St. Teresa of Avila Becomes a Parish

In September 1922, following the transfer of Father Judge to Watertown, Rev. Eugene P. Cryne became pastor in the Woodbury/Middlebury parish.  Father Cryne decided that the pastoral residence should be moved to Middlebury, where a majority of the congregation resided.  At that time, the rectory in Woodbury was sold, and St. Teresa of Avila reverted to a mission of St. John of the Cross parish.  For the following 33 years, St. Teresa of Avila remained a mission of St. John of the Cross parish, with no weekday services and only one Sunday mass. 

Father Cryne was succeeded by Father John J. Ryan in August of 1933, and he, in turn, by Father William F. Casey two years later.  One year later, in August of 1936, Father Raymond J. Kennedy became pastor in the parish. The next pastor was Rev. Hugh Carrig, who served from 1944 to 1947. He was also a military chaplain and helped the war effort by raising chickens in his garage during World War II.  St. Teresa's final pastor as a mission church was Rev. Richard Fanning who arrived in 1947.

St. Teresa’s grew slowly between 1923 and the end of World War II, but in the decade following the war, that Catholic population in Woodbury grew substantially, giving rise to the emergence of new lay organizations, including the launch of St. Teresa’s Ladies’ Guild in 1949, that played an active role in developing the church’s social and spiritual life.  By 1953, St. Teresa's Guild had more than 55 members and a busy schedule of activities:   Study groups in the homes, Christmas sales, a Spring fashion show and card party, annual communion breakfast and the famous Smorgasbord held in August.  The profits from every event went to the combined parish, not solely to St. Teresa Ladies Guild.  A social club for children, fifth grade and up, was introduced in 1953.  Members of the Guild organized the parishioners, who drove the children to the meetings held in various parishioners’ homes on Saturday morning and supervised by two nuns from the Convent of the Holy Ghost in Waterbury.  Two Masses were said on Sunday at 9:00 and 11:00, with Sunday School following the 9:00 Mass.

More young families were moving to Woodbury and filling the pews and the Sunday School of St. Teresa’s Woodbury, but there was a division within the parish.  Many felt the church membership was large enough to sustain a separate parish, with all the financial burdens that designation would entail.  Others felt a deep loyalty to Rev. Fanning and the status quo.  One group approached Rev. Fanning to ask if he would make the initial approach to the Bishop for the formation of the new parish.  He refused.  Finally, in August 1954, Howard McLaughlin, Miss Evelyn Pettit, Mr. Sterling Dunn and Mrs. Ellen Rapp made an appointment to see Bishop Henry J. O'Brien, without going through Father Fanning. 

Bishop O'Brien was in the hospital and the group met Auxiliary Bishop John F. Hacket to make a plea for the establishment of the parish.  Auxiliary Bishop Hacket expressed concern as to the number of parishioners in Woodbury, its ability to support the parish financially, and the availability of an appropriate rectory close to the church.  The first two concerns were resolved when it was determined that the information provided to the bishop included the number of families and not the number of parishioners.  Through the efforts of Sterling Dunn, who had an interest in real estate, a house on Washington Avenue house owned by Clifford C Martin and inhabited by his sister, Miss Emily Martin, was confirmed as available and suitable to serve as a rectory. 

As a result, all the pieces came together, and on March 24, 1955, St. Teresa of Avila was established as a parish with boundary lines identical to the town of Woodbury.  Bishop O'Brien appointed Rev. Francis Barrett to be the first pastor of the neophyte parish, with residency at the newly purchased rectory on Washington Avenue.  Arrangements had been made through the Hartford diocese for the mortgage, and Mr. Dunn waived any real estate commission.

The new rectory was in good condition when Father Barrett and his Dalmatian dog arrived at the beginning of Holy Week, but it was empty.  Until furnishings could be purchased, he slept on a cot in the vacant house.  The church building had only been used for Sundays, feast days, weddings and funerals for more than thirty years.  In preparation for the new pastor, women from the Ladies Guild, Grace Carey, Claire Fleming and Kay May, washed the statues and the altar.  As they scrubbed, teetering on ladders, they realized that they were washing away 52 years of accumulated dust and dirt.  The tan spires of the altar became white. 

Many children had been baptized previously at St. Teresa's, but their records were at St. John of the Cross or even earlier at St. John the Evangelist in Watertown.  The first to be recorded on the rolls of St. Teresa of Avila parish were Kevin Mclaughlin in March 1955 and Jane Lombard in May 1955.

The new parish needed space to hold meetings and conduct Sunday School.  In recent years, meetings had been held in the Woodbury Community House and Sunday School in the church after Mass.  The basement under the church was a dirt cellar large enough to hold the coal furnace.  For years, Mike Hogan had started the furnace every Saturday and he, along with the other men of the parish, stoked it with coal and dumped out the ashes every weekend.  With daily Mass, heating the church in winter became a bigger problem. 

It was not until Miss Mary Seidel of Washington Road bequeathed St. Teresa $10,000 for the specific purpose of finishing the basement for parish use that renovations could be made.  In 1958, the men of the St. Teresa’s Holy Name Society volunteered to dig out the basement for the full length of the church, including the coal ashes that for years had been dumped on the floor beside the furnace.  The ash and dirt were carted down the hill to fill in the foundation of the Orton Tavern.  The enlargement provided sufficient space for a large meeting room with a kitchen on one end and a stage on the other.  The church floor was reinforced with steel beams.  The Ladies Guild had several fund raisers to furnish the kitchen and brought their sewing machines to the basement to make the curtains for the stage. The new meeting room, aptly named “Seidel Hall,” was dedicated on the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, October 15, 1958.  The first event in the new hall, a buffet supper, was held on October 20, 1958.

Woodbury was a small town and most of the social events were sponsored by church organizations.  There were parish parties and dances in the Seidel Hall.  The newly formed Holy Name Society started a bowling league.  Father Barrett, who had been active in the early formation of Catholic Youth Organization chapters (C.Y.O.'s) in the archdiocese, established a very active group which included several non-Catholics.  Rev. Francis Barrett celebrated his 25th anniversary of the priesthood while at St. Teresa, and to commemorate the occasion, the parishioners gave him a car, and Mr. & Mrs. Francis Pettit gave the church the statue of St. Teresa of Avila.  The statue arrived from Spain by boat to the New York docks.  Tony and Phyllis Lombard had to pick it up in their station wagon because none of the Lombard truckers would go to the docks.