About Our Parish

Located on the north bank of the Merrimack River in Lowell, the Parish of St. Michael was established in 1883 to service the needs of the largely Irish immigrant community of Centralville and Dracut. For a short time this working class community met in a nearby firehouse until the people moved to the present location on Sixth Street. A school was founded in 1889 by the Dominican Sisters to educate our children and instill the knowledge and appreciation of Catholic tradition.

Prior to 1883, there were no parish "lines" in Lowell. Many of the families who first settled near St. Patrick's church continued to worship there even after they had moved to other sections of the city. It was the same with many of St. Peter's parishioners and equally true of the people who attended the Immaculate Conception church. Because religious sentiment or affection bound the people to the church of their childhood, as the years went it became evident that this had its drawbacks, especially in the matter of sick calls and funerals.

Early in 1883, therefore, His Grace, Archbishop John J. Williams, concluded that the best interests of all concerned demanded the division of the city into "parishes". At the same time, he also increased the number of "parishes", adding the Sacred Heart Parish and St. Michael's Parish to those already in existence. St. Michael's Parish was separated from the city proper by the Merrimack River and it included all of Centralville and the entire town of Dracut. It was established with a census of 1,100 people in 1883.

The first Catholic services in Centralville were held on Sunday, January 6, 1884, when Mass was celebrated by Rev. William O'Brien in the hall of the engine house on Fourth Street. Assisting at this Mass as altar boys were James J. McCluskey, since deceased, his brother, Richard J. McCluskey, and Patrick Cannon. Until the basement of the new church was built and opened in June, this hall served the parish as a place of worship.


On December 9, 1883, contracts were awarded and ground for the new church was broken the next day by Rev. O'Brien, the new Pastor. John H. Murphy was the contractor for the masonry and W.H. Wiggin for the wood-work. On April 21, 1884, with impressive ceremonies, the cornerstone was laid by His Grace, Archbishop Williams, assisted by many distinguished clergymen of the Archdiocese. They were escorted from St. Patrick's Church to the new church by a long procession composed of the various Catholic societies of the city. Mr. Michael Corbett was Marshall of the Day and the following organizations took part led by the Lowell Cornet Band: Lowell Irish Benevolent Society, Immaculate Conception Temperance Society, Mathew Temperance Institute, Mathew Cadets, Sacred Heart Sodality, and the Immaculate Conception Sodality.

The procession marched through Suffolk, Merrimack, and Bridge Streets to Sixth Street, the clergymen riding in carriages. The Archbishop and clergymen came from the residence of Timothy O'Brien where they had dressed in their vestments. The Xaverian Brothers of St. Patrick's Parochial School were also in attendance.

A vast throng filled the basement of the church and completely blocked up Sixth, Seventh and Read Streets.

A line of clergymen preceded the Archbishop to the south east side of the church where with the impressive rites of the Catholic Church the cornerstone was laid while priests chanted the Litany of the Saints. The Archbishop, still accompanied by the priests, blessed the four walls of the church, stopping on each side to offer prayers.

The work on the basement was completed in June 1884. On Sunday, June 22nd, it was blessed by Archbishop Williams and dedicated to the service of God. The altar was consecrated by Archbishop Williams assisted by Fr. Michael O'Brien and Fr. J. J. Shaw of St. Patrick's Church. After the ceremony, Mass was celebrated by the new pastor, Fr. William O'Brien


For sixteen years, the basement served the people of St. Michael's as a place of worship. The marvelous growth of the parish during that time made it imperative then that the building be completed. No doubt the edifice would have been finished earlier but for the many demands made upon the financial resources of the parish. Among these were the expenses attached to the building and maintaining of the school, and maintaining of the home for the nuns who taught in the school. Adding to these by earlier assuming the debt of the finished church would have been a burden too great for a people, none of whom were wealthy but all of whom were as generous as their means would allow. With kindly consideration for his people and with the patience and quiet perseverance so characteristic of him, Rev. William O'Brien kept steadily at work until he finally found himself in a position to plan for the accomplishment of the cherished object of his life.

Early in June 1898, he announced that work in the upper church would soon begin. The plans were designed by the well-known architect, P.D. Keeley of New York. Shortly after this, masons and artisans were busy and in a short time the exterior of the church was finished. Not until June 1900, however, was the interior ready for divine worship. Then on June 14, 1900, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood and in the sixteenth year of his pastorate, after years of arduous labor under the most adverse circumstances, the beloved pastor could rejoice that to him had been given the blessed privilege of raising to the Almighty this magnificent temple. While the after-years brought many honors, it is quite possible that none of them brought greater happiness into his life than this - the crowning work of twenty-five years of devotion to God's service - the dedication of St. Michael's, the building that will for years be a monument to his patient and persistent zeal for God's glory and for the salvation of souls.


