History of St. Barnabas’ Pastors:
Rev. Patrick J. Hunt, 8/28/1963 -12/15/1968
Rev. Thomas B. Hart, 12/15/1968-6/25/9993
Rev. Kevin J. Brassil, 6/25/1993-6/30/2004
Rev. Randolph G. Chew, 6/30/2004-6/30/2013
Rev. Peter J Andrews, 6/30/2013 & was installed as Pastor today 8/25/2013
St. Barnabas Parish
August 28, 1963 – December 19, 1965
Saint Barnabas Parish had its geographic lines established by Bishop McVinney, Bishop of the Diocese of Providence on August 28, 1963. This marked the official Birthday of our Parish, even before there was a Church Building or a Rectory in place and it is a perfect way to think about what a parish is – not a building, but a group of people, all working together to build a community.
I joined St. Barnabas Parish in 1984 when I moved to Portsmouth from West Kingston so I want to thank Don Rock who helped me compile a lot of the information about Fr. Hunt and the early years with Fr. Hart.
Fr. Patrick J. Hunt was the first Pastor of St. Barnabas parish. He was famous for his ability to establish new parishes and organize vibrant faith communities and he went right to work to establish our community before there was even any building or structures in place.
St. Barnabas Church was to be constructed on 6 acres of land of the old Reise Farm, and the original Rectory was actually the old farmhouse. Our chapel, the first meeting room and where Joan Arruda and I have our offices now was actually the farm’s barn, how appropriate that our first chapel was actually a stable…….
The very first Mass of St. Barnabas Parish was actually celebrated on September 8, 1963 at the Portsmouth Roller Rink, right up the hill across from the church, through the cooperation of its owner Charles Davis. Sunday Masses would take place there at 8:00 and 9:30 AM and fortunately, the Roller Rink already had an organ and some chairs set up on the floor, but way too few for a Mass so there was quite a chore each Sunday for people to set up more chairs before Mass and … the chairs were upstairs in the balcony area of the Rink so people soon got used to walking upstairs to bring all the chairs down before the Mass and then staying after in order to bring them back up. This was actually a great “community building” activity and Fr. Pat Hunt would always make a big deal about the chair set up with his big deep voice and hearty laughter …. and all with his Irish brogue.
Shortly thereafter a Holy Name Society was coordinated, with Joseph Chaves serving as first president, and also a St. Barnabas Women’s Guild, with Catherine Sheehan, serving as first president
Fr. Hunt wanted to have Religious Education instructions for the children and in October of 1963 at his request Don Rock and others coordinated them to occur at St. Anthony’s and Coggeshall School.
Shortly after Tom Levesque and Jim Miranda were appointed as Trustees of the parish the committee of Holy Name men came together to work on the little barn and transformed the upper area into the chapel we still have today. Next was to find furnishings which are very similar to the décor we have there now that made our Chapel a quaint and dignified place to celebrate liturgies in. The chapel, was finished in February of 1964, and was used for daily Mass, Baptisms, Confessions and many other liturgical Church activities that were small enough to fit inside.
Additionally, the Reise farmhouse became the first rectory. Ben Coute was a good carpenter and he worked on the farmhouse to make it into a serviceable rectory. Of course the house was so old and crooked that despite lots of good restoration work, nothing was square and the floors were not level, requiring blocks to be put under one side of the bed so the pastor would not roll out of bed onto the floor. The old rectory actually still exists in a disassembled form on the Doris Duke farm. They moved it there board-by-board when our new rectory was built just before Fr. Kevin retired, for historical preservation and restoration someday.
Since the Roller Rink was only available on Sundays, other times when there were larger Masses, like on Holy days of obligation, that couldn’t fit into the Chapel, were celebrated at Mother of Hope Novitiate on West Main Rd. in Portsmouth.
