About Our Parish

The history of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish begins in 1927, a year when our country was enjoying a brief period of economic prosperity known as the Coolidge Boom, soon to end with the election of  Herbert Hoover, the stock market crash  in 1929, and the subsequent Great Depression.

There was a modest degree of prosperity in the neighborhoods of North Salem, Gardner Park, and the East End of Peabody, which were not as thickly settled as they are today.  New homes were being built on farm lands and open fields, and the neighborhoods were growing.  Catholic families in North Salem travelled by foot, trolley, or auto to St. James Church, while Peabody families had an even longer distance to go to St. John’s in downtown Peabody.

On December 21, 1927, William Cardinal O’Connell established a new parish at the Peabody Salem line on Margin Street.  Reverend Edward J. Fraher, acting pastor of St. John’s in Peabody was appointed pastor.  He told his new parishioners of  his hopes and plans for the parish when he met with them for the first time in the Pickering School Hall in Salem.

When Fr. Fraher was unable to get permission from the state to use the Pickering Hall for Sunday masses, he decided to build a small temporary church.  This was accomplished in an amazingly short time.  On January 29, 1928, about a month after the parish’s founding, Fr. Fraher offered the first masses in the new parish church.  Built on Margin Street where the parish school building now stands, the small white wooden chapel, complete with heat, light, and furnishings, was built by 35 men in 8 working days!  It was referred to as the “eight day wonder” for years afterward. 

Fr. Fraher lived at 14 Oakland Street, Salem, and later at 38 Margin Street, Peabody before the present rectory was built.  He was joined during the parish’s first year by Rev. Stephen DeMoura, an enthusiastic young curate from Plymouth.  Fr. Fraher is remembered as a kindly and dignified man, while two memories of Fr. DeMoura remain; adults who knew him well found him sociable and outgoing, but former Sunday School students remembered him as an old school strict disciplinarian. 

Although the first and temporary St. Thomas Church could seat 400, it was filled to overflowing at many masses.  Filled with faith and energy, Fr. Fraher began raising funds for a larger permanent church.  To enlist the aid of his parishioners he formed the St. Barbara’s Guild, named for his favorite saint.

Fr. Fraher’s St. Barbara’s Guild had a membership of 300 women who ran dances, lawn parties, and a Thursday afternoon whist club.  Penny sales were held in the old Phelan farm house where the present church is now.  Parties held in parishioners homes made large sums of money for the building fund.  The men of the parish formed the Holy Name Society with James S. Koen as the first president.  One of its many fundraisers was a minstrel show held in the Pickering Hall.

In December, 1929, the St. Vincent De Paul Society began its work of helping the needy of the parish.  Many tons of coal and pounds of food were supplied to families by this charitable organization.  Work on the new church began on March 21, 1930.  John M. Gray, a parishioner, was the architect.  The site was the former Phelan Estate, which was located on North Street next to St. Mary’s Cemetery.  Perhaps the estate and cemetery boundaries were not too clearly established, because when the church foundation was excavated, long buried bones were unearthed.  These must have been hastily but reverently reburied in a suitable plot. 

The first masses were celebrated in our beautiful new church on December 21, 1930, the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle and the third anniversary of the founding of the parish.  The church was officially dedicated on June 14, 1931, by Bishop John Bertram Peterson and  Eddie McKay, who was brother of Msgr. Daniel McKay taught and prepared all of the altar servers for that Mass and for years to come, William F. Grady was one of the original altar servers. 

St. Thomas the  Apostle Church is  designed in Early English Gothic style in a modified cruciform.  The main altar of solid oak has a carved medallion of a pelican, a bird once thought to feed its young with its own blood, as a symbol of the Eucharist.  Above the Altar on the left side is a statue of St. Barbara, with St. Thomas the Apostle, on the right side.  The oak panels of the carved screen on either side of the altar contain the following symbols of the Passion of Christ:  the cock symbol of Peter’s denial, the moneybag, Judas, the ewer and pitcher, Pilate’s washing of hands, the flagellation column, the lantern, Christ’s capture, the seamless robe, the crown of thorns; the ladder, spear, and sponge, the nails and hammer, the cross.  Painted on the vaulted roof above the altar are the insignia for Christ and Mary.

Originally, when  looking at the altar, to the right was called “the Gospel side altar” and that was  dedicated to the Blessed Mother.  A statue of Mary was there and to her right  St. Anne her mother,  but that has long been missing. To the  left of the altar or “The Epistle side altar” was  dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (which is now located at the front doors of the church, and still missing is St. Joseph which was set to the right of the Sacred Heart.

All the statues were the work of Mr. Sibbell of New York– Today we have had the Blessed Mother Statue, and the Sacred Heart refurbished by Richard Chouinard as well the statue of the Little Flower,  St. Theresa of Lisieux.  The old wooden altar long removed was carved by one of the Oberammergau passion players of Germany.  It was his last piece of work and the last details were done from his wheelchair.  Members of the Oberammergau players also carved the large crucifix suspended over the sanctuary.

The church nave is flanked by heavy carved trusses with angels supporting them.  At the apex of each truss is the Chi Ro, the monogram of Constantine the Great and the symbol for Christ.  The stained glass window over the main altar represents Christ the King with the Evangelists, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.

Beginning in the transept on the gospel side and continuing around the main church, the windows portray the Crucifixion, St. Thomas, St. Philip, St. Bartholomew, St. Matthias, St. Anne, Our Lady, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. James, St. Andrew, the Sacred Heart and St. Joseph.  The choir loft window is a rose window with St. Cecilia, patroness of music, in the center.  The chapel was originally dedicated to Our Lady, and the windows relate to her.  The large rear window represents the Nativity, while the others represent the Handmaid of the Lord,  The Annunciation, the Espousal of Joseph and Mary, the Visitation, the Purification, the Death of the Blessed Virgin, the Assumption, and the Crowning of Mary Queen of Heaven.

A beautiful replica of a 13th century painting of Our Lady of Perpetual Help hangs in the chapel.  In it, the Mother of God holds the Divine Child while angels present Him with the instruments of His Passion.  The Child, gazing out at the world, appears so disturbed by what He sees that the shoe is loosened from His foot.

The original white wooden church was now used for Sunday School classes and parish activities.  Having erected, furnished, and decorated the new church, Fr. Fraher continued work on the parish unit by building a rectory designed in English Country Style to complement the church.  Fr. Fraher and Fr. DeMoura moved into the new rectory on March 16, 1935.

The  second curate of St. Thomas, Rev. Joseph A. Farrington, arrived in May of 1935.  He soon organized a Catholic lending library in the parish hall and two years later in 1937 began the St. Thomas Literary Society.  Miss Marion O’Keefe was the first president of this active parish organization.  Its programs over the years of 1937-1954 included book reviews, art exhibits, concerts, dances, and guest speakers.  Author Frances Parkinson Keyes spoke on one occasion, and Msgr. Fulton J. Sheen came to speak at least three times. 

The Men’s Club, later known as the St. Thomas Catholic Club, was formed in 1936 with Morgan Hunt as the first president;  One of the club’s activities was sponsoring the Boy Scouts.  Mr. Will Carr was the first scoutmaster in the parish.  Scout and Cub Scout meetings were held in a house which the Men’s Club had purchased and renovated.  As many as 75 boys would depart for summer camp from St. Thomas Parish.

The first organist at our church was Mrs. Margaret O’Callahan.  The choir was organized through the efforts of the Powers brothers, Arthur, James and Leonard. 

 

 


 

 Rev. Edward Fraher 1st Pastor 1927-1942

 Fundraiser for a New Convent

 Original Altar

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