In 1850, the French-speaking people from Canada began immigrating to the Palmer area, necessitating the creation of a parish to meet their needs.
During the first two years of the new parish, Mass was held in the old Town Hall at Four Corners. The land for the new Church was donated by Dr. Silas Ruggles. On September 14, 1884, the basement was completed and, for the first time, the parishioners of St. Anne Church were ‘at home’ for religious services. A few years later, the upper Church was finished, and the basement was converted into a parochial school.
In 1901, the first teaching nuns arrived to direct the infant school. A convent was built to the left of the Church, on the corner of Main and Charles Streets. By 1902, St. Anne Parish had a Church, rectory, school and convent in Three Rivers, a chapel in Bondsville, and a school in Thorndike. 264 children attended St. Anne’s School, and 80 more in the school at Thorndike.
In 1922, St. Anne Church, school and convent were destroyed by a massive fire. Under the guidance of Father Ladislas Geoffroy, who served as pastor for 23 years, a basement Church and school were soon built.
St. Anne's French Mission Chapel, Bondsville
Construction of the new Church began in the Spring of 1947, and it was dedicated in 1949. In 1957, St. Anne’s School was enlarged, to add 4 classrooms to accommodate the growing number of students.
In 1962, a small committee organized monthly fund-raising events to pay off the $34,000 mortgage.
In 1969, Fr. Sylvio Levesque became Pastor of St. Anne’s. Under his direction, the sanctuary of the Church was modernized to conform with the perceived guidelines of Vatican II.
In 1971, the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary left the parish, and the school was closed. The building was rented to the Town of Palmer, and used as a public school for ten years. The convent was renovated into a parish center, and served as library, meeting rooms, and CCD classrooms.
On the night of December 28, 1980, arsonists set fire to our beautiful church. The next day, only the four walls were left standing - the rest of the Church was completely destroyed. Parishioners met with Father Levesque that day, and decided to rebuild the Church to its former beauty. Meanwhile, the people of St. Anne’s were cordially invited by Father Robert Ceckowski and the parishioners of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish to share their beautiful Church. Father Levesque gladly accepted this kind offer, and we will be forever grateful for this gesture of friendliness which brought the two parishes and their members closer together than ever.
On November 28, 1981, the first Sunday services were held in the new parish hall. On February 21, 1982, the first Mass was held upstairs in the Church. That day was called “Appreciation Day”, and parishioners expressed their gratitude to area churches (both Catholic and Protestant) for their generosity after the fire. Guided tours and an Ecumenical Service were held, with an overflow congregation. Bishop Maguire blessed the Church on February 28, 1982.
Since 1982, many changes have occurred at St. Anne’s. An increasing number of families of non-French Canadian descent have joined the parish. The aging convent was taken down. We buried our beloved Pastor, Fr. Sylvio Levesque, in 2007. At that time, Father Stefan Niemczyk was assigned as Pastor, and has generously shared his time and talents between Sts. Peter and Paul Parish and St. Anne’s ever since.
Besides the trials, these last twenty-five years have seen many joys for our St. Anne family. We have gathered for annual whist parties, family picnics, craft fairs, the ‘Soiree’ variety shows, Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day breakfasts, Christmas concerts, and many other special occasions.
St. Anne’s Youth Group dances entertained two generations of local teens, giving them a safe place to enjoy Friday nights. Held in the Church hall, they were once so popular, late arrivals had to be turned away, for lack of space.
As we read through the history of St. Anne Church, we come to realize that, although it feels like “Our Church”, we are just the most recent generation of parishioners to sit in its pews, worship at its altar, and call it our spiritual home.
As we close the doors on St. Anne’s history, may the souls of all those who have gone before us join in this final farewell. And may Good Saint Anne continue to bless us as we begin a new history in the days, weeks, and years ahead.
Taken from a compilation by Mr. Theodore Bonnayer on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Parish in 1982.
St. Anne Cemetery, Three Rivers