At the juncture of 1992, its Centennial Year, the parish of Saint Ambrose looked back in history and discovered that after the birth of it nascent village in 1748, nearly 150 years passed before the founding of an Albion parish on November 12, 1892. During this time the village was an “out station” served by the dedicated priests who traveled many hard and difficult miles to minister to a slowly growing population.
History records the first Catholic services as being held in the Fireman’s Hall, located on lower School Street opposite the Albion Fire Station. The building today is owned by the Town of Lincoln and serves as a community center.
Father Charles O’Reilly from Woonsocket by 1850 occasionally visited the mill workers in Pascoag, Albion and Millville, Massachusetts. Four years later in 1854, the Bishop assigned an assistant to Woonsocket to cover the parish’s “out stations.” When there was a change of assistants in 1855, Bishop O’Reilly included a notation that the new assistant, Father Bernard Tully, attend all the out stations. These included the villages of Manville, Slatersville, Albion and Pascoag.
The first Protestant services were held in a room over the General Store under the spiritual leadership of the Reverend Mathew Corbin who traveled from Ashton to Manville to hold services there in the morning, and on his way back in the afternoon would stop to gather his congregation in Albion.
The Reverend William Pressey later came to Albion and held Protestant services in Fireman’s Hall. He would walk to Manville for services and on his way back would stop in Albion. Occasionally, Mrs. Pressey, the Reverend’s wife, would accompany him and later their baby, whom he would push in a carriage.
As was evident at the time, in all of the Blackstone Valley Region, jobs were plentiful causing a jolt of growth to the area population. Most of these new area residents were immigrants from the Canadian Province of Quebec. The growth of Catholic parishes in what once were rural areas of the state, now reflected that shift of population as many of the new immigrant factory hands were Catholic.
In Harrisville, Father William Duffy had supervised completion of the small church his predecessor had started. The church was dedicated under the title of Saint Patrick on October 17, 1858. The parish served the Catholics of Mapleville, Pascoag, Glendale and Harrisville, as well as two mission stations, one in Slatersville to a congregation of some five hundred Catholic and at Albion where there dwelt twenty-three families.
In 1860, Bishop Francis McFarland laid the cornerstone for a wood frame church in Valley Falls. The Bishop dedicated the finished structure in honor of Saint Patrick. Responsibility for the people of the district went to the parish’s first pastor, Father Richard O’Gorman. Besides Valley Falls, the new parish included the villages of Lime Rock, Manville and Ashton and later the pastor of Valley Falls took over the responsibility for the people of Albion from the pastor of Harrisville.
Father O’Gorman was replaced by Bishop McFarland on October 5, 1864 with Father Daniel Mullen. He served at Valley Falls until February 15, 1868, when he was transferred to Norwich, Connecticut, and Father Hugh J. OReilly, who had already ministered for many years in parishes in Connecticut, came to take his place. Under Father O’Reilly’s administration, Saint Joseph’s mission was established at Ashton and Mass was celebrated on alternate Sundays at Albion and Manville.
On November 1, 1872, Bishop Hendricken, the first Bishop of Providence, assigned Father James A. FitzSimons as pastor of the four villages of Ashton, Berekley, Albion and Manville. The first definite step toward formation of the present Saint Ambrose parish was taken when Bishop Harkins sent Father J.D. Lebel to Ashton as an assistant with the specific assignment of attending a mission at Albion.
In 1888, the Catholic residents of Albion felt the need for their own identity as a parish and petitioned the Bishop for recognition. The lack of sophisticated medical techniques and medicines had already mandated the need for sacred burials and consecrated grounds to be established as a cemetery.
Father Antoine Bernard was made Pastor in 1899. The first recorded baptism was that of Marie Dolores Laramee on April 7, 1901. In 1904, Father Bernard became Albion’s first resident Pastor. The first recorded marriage on October 30, 1905 was that of Francois Forest and Zenoide Descoteaux. On November 6, 1910, the church bell was blessed. Father Bernard remained at Saint Ambrose until his retirement in 1912. He retired to an apartment across the street from the church, living out his life there being cared for by Mr. & Mrs. Paquin.
Father Hercule Lariviere was appointed Pastor at Saint Ambrose in 1912, where he remained until November 18, 1925, when he died.
