St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish History
On Sunday morning, July 24, 1870, the former Crispin Hall on Cabot Street, which had been purchased by the Archdiocese of Boston for the Catholics of Beverly, was dedicated as a mission parish of Immaculate Conception Church in Salem and dedicated to the Greater Glory of God under the Patronage of Saint Mary Star of the Sea. A little over a year later, on October 16, 1871, the church became an independent parish and the Reverend Thomas H. Shahan was appointed first Pastor. During Fr. Shahan’s four-year tenure as Pastor of St. Mary’s, he also built churches in Ipswich and Manchester. Fr. Shahan was succeeded by The Reverend James M. Kiely who built the rectory (on Essex Street). Fr. Kiely was succeeded by The Reverend William J. J. Denvir but sadly, Fr. Denvir was frail in health and died of tuberculosis at the age of forty-six. He was succeeded by The Reverend William H. Ryan in 1885. Fr. Ryan was Pastor until 1893. During his tenure, he built St. Margaret Church in Beverly Farms. It was Fr. Ryan who moved the rectory from Essex Street to Cabot Street and enlarged the residence by adding the third floor.
Fr. Ryan was succeeded by The Reverend Francis J. Curran on June 25, 1893. Fr. Curran served as Pastor for twenty-three years. In the third year of Fr. Curran’s pastorate, on August 15, 1896, the church was destroyed by fire. It was Fr. Curran whose energy and genius allowed the present Church to be erected. The “new” St. Mary’s was blessed by Archbishop John J. Williams on May 15, 1898. In December, 1900, three bells were installed in the church steeple and would be rung for the first time at midnight on December 31, 1900, to mark the new century. The upper Church was completed in 1908 and dedicated on October 11. The windows and statuary were fashioned by Mayer & Company of Bavaria, the Altars were carved by Barsanti of Pietrasanta, Italy, and the pulpit and altar railing were carved by a local artisan. Fr. Curran died on March 26, 1916. It was said of him, “He built the temple of God and made it beautiful; he procured a cemetery for the dead and rendered it attractive; he found the parish in difficulties and he removed them. He did with God’s help all things well that he was called to do, and what he has done will remain as monuments of his priestly zeal and natural energy, and the people for generations will rise up and bless him. His name will not be forgotten.”
On Easter Sunday, April 23, 1916, Fr. John A. Degan became the Pastor of St. Mary’s. He would remain as Pastor for forty-five years. During his tenure, St. Mary Star of the Sea School was opened (grades K-12), the Parish Chapter of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society was established, and the Drum & Bugle Corps. Monsignor Degan died on November 3, 1958 at the age of ninety-three. Monsignor Degan was succeeded by the Reverend Francis G. Shields on November 10, 1958. A man of extraordinary administrative ability he took on the challenge of the repair and refurbishment of all the Parish buildings and the construction of a new convent. Monsignor Shields was succeeded as Pastor by The Reverend Richard Johnson on April 27, 1976. Fr. Johnson guided the Parish through the changes wrought by the Second Vatican Council and at a time when many Parishes were closing their schools, it was his vision and energy and that of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur that preserved ours. Further, Fr. Johnson established the Parish Council and Parish Finance Committee, and it was his love for the parish and wisdom that encouraged in the minds and hearts of all parishioners their shared responsibility for the life of the Parish. On June 30, 1997, Fr. Johnson was succeeded by the Reverend Charles J. Hughes.
Fr. David Barnes succeeded Fr. Hughes as Pastor on August 1, 2004. During Fr. Barnes tenure the parish’s outstanding debt was paid off. Devotional life increased under his leadership with more frequent hours of Eucharistic Adoration added each week. A major $300,000 renovation restored the Upper Church to its original beauty.
In 2013, St. Mary’s became a part of the Beverly Catholic Collaborative and Sean Cardinal O’Malley appointed Fr. Mark Mahoney as Pastor of St. John the Evangelist, St. Mary Star of the Sea and St. Margaret. Together the three parishes work together to evangelize Beverly.