Fr. Pat Hunt was a very devoted pastor and he was constantly concerned about the parishioners, especially how people interacted and got along together. St. Barnabas was quite diverse with a strong Portuguese community, a growing Asian community, as well as many military families and lots of professionals along with members of the Portsmouth rural community. Fr. Pat would make many visits to bless the homes of the people in the parish and in so doing he was able to get to know them all. He also came to the homes of several people in the Parish who cared for babies prior to adoption and he would come to bless the children. Some were able to go back to their mothers when they were back on their feet and several others were adopted. He also was known as one of the best golfing priests in the State and would often be found at the local golf clubs when he had a few hours off.
When things settled down a bit, the diocese and the core committees and the parish board hired an architect (through the diocese) to design the church. The firm was Kurtz, Denning and Gazda and Mr. Denning was our primary designer.
On March 27, 1965 C & B Construction Company of Newport, Rhode Island was contracted to build the Church and on a cool Sunday Morning in April of 1965 after a very simple ceremony and blessing of the land, a small group of our parishioners gathered to see the first shovel full of sod turned over by Father Hunt. He then asked if anybody wanted to turn over a shovel of dirt and several joined in including Manuel Medeiros – one of the oldest members of the parish Don Rock, Vince Pelletier and others. According to Don, the ground was very hard and the day was quite cool which shortened the ceremony quite a bit.
Construction started in mid-April 1965 and the upper portion of the church building was completed December 18, 1965. Paul Valente of Valco Construction did the brick work and Paul pointed out his characteristic signature missing brick to me a few years before he died. It is in the left roof line of the wall where our large Crucifix is mounted. He did the brick work on many churches and he told me he always left one little brick out on all of his jobs because “we can never achieve perfection and that our work in this life is never complete”.
The blessing of the church and the dedication of the altars took place during the 11:00 AM Mass on December 19, 1965, with Bishop McVinney officiating.
Reverend Patrick J. Hunt, was officially installed as the first Pastor of St. Barnabas Parish, the Right Reverend Monsignor Edward P. Boland (now Bishop Boland) was also present as the Dean of the Newport Deanery, and various members of the clergy and a large representative group of the lay members of the parish and civil officials were there.
Bishop McVinney also consecrated the altar of sacrifice as well as the altar of reservation of the Blessed Sacrament of the church as portable altars in honor of St. Barnabas enclosing in them the authentic relics of St. Maurice, St. Vitalis, and St. Anastasia, martyrs, adding the prescribed three grains of incense.
Fr. Hunt loved to be with people and would round up a pinochle card party group every Saturday night with Ben Coute, Herman Andrea, Bob Dube (his wife was Fr. Hunt’s cousin), Edmund Silveria, Jimmy Miranda and others. His tour in Portsmouth lasted 5 years which came and went very quickly. Only two years after the Dedication of the parish he was called away by the Diocese to his next project.
He was a very powerful manager with many skills and many friends in high places and because he possessed such strong skills as a community builder with a particular talent for establishing new parishes, shortly after St. Barnabas parish had built up to about 200 families or so he was moved to Warwick in order to establish and build St. Timothy’s which is also still a vibrant parish today. I believe he retired after serving at St. Timothy’s.
On December 15, 1968, Fr. Thomas Bernard Joseph Hart came to Portsmouth to be our Pastor at Saint Barnabas Church. He lovingly referred to Saint Barnabas as the Gem of Aquidneck Island.
Fr. Hart was with our parish for 20 years and he worked to build a community of dedicated Roman Catholics. He confided to me many times that his belief was that people, not buildings, comprised the church and he tried to teach and lead every parishioner to a full and loyal parish life. He was a dear friend and I can tell you that he had a great love for our parish, trying always to please both the young and old alike.
He opened the Chapel up 24/7 for people to come and pray with the constant presence of Christ in the tabernacle.
In Fr. Hart’s early years Don Rock, Vincent Pelletier, Peg Brady, and others volunteered to become teachers for the religious education of the children at their homes. Fr. Hart tried hard to attend all the classes but with the scattered locations it was virtually impossible. Eventually Peg, Don, Cathy Rock, Ed Hayes, and others started a program for the senior people and Vincent and Peg also became involved in a project to ask the town committee to borrow the schools. They needed permission from the school board and after agreeing to pay a fee started using the Middle School as a home base. Quickly the attendance built up to 200 – 300 youngsters at the school But, after a short while using the schools they were told it had to be curtailed because of difficulties with the School Board over loaning the public schools out in order to teach religion.
