Monday, September 12, 2011

City of Immigrants, City of Churches

Scotch Presbyterian Church, Warrenton street, 1917.

Boston was a city of diversity long before the current usage of the word was coined. In the early 20th Century, Boston's diversity had a European base. In contemporary media, Boston is considered first as an Irish city, then Italian, Jewish, and 'other.' In fact, there were colonies of many nationalities in the city before assimilation and the suburbs watered them down and dispersed them away.

Portugese Catholic Church, North Bennett street, 1902.

Many of the immigrants who came to Boston were Catholics, and the Archdiocese allowed them to build their own churches and hold mass in their own languages.

Ohabei Sholom Synagogue, Union Park street, South End, 1902.

Not all of the immigrants were Catholic, and not all were Christian. There were Synagogues in the North, South and West Ends, and Roxbury as well.

Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church, Emerald street, 1917.

When you think of Boston immigrants, do you think of Swedes? Both of my mother's parents were Swedes, and they had other Swedish friends in the city and nearby. Although most Swedes were Lutherans in the old country, my mother's family attended a Congregational church in Jamaica Plain. There must have been enough Swedes in the South End to maintain a church for a time.

St John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, Union Park, 1938.

Plenty of Greeks in Boston, and indeed they still keep their identity in the city, with a group centered in Roslindale.

French Catholic Church, Isabella street, 1902.

This would be French Canadian I imagine. Canadian may be the immigrant group that gets the least respect in Boston. Canadians from the Atlantic Provinces and Quebec came to Boston for work, and were one of the largest immigrant groups of the 19th Century. Men from Nova Scotia came to this country with carpentry skills, and filled the house-building trade. French-Canadians were major contributors to the mill towns of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and settled in Boston as well.

First Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church, Ferdinand street, 1902

Not all Swedes were Lutherans, apparently.

Holy Trinity German Catholic Church, Shawmut avenue, 1918.

Germans were one of the major immigrant groups in Boston. Like many European nationalities, Germans tended to arrive in Atlantic ports and then move on to the Midwest. Some, however, stayed and settled down. Those who came from the north of Germany were mostly Protestant, and the southerns were usually Catholic. They organized social clubs and schools to maintain their language and traditions, and in the case of the Catholics, requested permission of the Archdiocese to build their own church. The building still stands in the South End, but is no longer active.

St Peter's Lithuanian Roman Catholic Church, W. Fifth street, South Boston, 1910.

South Boston and Irish go together in the public mind like peanut butter and jelly, but the district was also the center of Boston's Lithuanian population. Lithuanians and Latvians both emigrated from their homes to flee the anarchy and oppression of the Russian revolutionary period. St Peter's is still an active parish.


  1. Interesting to note that building shown as Ohabei Sholom on Union Park Street in 1902 was St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox by 1938. Ohabei Shalom is now on Beacon Street in Brookline.

  2. Indeed. Many houses of worship were reused by other congregations. They would always want to hand on their sacred space to another religious group rather than see it turned into a pool hall.

  3. Do you have images or more information on two churches that were used by Irish Roman Catholics in 1856-1858? St. John the Baptist, North Bennett St in the North End. It may have been built as a Protestant church.
    Also the first Cathedral of the Holy Cross--1856 and located in the North End of Boston.

  4. I can't find anything about the St John church. The first Cathedral of the Holy Cross was erected on Franklin st in 1803, designed by Bullfinch. There are prints and photos in the Boston Public Library Flickr photo group.

  5. St, John the Baptist Church may have ben a Freewill Baptist Church first. My Grandparents were married there in 1899, and both sets of greatgrand parents may have attended there also, St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. on Bennett street.I would love to find an old picture and find out were the records went to.