The Monsignor Crosby Years
Father O'Sullivan took great pride in the construction of St. Augustine, as well as the evolution of St. Michael's School. He guided parish affairs for 30 years, visiting his parishioners frequently in their neighborhoods and their homes.
Mrs. Helen Ryle Goodrich recalls that Father O'Sullivan would announce every Sunday which section of town he expected to visit that week. The children very much looked forward to his visits, she said. She describes him as a "people-oriented" pastor.
When Father O'Sullivan died at the Heaton Hospital at the age of 60, following a long and painful illness, he was mourned not only by the members of the parish, but by the entire community.
He was succeeded in July of 1915 by Father Patrick J. Long, who was assigned to St. Augustine from St. Dominic Parish in Proctor. During his six years at St. Augustine, Father Long - who was born in Brattleboro and ordained in Montreal - made many improvement to the school, church and rectory. He also paid off the remaining debt on the new church structure.
Peter Giuliani, whose family arrived in Montpelier in 1912, remembers Father Long as "a priest of the old school; never any doubt about anything, very dedicated to his calling and very strict."
In 1921, Father Long was re-assigned to St. Mary Parish in Fair Haven. According to a 1943 parish history prepared for the Knights of Columbus annual convention that year, a "magnificent, city-wide Farewell Reception" was held for Father Long in city Hall.
Father Long's re-assignment was announced on Saturday, August 13, 1921. On the following day - Sunday, August 14 - the parish's new pastor addressed the congregation for the first time. His name was Rev. William Patrick Crosby. Born in Ludlow, Father Crosby served in parishes in Rutland, Burlington, Hyde Park and Proctor before he was assigned to St. Augustine's at the age of 41.
Over the next 41 years, the history of St. Augustine is closely linked to the activities of this remarkable man who devoted himself tirelessly to the well-being of the parish and its family and left a lasting impression on the people of St. Augustine.
He was considered to be stern and unapproachable, but others recognized a soft, shy side to the man. He had a special closeness to children and young adults, an open, inquisitive mind and an unswerving devotion to both his calling as a priest and his mission as a pastor.
During his stewardship at the parish, Father Crosby - later honored with the title of Monsignor - moved the rectory twice, built a convent for the sisters, and conceived and constructed St. Michael's High School. He donated substantial sums of money to the school on both this silver and golden jubilees as a priest, and also made numerous improvements to the church.
He was active in local civic affairs, followed world events closely, and shrewdly managed the business of the parish.
"He was a great Man - very dedicated to his calling, very much in charge," recalls Peter Giuliani.
Unlike Father O'Sullivan before him, Father Crosby was not social by nature. He visited parishioners when they were sick or in need of assistance, but rarely stopped by for informal conversation. One of the few pleasures he allowed himself was an occasional half-day of fishing; he also kept a flower garden as a hobby. But he never took a vacation in his years at St. Augustine, and apparently only went on retreat once a year.
"He was a consummate businessman working with a small amount of money," recalls Paul Guare, another of the parish's senior members. "The parish members were blue collar, there weren't many professional people ...And yet Father Crosby found the money to build a school."
Father Crosby read four newspapers every day to keep abreast of world and local affairs, and regularly attended city meetings.
And he is probably best remembered for his practical, businesslike approach to operating the parish. Guare illustrates with a story about how the pastor dealt with city officials following the Ku Klux Klan incident in 1925, when a cross was burned on the steps leading up to the church.
"Father Crosby told me, and this is sort of unusual for him ...but I have this very vivid recollection of him telling me," recalls Mr. Guare, "Edward H. Deavitt was mayor. He was a very prominent person, political, and he was a lawyer. He has mayor and there was some damage to the steps as a result of the (cross) burning, and so Father Crosby went to him and said he thought the city ought to pay for the repair. And Deavitt told him he didn't think they had that responsibility.
So he talked to him a couple of times and he didn't get anywhere. So he finally said to him, 'Well, I think what I'm going to do is repair the steps myself and I'm going to put a plaque. And the plaque is going to say, 'One this spot, on a certain date, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross during the administration of Mayor Edward Deavitt."
Lola Aiken lived across the street from the rectory on what is now Monsignor Crosby Ave.
"I was in and out of that house a lot," She recalls. "He was, um ...a lot of people were afraid of him. He seemed stern..."
"But he was about as broadminded as they came..."Said Mrs. Aiken. "Another thing about him was his love of little children. He always had candy in a dish over there. My nephews used to go over there a lot when they were about five or six years old. And they would walk right in and go right upstairs and they knew where the candy was. And they would always come back with a fistful."
"Another thing those little kids used to do...My mother would let them have a blanket and they would go over to Father Crosby's lawn and have picnics. And when Father Crosby came out, those kids would always run up to him. That's the image you got when you lived across the street from him."
Mrs. Aiken describes Father Crosby as "extremely shy." But she also said he was a "great public relations man with the community, outside the Catholic Church."
