Book Excerpts


St. Paul Elementary School, Edgewood, Rhode Island

Published by: RoseDog Books

The end of the story of our relationship with St. Paul's, Edgewood, Rhode Island, is stated in a letter dated May 8, 1984 from Reverend Monsignor William J. Carey, Pastor, to Sister Michel Keenan, then superior general of the IHM Congregation. It reads:

          Dear Sister Michel:
         What had seemed so far away when it was first discussed has come. The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary will be leaving St. Paul's of Cranston on the last day of June 1984 . . . The contribution of the Sisters has been monumental and has filled an exciting chapter in the life of the Christian community of St. Paul’s . . . (119)

This was the final historic record of the sixty-two-year commitment by the IHM Sisters to St. Paul's that brought the end of one era and launched another. As the remaining two IHMs, Sister Kathleen Joy Steck and Sister Moira Murray departed, they left behind a vibrant school that is prepared to serve the rich cultural and ethnic diversity of the Providence and Cranston areas encompassed by the parish. Ten lay teachers and two Sisters of Mercy, one of them the principal, continued the staffing of St. Paul's School.

In leaving, the IHMs were aware that the seed that was planted by earlier IHMs had taken root, was flourishing, and will continue. They could reflect upon evidences of change and growth in St. Paul's, and the fact that while the school was founded in 1922 to educate the children of Irish immigrants, third generation Irish were still there in the majority, now walking harmoniously beside minorities made up of 10.4% blacks, 11.8% Haitian, 4.2% Asian, and 12.2% Portuguese. It was consoling to know that over many years the Sisters of IHM had prepared the school for this diversity of population, as well as for the emergence of qualified lay women and men as partners in the ministry of Catholic education.

A flashback to the years 1920-1922 shows that a series of letters was exchanged between Reverend Michael J. McCabe, pastor of St. Paul's since 1907, and Mother M. Casimir about the possibility of securing IHM Sisters for the parish elementary school he planned to build. Father McCabe had no first-hand knowledge of the IHM Sisters, but it is evident from his letters that he was confident in the IHM educational expertise which he had heard about from two Redemptorists, Reverend William Kenna, CSsR, rector of the Mission of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Roxbury, Massachusetts and Reverend Joseph Turner, CSsR. Father Kenna, as uncle of our Sister Neumann, may have been a bit biased! (120)

The enthusiastic response of Mother Casimir to Father McCabe's request for sisters reveals her pleasure at the prospect of sending pioneer IHMs to this first IHM mission in the New England states. On May 11, 1921, Mother Casimir wrote to Father McCabe as follows:

        Dear Reverend Father:
        Always during the month of May we look for special thought from the Blessed Mother of God. This year she has brought us a great favor--your decision to entrust your precious little ones to our care. I shall dedicate our future work in your school to Mary Immaculate that he may obtain from her Divine Son the help we will need to make your school all that you desire. Father Kenna has spoken so highly of your zeal for souls that we are happy, indeed, to become your co-workers. (121)

Mother Casimir's own zeal for souls is such an over-riding motivation that it almost leaps out from the pages of her letters. She seemed to have a simplicity that was awed by each further request for the services of our sisters and a deep sense of the responsibility assumed in teaching children.

On August 25, 1922, Sister Mary Thomas McAndrew, who had been appointed superior, and Sister Neumann Murray arrived in Edgewood. They were met and warmly welcomed by Father McCabe. As the projected convent was not even begun, arrangements were made with the Sisters of St. Joseph's Hospital for hospitality. In a short time, temporary residence was provided in the home of the Robert McLaughlin family on Massachusetts Avenue. The family remained at their summer home during that time.

