The historic bell tower at Saint Stephen’s Church on Hanover Street received $125,000 for its much needed repair in State funding allocated by State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz. The earmark is included in the proposed fiscal 2020 budget and follows recent allocations for North End parks.
“I am proud to represent a district that is so rich in history. It is important to continue to maintain these older structures so they can be preserved and enjoyed by generations to come.”, said Representative Michlewitz.
North End neighbors and supporters of the church are also helping to fund the remaining balance for the restoration. Leading the restoration campaign, Philip Frattaroli added, “We are grateful to Representative Michlewitz and his staff for taking on this cause. Without the funds they secured, this may not have been possible. We hope the North End community supports this important project to preserve a piece of history.” [View this fundraiser event post.]
The red-bricked St. Stephen’s Church on Hanover Street in Boston’s historic North End is the last Boston church still standing that was designed by famed architect, Charles Bulfinch. Since those early days, St. Stephen’s history has become almost as diverse as the congregants who have worshipped on its grounds for the past 300 years. The land originally held a building that dated back to the early 1700’s and was used for the services of a Congregational Society, of which, Paul Revere and his father were members. In 1804, a new building designed by Bulfinch replaced the older church; and in 1805 a bell made by Paul Revere was hung in the bell tower. Ten years later, the New North Church, as it was called, changed to a practice of Unitarianism, which was one of the more prevalent faiths of Bostonians at that time.
By the mid-1800’s, a large influx of Irish Catholic immigrants had settled in the North End with no local place to worship, so the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston purchased the available building in 1862. Fires damaged the structure in both 1897 and 1929; therefore, a rebuilding of the interior was required and was overseen by Charles Bulfinch – great grandson of the original architect. In 1965, Richard Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, authorized the restoration of the church to the original Charles Bulfinch design. During his career, Bulfinch designed many buildings throughout Massachusetts including the Massachusetts State House and University Hall at Harvard University, as well as designing parts of the U.S. Capitol building. St. Stephen’s Church is the last church in Boston designed by Bulfinch still standing, and is registered with the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, the church holds Masses, funerals, baptisms for residents and those visiting the area, as well as being the headquarters for the St. James Society. It is used by local schools for their musical concerts, along with the North End Musical and Performing Arts Center (NEMPAC). It has also become a regular stopping point for those exploring the North End and its history.
Over the years, the building has become a landmark, emblematic of all the generations of Patriots and immigrants who had, at one time or another, lived and worshiped in the North End. Among those were Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy’s family, who had her baptized at St. Stephen’s in the late 1800’s. Rose’s funeral Mass in 1995 was held there as well.
Fr. David Costello, St. Stephen’s rector, keeps the doors open at times as much as practical so that those walking along the Freedom Trail may step inside to see a bit of Boston’s great history. Along with studying Bulfinch’s architectural style, visitors are able to view cases containing some of the nails and tools used by Paul Revere, which are on display just inside the church’s doors. And the bell tower holding Revere’s bell can be seen from several vantage points including the Paul Revere Mall where his statue stands.
St. Stephen’s Church is showing its age and recent inspections showed that the bell tower is in need of repair. Much of the wood has been found to have “rot” and the entire structure needs to be repainted with a weather-resistant paint, in addition to the gilding that needs to be done to the dome with of gold leaf paint. Along with funds raised by the church itself, the State repair grant will serve to restore the bell tower back to its original state.