When the original Elmhurst academy was breaking up two of the Sisters of Mercy offered their assistance and stayed with the program for another year using private homes. Around 1973 the sisters were re-assigned, but two other young sisters came forward and after finding them a car they agreed to stay and Fr. Hart was happy to have their help. They were very involved with the kids and conducted field trips and all sorts of events for the children.
About 7 years later around 1980 Fr. Hart decided to recruit Lay people to teach and Connie Baily came forward to be our first Lay Religious Education Director, along with Cathy Rock and Ed Hayes and other volunteers. Later Martha Marchetti joined the team and the First Communion and Confirmation youngsters were divided into two groups, each with their own director.
Fr. Hart believed strongly in Catholic Education and really wanted a Parish Catechetical Center. He also encouraged our support of the Regional Catholic School. Originally he even had aspirations of establishing a St. Barnabas Parish school but that never came to fruition.
Classroom space continued to be a problem and eventually he was able to get the partitions installed in the Church Hall under the Church and that provided the first set of centralized classrooms for Religious Ed.
During his term of service the Saint Barnabas Annual Festival was established in June of 1975. It remains a super strong community event and a powerful fund raiser for our parish.
Fr. Hart was also very pleased with the bond developing with Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church uniting both with mutual sharing, not only of weekly prayer, but also yearly, in our joint Christmas celebrations with lessons and carols..
He also wanted a Garage, and so the lower portion of the Chapel was converted to a meeting room and Don Rock, Joe Silvia, and others worked during the summer with Fr. Hart’s nephew and the meeting rooms in the chapel were created. In 1985 partitions were put up in the basement of the Chapel and then the finish work as done by Don Rock, Adelino Raposa, Alfred Raposa, Rush Holliday and many others. Finally, Adelino and the Portsmouth Knights supported moving the old garage over to the end of the chapel on rollers and then incorporated it into the Chapel and that is where my office is today.
After Vatican II Fr. Hart saw the decisions from Rome and decided that it was time to remove the communion rail. Don Rock and others had great trepidations about this so first they removed the doors. Fr. Hart pushed them a bit more….. then they removed the front section…… and finally with some more coaxing they removed the sides but he allowed them to leave up two sections for people who felt they just had to kneel to receive Communion…. Eventually when no one was using those sections any more they were finally removed.
Where the bathroom is now near the Church entrance there used to be a Baptistery that was complete with a plumbed-in drain. When Fr. Hart moved the Baptistery to where it is now, up in the Sanctuary, it could not be plumbed in so this is why we use a crystal bowl for the water now during baptisms. The Choir was also moved from the Choir loft and Mrs. Gunning, Cecelia, and Mike Occhi directed the music ministry thereafter from the South wing of the Nave.
During Fr. Hart’s Tenure we had several priests help out from time to time, I may miss someone but I do remember Fr. Sherry, Fr. Sullivan, Fr. Christopher and Fr. Stead from the – Abbey, Fr, Ed Boland, Fr. Carnavale, Fr. Robero, and Fr. Silva, perhaps you may remember some others.
Fr. Tom would tour the parish on his “First-Fridays home visits” with Sister Noella.
After 15 years, and eventually when the administrative duties became too overwhelming for him and our Parish Secretary Pauline Smyth, Fr. Hart hired Lee Ashman who had experience in business management to help out.
There are two things I remember most about Fr. Thomas Hart though. The first was that he loved the children of the Parish and would take great delight to bring them forward very often during Mass, even when the homily was “way over their heads”, and the second was that long before I knew I would become a Permanent Deacon he told me that he just knew that someday I would be an assigned servant at St. Barnabas,.
Fr. Hart would often say, "I don't want just your time, your talents, or your treasures, I want you."
And then one day he retired as Pastor of St. Barnabas parish.
