history of st. peter church
The first Catholics to be found in the confines of the Town of Haddam were a group of three Acadian families. In 1756 they were taken from one of several British ships that were disposing of Acadian exiles all along the East coast of the United States. The General Assembly of the States of “Konehtoket” (Connecticut) assigned these people to Haddam, where they remained for a period of ten years. When it proved impossible for them to obtain the services of a Catholic priest, they eventually made their way back to Acadia – or Nova Scotia, as it is now called.
It was not until about a century later that other Catholics came to settle here. They were at first predominately Irish families who began immigrating to the United States in the early part of the 18th century. Others of German, Polish, Slovak, and Italian background soon followed Evidence of increasing Catholic presence in Haddam is apparent in the requests made to the Diocese of Boston, whose first bishop (Bishop Cheverus) responded by sending missionaries to Connecticut. After the Diocese of Hartford was established in 1843 there were more frequent visits to Haddam by priests from neighboring towns where parishes had been established. It is believed that Mass was first offered in a private home in Haddam in 1876, by Father Philip Sheriden, the first Pastor of St. Joseph Church in Chester. He had the responsibility of serving not only Chester and Haddam/Higganum, but also Old Saybrook and Essex. In 1881 a regularly-scheduled Mass was celebrated every three months, in a house that stood between the then railroad station and the Connecticut River. Father Joseph Synnott was by then Chester’s second Pastor. Shortly thereafter the third Pastor, Father Peter Skelly, succeeded in acquiring land on Saybrook Road in Higganum, with a view to build a small church. Funds were hard to come by, so for five years space was rented in Brainard Hall for any liturgies that were offered. By late 1887 St. Peter’s Mission Church was dedicated.
In 1896 Father Skelly was replaced in Chester by Father Andrew Harty, who remained until 1908. During this period Mass was offered once a month at St. Peter Mission. Father John Fitzgerald briefly succeeded Father Harty, but in 1911 Father Timothy Sullivan assumed the duties of Pastor of our Mother Church in Chester. By then Mass was offered every two weeks in Higganum. When Father Francis Kuster arrived in September 1919 it became possible to provide Mass once each week at St. Peter’s. A choir loft was added and the Ladies Guild was founded (April 1936). Shortly after Father Kuster’s death in 1937 the Guild he had organized presented the church with a large bell bearing the inscription, “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of Our Beloved Pastor, Reverend Francis J. Kuster.”
Father James Butler became Pastor of St. Joseph’s in 1936. He continued the outreach ministry to the Catholics of St. Peter’s. Father Cornelius Buckley followed in 1944 and remained until his death in 1946. Father John Landry served subsequently for about one year, when Father Robert Beardsley arrived to begin what was to be a long tenure as Pastor in Chester. Although Masses were then being offered on a weekly basis, it was not until January 18, 1958, that Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan, the first bishop of the newly established Diocese of Norwich, raised St. Peter’s to parish status. Father Norman J. St. Martin came on February 1st that year as our first Pastor.
Recognizing the inadequacy of the 1887 frame church, Father St. Martin set about at once to establish a building that would make it possible to provide new and more ample facilities for the rapidly growing parish. Not only a new church, but also a hall, a rectory, a convent area, and classroom space were proposed. The response was overwhelming when the Fund Drive was launched in the early spring of 1959. Permission was given to begin construction. Ground was broken on the Sunday nearest to the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul – June 28, 1959. Less than a year later, in one of his early official appearances as second Bishop of Norwich, Bishop Vincent J. Hines dedicated the new St. Peter’s Church on Maple Avenue in 1960.
Father St. Martin’s popularity with townspeople of all faiths is now legendary. His new parish was alive with activity and excitement from the very beginning. Father St. Martin died at the early age of 51 in February of 1965.
Bishop Hines appointed Father Thomas W. Ahern as the next Pastor of St. Peter’s on June 31, 1965. He remained here for five years, until Father John B. Ramsay succeeded him on June 16, 1970. Father Edward M. Konopka was named to the pastorate of St. Peter’s on May 6, 1975. Father Konopka remained Pastor at St. Peter’s for over 30 years until he retired on December 31, 2007. Father Jan Swiderski was then appointed as Pastor to St. Peter’s Church. He was installed as the Pastor on January 26, 2008. Father Peter B. Liszewski was then appointed as Pastor to St. Peter’s Church. He was installed as the Pastor on April 24, 2014.