Parish History

On February 6, 1919, the Thaddeus Kosciusko Society purchased a plot of land on Elm Street on which to build their church and deeded this property to the Diocese of Manchester on March 22, 1920. Bishop J. F. Guertin, D.D. of Manchester was asked to find a Polish priest to administer to their spiritual needs.

On June 30, 1920, Rev Marjan Godlewski, an ex-Polish Army Chaplain was the first pastor assigned. While here, he conducted a census and from the 40 families he visited, collected $1,500 to start a church building fund. The Thaddeus Kosciusko Society donated $600, depleting its treasury.

In June of 1921, Bishop Guertin blessed the site where the church would stand and he, himself contributed $1000 toward the building project.

On August 15, 1921, Rev Adam A. Oraczewski was assigned to the parish. With the help of parishioners, he immediately started to build the church. According to Bishop Guertin’s diary, Wilfred E. Provost of Manchester was the architect and Louis A. LaFrance of Holyoke, MA was the builder. The cost of the one-story, flat roofed building was $14,000. The first Mass offered in this “basement chapel” was on Christmas Day, 1921, with music provided by the newly formed St Cecelia Choir.

In September of 1921, the women of the parish formed the Ladies Adoration Society. In October, the young girls of the parish joined together and called themselves “Children of Mary”.

The parish had grown to 67 families from Claremont. Primarily, these people came from the same area of Poland – Wilno, famous for its miraculous picture of our Blessed Lady, known as “Our Lady of Ostrobrama”. Because of their great devotion to Our Lady, the parishioners wished to place their newly formed parish under her patronage therefore, giving her name, “Our Lady of Ostrobrama” to the church. Fr Adam was assigned to another parish in August of 1922 and “Our Lady of Ostrobrama” was without a priest for the next six months.

On February 15, 1923, Rev Bernard M. Skulik was assigned to the parish. The home of Mrs. Annie Gilbert, which adjoined the church property at 58 Elm St was purchased for $5,000 on March 30th to be used as a rectory. On June 29, 1923, with permission from the diocesan authorities, Fr Bernard changed the church name to “St Joseph Church” because of the prior existence of a Catholic church in town under the patronage of Our Lady.

Rev Maurice Sekiewicz was the next priest assigned to the parish, beginning his work on June 18, 1924, and faced an obligation of a $15,000 debt on church properties.

Fr Maurice, due to his determination, conducted classes in the Polish language for the children to be able to learn the language of their forefathers.

For the first four years, Mass was offered in what is how the church hall.

In September of 1924, realizing the need for the completion of the church, Fr Maurice called a meeting of the parishioners and after many more meetings and much deliberation, it was decided to go ahead and build a super-structure on top of the existing building. Everyone pitched in once the decision to build was made. The Thaddeus Kosciusko Society started the ball rolling by contributing $500. Bishop Guertin contributed another $1,000. Polish people from neighboring Newport NH and Windsor and Springfield, VT made contributions of over $400. Everyone donated according to their means and over $4,500 was realized. To help with fund raising efforts, Fr Maurice organized a Bazaar on the church grounds. At this point in time, the Bazaar was a simple affair, but was not an annual event.

Wilfred E. Provost was once again the architect and August G. Bernier of Somersworth, NH was the builder for this new project. By autumn, the edifice was nearing completion and thought was given to furnishing the new church in keeping with its gothic architecture. The Thaddeus Kosciusko Society came forth once again and pledged to donate the main altar.

The Ladies Adoration Society donated the altar on the left side of the Sanctuary and dedicated it to the Blessed Mother. The Stephen Sobol family donated the oil painting of “Our Lady of Czestochowa” which hangs above the altar. The Ladies Adoration Society also donated a gold chalice, the large crystal chandelier, and priest’s vestments. The Sacred Heart altar on the right side of the Sanctuary was donated by the Anthony Szklennik family. The altar linens and the gold lace antependium that graces the front if the three altars were purchased by Mr. & Mrs. Walter Jerasonek.

The two stained glass windows on either side of the main altar, one depicting “The Nativity” and the other “The Ascension of Our Lord”, were donated by Mr. & Mrs. Alexander Szyman. Other stained-glass windows were donated by Mr. & Mrs. Marcel Chrostowski, Mr. & Mrs. Alexander Leocha, Mr. & Mrs. Kazimir Skill, Mr. & Mrs. Ignacy Rozwadowski, Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Nawojczyk, Mr. & Mrs. Ignacy Golub, Mr. & Mrs. Jaroslaw Czechowicz, Mr. & Mrs. John Nowak, Mr. & Mrs. Stanley Madeja, Clarence F Gonyea – in memory of his brother Ernest, and Jaroslaw Sierota in memory of his parents.