On June 25th 1993 we were so fortunate to have Father Kevin Brassil come to Aquidneck Island to become our new Pastor.
I am so happy that Fr. Kevin, Fr. Randy and Fr. Peter are all here tonight so they can fill in the blanks and correct any errors in my information:
Fr. Kevin brought his unique fresh, kind and loving ways to St. Barnabas parish and soon he was completely engaged in the parish life with huge groups of people rallying around him to respond to the needs and invigorate the parish.
I recall having a discussion with Bishop Louis Gelineau during a Scout Sunday celebration at the Cathedral. He asked me how we liked our new Pastor and I told him how pleased we were and with a big smile he said, “I thought he would be a good fit for all of you down at St. Barnabas, you should be very happy”, and we were.
Fr. Kevin has a wonderful and gentle style that seeks to empower those around him while simultaneously working to defend the most vulnerable person in the group.
Coming to us from St. Edwards in Pawtucket with clear delineated ethnic neighborhoods, the first thing he did was divide up the parish into geographic blocks and then conduct elections in each block to provide Parish Council Representatives to cover every location in the community to be sure the needs of all people were fairly and evenly represented. This was a wonderful idea and we established a strong new Parish council with a new mission statement and a new set of by-laws for the parish to ensure that everyone had a voice and was properly ministered to.
This was very characteristic of Fr. Brassil’s pastoral style. During his tenure, he had some extraordinary accomplishments, brought about by his unique ability to listen to the parishioners and then utilize the talent around him.
He brought in Mary Lou Proulx as our Parish Manager who has provided the management skills, the technology and the follow-through that we have needed to get things done. He changed all the leaky and drafty windows into the beautiful stained glass windows we have now. Then he attacked the alcove windows in the North and South, dedicating them to the Youth of the Parish and also for the Seniors of the parish. The Sound system was upgraded, the pews were replaced and the interior of the Church was painted.
Each time he wanted a project done, he established a plan, a Steering committee, capital campaigns, and good management. He freely utilized the people around him. People like Paul and Rita St. Laurent, Edmund Silveria, Jerry Patenaude, Don Rock, Emily Mathias, Danny Alvarnas, Lloyd and Lucy Sunderland, Don and Denise McCarthy, Al & Pat Raposa, Carol DeCosta, Joan Holiday, Dan Corrigan, Ed Fitzgerald, Roni Probert, Lydia Mederios, Margaret Gomes, Kevin McCarthy, Dennis and Mary Bolton, Larry and Barbara Rozul, Bruce and Patty Macliesh, and many many others (forgive me but this is only a tiny sample list just to make my point, I could not possibly attempt to mention everyone in this category).
The most marvelous material accomplishment of Fr. Kevin’s tenure was to bring about and complete the sorely needed parish center, the air conditioning for the Church, and the new rectory. This was a HUGE undertaking that needed planning, funding, enthusiasm and support. He literally opened up the brainstorming to everyone in the parish in order to define the needs, and then created and built one of the most functional and well thought-out parish centers I have seen anywhere. With kitchens, vending windows, classrooms, a library, bathrooms and offices, it was exactly what we needed and one of the things that Fr. Hart had so much desired during his tenure that had to wait until the time was right before it could occur.
Fr. Brassil never pleaded for money and never strong-armed anyone. He simply laid out the needs and with his prayerful, kind, gentle, human touch, he would make things known and then the Holy Spirit would move people into place and open our pocketbooks to provide what was needed.
As our Pastor he was welcoming, kind, dedicated to our children and a loving, caring, Pastor who wanted nothing more than to have everyone well-served, fairly treated and happy. I was given so many opportunities, blessings, and graces by Fr. Kevin, as we all were and he and I will always remain the best of friends.
