The Diocese of Boston which was formed in 1808 included all of New England. Because of the slow but steady increase in the Catholic population in Vermont, Bishop Benedict Fenwick of Boston decided to send a priest to this mission area as soon as one was available. During a visit to New York he was approached by Rev. Jeremiah O’Callaghan, who offered his services to the Bishop.
Father O’Callaghan’s background is worth recalling. He was born in County Kerry. Ireland in 1780 and was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Cloyne in 1805.
Father O’Callaghan served as an assistant pastor when banking and the practice of lending money at interest was in its infancy. Father O’Callaghan regarded this practice as usury and condemned it as immoral. His extreme views on this question which he did not hesitate to proclaim publicly brought him into disfavor with his bishop and he was discharged from service in his native diocese.
Bishop Fenwick was impressed with the character and zeal for souls of this exiled priest, who at age fifty gladly accepted the arduous assignment of ministering to the spiritual needs of the Catholic people who had settled in the territory which Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer had fittingly named, the Green Mountains – Vermont.
On July 6, 1830 Fr. O’Callaghan left for Vermont to begin his missionary duties. Fr. O’Callaghan was the first priest to visit Rutland in the summer of 1830 where he offered Mass in a private home. Travelling by stagecoach, horse and buggy, and horse back he visited the Catholics scattered in the various areas of the state and came to Rutland four or five times a year.
Aware of the toll exerted by the incessant travel and advancing age of Father O’ Callaghan, Bishop Fenwick endeavored to provide him with an equally zealous co-worker. In 1837 the Bishop found such a priest in the person of Fr. John 8. Daly, a Franciscan priest recently received into the Boston Diocese. Father Daly was sent to Vermont to assist Fr. O’Callaghan and the large territory was divided. Father O’Callaghan taking charge of the northern section and Father Daly the southern part of the state.
Father Daly visited Rutland about once a month. When the congregation increased beyond the capacity of a private home, he offered Mass in a building known as “Ball Alley” on Main St, It is interesting to note that these pioneer priests received no salary or stipends. For their livelihood they depended solely upon free will offerings.
The Catholic population increased slowly in Rutland. After the failure of Irelands potato crop in 1846, the exodus from that country brought countless thousands to the eastern seaboard. Although most of the immigrants settled in Boston and New York, some ventured west and north. In 1884 the railroads were being built in Vermont and laborers mostly Irish were hired in gangs by the builders. Since Rutland emerged as a railroad
center, many of these men settled in the Rutland area finding employment on the railroads, in the machine shops and in the marble industry which began to flourish in the 1850’s.
By 1853 there were 20,000 Catholics in Vermont and the Diocese of Burlington was established on July 25, 1853. The new diocese comprised the entire state. Father Louis DeGoesbriand, the chancellor of the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio was appointed as its first bishop and on Nov. 6, 1853 was formally installed as Bishop of Burlington.
The preceding information is an excerpt from “The History of St. Peter’s Church” written by Father Patrick Hannon of that parish and reprinted here with his permission.
From Town Historical Book 1976