The Rose window above the choir loft, a gift of the St Cecelia Choir, depicts St Cecelia, the patron saint of music playing the pipe organ.

The baptismal font was donated by the school children of St Joseph’s, and the pulpit and Sanctuary votive lampstand were donated by Mr. & Mrs. Wojciech Szczerba.

The church was finished in December of 1925. The main altar was blessed on December 22nd with the first Mass offered on Christmas Day, the fourth anniversary of the parish’s first Mass. A formal dedication took place in warmer weather on May 31, 1926. When the year 1925 drew to a close, the church and properties were valued at $75,000 and the debt was $44,500.

On September 6, 1926, Joseph Madeja and Amelia Yurek were the first couple to be married in the new church.

About this time, the St Joseph Society was organized to fulfill a need for a religious society of men to participate in and assist with the spiritual aspects of the church.

On Easter Sunday, in April of 1936, a fire devastated the church Sanctuary and Sacristy.

Fr Maurice was succeeded in October of 1936 by Rev Msg Frederic R. Kaznocha.

Around 1937, Fr Fred turned to Bazaar into a yearly fund-raising event, known today as the “Lawn Party”, to help with the expenses of the parish.

Through the capable leadership and administration of Fr Fred, the exteriors of the buildings were renovated. In addition, an ambitious artistic project was begun in 1943 with the redecoration of the church’s interior. Vito Albanese, an Italian artist, was hired to do the work which consisted of the murals of the Holy Ghost on the ceiling above the Sanctuary, the symbols of St John and St Luke on the right side and the symbols of St Mark and St Matthew on the left. The mural of the Death of St Joseph and his reception in the to Kingdom of God above the main altar. These murals were painted in shades of pastels and real gold leaf. All the church organizations, parishioners, and friends contributed to the cost of this project. At this time, the spires on the main altar were cut down to their present height to provide for an unobstructed view of the mural depicting the Death of Joseph. A new oak altar rail was donated by Miss Julia Kotomski and Mrs. Agnes Kotomski Rzeczycki in memory of their parents. Two matching oak pew fonts were donated by Mr. & Mrs. Alexander Szyman in memory of their son Edmund.

In 1951, under the guidance of Fr Fred, the men and young boys of the parish were organized into the Holy Name Society and Junior Holy Name Society. The Altar Boy Society was also formed for the boys.

Fr Fred worked diligently, and after fifteen and a half years, reduced the parish debt to $18,500. On May 16, 1952, Fr Fred was re-assigned to St Hedwig Church in Manchester, the largest Polish parish in the diocese. The Rev Henry A. Ustaszweski came to Claremont to replace Fr Fred as pastor.

Fr Henry’s first function was the organization of a belated celebration of the 30th anniversary of the parish, and the 25th anniversary of the dedication of the church. This event was held in November of 1952. Fr Henry also expanded the “Lawn Party” with additional booths and rides for the children.

The Children of Mary, which previously was a local parish organization, became affiliated with the Arch Sodality in Rome.

In 1953, monthly Communion and Breakfast for the Sodality of the Immaculate Conception and Junior Holy Name Society were instituted. Later, this event became an annual Family Communion and Breakfast celebration, which was held on the second Sunday of January. This has now become a feature on Mother’s Day.

In commemoration of the declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1954, the parish joyfully greeted the replica of the statue of “Our Lady of Fatima” which was visiting all parishes in the United States.

The late Julian Szczerba left the church a small bequest upon his death and the electronic Schulmerich “Bells” were purchased in his memory.

The beauty of the front of the church was enhanced by the donation of the stature of St Joseph, in memory of Catherine Chemouski, and the statue of Our Lady was donated in memory of Caroline and Anthony Gryckiewicz.

In September of 1960, the Most Rev Matthew R. Brady, D.D. sent Rev Edward Zaleweski as an assistant to Fr Henry. Fr Edward remained at St Joseph’s until May 31, 1962.

The debt incurred from 1952 was paid in full by Fr Henry in 1962.