"While some people thought he was stern, other people recognized something in Father Crosby that was very sweet," she recalls. "That's a dumb word to use. But he was a sweet, sweet guy. My mother, if he came out in just his shirtsleeves sometimes and it was cold, she'd open that front door and yell, 'Father, go back in and get your sweater.' And he would turn around like a little boy and go back in and get his sweater."
Father Crosby had a special affinity for children and young people. While in Burlington before his assignment to St. Augustine, he founded the Newman club there to bring a Catholic presence to the University of Vermont. In Montpelier, after expanding St. Michael's School with the important addition of St. Michael's High School, he served as its principal for 36 years.
For many parishioners, he was a quiet confidant and counselor in an era when dancing was prohibited in Catholic facilities by direction of the Bishop, and when divorced Catholics could be reconciled with the church only by signing a confession of sorts and writing an apology to be read to the entire congregation.
"Father Crosby read the apologies so fast nobody understood them" recalls Paul Guare.
Over the years he also opened the rectory to at least two children in need of a home. While in Hardwick, he met Annie Mulcahey - who for many, many years served as his live-in housekeeper. Miss Mulcahey took in a young girl named Rita Bobinski whose family apparently was impoverished.
When Father Crosby was transferred to St. Augustine, Miss Mulcahey and Rita Bobinski - then 10 or 12, according to Paul Guare's estimate - came with him. Rita grew up in the rectory, and was in the first graduating class at St. Michael's High School. Rita and Lola Aiken remain good friends to this day. "She was a hell-raiser," Mrs. Aiken remembers, fondly. "You wouldn't think that, living at the rectory...Anyway, if she got into trouble, she waited until she knew the housekeeper was asleep and then called Father Crosby. Tells you something about him, doesn't it? She wasn't afraid of him and could talk to him."
Also, Miss Mulcahey's nephew, Eddie Somers, came to live at the rectory when he was in the seventh grade. Paul Guare remembers getting some neighborhood boys together, at Father Crosby's direction, to meet the youngster. Eddie lived at the rectory until he graduated from high school. Margaret Emmons, in her parish history, provides a thumbnail summary of the physical growth of St. Augustine's during Father Crosby's long pastorship. She said he purchased the so-called "Ellis House" on Barre Street, for use as a rectory; the land and building at the corner of Barre Street and Fullerton Ave, where he erected the parish convent in 1928. He also purchased the Lull House on Barre Street; the Guare house on Fullerton Ave.; and the Altherton House on Fullerton Ave.
In 1931 he completed St. Michael's High School, and a number of years later acquired the East State Street School under a lease arrangement in which the parish agreed to pay the city $1 per year for up to 99 years.
Monsignor Crosby died in the early spring of 1963. His body is buried in the churchyard of St. Augustine.
A Community Farewell
Monsignor Crosby was as respected and admired outside of the parish as he was by the people of St. Augustine. So his passing was mourned not only by the parish, but by the community at large. The following is an editorial that appeared in the Times-Argus shortly after his death.
Msgr. William Patrick Crosby
Granted what might well have been a final and singular grace, Monsignor Crosby left this earth not long before his accustomed hour of rising to celebrate the first in the Sunday schedule of Masses at St. Augustine Church.
Within the precincts of the parish he loved and served so well, his death came in the dawn of a Sunday in Eastertide at the hour of renewal of the daily liturgy of his church.
His parishioners would first learn of his passing when assembled a few hours later for the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Monsignor Crosby will be remembered for many things, but primarily as a pastor of tireless zeal for the souls of the faithful given to his care.
This is the dominant theme of his long and fruitful ministry which touched the lives of three generations through a life of service to his people and fidelity to his vocation as a priest.
To these ultimate purposes were dedicated his great gift as an administrator and his perceptive vision as a builder; talents which produced impressive growth in the size and influence of St. Augustine Parish during his 38 years as pastor.
Preeminent among his recognized accomplishments was his distinguished service to the cause of education. A paramount interest, for which, perhaps, he would most wish to be remembered, his compelling concern for the education of youth led to his founding of St. Michael's High School in 1923.
Thereafter, his informed management provided guidance and support for a full school system, through difficult years to a position of stability and high scholastic achievement.
A man of wide ranging interests and knowledgeable in many fields, he maintained an informed and active interest in public affairs until his last hours.
Many will recall his regular mid-morning errand along Main Street to secure two of the four newspapers he read daily...his appearance at the Legislature and at city meetings, seated at his favored location in the right corner of the hall...his service on community committees and organizations...his enthusiasm for sports expressed in partisan support for the best spots for trout fishing, a hobby indulged for brief periods as the only vacation he would accept.
More enduringly, Monsignor Crosby will be remembered as a priest and pastor who gave himself through a selfless and dedicated life to the people he served.
In death, at his own request, his earthly remains will lie within the confines of the parish.
Adjoining his grave, the structure of St. Augustine Church will stand as sentinel and memorial.