Biography of Rev. W. J. Phelan

St. Benedict’s Church of Conimicut, Rhode Island, has been served since 1919 by Rev. W. J. Phelan, who is still (1930) giving to his people able leadership and a gifted ministry.

St. Benedict’s is one of the younger parishes of Providence Diocese. When it was organized in 1914, by Father Michael O’Brien, it numbered less than six hundred souls, but at the present time it includes some two thousand members. When Father O’Brien took charge there was no church building and the task of erecting a suitable place of worship was undertaken at once. Land was purchased, plans drawn, and so well did Father O’Brien and his people work together that by September, 1915, the present church was completed and ready for use. The upper church provides seating for four hundred and fifty people, and the basement, which is used as a chapel, for Sunday school services, and for social gatherings, seats four hundred people.

Rev. W. J. Phelan, present pastor of St. Benedict’s Church, was born in Newport, Rhode Island, and received his early education in the parochial schools of his birthplace. When his preparatory work was completed he entered Holy Cross College, at Worcester, Massachusetts, where he completed his course with graduation. For his theological and philosophical training he went to Grand Seminary at Montreal, Province of Quebec, Canada, where he was ordained December 19, 1903. His first appointment was to St. Thomas’ Church in Manton, Rhode Island, where he remained for two years, from January 1, 1904, to November 3, 1906. He was then transferred to St. Patrick’s Church, in Providence, Rhode Island, and there he gave faithful service for a period of ten years.

At the end of that time he was again transferred, this time to the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Providence. After three years of able service there he was made a pastor and assigned to St. Benedict’s Church at Conimicut, Kent County, Rhode Island, where he has since been devoting his time and his energy to the task of forwarding the material and spiritual welfare of the parish. Under the able leadership of Father Phelan and of those who served before him the membership of the church has steadily grown, and the original two hundred families have increased to more than four hundred families. All the societies of the parish are prosperous and growing steadily. There is a Senior Holy Name Society and also a Junior Holy Name Society, Holy Rosary Society for the women, Blessed Virgin Society for young ladies, Children of Mary Society for the little folks, also a St. Agnes Sodality, a St. Aloysius Sodality, and a flourishing council of the Knights of Columbus. Father Phelan takes an active interest in the affairs of all these societies, and has developed the work of the parish to a degree which makes necessary the help of one assistant, who at the present writing (1930) is the Rev. Raymond Crawford. With Father Crawford’s able and zealous aid, the parish is steadily growing in all departments of its work, and there is every prospect of an increasingly successful future.

Father Phelan has richly earned the sincere respect with which he is regarded by his people, and also of the community in which his parish is located.

Source: Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.

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