During his stay at the parish, Father Lariviere bought the old Albion public school, in August 1916. This was a two room structure where the children of Saint Ambrose parish were taught by lay teachers. The first teacher hired, Miss Dubois, lived in Providence. This young lady would travel to Albion, arriving on the 8 am train on Monday. She had use of an apartment in the house directly across from the church. On Friday afternoon, Miss. Dubois would return by train to her home in Providence. The building which stands next to the church is still used today as a parish hall and a center for religious education.
Father Lariviere also purchases a parcel of land on the other side of the church. On which he built a rectory for a total cost of $7,000. Prior to the building of the rectory, the Pastor lived in an apartment in the house directly across the street from the church. His final purchase was an organ, which served for the first time for his funeral on November 18, 1925.
Father Arthur H. Messier arrived in 1925. He continued his predecessors work taking special care of the children and the different sodalities. His pastorate was a short one. Father Messier died September 17, 1929. He was buried in Saint Ambrose Cemetery.
Father Arthur Lafayette was next appointed to Saint Ambrose parish. With money enough in the treasury, he cleared the mortgage on the church property and started some repairs. His stay was also brief. Five months after his arrival, in February 1930, Father Lafayette was transferred to Saint Lawrence, Centerdale.
Father J. Adrien Forest succeeded to the parish. He continued repairs to the property, especially to the school building. Father Forest obtained the service of the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary from St. Hyacinthe, Canada to take over the teaching duties in the parish school. Initially they numbered four; the number was then increased to six nuns.
Classes were taught in French for one half of each day. Subjects such as religion, French language, and Canadian history were conducted during this part of the day, while English language, American history and math were conducted during the “English” part of the school day.
A house on School Street was given to the parish by the Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates for a nominal sum of $1, presently located at 116 School Street. After some refurbishing, the sisters moved in. In October 1931 Father Forest was reassigned as the first Pastor of Christ the King parish in Centerville.
Father David B. Brunelle was appointed Pastor in October 1931. Father Brunelle was one of five brothers, all of whom were priests. During his pastorate the parish had curates. They were Reverend Evangeliste Brunelle, one of Father David’s brothers, Reverend Emile St. Pierre, Reverend Ronaldo Gadoury and Reverend Laurent Allard.
On October 29, 1931, the Reverend David B. Brunelle purchased a tract of land from the Berkshire Mill to enlarge Saint Ambrose Cemetery. He also had the exterior of the church painted. During this pastorate the parish numbered 807 souls in 168 families.
In the Fall of 1938, Father Brunelle retired and went to live with his brother, Evangeliste, who was a Pastor in West Warwick at Our Lady of Good Counsel.
Father Napoleon Plasse came to Saint Ambrose in November 1938. A native of Woonsocket, he was the first native of the United States to be appointed Pastor of our parish. He had studied at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, but was unable to graduate because of the war. Father Plasse came to the parish from Our Lady of Consolation, Pawtucket. During this energetic priest’s pastorate the parish bristled with activity. Fundraisers such as bingo parties, carnivals, etc. were frequent. The first “Programme” of a social activity is entitled “Séance du 10 decembre 1938.” The years following were filled with “Programmes” and “soirees.”
Father Plasse purchased a convent for the six nuns assigned to the parish school. This house, closer and roomier than the previous convent, cost $6,000. The parish school boasted of a steady enrollment at about 110 students. Four nuns composed the teaching staff. In addition, one nun was Principal and Superior of the community. A sixth nun served as cook and housekeeper.
A new modern heating system was installed in the church. Father Plasse organized the first baseball team to be entered in a CYO league by the parish, and was instrumental in the organization of Troop 1 Boy Scouts and Girl scouts. He taught religion classes featuring question and answer sessions every Sunday afternoon in church, prior to saying benediction. Father Plasse was transferred to West Warwick on June 25, 1944.
Father Arsene Corbeil was assigned as Pasrtor of Saint Ambrose on June 25, 1944 after serving for 11 years as Assistant Pastor of Precious Blood Parish in Woonsocket. He was a native of Rosalie in the Province of Quebec, Canada. Father Corbiel came to the area as a child and attended local schools and finished his ecclesiastical studies at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.
