LEOMINSTER — There’s so much history in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Not just religious history, but art, architecture, and music as well, tied into the rich historical tapestry of the Twin Cities.
The church at 60 West St. in downtown Leominster turns 130 in June, occasioning an array of celebratory events open to the public from May through autumn, including a series of organ concerts, a walking tour of the area and family activities.
It was founded on June 11, 1893, by the Episcopal Church and Christ Church of Fitchburg and the Dioceses of Massachusetts as an alternative for Leominster millworkers in the industrial boom to not have to travel to Fitchburg for weekly services. They originally met at Fraternity Hall in Leominster, with 50 registered communicants for Sunday evening prayers and seventy children enrolled in the church Sunday school.
The actual church building was built in 1900 and consecrated in 1901. It was built by one of the first well-known female architects who is broadly considered one of the best architects of the early 20th century, Josephine Wright Chapman, born in Fitchburg in 1867.
The stone and wood Tudor Gothic church building and rectory were financed by church patron Minerva Crocker of Fitchburg, widow of a local paper manufacturer and U.S. congressman. F.M. Leavitt and Company did the granite stonework, which came from nearby Monoosnoc Mountain in Fitchburg, and contractor Albert E. Lyon did the wood construction.
Even the church’s stained glass windows were made by Charles J. Connick, who was a prominent painter, muralist, and designer best known for his preeminent work in stained glass, particularly in the Gothic Revival and Arts and Crafts styles.
Crocker also donated an E. & G. G. Hook Pipe Organ which is still in use and is known to be one of the finest tracker organs in New England, played by generations of well-known organists, including a local symphonist as its current regular player.
Even the bell in the church’s bell tower is historical, having been brought to Leominster from the USS Compass Island in 1980.
“St Mark’s has always invested in great talent” and the local community, and has contributed to the area throughout its existence, said James Normington, senior churchwarden.
Currently, the church has ministries such as growing vegetables for regional food pantries, Project Linus making blankets for pediatric and adult cancer patients, international relief efforts, an on-premises thrift shop (open for over 40 years), community meals, weekly dinner for family homeless shelters, hosts 12-step programs and more.
“Service is the cornerstone of our mission, ministry, and outreach”, says their website.
They also say they “adapt to the ever-changing world”, whether that is being open and welcoming to all or making worship more accessible due to events like the pandemic.
The first event to kick off the 130th-anniversary celebrations is a spring yard sale on Saturday, May 13 from 8 a.m. to noon, with another in the fall.
There will be a series of organ concerts, the opening being “A Festival of Hymns & Sacred Music” featuring musician, composer, scholar, and educator Robert Potterton III on Sunday, May 21 at 3 pm with $10 entry at the door. Other concerts will be in September, October, and November with dates to be announced.
June will bring a historic walking tour of the church and downtown Leominster to coincide with the city’s Heritage Month on June 24 starting at St. Mark’s at 11 a.m. with tickets costing $10 per person.
In September, there is a children’s party and magic show planned. The church will also continue to hold its annual church bazaar and regular community dinners throughout their celebratory seasons.
The church now has 600 members with 60-80 people attending their two weekly Sunday morning and Wednesday evening services. They offer both traditional and modern services as part of the international Anglican Communion, descendants of the Church of England and Church of Scotland, which some would describe as “Protestant, yet Catholic” due to their belief in the holy ghost, saints, and taking communion.
Their rector, who just arrived in the past month, is Rev. Aileen DiBenedetto, is also making history — she’s the first woman to lead the Parish. Prior to this, Father Jim Craig was rector for 24 years and Father Keith Mason was rector for 28 years before that.
Normington, the senior warden, said he is “the primary elected lay leader of the congregation, and serves as a principal liaison between the parish and the rector.” He is part of the “vestry”, which is a church board responsible for the Parish, that is chaired by the Rector, who is the senior clergyperson in the Parish. They answer to the Episicopalian Diocese canonically, but have democratic control of Parish matters.
St. Mark, the patron saint of the church, is the Evangelist, the writer of one of the four gospels of the Christian Bible. He’s the patron saint for notaries, attorneys, the incarcerated, glaziers, and stained glass artists; for Egypt, Infanta, the Philippines, Florida, the Ionian Islands, and several cities in Italy; lions; and against impenitence, insect bites, scrofulous diseases, and struma.
While honoring the past, St Mark’s continues to look toward the future.
“We are looking at investing in renewable energy and the possibilities of creating an EV charging station,” Normington said.
They’re also active on social media, with a website at stmarksleominster.org, Facebook @stmarks.leominster, and Instagram @stmarksleominster.