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Diocese of Springfield (Campifontis) in Massachusetts, erected in June, 1870. It comprises five counties of Central and Western Massachusetts: Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire. Its area is 4320 square miles, a little over half that of the entire state. According to the census of 1910 the population of the territory within the limits of the diocese was 843,212. Of this number 323,122 are Catholics.

Early history

Some of the early Puritans of Central and Western Massachusetts became Catholics in a remarkable manner: children taken captive by French and Indians at Deerfield and Westboro were carried to Canada and there educated in the Catholic Faith. They married in Canada, and the descendants of some of them attained eminence. Joseph-Octave Plessis, who in 1806 became Archbishop of Quebec and in a trying time ruled the Canadian Church with firmness and prudence, was a grandson of Martha French, who a little over a century before had been carried away from the home of her father, Deacon French of Deerfield. Some Acadians were quartered at Worcester in 1655, but the last of them returned to Canada in 1767. At the time of the Revolutionary War many Irishmen lived in Central and Western Massachusetts. Some of them must have been Catholics, but there is no evidence that they contributed in any way to the upbuilding of the future Church of Springfield. The foundations of this Church were laid by Irish immigrants, who in 1826 and later came to Worcester, to Chicopee (then a part of Springfield), and to Pittsfield, to dig canals, to lay railroads, and to build and operate factories. The faith of these immigrants was nourished by apostolic men, of whom the foremost was Rev. James Fitton. He was born in Boston in 1805 and ordained priest by Bishop Fenwick (1827). After a short stay among the Indians at Eastport, Maine, he was made pastor at Hartford. His missionary zeal carried him into all parts of New England. In Massachusetts his labours extended from "Boston on the east, to Great Barrington in the Berkshires on the west". In 1830 he said Mass in Chicopee. On 7 July, 1834, he laid at Worcester the foundation of the first church which was built in the territory now ruled by the Bishop of Springfield. He became pastor of Worcester in 1836. Contemporary with the erection of the church at Worcester, Father Fitton purchased land south of the town, on which he built a school. This property he deeded (1843) to the Rt. Rev. Benedict J. Fenwick, Bishop of Boston. Bishop Fenwick erected upon it the College of the Holy Cross, which he induced the Jesuits of Maryland to assume charge of. This was the first Catholic college in New England. It began with seventeen students. It has become the largest of the Catholic colleges of the United States, whose students all follow a classical course, including Greek. Its influence is now felt in all parts of the American possessions. The parish at Worcester was composed mainly of Irish, though it included also French, English, and Americans. From Worcester Father Fitton made missionary trips to the towns along the Blackstone, and to the settlements along the Western Railroad. This work was continued and developed by the pastors who succeeded him at Worcester. Of those the most energetic, as a missionary, was Rev. Matthew W. Gibson, who in thirteen years built churches in nine places of Worcester County and in ten more established parishes.

The first resident pastor of Western Massachusetts was Rev. John D. Brady. In 1841 he assumed charge of the parish of Chicopee, which extended over four counties. For four years he shepherded this vast parish alone. In 1845 Rev. Bernard O'Cavanaugh came to him as an assistant. Rev. Jeremiah O'Callaghan, the zealous and able, if somewhat eccentric, missionary of Vermont, had said Mass at Pittsfield in 1845 and yearly thereafter till 1839. This remarkable man in his old age founded the first Catholic parish in Holyoke. In 1844 Father Brady built the first church at Pittsfield, of which Rev. Bernard O'Cavanaugh became pastor in 1848. His successor, Rev. Patrick Cudahy, the "church builder of the Berkshires", and Rev. William Blenkinsop, who continued the work of Father Brady in the Connecticut Valley, organized into new parishes and prepared for further development the Church which was now firmly established in Western Massachusetts. To this development Pius IX contributed when he made of Central and Western Massachusetts a diocese with its see at Springfield.