A highly capable administrator and fundraiser, Father Corbeil proceeded to refurbish the interior of the church, a completely new sanctuary, three new altars, railings and tile flooring were purchased and installed during 1945 and 1946. The beautiful tabernacle recently refinished as part of the Centennial was purchased at this time. In 1947 the exterior of the church, rectory and school buildings were re-shingled, and the interior of the church was painted. During Father Corbiel’s pastorate Saint Ambrose became known for its annual clambake, then held in a pine grove located between what is now Pine Grove Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard. The parish had about 150 families then.
Father Corbiel left Saint Ambrose in an exchange of pastorates with Monsignor J.A. Laliberte at the latter’s request. Father Corbiel was elevated to Monsignor shortly after his transfer to Saint Matthieu’s parish.
Monsignor J.A. Laliberte was 80 years of age when he requested to exchange Saint Matthieu’s parish in central Falls for Saint Ambrose in 1950. A very energetic and resourceful priest in his youth, he was tired and worn out when he came to Albion. In the short time he was here he became a familiar figure, walking about the village, doing monthly parish visitations puffing on an ever present cigar. Monsignor was quoted as saying “I like to go into the homes of my parishioners and see for myself how they are living. In that way, I can come to know their problems better and become closer to them.” Monsignor Laliberte retired to Saint Matthieu in Central Falls in May of 1951.
Father Eustache Magnant, a quiet, shy and very effective pastor, came to Saint Ambrose on May 24, 1951. Father Magnant redesigned the sanctuary to comply with the directive of Vatican II. He also made many improvements to the school including the installation of a sprinkler system. Father Magnant received the news from the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary in mid 1967 that due to decrease in the number of vocations, they would be phasing out of Saint Ambrose. This news came as a great shock to the Pastor who shortly after became ill and never recovered.
It was during this time of Father Magnant’s incapacitating illness that the then Monsignor Daniel P. Reilly (now the retired Bishop of Worcester) became Administrator of Saint Ambrose. Monsignor Reilly was fluent in French having studied for the priesthood at the Grand Seminary in St. Brieuc, France. There developed an immediate attachment to him from the large French Canadian community that continues to this day. Father Magnant passed away on February 15, 1968 and became the third Pastor to lie in state in Saint Ambrose Church.
Monsignor Reilly, Chancellor of the Diocese of Providence, often assumed administrative responsibility of the parish. During his brief tenure, Monsignor instituted the Vatican II directives of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and organized the original corps of lectors.
Father Leonard F. Charron received Saint Ambrose as his first pastorate on February 26, 1968. His stay was of an exceptionally short duration. The Sisters of Presentation of Mary teaching in the parish school began to decrease in number and no longer resided in the parish, but traveled to Saint Ambrose from the Marieville Convent in North Providence. He formed a Parish Council by holding parish wide elections. Having sold the empty St. Ambrose Convent to family friends, Father Charron purchased an automobile for the few remaining nuns to use in traveling to Albion. Father Charron was transferred in September 1968 to Saint Aloysius (Louis), Woonsocket. His tenure of eight months as pastor in Albion was as short as the next pastor’s was long.
Father Robert D. Ethier was appointed Pastor to Saint Ambrose on September 3, 1968. This was his first and only pastorate. He served 18 years and 9 days, this was longer than any other Pastor to date. During Father Ethier’s term, many changes took place within the parish and local community. Working with a Parish Council, he established a Finance Committee, a Cemetery Committee and a Liturgy Committee. This era marked the beginning of an increased lay involvement in the life of the parish. He oversaw a complete restoration of the parish cemetery which resulted in the attractive cemetery of today. During these 18 years, two organs were purchased, storm windows were purchased, a new bell system was purchased and new roofs installed on the church and hall.
Among the many parish enterprises undertaken during Father Either’s tenure, the great parish tradition of an annual clambake continued to be held at that time in Albion Park. It was not unusual to have Bishop Gelineau make a guest appearance to pitch a few balls at the softball game.
Following Father Ethier’s retirement in 1986, Father Joel A. Lecuivre, was named Pastor of Saint Ambrose on September 12, 1986. his appointment to Saint Ambrose meant the return to the parish being served by a part-time pastor as it had in its infancy when the parish had pastors who served several area churches. Father Lecuivre also served as Adjutant Judicial Vicar of the Diocesan Tribunal.
