History of St. Mark


History of St. Mark

The first Catholic service on Conanicut Island was recorded on July 20, 1890. Mrs. Charles A. Faris, a generous benefactor of the Catholic Church, spending the summer at the Thorndyke Hotel on Conanicus Avenue, was entertaining two eminent visitors, Archbishop Kenrick of St. Louis and Archbishop Ryan of Philadelphia. On that historic Sunday the two bishops concelebrated the first Mass in the hotel's dining room.The following April, a plot of land on Clinton Avenue was deeded to the Most Rev. Matthew Harkins, Bishop of Providence, by James L. and Catherine Wilcox. Two years laterthe Diocese of Providence built on this property a mission of St. Mary's Church of Newport, which was called Chapel-by-the-Sea. The chapel was used for prayer and worship only during the summer, under the pastorates of Rev. Philip Grace and Rev. W. B. Meenan. In winter, residents took the ferry to Newport for Masses at St. Mary's. 

On a fall day in 1909 bystanders on Narragansett Avenue saw the Chapel-by-the-Sea moving inexorably up the street drawn by a team of horses. The Catholic chapel was placed on a plot of land deeded to the Diocese by Eunice D. Littlefield, who had inherited it from the Silas Carr estate. On this site, which included a house that later became the rectory, the Chapel-by- the-Sea received a new name, St. Mark Church, in the new parish of Jamestown. Rev. Patrick J. Sullivan was appointed the first pastor of the parish. Father Sullivan had a hall built behind the church that was used as a library, social hall, and movie theater for the showing of silent films, which appeared at about the time the parish was formed. During World War I the parish hall served as a meeting place to entertain soldiers and sailors. During the pastorate of the Rev. John W. Murphy, who came to the parish in 1957 as its eleventh spiritual leader, the structure we see today as St. Mark Church was built to replace one that was no longer large enough to accomodate a growing parish. 

On July 31, 1960, a year after St. Mark celebrated its golden jubilee year, the handsome new church was dedicated by Bishop Russell J. McVinney, Bishop of the Providence diocese. The contemporary architecture of the church was designed to harmonize with the surrounding area of Jamestown. John Collins of Newport built the church and donated the altar. He was a cousin of T.C. Dowling, a deeply involved parishioner of St. Mark. Mrs. T. C. Dowling made the original linens for the altar. In 1984, the Rev.William J. O'Neill was officially installed as the new pastor of St. Mark Church by the Most Rev. Kenneth A. Angell, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Providence.