Rt. Rev. Patrick T. O'Reilly, the first Bishop of Springfield, was born in Cavan, Ireland, 24 Dec., 1833. He came to Boston in his boyhood. He studied classics at St. Charles's College, Maryland, theology at St. Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, and was ordained in Boston, 15 August, 1857, by Bishop Bacon of Portland. He served as assistant to Father Boyce at St. John's Church, Worcester, till 1862, when he was sent to organize the parish of St. Joseph's, Boston. In 1864 he returned to Worcester as pastor of St. John's. There he remained until he was appointed Bishop of Springfield (28 June, 1870), being consecrated 25 September of the same year. He ruled the Diocese of Springfield for twenty-one years and a half. During this time its population increased from 90,000 to 200,000; its priests from 43 to 196; its religious women from 12 to 321; its parishes from 43 to 96; its schools from 2 to 30. Bishop O'Reilly confirmed 77,000 persons. He dedicated 45 churches, and laid the corner- stones of nearly a hundred buildings consecrated either to religion or to education. He gave encouragement to works of charity. The hospital of the Sisters of Providence of Holyoke and the orphan asylums at Holyoke and at Worcester were begun during his administration. He died 28 May, 1892. He was succeeded by the present (1911) bishop, Rt. Rev. Thomas D. Beaven, D.D., who was born at Springfield, March, 1851. He studied at Holy Cross College and at the Great Seminary, Montreal, and was ordained to the priesthood, 18 Dec., 1875. He laboured at Spencer for three years as assistant and for ten as pastor. In 1888 he was made pastor of the Church of the Holy Rosary, Holyoke. Four years later (31 July) he was appointed Bishop of Springfield. He was consecrated 18 Oct., 1892. Bishop Beaven is an organizer. He has applied to the temporal affairs of the Church sound business principles. He has developed the charitable institutions of his diocese. Brightside, with its infants' home, its orphan asylum, its Beaven-Kelly Home for aged men, owes its existence to his inspiration and largely to his generosity. During his administration hospitals have been opened in Worcester, Springfield, Montague City, and Adams, orphan asylums at Holyoke, Worcester, and Leicester, a House of the Good Shepherd at Springfield, and homes for working girls in many places. Springfield has for years been remarkable among the dioceses of the country for the number of its vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Four of its priests have become bishops during the present administration: Rt. Rev. Thomas J. Conaty, D.D. (Monterey and Los Angeles); Rt. Rev. Philip J. Garrigan, D.D. (Sioux City); Rt. Rev. Daniel F. Feehan, D.D. (Fall River); and Rt. Rev. Joseph J. Rice, D.D. (Burlington).

Causes of growth

The growth of the Diocese of Springfield is due largely to immigration. The Irish were quickly followed by Canadians, and these by Poles and Lithuanians. The Italians and the Syrians came later. These immigrants came to Massachusetts to get a market for their labour. They prospered and their descendants are among the most esteemed citizens of the commonwealth.

Religious communities

About 380 religious women are engaged in charitable work in the diocese. Most of these are Sisters of Providence. The Sisters of Mercy (the first religious community to enter the diocese) conduct orphan asylums at Worcester and Leicester, the Grey Nuns an orphanage at Worcester, the Little Franciscan Sisters of Mary an old people's home at Worcester; and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd have a house at Springfield. The educational work of the diocese requires the services of 750 sisters. The Sisters of St. Joseph have a normal college in Springfield, an academy at Chicopee, and high schools in many parishes. They also do a great part of the parochial school work. The Sisters of Notre Dame conduct high schools at Worcester, Springfield, Holyoke, and Chicopee. Other communities of women engaged in teaching are: the Sisters of Holy Cross and of the Seven Dolors, Sisters of St. Ann, Sisters of the Assumption, Sisters of Providence, Faithful Companions of Jesus, Sisters of St. Joseph (Hartford), Presentation Nuns (St. Hyacinth, P.Q.), Presentation Nuns (Fitchburg, Massachusetts), Felician Sisters, Franciscan Sisters (Buffalo), and Daughters of the Holy Ghost. The religious orders of men represented in the diocese are the Jesuits, at Worcester; the Fathers of La Salette, at Fitchburg, Ware, and Westfield; the Franciscans at Chicopee and Holyoke; the Vincentians, at Springfield; the Fathers of the Assumption, at Worcester; and the Xaverian Brothers at Worcester and Millbury.


Official reports for 1911 give the following figures: 300 diocesan and 14 regular priests (not including the Jesuits at Holy Cross and the Assumptionists of the Apostolic School); 160 parishes; 28 missions with churches and 10 stations; 2 colleges attended by 600 students; 4 academies; 61 parochial schools, with 25,600 pupils; 5 orphan asylums; 1 infants' home; 27,000 young people under Catholic care; 6 hospitals; 5 homes for the aged; 3 working girls' homes; 1 industrial school; and 1 House of the Good Shepherd.


MCCOY, History of the Catholic Church in New England (Boston, 1899); FITTON, Sketches of the Establishment of the Datholic Church in New England (Boston, 1872); SHEA, History of the Catholic Church in the United States (New York, 1890); MALANEY, Catholic Pittsfield and Berkshire (Pittsfield, 1897); The Official Catholic Directory (New York, 1911).

About this page

APA citation. Cummings, T. (1912). Springfield. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Cummings, Thomas. "Springfield." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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