Father Lecuivre, a native of West Warwick, Rhode Island, was ordained in 1972. During his pastorate, the size of the “small country parish where nothing ever happens” grew dramatically. A strong, tireless priest, Father Lecuivre, while also a member of the Diocesan Building Commission, reorganized parish ministries, repaired, refinished, refurbished or restored much of the parish plant, from the church heating plant to the rectory roof, from the interior of the church to the exterior of the garage, from removal of an ancient in ground oil storage tank to the purchase of the piano for the choir loft.
He kept the grand tradition of an Annual Parish Clambake to mark the end of summer on the Sunday after Labor Day. Father Lecuivre moved the location of the great event from Albion Park to the grounds of the parish where the tradition continues to this very day. Affectionately known as Father “JL,” he also served as Chaplain and Firefighter of the Albion Volunteer Fire Department and served as treasurer of the Albion Firefighters Association.
In 1993, Father Lecuivre was appointed as the Judicial Vicar of the Diocese of Providence and returned full-time to administering the Diocesan Tribunal. Father Lecuivre would go on to become Pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Pawtucket, RI. Tragically Father would die of cancer on September 8, 2005 at the young age of 58. He is buried in his beloved St. Ambrose Cemetery.
Father Lecuivre’s departure as Pastor of St. Ambrose saw the naming of Father Pierre Plante as the new Pastor of St. Ambrose while also serving as Chaplain at Bryant College located up the road in Smithfield, RI. During his tenure the parish community continued to grow and the Parish
Hall had to be renovated and dividers for classrooms for Religious Education Classes installed to accommodate the growing number of children and young families in the parish.
Only four short years later Father Plante would leave Albion to assume the full-time duties as Pastor of St. Benedict in Warwick, RI. Father Plante presently serves as the Pastor of St. Cecilia’s Parish in Pawtucket, RI.
As Father Plante headed to St. Benedict, Father Thomas Trepanier arrived from Holy Name Church in Providence to take up the duties as Pastor of St. Ambrose and Chaplain at Bryant College in June 1997. Father Trepanier also continued to serve as the Liaison to the Jewish Community for the Diocese of Providence.
His tenure at St. Ambrose saw a regular Bible Study Class which drew large crowds from across the Diocese. Father Trepanier, an accomplished musician and brilliant pianist, soon introduced annual concerts and piano recitals to raise funds for various charities and the parish. Tragically Father “Tom” as he was affectionately known by parishioners would be diagnosed with cancer early in his pastorate and was for a time replaced by Monsignor Ronald Simone, the Judicial Vicar of the Diocese of Providence, who served as a Temporary Administrator for eight months. Father Tom soon returned to his pastorate but gave up his duties as Chaplain at Bryant College. He fought a courageous battle with cancer until his untimely death on Christmas night 2002.
Father Bernard Healey then serving as the Assistant Pastor of St. Augustine in Providence arrived at St. Ambrose in October 2002 at the behest of then Bishop of Providence, Robert E. Mulvee, to serve as Temporary Administrator during Father Trepanier’s illness. After the untimely death of Father Trepanier on Christmas Night, Father Healey was appointed as Administrator of St. Ambrose and subsequently appointed Pastor by Bishop Mulvee in June 2003.
Father Healey, ordained on June 24, 1995, continues to serve as Pastor of St. Ambrose today while continuing his duties as the Theological Consultant and Editorial Writer of the weekly diocesan newspaper, the Rhode Island Catholic. Father is also the Director of the Office of the Governmental Liaison and Chief Lobbyist of the Diocese of Providence to the RI General Assembly. During his pastorate the parish continues to grow and be a vibrant and lively Catholic community of faith, prayer and service.
1904-1912 Father Antoine Bernard
1912-1925 Father Hercule J. Lariviere
1925-1929 Father Arthur H. Messier
1929-1930 Father Arthur A. Lafayette
1930-1931 Father J. Adrian Forest
1931-1938 Father David B. Brunelle
1939-1944 Father Napoleon J. Plasse
1944-1950 Father J. Arsene Corbeil
1950-1951 Father J. Alfred Laliberte
1951-1968 Father Eustache L. Magnant
1968-1968 Father Leonard F. Charron
1968-1986 Father Robert Ethier
1986-1993 Father Joel Lecuivre
1993-1997 Father Pierre Plante
1997-2002 Father Thomas Trepanier
2003-Present Father Bernard A. Healey