Parish History

5Parish History

The Parish of St. Agnes owes it origin to three summer mission churches established early in this century to serve the needs of summer visitors in the South Lyme-East Lyme area and those of a small group of Catholics in the Flanders district. Prior to this, the priests of St. Mary’s Church in New London afforded spiritual support to the few Catholics in the area.

From 1905 through 1908, the Liturgy was offered in the hall of the former Crescent Beach Hotel. In 1907, the Diocese of Hartford purchased land in Crescent Beach for the construction of a chapel dedicated to St. Francis. The St. Francis Chapel was dedicated in the summer of 1908. To this day, Mass continues to be celebrated in the Chapel during the summer months.

On April 16, 1922, the seasonal status of the area ended with the establishment of St. Agnes Parish. A house purchased by the Diocese on Prospect Street, later renamed Haigh Avenue, served as rectory and church where the Liturgy was offered to the 48 individuals crowding the front room. In November 1924, the original Church of St. Agnes was opened – a long, low, wooden structure located on what is now the site of our present church hall. By 1927, the parish had doubled in size and now ministered to 100 parishioners.

By the late 1930’s, construction began on the foundation of the present church. Dug completely by hand by a group of seamen and Fr. Michael Thompson, Pastor, the foundation was covered over with earth during the war years.

In August 1953, the four eastern counties of Connecticut were separated from the Hartford Diocese to become the Diocese of Norwich. By the mid-fifties, Fr. Thompson was determined to finish the church he had begun more than 15 years before. The buried foundation was unearthed and construction began. On February 10, 1957, Fr. Thompson offered the first Mass in the new Church and a dedication by Bishop Bernard Flanagan followed on July 4, 1957. The former wooden church became the parish center and school of religion until it was razed in 1962 and replaced by the present church hall.

The old wooden rectory, by now inadequate, inconvenient, and deteriorated was razed and replaced in 1967 by a new one-story rectory just south of the church. The site of the former rectory was then incorporated into the already existing parking lot. Our current church hall and classrooms were built in 1997 and the church was renovated in 2001.

February 10, 2007, marked the 50th Anniversary of the stone church built by Fr. Thompson. The St. Francis Chapel celebrated its 100th Anniversary in the summer of 2008.

Today, St. Agnes Parish has more than 1000 registered families and 25 parish groups and ministries. More than 350 parishioners volunteer their time and talents to serve those ministries. In the current school year, 250 children attend our Religious Education classes, a far cry from the sixteen youngsters registered in 1923.