What is the Oldest Catholic Parish in Boston?

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Founded and built by Italian immigrants, St 
Leonard’s Church was the first Roman Catholic Church to be established in New England 
in 1873. Occupying the historic North End of Boston, St Leonard’s church 
building sits at the corner of Prince and Hanover streets on Boston’s Freedom 
Trail.

There were few Italians living in Boston 
city before 1870. However, the number started increasing dramatically in 
succeeding years as most of them migrated to this city in search of material 
success. Though they had left their home country, these people were loyal to 
their Catholic Church doctrines and could not abandon their spiritual beliefs. 
Hence, a spiritual nourishment was necessary for these people, who were total strangers 
to the customs and language of dwellers of the city of Boston.

In the year 1873, Archbishop Williams of 
Boston requested the Franciscans of the Immaculate Conception Province to 
meet the spiritual needs of the rising Italian immigrants’ population in 
the city of Boston.

Fr. Angelo Conterno, OFM, became the first 
pastor of the newly founded parish. He was preceded a year later by Fr. Joachin 
Guerrini, OFM.

Two years later, in November, a piece of 
land situated on Prince Street was purchased for a total sum of $9,000.00. It 
was dedicated by Archbishop Williams, and the foundation was laid for the first 
Catholic Church in the United States.

However, because of the growing population 
of Italian immigrants searching for a better life and fortune in America, the 
need for a larger church became apparent as the small church had reached its 
limit regarding accommodation. In 1885, the church set out a mission to build 
a larger church. While the upper church was being built, the basement of the 
new church was used to serve close to 20,000 Italian Christians. The upper 
church was planned and built at the cost of about $160,000.00 and, alongside the 
famed St. Antony Shrine, they were dedicated in November 1899. At that time, 
the friary was also built on the North Bennet Street.

From 1910 the refurbishment of the upper 
church was done, and the Franciscan Sisters relocated to the monastery on 31 
Prince Street.

In 1917-1919, there was an outbreak of 
influenza epidemic that left many Italian kids in the city of Boston orphaned. 
The then pastor of Saint Leonard, Fr. Antony Sousa, established the Home for 
Italian Children in Jamaican Plain; it remains to date.

Because of the reconfiguration that took 
place in 2004, St. Leonard’s became a parish encompassing Saint Stephen’s 
Church and Sacred Heart Italian Church.