Two pieces of abutting property were purchased in 1962 for the sum of $25,000 to accommodate the need for off-street parking for parishioners attending Mass, and for facilities for Catechism and confraternity classes. Another $10,000 was used to remodel one of the buildings, install new central heating, and pave two large parking areas. The sum of $35,000 was borrowed for these improvements and became a new debt for the church. Kitchen facilities were also added in the church hall to facilitate church suppers and the annual “Sports Night” activity initiated by Fr Henry and a group of Holy Name men.

At the end of 1963, when the spiritual report was made to the Most Rev Ernest Primeau S.T.D., Bishop of Manchester, 126 families were listed totaling 494 parishioners for St Joseph Church.

On July 4, 1965, Fr Henry passed away and the Rev Leonard Foisy, S.S. was appointed Administrator of the parish until September of that year.

The Rev Stanley J. Piwowar, a native of North Walpole, NH was assigned as pastor on September 7, 1965. Apart from two months in 1967 when Rev Stanley E. Skora served as his assistant, Fr Stan has served by himself.

It was in late 1960’s that St Joseph Church complied with all the Vatican II proposed changes. A portable altar and lectern, made by William Juda, a parishioner, were installed in the Sanctuary.

The St Joseph Church Council comprised of both men and women was instituted replacing the pastor’s advisory group after 1965.
On May 2, 1968, Bishop Primeau administered the Sacrament of Confirmation at St Joseph’s. It was in May of 1971 that the Saturday evening Mass was introduced at St Joseph’s.

Sometime during the mid to late 1970’s, Fr Stan eliminated the debt incurred in 1962. The original debt of $35,000 was repaid, plus $15,000 in interest. A “burning of the mortgage” ceremony was celebrated during one of the annual Appreciation parties.
On October 5, 1975, the parish celebrated its Golden Anniversary. It also marked the 54th anniversary of the Ladies Adoration Society.

To the best of our knowledge, the only parishioner to join the religious life was Lena Szklennik, who joined the Order of Our Lady of Angels in Enfield, CT. She became a high school teacher there and celebrated her Golden Jubilee on May 29, 1977.

In September of 1980, Valeria Zombeck, who served Fr Henry, Fr Stan, and the parish celebrated her 25th anniversary as housekeeper of the rectory.

On December 4, 1981, an official parish visitation was made by Bishop Odore Gendron and Rev Robert Carty, Dean of the Lebanon Deanery. This visit marked the first overnight stay by the diocesan prelate in the newly renovated Bishop’s quarters at the rectory.

The 1986 census of St Joseph Church listed 300-325 families or about 1200 people, 25-30 baptisms, 18-21 weddings, 20 funerals, and 3 converts.

In 1996, the first young girl, Leigha Marro, was trained to be an altar server.

Fr Stan managed the “Lawn Party” from 1965 until the year 2000. Through the “lawn Party” and other fundraising events, Fr Stan eliminated all debts and established a surplus of funds for the first time in the history of the church. This surplus has paid for repairs and improvements to the church and properties throughout Fr Stan’s tenure without the need for incurring new debt.

In 2001, an elevator and tower were added to the church, providing access from the church hall to the choir loft. The building for this project was Blanc & Bailey Construction of Charlestown, NH. Conceptual drawings to aesthetically blend the new tower in with the exterior of the church were done by Frederick Puksta of Peterborough, NH. The elevator project also included blown-in insulation within the exterior walls, new exterior siding, replacement of the air conditioning system, remodeling of the choir loft, relocation of two stained glass windows, and the addition of a new stained glass window depicting St Joseph on the front of the church.

The church today stands as a living monument to memory of those first pioneers of our parish who, through their simple beginning, bur hard work and love for God made all of this possible.

Information contained within taken from the 75th Anniversary publication of St Joseph Parish 1926-2001.

Priests of St Joseph Church

Rev Maurice Godlewski
Rev Adam A Oraczewski
Rev Bernard Skulik
Rev Maurice Sekiewicz
Rev Frederick R Kaznocha
Rev Henry Ustaszewski
Rev Edward J Zalewski
Rev Leonard R Foisy
Rev Robert E Carty
Rev Stanley E Skora
Rev Stanley J Piwowar
Rev George Majka
Very Rev Shawn Therrien, VG
Rev Arockia Antony, HGN
Rev Maria Sebastian Susairaj, HGN