Biography of Rev. W. O. Demers

From September, 1926, to the present writing (1930) Rev. W. O. Demers has been the able pastor of St. Patrick’s Church of Harrisville, Rhode Island.

The history of St. Patrick’s parish goes back to the early 1850’s, when the few Catholics living in Pascoag and Harrisville attended the nearest church, which was in Woonsocket, or waited for the occasional visits of missionary priests from Providence. In the development of country towns which occurred during the first decade of the nineteenth century, 1850-60, Pascoag, which meant the entire surrounding district, was one of the first places to receive a pastor. On March 15, 1851, Bishop O’Reilly appointed the Rev. Christopher Moore, a young priest just two months ordained, pastor of the district. In 1852 Rev. P. J. Lenihan was made pastor. He decided to build a church at Pascoag and engaged the services of the noted architect, Keely, to draw the plans. In July, 1853, the bishop preached to the people concerning the purchase of a plot of ground as the site for the proposed church. In September, 1853, however, Father Lenihan was succeeded by Father Bernard Tully, who abandoned the plan of building in Pascoag, made Harrisville the headquarters of the mission, and began the erection of St. Patrick’s Church. The next pastor, Rev. John Duffy, completed the church, which was dedicated by Bishop McFarland on his first Episcopal visitation, October 11, 1858, and at that time was valued at $3,500. The estimated Catholic population of the district at that time was one thousand and St. Patrick’s then had two missions, one at Albion, where there were twenty-five Catholic families and where mass was said every second week, and one at Slatersville, where there were fifteen Catholic families and where mass was said every third month. During the more than ten years of Father Duffy’s pastorate (1856-67) he carried the work forward most successfully and so increased the size of the congregation that it became necessary to enlarge the church. In 1867 Rev. James O’Reilly was made pastor, and he was followed by Rev. William Brie, who took charge in 1869 and remained until 1873. During that pastorate the parish grew and prospered and the church was cleared of debt. Rev. John Keegan was made pastor of St. Patrick’s in 1873 and served ably until 1878, when he was transferred to Providence and was succeeded at St. Patrick’s by Rev. John Maguire. During Father Maguire’s pastorate, in 1880, the church at Pascoag was made a separate parish, but in 1886, during the next pastorate, that of Rev. Michael Cook, who served from 1884 to 1890, Pascoag was reunited to Harrisville. Rev. Michael Cassidy came next, 1890-92, and he was succeeded by Rev. Henry Conboy. He served until 1899, and during his pastorate, in 1893, Pascoag was again made a separate parish. In 1899 Rev. John Tully was made pastor. He served until 1902, when he was succeeded by the Rev. Thomas E. Ryan. For twenty-four years Father Ryan labored at St. Patrick’s and during that time he accomplished a splendid work there. He built the present twelve-room rectory, put the entire church property in excellent condition, and greatly strengthened the spiritual life of the parish. He was succeeded by the present pastor, Rev. W. O. Demers, who took charge September 26, 1926.

Rev. W. O. Demers was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and received his early and preparatory education in the parochial and public schools of his birthplace. When his course in Pawtucket High School was completed he entered St. Laurent College, near Montreal, Canada, and when his collegiate course was finished he began his theological training at Louvaine, Belgium, where he was ordained July 10, 1910. After his ordination he returned to this country and was assigned to St. Ann’s Church at Cranston, Rhode Island, where he remained for a period of five years, 1910 to 1915. In 1915 he was transferred to Pascoag. There he continued his able ministry until September, 1926, when he came to his present charge as pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Harrisville. Since coming to Harrisville Father Demers has fully demonstrated his ability and his devotion to his work. Every department of the parish activities has been quickened and strengthened, improvements have been made to the church buildings and grounds, and pastor and people have worked in sympathetic harmony. The various church societies, including a Holy Name Society, a Children of Mary Society, and a St. Ann’s Society, are vigorous, and there is every prospect of an increasingly bright future before the parish of St. Patrick. The church edifice seats about four hundred people, and the parish has two missions, one at Glendale and another at Chopache. St. Patrick’s numbers 1,300 souls, and is steadily growing. Father Demers is assisted in his work here by his brother, Rev. V. W. Demers, who was ordained in Little Rock, Arkansas, June 8, 1924, and who was an assistant in Cranston before locating here.

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

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