The church is located on the south side of a square lot containing about 50,000 square feet of land, bounded by Sixth and Seventh Streets running eastward from Bridge Street, and by Bridge and Read Street running northward from Sixth Street. The entire lot, with the exception of about 6,000 feet fronting on Bridge Street, is owned by the parish. Besides the church, the other buildings located upon it are the present rectory at the corner of Sixth and Read Streets, the school on the west side of the church, the former Brown estate, corner of Bridge and Sixth Streets, soon to be occupied as the parochial residence, and the residence of the Dominican Sisters fronts on Seventh Street.

St. Michael's Church is of the Romanesque style of architecture built of brick and granite with the characteristic square tower on one side of the front. It is located well back from the sidewalk with four spacious entrances all arched overhead and divided by columns of polished granite with carved capital. Each entrance is reached by a few easy steps from the level of the sidewalk in front. The church is 155 feet in length, extending back almost to Seventh Street, and has a frontage of 70 feet on Sixth Street. The height to the top of the marble in front is about 80 feet and the tower which has a belfry is 135 feet in height. The front entrance on either corner has a stairway leading down to the basement and one leading up to the aisles of the main church. The other two front main entrances open into a spacious vestibule with steps rising to the upper floor. This main vestibule can also be reached from the corner entrances by a door on either side.

From the main entrance there are three doors opening into the church. The doors are on swinging hinges and each has a large panel of transparent glass through which a person of average height can, from the outside, obtain a view of the altar as well as the entire congregation. This is a novel and convenient departure in vestibule doors. Each door has the ornamental panes of opalescent glass filling the tynpanium of the arch and providing a pleasant effect.


Inside, the architecture is wonderfully beautiful, the six supporting cluster columns on either side of the nave all having foliated capitals. A succession of rib-like arches support the ceiling over the nave. Similar but smaller arches serve the same purpose in the aisles while others of equal dimensions link the columns longitudinally. The ceiling of the nave is 55 feet high, the surface being formed of square hollowed panels ornamented largely in white and gold. The general tone of the decorations is of an amber tint of various shades all liberally relieved with gold leaf. The decorative work on the upper walls and ceiling is of papier-mâché, the designs being strikingly beautiful in their simplicity.

The sanctuary extends completely across one end of the church with a sacristy in either corner. The Main Altar is the gift of Rev. Michael O'Brien, Pastor of St. Patrick and Founder of St. Michael Parish. To light the altar, there is on either side a pretty cluster of lights, with a row of incandescent inset, each set in a rosette-like ornament, in the walls around the sanctuary on a level with the top of the main altar. On each band there are twelve electric and an equal number of gas burners. The large candelabra are plated in gold. When the altar lights and electric bulbs are on and the tapers are aglow, the effect is exquisitely beautiful and brilliant. The sanctuary lamp suspended from the ceiling is of polished brass of hexagonal design set with rubies. With its gilded chains and glittering pendants, it is a thing of beauty. The principle lights rise from brackets fixed on polished brass bands encircling the columns along the aisles and all are fitted both for gas and for electricity. A row of incandescents each set in a rosette like ornament runs along either side of the nave.

The electric wiring was done by Mr. McEltholm and the fixtures of corona style were furnished by Holling and Company of Boston. The principal contractors were: Connor Bros - brickwork, sheet metal and slating; Mathew Murphy - carpentry work; Amasa Pratt - lumber and wood finish; Ambrose Creamer - ornamental woodwork and finish; James T. Walsh - plastering; and H.R. Barker - steam fitting.

The Altar of the Sacred Heart is on the left of the sanctuary and is the donation of John and Mary McCluskey in memory of their son, James. On the right is the Altar of the Immaculate Conception given by Mr. and Mrs. Elias McQuade. Both altars are of white marble with onyx columns and were made by the American Slate and Marble Company of Vermont. In 1918, on each altar respectively was placed a statue of Carrara marble imported from Italy Above each altar are fine oil paintings of the Savior on the left and the Blessed Virgin on the right. The murals, commissioned by Fr. William O'Brien, were painted by the Philadelphia artist Ferdinand Paul Baraldi who did the greater part of all the decorative work.

The Stations of the Cross were imported from Munich and, with the exception of the two in the rear, are encased in solid frames in the spaces between the large windows of which there are seven on each side. The figures are in alto relief and are very realistic. The fourteen stations harmonize in color with the general tone of the decorations and were painted by Baraldi as well.

