The History of St. Mark Church
The first Catholic service on Conanicut Island was
recorded on July 20, 1890. Mrs. Charles A. Faris, a generous benefactor
of the Catholic Church, spending the summer at the Thorndyke Hotel on
Conanicus Avenue, was entertaining two eminent visitors, Archbishop Kenrick
of St. Louis and Archbishop Ryan of Philadelphia. On that historic Sunday
the two bishops concelebrated the first Mass in the hotel's dining room.
The following April, a plot of land on Clinton Avenue was deeded to the Most Rev. Matthew Harkins,
Bishop of Providence, by James L. and Catherine Wilcox. Two years later the
Diocese of Providence built on this property a mission of St. Mary's Church
of Newport, which was called Chapel-by-the-Sea. The chapel was used for
prayer and worship only during the summer, under the pastorates of Rev.
Philip Grace and Rev. W. B. Meenan. In winter, residents took the ferry
to Newport for Masses at St. Mary's.
On a fall day in 1909 bystanders on Narragansett Avenue saw the Chapel-by-the-Sea
moving inexorably up the street drawn by a team of horses. The Catholic
chapel was placed on a plot of land deeded to the Diocese by Eunice D. Littlefield,
who had inherited it from the Silas Carr estate. On this site, which included
a house that later became the rectory, the Chapel-by- the-Sea received a
new name, St. Mark Church, in the new parish of Jamestown. Rev. Patrick J. Sullivan
was appointed the first pastor of the parish. Father Sullivan had a hall
built behind the church that was used as a library, social hall, and movie
theater for the showing of silent films, which appeared at about the time
the parish was formed. During World War I the parish hall served as a
meeting place to entertain soldiers and sailors. During the pastorate of
the Rev. John W. Murphy, who came to the parish in 1957 as its eleventh
spiritual leader, the structure we see today as St. Mark Church was built
to replace one that was no longer large enough to accomodate a growing
On July 31, 1960, a year after St. Mark celebrated its golden
jubilee year, the handsome new church was dedicated by Bishop Russell J.
McVinney, Bishop of the Providence diocese.
The contemporary architecture
of the church was designed to harmonize with the surrounding area of
Jamestown. John Collins of Newport built the church and donated the altar.
He was a cousin of T.C. Dowling, a deeply involved parishioner of St. Mark.
Mrs. T. C. Dowling made the original linens for the altar.
In 1984, the Rev.William J. O'Neill was officially installed as the new
pastor of St. Mark Church by the Most Rev. Kenneth A. Angell, auxiliary
bishop of the Diocese of Providence.