History of St. Matthew Church in Tolland
The information contained here was extracted from the actual newspaper clippings found in the bound journal entitled The Birth of Saint Matthew Parish, Tolland Connecticut - June 17, 1964 provided by Father James Carini. The newspapers were: The Catholic Transcript, The Day (New London, CT), The Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), The Hartford Times (Hartford, CT), The Journal, The Manchester Evening Herald (Manchester, CT) The Sun (Westerly, RI), as well as other letters and items.
The Church of Saint Matthew was first announced by Bishop Vincent J. Hines on June 18th. Saint Matthew was one of two new parishes announced by the Bishop. The other was Saint Mary's in Groton. Also, was the announcement that the first pastor of Saint Matthew was to be Rev. J. Clifford Curtin who was, at the time, assistant pastor of Saint Michael's Church in Pawcatuck. Father Curtin was born on April 17, 1922 in Hartford and was ordained on May 3, 1951 at Saint Joseph's Cathedral in Hartford.
The territory covered by Saint Matthew is the entire town of Tolland. A plot of six and a half acres on the town green at the corner of Tolland Street and Dunn Hill Road was purchased in 1963 as the site for a future church. A house was also purchased on Tolland Street to be used as the rectory. At the time of purchase, the two story, eight-room house was 107 years old and was formerly the home of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Kusaila. Father Curtin took up temporary residence in the Saint Luke's rectory (Ellington, CT) until the Tolland rectory was ready for occupancy. An open house at the rectory took place on September 27, 1964 from 2 - 5 p.m. The entire town of Tolland was invited.
At 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. on July 12, 1964, the first Catholic Church services in the town of Tolland was conducted in the Grange Hall, the temporary home of Saint Matthew Church. There was a single page notice which announced the event as "HISTORY IN THE MAKING". The mass created a precedent as being the first Catholic mass but it also was in a building that was originally built as the Lee Methodist Church which was used for many years by the Methodists before it was taken over by the Grange. The Hall was filled to overflowing for both masses. Even the kitchen area was used by the attendees. The following Sunday, an additional mass was scheduled to relieve the crush experienced the first week. Shortly after the first week's services and because of the overcrowding, the temporary location was moved to the Hicks Memorial School gymnasium. Three masses were scheduled at the new location: 7:30, 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. The Grange Hall was used for parish affairs. Daily masses and confessions were held in the rectory chapel.
Tolland Catholics were informed at masses in Rockville that masses will start in Tolland and that the parish includes the entire town. A census indicated that there were 283 Catholic families in the town of Tolland (about 1200). It was expected that there would be between 200 and 250 members initially.
On October 3, 1964, Rev. Curtin sent a letter to the Saint Matthew parishioners concerning a capital funds campaign with the theme "unity in sacrifice." On November 26, 1964, The Catholic Transcript reported that the building fund drive was ended successfully. During the two weeks of the actual fund drive (the drive began on November 8th), the goal of $115,000 was reached. The campaign officials of the drive were: Pasquale Nappi, Charles Pressler, August Loehr, Sr., and William Hannon. Because of the success of the campaign, Father Curtin expressed hope that the Diocese would permit construction to begin in the spring.
Father Curtin also mentioned that new changes in the liturgy is altering the original design slightly. These changes involved the guideline that no seat should be more than 60 feet from the sanctuary. The original design included a free standing altar entirely surrounded by the Communion rail. Parishioners entering the church will pass through an open court into the narthex (vestry). On the right side of the narthex is a stairwell leading up to the choir loft (a seating capacity of 50) and down to the parish center. On the left side is a processional sacristy which served as an office during the week. The entrance to the baptistery will be to the rear of the nave on the left hand side of the narthex. A vision panel in the narthex wall will permit spectators to view the baptisms. Behind the sanctuary will be the priest's sacristy, boys sacristy and work sacristy.
The Stations of the Cross and statuary are hand-carved linden wood with polychrome finish and have been imported from Italy.
The basement will use moveable partitions to separate the space into eight classrooms. The design allowed for a complete kitchen and bathroom facilities.
The air conditioned building was to be of poured concrete foundation, steel floor framing and concrete slabs. The church will be spanned with laminated arches with dark walnut stained laminated arches and a wood roofed deck. All walls will be plastered and acoustical treatment will be used on the ceilings. All aisles and the sanctuary and baptistery will be carpeted.
The outside design of the church was to be a "modified colonial design conforming to the character of existing buildings in the Tolland community." The 80 foot aluminum spire was to be topped with a gold-leafed cross and contains a carillon of four bell speakers. The structure would provide a hall or meeting place suitable for various parish social and educational functions. The architect was Edward Bushka, A.I.A., of Hartford.
Until construction began, the town was allowed to use some of the land for a skating rink.
Permission to begin construction of the church was granted and plans for the new $300,000 church was reported on January 21, 1965. The design allowed for seating of 720 people: 500 in the main section and approximately 110 on each of two transepts. The basement will house the parish center with seating of about 500 people as well as a stage, storage area and kitchen area. Construction bids were sent out by the end of February.
A ground breaking ceremony was held on Sunday April 11, 1965 at 4 p.m. with the Very Rev. Ralph Kelly, pastor of the Sacred Heart Parish in Vernon, officiated. Assisting Father Curtin in the ceremony were the architect, Edward Bushka, and John Chessari of Vernon whose construction company built the church. Actual construction began on Monday.
The Hartford Courant reported on August 18, 1965 that Father Curtin announced that on the occasion of his return from the closing session of the Vatican Council, Bishop Vincent J. Hines of the Norwich Diocese presented him with a relic of Saint Matthew, apostle and evangelist. This relic was placed in the consecrated altar stone for the new church. Father Curtin mentioned that the relic was presented on the Feast of the Nativity. This was very significant since Saint Matthew was one of the 12 original followers of Christ. "It is unique for a parish to obtain a first class relic for a new church, especially one dating back 2,000 years." His excellency the bishop obtained the relic from Cardinal Traglia, the cardinal vicar to Pope Paul.
Although the official dedication was set for Monday, May 30, 1966, the first mass was held on Mothers' Day. An open house was held on May 22, 1966. A choral concert was performed by the Emerson College Choir. The program included: "Mass in G" by Franz Shubert, "Adora Mus Te, Christe," "Justurm de duxit Dominus," and "Ave, Ferum Corpus" by Mozart. At the dedication, the mass was concelebrated by Bishop Hines, Father Curtin, Very Rev. J. Ralph Kelly, Rev. Thomas P. Guinan of Stamford and Rev. Gregory Toomey of Rye Beach, NH. Preacher at the Mass was Rev. Joseph A. LaPenta of Ansonia. Upon opening, the new church serviced an estimated 1,800 parishioners.