From the 75th Anniversary edition
July 23, 1975
History of the Parish Of
Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal
Hampton, New Hampshire
On the stroke of midnight, December 24th, 1948, over 500 residents of the town of Hampton assisted at the first Midnight Mass to be said in the 310 years of Hampton’s history.
This Mass, celebrated by the Reverend Leo K. Ryan of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, also officially opened the new church of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal; the first permanent Catholic Church to be erected in the town.
It is extremely doubtful if in the early days of this town any of the residents were of the Catholic faith; and it is quite certain that no Mass was said in town, prior to the 20th century; with the possible exception of Masses which may have been celebrated by Jesuit priests for the French and Indian warriors during the Indian wars.
From 1798, shortly after the ratification of our national constitution, to 1836, we know that Mass was celebrated at Portsmouth by priests who made the hazardous journey from Boston for this purpose.
The earlier portion of this era saw New Hampshire, as well as the rest of New England, under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Baltimore, Maryland; an indication of the sparse Catholic population of the day.
In 1808, however, Hampton became part of the new diocese of Boston, established in that year to administer to the needs of New England’s increasing Catholic populace.
With the great influx of Irish immigrants after the crop failures of 1848-49, the Catholic population of New England required further sub-division for the purpose of adequate administration. Thus, in 1853, New Hampshire became a part of the diocese of Portland, Maine, and remained under that jurisdiction until 1884 when the Reverend Dennis M. Bradley was consecrated the first Bishop of Manchester.
At this time, the Reverend John Canning was appointed pastor at Exeter where he remained until 1904, administering to the Catholic needs of that town and surrounding towns, including Hampton.
In 1905, the Reverend John E. Finen became the pastor at Exeter, and for the first time cognizance was taken of the Catholic population of Hampton.
In 1907, the town was organized as a mission of St. Michael’s Parish at Exeter, and a movement was launched to raise funds for the erection of a church in Hampton. Due largely to the efforts of Father Finen, the movement proved to be a success and, in 1914, construction was commenced on St. Patrick’s Church, Hampton Beach.
Meanwhile, Masses were being said during the summer months in the new Hampton Beach Casino, and during the winter, in the town of Hampton.
During the World War I era, Mass was celebrated in the block owned by Dunfey’s, until 1916 when these quarters became so crowded that a more spacious location was sought. The change was then made to the so-called tin shop, now a store located in the vicinity of the Centre School.
In this year, 1917, the epidemic of influenza so depleted the ranks of the clergy that a suspension of Sunday Masses was necessitated.
In the spring of this year, however, St. Patrick’s Church at the beach was dedicated and the town was organized as a mission of St. Joseph’s Cathedral at Manchester. The Reverend P.J. Scott became the first rector of the Hampton mission, and at the same time, took charge of all of the New Hampshire beaches. He was succeeded in 1921 by the Right Reverend Jeremiah S. Buckley.
In view of the fact that the new church was designed solely for the use during the summer months, it was necessary, during the winters, for Hampton Catholics to assist at Mass in nearby towns and cities; such being made the easier by the increasing use of the automobile and, to some extent, the street railway.
By 1930, however, the resident Catholic population had become so large that it was deemed desirable to conduct services during the winter months. Accordingly, under the direction of the Right Reverend Edward A. Clark, who had succeeded the Right Reverend Jeremiah S. Buckley as rector in 1928, the Community Hall, located over the Hampton Beach Fire Department was procured for the purpose of celebrating Sunday Masses.
This arrangement was followed for six years; a priest coming from Manchester each Sunday during the winter for the purpose.
In 1936, construction was commenced on a chapel which was to be attached to St. Patrick’s Church. Dedicated in August 1937, this chapel not only increased the summer seating capacity of the edifice to 1070, but, inasmuch as it was equipped with a heating system, became the place of worship for residents during the winter.
This arrangement served with decreasing satisfaction until 1948, when the Catholic population had reached proportions requiring more spacious quarters. Accordingly, in the summer of 1948, construction began on the Church of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal; a structure of New Hampshire red brick and of colonial design, trimmed in Indiana limestone with white fluted column guarding its New Hampshire granite entrance. The church designed to harmonize with the other public buildings of the town was completed in December of 1948.
In January, 1949, the Reverend Matthew J. Casey, a native of Portsmouth, NH., who saw service as an army chaplain during World War II, came from Lincoln, N.H., to become the first Hampton Pastor.
Under the guidance of the first pastor, Father Casey, the parish increased and multiplied and prospered. The first small band of 460 souls has not expanded into a community of 4500 souls. The early days were not without their difficulties. The rectories were temporary and at some distance from the church. Funds had to be raised that the debt might be paid and the parish complex completed. Although he was alone as a priest, Father Casey was not alone as a person. The men formed their club, later on to become the Holy Name Society, and the women formed their Guild. In the original church hail, they launched their projects. With a song in their hearts, a song of love, that close-knit family made the Parish solvent and built it on a firm foundation. It was more than this to them, since they felt they were building a Temple to God. Those countless men and women and all who helped them were true co-laborers with the pastor and God looked upon their work and found that it was good. He blessed it.
By 1963, the material building of the parish was complete. As background for the church, a permanent rectory was added. A spacious convent was provided for the Sisters of Mercy who came to staff the school. The school opened in September of that year and became the most important adjunct to,the church. In its span of eleven years, 2500 students have passed through its classrooms. We can never judge how much we have helped them. These students are still young and continue in their search for Life’s meaning and the quest for truth. We hope that we have helped them in their formative years as we tried to prepare them for the life of this world and the Life that is to come. Beyond their secular studies the sisters and the priest unveiled for them the Deposit of their Faith, the Faith of their Fathers. They were given the best that we had to offer. It is our constant prayer that what was offered will serve as guide lines for these students in the everlasting quest of the young. We know that some day they will find their answers and we hope that most will find peace and rest in them.
The year 1972 marked the change of the Guard when Monsignor retired. The Reverend Dennis O’Leary succeeded as second Pastor.
In the following years, the parish moved quietly along, according to the mind of the Second Vatican Council. The church was renovated for the celebration of the new Liturgy. The Sisters of Mercy, out of their need, assigned a Religion Coordinator for the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. This was done in 1973. Our public school children, a precious portion of our vineyard, had not been neglected through the years. Many years of work laid a solid foundation for their religious training, a work carried on by priests and sisters and a countless host of lay teachers who found in their teaching, a true Apostolate.
The parish reached maturity in 1974 by celebrating our Silver Jubilee. In April of that year, land was purchased in Seabrook where, in the fullness of time, we can assist in the formation of a new parish. Many pioneers prepared the foundation of this parish and in gratitude to them, we must be ready when the time comes to assist in the foundation of another parish.