History of Our Parish

1950-2007

Before the year 1950, Catholics from the Garden City section of Cranston, Rhode Island were for the most part members of St. Matthew Parish. The population was growing in this section of Cranston and it was apparent that a new parish was needed. Rev. John C. Ells, then a curate at St. Matthew Church, was asked by the 

Most Reverend Russell J. McVinney, DD., Bishop of Providence, to survey the boundaries for the new parish. Wanting, of course, to protect the boundaries of St. Matthew Parish, Fr. Ells reported to Bishop McVinney that Pontiac Avenue would be an appropriate dividing line, which meant that St. Matthew Parish would lose a minimum number of parishioners. In the fall of 1950, Bishop McVinney announced the establishment of St. Mark Parish.  A very surprised Fr. John C. Ells was appointed the first Pastor on October 10, 1950. The newly-formed parish was to embrace a small part of Eden Park, Pettaconsett, Garden City, and Dean Estates. The parish numbered 325 families.

On October 24, 1950, the Bishop McVinney, Right Reverend Peter E. Blessing, Reverend John C. Ells, Francis A. Holland, and Charles R. Capace organized and became a body corporate under the name Saint Mark's Church Corporation of Cranston. The corporation papers were filed on October 25, 1950. The first meeting of the new corporation was held at the Diocese of Providence Chancery Office, 34 Fenner St., Providence on November 2, 1950. At that meeting the charter and by-laws were accepted, Fr. Ells was elected Treasurer and Charles R. Capace was elected Secretary. Fr. Ells was authorized to borrow not more than $170,000 for the purchase of real estate and construction of the church and rectory.

The land on which the new church was to be built was donated by Nazzareno and Susie Melocarro. On January 18, 1952, the church and rectory were dedicated. At that time, the parish debt totaled $210,799. Less than seven years later, the entire debt was repaid.

On June 26, 1957 Bishop McVinney approved plans to construct a parish school and convent. On Palm Sunday, 1961, the school and convent were dedicated and solemnly blessed. Sr. Mary Patricius McNulty, R.S.M. was appointed as the school's first principal. It was ably staffed by the Sisters of Mercy for many years. On March 30, 1971 that the Parish Corporation voted to lease the school building to the Cranston-Johnston Catholic Regional School Board for $1.00 a year. Br. Andrew, F.S.C. was the first principal of the CJCR School. The school continued operation until October of 2009 when the decision was made by the Diocese to close the school because it was too expensive to bring up to code.

In June, 1972 Fr. Ells retired and Fr. William Lawless was named Pastor. During the pastorate of Fr. Lawless the parish debt of $157,000 was liquidated through a program in which 157 families made interest-free loans to the parish. Since that time, the parish has been debt-free. It was a fond wish of Fr. Lawless that the basement church be renovated. Unfortunately, to this day, St. Mark Church remains underground. Fr. Lawless retired in 1982 and died close to his birthday in December of 1985. Fr. Joseph P. Heaney was appointed the third pastor of St. Mark Church.

For 38 years, the people of St. Mark Parish gathered in a basement church, always with the hope that the parish would eventually erect a beautiful place of worship, however, other parish needs took priority. A school had to be built and a convent was needed for the Sisters who taught in the school. Eventually Fr. Heaney called upon the Finance Council to begin to study ways to realize the long-held dream of the parish for the completion of the church. Given the high cost of construction, the Finance Council concluded that erecting a new church would be all but impossible. Estimates began at $105,000,000. In light of the financial situation of the parish it was decided that the costs during construction would have escalated and that this plan was not feasible. The parish then explored the alternative of renovating the present church. O'Hearn Associates, Inc. of Woonsocket, RI was consulted, resulting in a most creative plan of removing the existing ceilings, adding a new pitched roof, and creating a new plaza at the main entrance of the church. A fund-raising consultant was then hired and the people of the parish were approached to contribute to the project. The parishioners responded so well that the goal was surpassed and much more was able to be done in the renovation than had originally been planned.

The Most Reverend Louis E. Gelineau formally dedicated the beautifully renovated church on September 29, 1990. Fr. Joseph Heaney retired in 1991 and on June 20, 1991 the Reverend Richard A. Donnelly was appointed pastor. During these years the parish had been involved in the Diocesan Vision of Hope Campaign, raising $510,112.00. On January 10, 1995, the St. Mark Endowment Fund was established with the Catholic Foundation of RI.

In 1995, after the death of Sr. Patricius, the Sisters of Mercy informed the pastor that they were closing the convent. The former convent was converted into a religious education center, parish meeting rooms, and classrooms for the new Cranston Johnston Catholic Regional School.

In 1998 Fr. Donnelly called upon the Building and Maintenance Committee to discuss the feasibility of installing a new granite floor in the church. The new floor added a real finishing touch to the recently renovated church. Fr. Donnelly often said that he had never been in a parish where the parishioners were more pleased with their parish church than at St. Mark. On September 24, 2000, The Most Reverend Robert J. McManus came to celebrate the Golden Jubilee.

Since the 50th Year Anniversary:

Due to illness, Fr. Donnelly retired as Pastor from St. Mark Church on June 30, 2005. Fr. Donnelly continued to reside and celebrate Masses at St. Mark Church until November, 2005 when he left to live at the Scalabrini Nursing Home while he was undergoing chemotherapy after his diagnosis of cancer. In May of 2006, Fr. Donnelly moved into the assisted living unit at the Villa at St. Antoine, in North Smithfield. Fr. Donnelly passed away on May 21, 2008 and his funeral vigil Mass was celebrated on May 24, 2008.

On July 1, 2005 Reverend Anthony W. Verdelotti was appointed the fifth pastor of St. Mark Church. On August 21, 2005, The Most Reverend Thomas J. Tobin celebrated the Installation Mass for Fr. Verdelotti.

Fr. Verdelotti's philosophy from the very beginning was to bring the parish together with a variety of events, activities, and missions to create a caring and loving parish community. His goal is that our parish will work together for the common good and at the same time foster friendships with caring and love for one another. Soon after Fr. Verdelotti was appointed to St. Mark, the Building Committee approved renovations to both the Rectory and Mother Cabrini Parish Center. The parish Office was relocated to the Cabrini Center and many other improvements were made including painting and the creation of small individual classrooms on the 2nd floor for the Religious Education program.

The church's beautiful new front doors were donated by John Paterra in memory of his wife Barbara H. Paterra. On March 12, 2006 the doors were dedicated at a birthday memorial Mass for Barbara.

Fr. Verdelotti requested the Building Committee to investigate the creation of a candle room in response to several requests from parishioners. At the same time, a decision was made to relocate the organ and move it to the west side of the church where one of the confessionals was located. The work for the entire project was completed in August, 2007. A Mass to bless the new candle room was celebrated on August 19, 2007 by His Eminence Luis Cardinal Aponte Martinez, Archbishop Emeritus of San Juan. Cardinal Martinez requested the use of the church to celebrate a wedding of a relative which coincided with the completion of the candle room and Fr. Verdelotti invited him to honor us by blessing the candle room.

The parish that began with 350 families back in 1950 has grown into a thriving parish community of over 1,700 families!