The pews are of quarter oak and were furnished by the Grand Rapids School Furniture Company. They have comfortable seating capacity of 1200. A novel feature worthy of mention in connection with the pews is the folding kneeler which turns upon hinges so that it is kept free from dust besides affording space for those entering the pews. There are two of these kneelers to the length of each pew. Undertaker Molloy donated an elegant catafalque for use at funerals.


At the rear of and above the altar are three memorial windows in colored cathedral glass representing, respectively, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. The first is to the memory of Mary McAvinue and Henry Carney; the second is the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Adam Ambrose; and the third the gift of James Calnin. The large windows along the side of the church have all been donated. The stained glass windows in the upper church were made by Moran & Son, NY and have been given as follows:



At the rear of and above the altar are three memorial windows in colored cathedral glass representing, respectively, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. The first is to the memory of Mary McAvinue and Henry Carney; the second is the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Adam Ambrose; and the third the gift of James Calnin. The large windows along the side of the church have all been donated. The stained glass windows in the upper church were made by Moran & Son, NY and have been given as follows:

At the rear of and above the altar are three memorial windows in colored cathedral glass representing, respectively, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. The first is to the memory of Mary McAvinue and Henry Carney; the second is the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Adam Ambrose; and the third the gift of James Calnin. The large windows along the side of the church have all been donated. The stained glass windows in the upper church were made by Moran & Son, NY and have been given as follows:


It is a fact that for years Lowell had not witnessed a ceremony that equaled in grandeur the services connected with the dedication of St. Michael's Church when, on June 14, 1900 with all the pomp and ceremony of the Catholic Church, the beautiful new edifice was formally opened and offered to the service of the Almighty and its four walls blessed by the venerable Archbishop of Boston. The service was attended by a large congregation embracing a variety of religious beliefs and by the most prominent of Lowell's citizens, while participating in it were also many church dignitaries. The presence within the sanctuary of two noted Archbishops added to the solemnity of the occasion.

Shortly before the beginning of the services, Rev. William O'Brien, the pastor who had general supervision of details, threw open the doors to the public. At ten o'clock, when the pealing of the organ announced the coming of the clergymen into the sanctuary, every seat in the auditorium as well as in the choir loft was occupied. The door keepers were Messrs. William O'Brien, Peter Curran, James Boyle and Ambrose Creamer. The ushers were Messrs. Stanley O'Brien, J.D. Quinn, John McCarty, Thomas Henry, Bowers F. Hart and J.J. Quinn. Prior to the opening of the service, Emile Lavigeuer rendered Van Weber's overture Der Frieschuetz and other classic selections. Then the long line of altar boys and priests emerged from the sacristy led by a cross bearer and acolytes chanting the Miserere. Behind them walked His Grace Archbishop Williams attended by Rev. Michael O'Brien of St. Patrick's Church, Rev. John Flately of Cambridge and Rev. Lewis S. Walsh of Salem.

The procession passed through the center aisle of the church to the grounds without where the Archbishop sprinkled holy water upon and blessed the exterior walls of the building. Returning within the entrance, His Grace blessed the interior walls after which the priests, chanting the Litany of the Saints returned to the sacristy. After a brief interval, the burst of music from organ and orchestra in Meyerbeer's Coronation March announced the appearance of the officers of the Mass preliminary to which the choir rendered Novello's Asperges.

The choir which was augmented to 100 voices for the occasion rendered Hayden's Mass in B Flat for the first time in this city. The choir was assisted by an orchestra of picked musicians directed by Professor Lavigeuer and the music was the grandest, it is believed, ever heard in Lowell and the choruses as well as the duos and quartet selections being superb. The choir was directed by James A. Murphy, the regular choir director, and Miss C.A.M. White, presided at the organ. Prior to the sermon, the choir rendered Batisle's Veni Creator with grand effect. The clergymen officiating at the Mass sang its many strikingly beautiful passages with much feeling and the singing of the Gospel of the Feast of St. John's Day by Fr. Burke was quite impressive. In its response the choir deviated from its custom of intoning and rendering all responses in four parts greatly entrancing the great harmony of the rubrics." (See original typed notes for the Sermon printed in Lowell Daily Courier 6/25/1900)


