Bethlehem Builds a Mission Church of the Nativity
In 1928, Father Judge was transferred from Watertown to Waterbury, and Father Cornelius Tuelings was appointed as his replacement. By this time, the Catholic community in Bethlehem had increased to approximately 125, and the mission church needed a larger place of worship. Father Tuelings wasted no time. In 1929, he purchased additional land from Edward Crane. Construction of a new church began in July of that year on a 100' x 150' parcel.
On a trip to the Southwest, Father Tuelings had admired the Spanish mission churches with their red tile roofs. He chose this architectural style for the new mission Church of the Nativity, managing to complete the building at the cost of approximately $7,800. Twenty feet by sixty feet in overall dimension, the new church seated 150 parishioners. It presented a pretty picture with its yellow stucco walls and its red tile roof. A cupola common to many of the California missions was a prominent feature of the building, and some of the windows were covered with wrought-iron bars like those that served to protect the mission buildings.
Of course, there was no running water or electricity. The wood furnace that provided heat had to be lit early in the morning to warm the church for the 11:00 o’clock service. On occasion, when the fire went out, parishioners arrived to find a cold, smoke-filled building. They were not daunted. They had built their church; they would support it financially, attend to its physical upkeep, and continue to nurture their precious gift of faith. It seems this small community took Father Tuelings' words to heart as they worked together and recognized the presence of God in one another. They gave of themselves - their integrity, their hard work, their skills of nurturing and cultivating, their gifts of craftsmanship, and their leadership - all qualities of character still with us today. In the 1920's two of their number, Thomas Marchukaitis and Adam Majauskas, were named the first trustees of the new church.
The new church was consecrated three months after construction began. The dedication, officiated by Hartford Bishop John J. Nilan and assisted Frs. Teulings, Loftus, Judge and ten other priests, took place on October 20, 1929. To illustrate the community spirit which existed at the time of the dedication, it is appropriate to quote from the Waterbury American on October 19, 1929,
"Changes in population reflected as they have been in the erection of the new church, have failed to develop anything but a spirit of friendship among the people of Bethlehem. The congratulations extended by the Protestant churches to the Roman Catholic express similar attitudes among the entire townspeople. It is interesting to note that some of the largest contributions to the new church have been made by members of the other faiths, and a spirit of tolerance is reflected throughout. The importance of the new church to Bethlehem as a community, the improvement it notes in the town and the affording of an adequate structure to members of that faith for purposes of worship provide sufficient reasons for a spirit of happiness among the community at the completion of the project."