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Original St. Paul's Convent

The Catholic newspaper of the Diocese of Providence carried the announcement of the dedication of the new St. Paul's School and heralded this event as "the greatest day in the history of St. Paul's Parish, Edgewood" and "the opening of a new era in Catholic education in the southern half of Providence and its suburbs." There seems to be some slight implication of an attitude of surprise at this accomplishment by Father McCabe and the St. Paul parishioners as the article continues:
A temporary altar was erected in the living room of the McLaughlin residence so the sisters could have the privilege of daily Mass. The McLaughlin family was present at the first Holy Mass offered in their home. (122)In early September, Sister Mary Thomas and Sister Neumann were joined by Sister Oswald Bissell, Sister Immaculate Keefe, Sister Bonaventure Murphy, Sister Teresina Thompson, Sister Aidan Jordan, Sister Leo Lehman, Sister Georgina Wertz, and later, Sister Mary Francis Legnard.

" . . .  It falls to the credit of this young parish, which this summer observed its fifteenth birthday, to open the first Catholic school south of the Cathedral.
When the present pastor and founder of the parish, by appointment of the late beloved Bishop Harkins, built the existing  Saint Paul's Church, the few and faithful parishioners of those earlier years little thought that St. Paul's would in so few years lead the way on so grand a scale in the march of Catholic education in this section. Some had in mind a new and grander church as years went by,  but their pastor declared for a Catholic school to be built before the present Church should be supplanted." (123 )

These words may be a veiled reference to some of the difficulties encountered by Father McCabe in attaining the fulfillment of his dreams on the occasion of the dedication of St. Paul's School, September 10, 1922. Two of his early letters to Mother Casimir in the spring and summer of 1921 refer to difficulties he was experiencing. Some of these were undoubtedly financial in nature, but there were other unspecified concerns to which his letters made reference:

I have at length secured the Bishop's consent to have your Sisters take charge of my new school, when I have it built. I won't mention the difficulties which prevented me writing to you long ago. Thank God, I have won out--but the way is beset with other difficulties . . .I have set my heart on having a model school here, and have prayed constantly that God would send me the right Order to make it possible. Some of the worst difficulties have been overcome and I feel that the others will quickly pass. Meanwhile let us both pray that it is God's will and that it shall speedily become a reality. (124)

After it became clear to him that the school would not be ready for occupancy until September 1922, Father McCabe again wrote to Mother Casimir expressing his disappointment in the delay but adding, "I am consoled by the fact that I have secured a teaching order, which by all accounts, is able to back up the assertions I have so often made in favor of Catholic education.” (125)

To conjecture may be hazardous, but it may have been that the choice of the Sisters of IHM as an unfamiliar religious community to staff this large, new school met with some resistance from some sources in the diocese. It seems also that there was some resistance by parishioners to Catholic education in general, and to the building of a school instead of a church at this time.

In spite of all these real and implied "difficulties" the dedication was presided over by Bishop William A. Hickey and a bronze tablet was set in place, reading, “St. Paul's School--erected through the generosity of the people of Saint Paul's Parish to attest their adherence to the faith of their fathers, and their unalterable conviction that religion and morality are the basis of true education . . . ”(126)

Thus, the first Catholic school in Cranston was launched, and on September 11, 1922, school opened with 368 pupils registered in the eight grades. It did not take the IHM Sisters long to be accepted by the new diocese, and at the first Catholic Teachers' Conference, organized by Reverend Cassidy, superintendent of Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Providence four of our sisters were on the program to give lectures and demonstrations in their respective fields: Sisters Leo Lehman, Scholastica Chainey, Rosalie McDermott and Brendan O'Brien.

By 1934 a ninth grade was opened at St. Paul's School and as the total school enrollment increased to over 700 pupils, a third floor was added to the building. There were two of every class from grade one through nine. The number of sisters was increased to seventeen.  Into the 1970s a gradual decline to a one-track school replaced the large two-track enrollment. A concomitant reduction of the number of sisters occurred. (127)

The people of St. Paul's Parish proved to be very supportive of the sisters and of the Congregation's projects over the years. They raised close to $60,000 for the Marywood College Library fund, contributed annually to the Autumn Fair, which eventually cleared all debt on the Novitiate (now the Generalate) Building, and contributed nearly $3,000 after the Motherhouse fire in 1971.

An impressive number of religious vocations have come from this parish, twenty-one of whom entered the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Scranton.

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St. Paul's Convent Chapel, circa 1961
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St. Paul's Convent