Biography of Rev. Thomas J. O’Connor

For five years, from 1925 to the present writing (1930), Rev. Thomas J. O’Connor has been the able pastor of the Church of St. Philomena at Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island.

The parish of St. Philomena was originally a mission of St. Francis’ parish of Wakefield, which, in turn, from 1850 on to 1879, was itself a mission of East Greenwich. Before 1850 there were few Catholics in this region, which, in that early time, was seldom visited by a priest. No doubt such devoted men as Edward Putnam or James Fitton, missionaries-at-large from Providence, sometimes called there in the early ’40’s, but in 1851 it was attended from Stonington, Connecticut. Shortly after 1852 Wakefield was visited regularly, and when, in September, 1853, Rev. Patrick Joseph Lenihan went to East Greenwich, Wakefield came within the East Greenwich parish. Wakefield remained a part of East Greenwich until 1879, when the villages of Wakefield, Peace Dale, and Narrangansett Pier, with Carolina and Plainville, were made a separate parish under the patronage of St. Francis and put in charge of Rev. William McCooms, who was succeeded in 1882 by Rev. F. Tuite. In 1884 Father Tuite built a chapel at Narragansett Pier to accommodate the large number of Catholics who go there during the summer season. Rev. Charles Burns was made pastor of Wakefield parish in 1893, and in 1897 Carolina and Plainfield were cut off from Wakefield and annexed to the new parish of the Immaculate Conception at Westerly. Narragansett Pier continued as a mission of Wakefield until 1917 when it was made a separate parish under the name of St. Philomena, with Father O’Toole, from the Immaculate Conception Church of Westerly, as the first pastor. Father O’Toole remained until 1921, when he was succeeded by Rev. James R. Bartley. In 1925 Rev. Thomas J. O’Connor took charge and five years later he was still continuing his able service to this parish.

Rev. Thomas J. O’Connor was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and received his early education in that place. Later, he entered Holy Cross College, at Worcester, Massachusetts, and after the completion of his course there he began his theological studies in St. John’s Seminary, at Brighton, Massachusetts. In 1907, upon completion of these studies, he was ordained a priest by Bishop Hawkins, in the Cathedral at Providence. After his ordination he was assigned to St. Joseph’s Church, at Providence, where he served as assistant for four years. He was then transferred to St. Michael’s at Providence, and still later to St. Patrick’s at Valley Falls. In 1925 he was made a pastor and appointed to his present charge, the St. Philomena Church at Narragansett Pier.

The parish of St. Philomena includes about two hundred and forty-five people who are year-round residents, but during the summer season the number of souls to be looked after is greatly enlarged. In order to minister properly to these numerous and widely distributed summer residents, St. Philomena has four masses said from June 15 to September 15. In this work Father O’Connor is aided by one assistant. The old church, built in 1879, is now used for social purposes and the new one, built in 1905 by Father Rafferty provides seating for five hundred people. The church and parish societies are vigorous and flourishing and include the Holy Name Society, Altar Society, for women, and also Daughters of Isabella, for women.

Father O’Connor is very highly esteemed for his piety and his ability; and because of his courtesy, his sympathy, his “human kindness,” his discernment, and his impartiality he is also much beloved by his people. His broad-minded tolerance and his breadth of vision have won him the respect of those who are not of his faith; and not only by the people of Narragansett Pier, but to those of the surrounding locality is he well known and greatly respected.

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

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