Following the death of Fr. O'Brien in 1900, Fr. John J. Shaw, Pastor of St. John's in North Chelmsford and former curate at St. Patrick's in Lowell, became the second pastor of St. Michael's. Originally the church lot of 50,000 square feet extended from Sixth to Seventh Streets with a frontage of 90 feet on each street and a depth of 180 feet between them. The entire lot, with the exception of about 6000 feet fronting on Bridge Street at Seventh Street is owned by the parish. Besides the church, the other buildings on this site are the present (first occupied about 1885) rectory, corner of Sixth and Bridge Streets (formerly the Brown estate), the old parochial school on the west side of the church, the convent of the Dominican Nuns, on the east side at the corner of Sixth and Read Streets, and a small cottage at the rear of the convent facing Seventh Street. This cottage was the first rectory. It was originally on Seventh Street below the church but was moved to its present site at the corner of Read to make room for the Bradley building which served as the first convent and which was taken from the present location of the old school building between the rectory and the church. This house was demolished when the sisters in 1907 went into the residence they now occupy. When, for future use, Fr. Shaw purchased 11,000 square feet of land on Seventh Street, one of the buildings that went with this land was removed and attached to the rear of the convent thus providing for a time accommodation for the Sisters as well as extra rooms for school purposes.

Later, Fr. Shaw purchased land on Fifth and Sixth Streets, 135 feet frontage on Fifth Street, 165 feet frontage on Sixth Street, and 190 feet on Read Street. The houses of these lots were then rented, with one exception. The lower floor of this one was used as a class room and the upper floor renovated and used as a Guild Assembly room where rehearsals, meetings and parties were held. A short time ago, these houses were sold and removed and, on the land thus made vacant, work on the new parochial school begun. The new school was dedicated on September 3, 1923.


In 1918, in a niche of the main altar (a gift of Fr. Michael O'Brien, now deceased) on the Gospel side, Fr. Shaw placed a statue of St. Michael, the Patron of the church. In a similar niche on the Epistle side is a statue of St. Gabriel. These are the gifts of John McCluskey, the first in memory of his wife, Mary and her sister, Margaret Owens, and the second in memory of Denis and Margaret McCluskey. The altar of the Sacred Heart is on the left of the sanctuary. It is the donation of John and Mary McCluskey in memory of their son, James. On the right is the altar of the Immaculate Conception given by Mr. and Mrs. Elias McQuade. The altars are of white marble with onyx columns and were made by the American Slate and Marble Company of Vermont. On each of these altars is a beautiful statue of Carrara marble imported in 1918 from Italy. The Sacred Heart statue is in memory of Mary McCluskey, one of the donors of the altar, and the other is the gift of Mr. and Mrs. McQuade. These statues, a well as those of the angels, were blessed by Fr. Shaw on December 8, 1918.

The sanctuary has been neatly carpeted by J.J. Gaynon and Company in body bristles of two-tone green effect. The new sanctuary furniture is massive and beautiful, replacing the furniture taken from the lower chapel which was given to the church in 1885 by a committee of ladies headed by Mrs. Mary McCluskey and Mrs. Bridget Little. It, as well as the vestment case in the vestry on the left of the sanctuary, was presented to the church by the Sodality of the Immaculate Conception in December 1904 as a commeration of the Golden Jubilee of the promulgation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

THE ORGAN 1900 - 1923

The organ gallery is over the vestibule projecting about six feet into the nave. From its railing rises five tall candelabra with ornamental brackets and shades. The style of the organ was the same as that of the church building. Although not entirely new, it was so nearly so that for a long time it was difficult to detect the parts which had been used. It was a three-manual organ with over fifty stops and was divided into three departments, the "great", the "swell", and the "choir". The key board was arranged in the German style with the "choir" played from the upper manual. The "great" organ had thirteen stops and the "swell" eleven pedal wall had six stops. The full organ was peculiarly grand and magnificent in tone and character being specially designed and regulated for the ornate services of the Church. The organ had 2,000 pipes and when completed was the third largest in the city. It was arranged and constructed by W.B. Goodwin, the well-known local organ expert.

In 1923, Rev. John J. Shaw, Pastor, procured a new and still more magnificent instrument. The inaugural recital on the new organ was given on Sunday evening, October 26, 1923, when Mr. John O'Shea of Boston headed a program that delighted the large audience that filled the church to its utmost capacity. In the wide range of numbers played by Mr. O'Shea, the capabilities of the instrument were well brought out. The account of the evening's musicale follows as well as a detailed description of the magnificent instrument by whose addition to the church the musical interests of the city gained in wealth. This organ was constructed by James Cole and Company of Boston.



About Our Parish

Deeply committed to Jesus Christ, we endeavor to become a unified community of faith, worship, and service. We strive to be a warm, welcoming and caring parish in which the gifts and talents of all, young and old, are recognized and graciously used to nourish others.

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