The New Saint Augustine on Barre Street
The construction of St. Augustine church took 11 long and difficult years, and the huge, Gothic structure of granite and brick was not fully completed when the parish began preparations for its first ceremony in its new house of worship.
Hundreds of people worked feverishly through the wet, thawing days of March and into April of 1903 to ready the church and prepare for its first Masses. The people of St. Augustine planned to celebrate the most joyous feast of the church year - Easter - in the Church. The final preparations were chronicled at length in the Montpelier Daily Journal; the opening of St. Augustine clearly was more than a parish event --it was a community celebration.
This is the event we celebrate; the laying of the cornerstone of the present
St. Augustine on July 4, 1892 by Bishop deGosbriand.
"St. Augustine church, in the half century of its existence, has done notable work in Montpelier," the newspaper wrote on Saturday, April 11, 1903 - the day before the festive dedication. "And the people of the city will join with one accord in the wish that in the future it may shine even more brightly as a beacon of light of the great church of which it is a part...
"They have built a sanctuary that will be a joy and an inspiration not only to them, but to their children and their children's children for generations to come."
Pews were brought in and secured on that Holy Saturday; Easter lilies, roses and palms were placed around the Church. The children of St. Michael's School made the altar decorations. Altar boys donated cut-glass and silver cruets, the sisters of the convent decorated the altar and sanctuary, and the women of the parish presented gold and white vestments and a lace alb to Father O'Sullivan for the Easter Mass.
Three services were planned - a low Mass at 8'o'clock on Easter morning, a solemn high Mass at 10:30, and vespers with benediction at 4 p.m. The 10:30 Mass was designated as the chief service of the day. Because of a high level of interest throughout the community, tickets were issued for non-Catholics who wanted to attend. Nearly 500 were distributed.
According to the Daily Journal, the 8 a.m. Mass - the first ever celebrated in the new St. Augustine Church, was well attended. Before it was over people started to gather for the 10:30 service. When the pews were filled to capacity - they accommodated 900 people - chairs were set up in the aisles. And when the first strains of Mendelssohn's 95th Psalm opened the ceremony, there were an estimated 1,400 people in attendance.
This collage was probably produced and distributed when the new St. Augustine Church on Barre Street was in the planning stages. The architect's rendering of the church was the original plan. The steeple and the small tower on the left were never completed as shown. Other pictures in the collage are Father O'Sullivan, St. Michaels's School and the church and rectory on Court Street.
The High Mass was celebrated by Father O'Sullivan, assisted by Father A.M. Salmon as deacon and Rev. Mr. P.R. Renard as sub-deacon. Father O'Sullivan delivered the sermon in bother English and French. He spoke first of the significance of Easter, then of the new church. According to the journal, it was an emotional moment.
"You are all welcome to this new house of the risen Christ," the pastor told the congregation. "You are all welcome after years of trial during which we were sometimes upon the very brink of despair. You have made sacrifices and you have had to carry your cross, but thanks be to God you have succeeded..."
The afternoon service that day was attended by 1,000 people. By nightfall, St. Augustine had hosted a large percentage of the people of Montpelier.
The church interior in the 1940's.
St. Augustine cost about $65,000 to build. That amount does not reflect the cost of the furnishings. The project was suspended twice for lack of funds and 11 years passed between the ceremonious laying of the cornerstone and the Easter, 1903 services which marked its formal opening. Architect George K. Guernsey designed the structure, according to Margaret Emmons' parish history, and Granite Construction Co., of Montpelier, did much of the work.
Below is the interior of St. Augustine in 1949. It is the style of church architecture and décor of the time and therefore very different from the church as we know it today. A short time after the present windows were installed in 1938 the interior was renovated. This was the result.
St. Augustine in 1949.
Note that side altars were added at this time and the Wood paintings relocated from the front of the church to the side alcoves.
The pulpit was attached to the pillar as was common in those days. This was before amplification systems were in use and brought the preacher closer to the congregation.
New chandeliers were installed and the lighting improved. Note the stenciled painting on the walls, the altar rail and the variety of statues: St. Augustine, St. Michael, the Sacred Heart, St. Anthony, St. Joseph, the Blessed Virgin.