It was during a Parish Council meeting when we were in peak curiosity wondering who would replace Fr. Brassil who was retiring that we first learned it would be Fr. Randy Chew that would come to Portsmouth from St. Paul’s in Cranston. I knew him when he was Assistant Pastor at Christ the King at URI in South Kingstown where he served as the University Chaplain, when I was in West Kingston from 1979 –1984. Many others knew him as the Assistant Pastor at St. Joseph’s in Newport. The universal consensus was that we would once again be blessed by a wonderful Pastor and he was a perfect fit for St. Barnabas.
Fr. Chew’s prime directive for the parish was program, program, program. He established our Stewardship Committee with Mick Souza as Chairman and we conducted a series of very successful Stewardship Weekends each year recruiting hundreds of volunteers and creating many new and exciting parish ministries and expanding all of the existing ones. Marsha Blackburn joined our Religious Ed. organization as Director of the younger kids when Connie Bailey retired.
Fr. Randy has the special and unique ability to recruit and empower people without ever losing control of the core goals and missions of our parish vision.
He had the sound system upgraded we, and fixed the roof. New floors and carpets were installed in the Church and the Sanctuary was arranged for the best view throughout the Church. We added the beautiful piano from his sister and installed the stained glass medallion from the Chapel by the Sea into a beautiful window depicting Land, Sea, and Air, dedicated to the military and veterans of our parish. Father Randy has given us wonderful homilies and meaningful children’s homilies. Our religious education classes grew and grew and the youth activities also grew in abundance including the monthly Youth Masses with Daystar and the periodic family Masses with the children as readers. We had youth homilies with puppets, and celebrated All Saint’s Day with costumed Saints and heros.
These past nine years passed by so quickly with all the activities. We had successful Festivals, Yard Sales, Vacation Bible Schools and youth basketball games. We enjoyed Senior trips, Portuguese nights and gigantic first communion and confirmation classes. The Cub Scouts grew and prospered and our many organizations flourished.
There are also many many Priests who would come forward to help us including Fr. Kehew, Fr. Trainer, Fr. Dumphy, Fr, McKenna, Fr. Stead & Fr. Fitzgerald, among others.
Fr. Randy, you can be proud of your legacy to St. Barnabas and they carry names like, Adult Education, Bible Study, R.C.I.A., Vacation Bible School, Finance Council, Money Counter team, our Parish Auditors & Trustees, The Parish Council, our Property & Maintenance Committee, our Steering Committee, Stewardship Committee, Baptism Preparation program, Barnabas Blanketeers, Eucharistic Adoration ministry, Festival committee, Legion of Mary, Liturgy Committee, Marriage Preparation team, Ministry of Care, Music Ministry, Prayer Line, , Project Linus, Senior Club, Soup Kitchen ministry, St. Vincent dePaul Society, Sunshine Club Card Ministry, Altar Servers, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion at Mass, and to the Sick and Homebound, Hospitality, Lectors, Sacristy Care, Ushers, Welcoming committee, and our extra parochial Youth Programs – CAL Basketball, “Sew Easy to Care” teens pillowcase ministry and our Pack 1, Portsmouth Cub Scouts.
You accomplished all of this and had a successful capital campaign to pay down our debt and give us a financially solid and solvent parish before you retired. I also want to personally thank you for your support through my Diaconate training and putting up with my constant questions and requests.
My Brothers and sisters in the Community of St. Barnabas Parish, we have TRULY been blessed, since 1963, by four of the most wonderful and dedicated pastors that we could have possibly been given to know for the past 50 years.
Now as we continue forward on our 51st year, one last gift that Fr. Randolph G. Chew has given us, in his role as Dean of our Deanery and then on the Personnel board of our diocese is our new pastor, Fr. Peter J. Andrews.
I have known Fr. Peter since the 90’s when he was the Director of the Office for Worship at the Providence Diocese and the Secretary to Bishop Gelineau. We are once again truly blessed to have been given a wonderful and gifted Pastor. He is kind, caring, and energetic and a master liturgist. I am so happy to be able to serve with him as the permanent deacon at St. Barnabas. I am truly blessed to be part of this parish and I will leave the next chapter of our journey for Fr. Peter and all of us to unfold as we all work together to share God’s Word, and the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ together in this amazing community.
May God bless you all!