A History of St. Philip Buildings and Grounds by Robert J. Sodaro
St. Philip Parish officially came into existence on August 21,
1964. It was created by Bishop Walter W. Curtis who carved the new parish out of
the north-western portion of the existing Parish of St. Mary. To acquire a better
understanding of where St. Philip is today, it is necessary to travel farther
back into the parish's pre-history to discover some of its roots.
The church grounds (on which reside the church itself, the rectory, the school,
and the convent), were once known as Oak Hill, and were the site of the Manice
Deforest Lockwood estate located at North Avenue and France Street.
The property had been a small onion farm owned by
the Lockwood family for generations before
Mr Lockwood built the mansion. The farm house,
like many, had started as a very modest little building
and had been extended several times. It was
separated into two pieces and both were moved to Cannon
Street and are still standing.
The estate originally encompassed a 15-room mansion, stables, and
outbuildings. This eight-acre tract of land was purchased (for $75,000) in 1947
by the Reverend Henry M. Callahan, then Pastor of St. Mary.
It was Fr. Callahan's intention to build the St. Mary convent and parochial
school on the tract of land because the parish had grown too large for its
earlier location on Leonard Street (behind the church on West Ave.). Ground was
broken for St. Mary school in 1953. Originally planned as a nine-room school, it
was later expanded to 17 as the enthusiasm of the parishioners was so great.
When the sprawling St. Mary parish was eventually divided to form St. Matthew (1958),
St. Jerome (1960), and St. Philip (1964), the Manice Lockwood mansion became the
St. Philip convent. The school building became the temporary home for the
church. According to popular parish lore, Fr. Callahan enjoyed relating how,
when he purchased the estate, he was forced to purchase the peculiar triangle at
the corner of North Avenue and France Street (for an additional $3,000). The
irony was that Fr. Callahan was later able to sell that triangle (which was
wanted as the building site for a pair of gas stations), for more than he had
paid for the entire land package.
In 1964, Bishop Curtis appointed Father Leonard Conlon_then the pastor of St.
Mary_as the first Pastor of St. Philip with Father Robert Albert as assistant.
Initially, the priests of St. Philip continued to reside in St. Mary rectory for
a short while, until the first rectory of St. Philip was completed. This initial
home was located on the corner of West Rocks and Jarvis Street known as #20. The
site of the old St. Mary Convent and School (at the corner of France Street and
North Avenue) was deeded to the newly-formed parish, and for the first five
years of the parish's existence, Masses and other liturgical services were
celebrated in the basement (now the cafeteria) of the school. Weddings and
funerals were celebrated in St. Mary church on West Avenue. In June, 1966, less
than two years after the founding of the parish, a fund-raising drive was begun
with the intention of building a new church and rectory.
The new church building was designed by George J. Lechner, an architect from the
firm of Lyons & Mather of Bridgeport and received an Excellence in Architecture
award from the Association for a Better Community Design. Mr. Lechner (who was
then a member of the fledgling parish), designed the church to resemble a
Middle-Eastern tent, as the tent is considered one of the first architectural
forms in ancient tradition. (The people of ancient Israel pitched a tent to
house the Ark of the Covenant.) After a successful fund drive, and with the
cooperation of Bishop Curtis, a contract for the building of the church and
rectory was awarded on May 23, 1967 to the Thomas J. Riordan Company of Norwalk.
Standard Electric received the electrical contract, and Connery Brothers were
contracted to install the plumbing, heating, and ventilation. The total price
for the buildings was $580,000.
The church was completed, and Mass was first celebrated in the new edifice on
Easter Sunday, April 6, 1969, with the building being formally dedicated by
Bishop Curtis on November 16, 1969. Many of the initial art pieces which hung in
the church were designed by Leslie Dor, who created the Risen Christ statue, the
Stations of the Cross, and the stained-glass windows. Mr. Dor also created a
Blessed Mother statue which was installed on Mother's Day, May 11,1975. All
these works were of a modern, more abstract art style.
The years passed and many dedicated church members helped to keep the church and
grounds in operating order. Overseeing much of this activity was the late John
Fahey. John attended to the scheduling and working of various trades people.
When cement was poured, he was there. When wires were "pulled" he was watching.
When pews were tailored he guided and helped.
In 1991 under the direction of Fr. Boccaccio, church members began preparing for
the 25th anniversary by establishing a Church Commission. It was the
Commission's task to complete and revitalize the church as Sacred space. The
Commission was given a three-year charge to first determine what would be
necessary, then decide on a plan for the project they chose to undertake, and
ultimately to execute their plans.
For parishioners these changes have become increasingly evident over the years
as the renovations have taken place. Not only has the physical building taken on
a new life with each new addition, but the entire congregation has rededicated
and re-energized itself with the evolution of each new church space. The entire
nave and sanctuary have been restyled and refurbished from the ground up;
complete with new flooring, carpets, art pieces (Crucifix, Blessed Mother
statue, St. Philip shrine, etc.). Sound walls have been erected on either side
of the sanctuary. Embedded into these walls are twin display cases.
On the pulpit side is an "In Memoriam et In Honorem" scroll which inscribes the
names of the many people in whose memory or honor contributions have been
received. On the Baptismal side, an ambry displays three decanters which contain
the sacred oils. These oils of chrism, catechumen, and infirmed are used for the
celebration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Anointing of the
On the Baptismal side, several pews have been removed and a music loft with
acoustic canopy has been built, thus establishing the first designated space for
music in the building. Additionally, wheelchair-accessible pews are now
available. The day chapel has been renamed as the Holy Family Chapel; the statue
of the risen Christ (which used to adorn our main sanctuary), now decorates the
chapel. A tabernacle shrine wall has been erected on the pulpit side of the
sanctuary. Other renovations include the construction of exterior signs
announcing the presence of St. Philip Roman Catholic Church to passers-by.
Timothy ("Tex") Devine, whose life on this earth was much too short for all of
us, was a constant clerk of the works for much activity. He was always on the
scene helping and guiding. More recently, Art Petrone and his group of merry
volunteers have continued this work. These splendid parishioners are prime
examples of what it means to be involved and to have a sense of "ownership" of
one's parish. Their dedication, while outstanding, is a superb reflection of the
commitment that has been an integral part of this parish's rich history.
from the St. Philip Rededication Book with help from church member Ross Kotarski