St Mary of the Hills

Parish History

As the Rev. Paul J. Tougas looked about the new colonial style St. Mary of the Hills, he admitted there were times when he wondered if the church would ever get built. "But I never gave up. Don’t forget, I’m the pastor and the pastor’s job is to lead, " he said.What he has led his flock to after years of working and waiting is a breathtaking open-space church, the first to be built in the Worcester Diocese in line with the reforms of Vatican II.

The interior’s exposed laminated truss structure has a natural wood finish and exposed wood ceiling. The walls are painted gypsum wallboard; flooring is natural finished wood in the church proper and carpeted in other spaces. There is not an obstructed view of the altar. Instead of stained glass windows, the church has clear glass windows to allow the natural beauty of the hillside setting to be seen from within the church.

Ronald B. Croaken, chairman of the church’s building committee, pointed out that the seating surrounds the altar so the priest becomes part of the congregation. At the entrance is a gathering area where the priest and the members of the parish can visit before and after Mass.

Vatican II said the tabernacle should not be part of the church proper. At St. Mary’s a small chapel has been built to the rear of the church so the tabernacle is visible but separated from the church, Croaken said. He noted that the altar is an octagonal platform so that people can walk around the altar. Croaken said, "We wanted a colonial interior in keeping with the setting of Boylston and we also wanted it contemporary."

Planning for the $ 1.3 million church began in 1983 when the Parish Council appointed a study committee to examine the former church building and decide what the parish should do. The church’s population had been growing and the church complex was fast becoming inadequate. The study committee was asked if the old building should be enlarged or if a new church should be built. The recommendation came back that "no serious money should be put into the present building."

In August 1986, the Parish Council voted to hire an architect and on Dec. 28, 1986, the council voted to choose a site at Route 140 and Sewall Street. After months of architectural and engineering work and a successful fund-raising drive, the parish was ready to begin building when the Diocese unexpectedly offered a 13-acre tract at Barlin Acres off Cross Street. The Parish Council voted to accept the new site on Jan 7, 1989.

The new church would be financed through donations, a mortgage and the sale for the old church property. This is where the church ran into its major problem. "The real estate market went south at this time," Croaken said. "We were asset rich but cash poor. We had to sell the property before we could begin to build the new church," he said. The site was scrutinized and rejected by an auto parts store, a developer thinking of converting the church and parking lot into shops, and various religious groups and others.Finally, the church and parking lot was bought by Mount Zion Assembly of God.  Under the agreement, Tougas could continue to hold a Mass on Saturdays and Sundays until the new church was built.

But before ground could be broken, a new problem popped up. Boylston has a 35 foot height limitation on buildings and the church planned a steeple that would bring the height to 82 feet above the ground. The church was granted a variance by the Zoning Board of Appeals but the variance was opposed by some neighbors. At a special town meeting April 3, churches were exempted from the zoning regulations.

On April 6, 1991 ground was broken. Keefe Associated Inc. of Boston was the architect and RL Jeanette Inc. of Shirley was the builder.

The dedication of the 400 seat church was held on December 13-15, 1991 with the dedication of the organ and entombment of relics Friday, the dedication of the church Saturday and an open house and services Sunday.

Despite the years of work to build the church, several comments over that weekend probably showed Tougas and the parishioners that they made the right choice. Tougas said a priest visiting the church told him, "When you see a building that with decorations reflects God, then you know it is a good building." A woman touring the church said it simpler - "It makes we want to move to Boylston so I can go to church here."

This history of St Mary of the Hills was taken from a 12/16/91 Worcester Telegram & Gazette column written by John J. O'Connor.


Page Last Updated: Monday, October 25, 1999