance accomplished the distinct focus and separation between the Altar, the Lectern and the Presider's Chair.
Father Readron's innovative and energetic work was cut short by the onset of a serious illness which caused him to request leave from the full exercise of his ministry in the fall of 1988. In November of that year His Eminence, Cardinal Law, appointed Rev. H. Joseph Murphy as Administrator and then as Pastor of the parish in the following July.
Father Murphy's main goals were to continue the work of Fr. Reardon, particularly in the areas of lay ministry, and to restore confidence and financial stability to the parish. The Finance Council began in 1989 and the Parish Pastoral Council held it first meeting in 1990. Additional Eucharistic Ministers and Lectors were appointed and the Music Ministry was expanded. In conjunction with the engineering department of the Chancery and the generosity of the good people of the parish, badly needed maintenance programs for the grounds, the exterior of parish buildings, their heating systems as well as installation of a fire alarm system were undertaken.
In June of 1990 the parish was delighted to participate in a First Mass of the Reverend John M. Capuci, a parishioner and a member of St. John's Seminary class of 1990.
Father Murphy was joined by Fr. Michael J. Higgins as parochial vicar in July of 1990. Together they worked closely with the staff and lay people on a personal basis at liturgies, Pro-Life, Health and Youth Commissions, teachable moments and socials, as well as through modern communication methods such as blanket census mailing, computer labeling and several letters per year mailed directly to parishioners. The numbers of those attending Mass are increasing with efforts being made in the area of whole family participation. In 1993, as part of the Archdiocesan plan for Catholic parochial schools, St. Florence Parish became affiliated with St. Joseph's Parish School, Wakefield, on an interparish basis.
Over the first half of the nineties, financial resources increased through the introduction of the "Thousand Club", the "Two Hundred Club" and the revival of the popular Bingo. Enthusiastic parishioners could be seen at all hours of the day and evening recording subscriptions, mailing reminders and notifying the lucky winners of their windfalls. The parish hall on Thursday nights resounds with the echoes of a busy parish hall kitchen where delicious meals are offered to Bingo patrons amidst the familiar call, "under the B." Donations continue to be inscribed on the leaves of "The Giving Tree" donated by the Choir, and on a new Plaques Display in the foyer. A new state of the art computerized organ and sound system for the choir were purchased through the generosity of several parishioners. Through a pay-as-you-go plan, a new roof was put on the church, the two large parking lots were completely resurfaced, painted parking lines were added and a new handicapped parking area with a heavy-duty railing were added. While amortizing each month its original debt to the Archdiocese and paying its weekly bills, no new debt has been incurred by the parish for any of these improvements, thanks to the dedication of a comparatively small group of parishioners and special donors.
The Family Liturgy each month utilizes the children as lectors and choir members, while the adult choir provides four part harmony, often with added instruments of flute and guitar each weekend and on the great solemnities of Easter and Christmas. The white baby grand piano in the sanctuary introduces the parishioners to the haunting melodies and elevated lyrics of the country's best composers of contemporary pastoral music.
Popular parish socials still continue to pepper the palate and liven the step throughout the year, courtesy of the Holy Name Society. The parish Wednesday night Charismatic Prayer Group, now in its third year, is enthusiastic in praising Jesus in spontaneous prayers, petitions, prophecies and songs.
The rectory has become the center for the Religious Education program which proved both teachers and students with faith development through modern materials and equipment. In the rectory is also the parish secretary's office, often the first contact with callers. There, computer and modem produce accurate recording of parish income and expenditures, census and attractive weekly bulletins.
The history of St. Florence Church would not be complete without mention of all of the associate pastors and parochial vicars who served the people of this parish in the past and are remembered fondly by many of the present parishioners. We have also been blessed with visiting priests who have endeared themselves to our parish family. For their dedication and sacrificial lives we thank:
This brief story of St. Florence's development through the years reveals the devotion and dedication of its priests and people who have supported it with their faith and love and generosity. We look forward to the coming years of spiritual and physical growth for our parish, with St. Florence Church as our focal point and the center of comfort, solace and worshipful expression for the glory and honor of God.