Parish History

The Early Years

When researching and writing an institutional history, it is necessary to look at the institution within the context of the community it serves and the impact it has had on other institutions in which it is necessarily involved.  In this regard, when doing a history of Saint Joseph Parish, one must look at the Catholic population residing in Needham, the town of Needham itself, and to some extent the Archdiocese of Boston. So rather than just a list of buildings, pastors, and priests, this history will attempt to show how St Joseph Parish has served its parishioners as well as been impacted by and made an impact on the greater Needham community.

It has long been told that Needham’s first Catholic Mass was celebrated on Christmas Day, 1850. It was celebrated at the Nehoiden Street home of Andrew Newell which later became known as the McCracken farm.  

Mr. Newell asked to have a Mass offered for the benefit of his maid and a few other Catholics living in Needham at the time. The population of Needham in 1850 was 1,944 and this included West Needham (Wellesley). Beginning in the 1850’s, Needham was treated as a mission and served by various parishes from Roxbury, Natick, Saxonville and Newton Upper Falls.  It was during this time as a mission of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes in Newton Upper Falls, that the first Catholic Church building was established in Needham.


In 1888, the Reverend Martin O’Brien, pastor of Mary Immaculate, was able to purchase the former Congregational chapel on the aptly named Chapel Street. It was purchased from Edward Cummings of Dover for the sum of $1,000. Father O’Brien’s successor at Mary Immaculate, the Reverend Timothy J. Danahy, celebrated the first Mass at the chapel on Christmas Day, 1890. It soon became apparent that the chapel space was inadequate and on April 18, 1891 a lot on the northeast corner of May Street and Highland Avenue was purchased from James MacKintosh for the sum of $2,600.  This property had previously been owned by a Unitarian Church women’s group. 

The energetic Father Danahy immediately set out to build a new church on the site. The cornerstone was laid on September 20, 1891, with Archbishop John Jay Williams presiding and the Reverend Dennis O’Callaghan, pastor of Saint Augustine’s in South Boston, as preacher. The lower brick section of the church was used while construction of the upper wooden section continued. PIC

Archbishop Williams returned to dedicate the completed church on May 20, 1894. The Reverend George J. Patterson of Abington celebrated the Mass and the Reverend Edward H. Welch, S.J. preached. A large section of the Symphony Orchestra, a famous organist, and a choir took part in the ceremony. A special train brought guests from Boston and $1,500 was collected.  With Archbishop Williams present, Father Danahy took the opportunity to have 39 children and three adults confirmed.  Father Danahy and the Archbishop then traveled to the Upper Falls where 65 more Confirmations took place.

John Finneran and others, as children, vividly remember Father Danahy. “He came up from Mary Immaculate in Newton Upper Falls in a carriage, sometimes on horseback. The road was sandy and he usually arrived in a cloud of dust.  In the carriage, he often had his two large dogs sitting beside him. He drove around the church to the shed, tied up the horse, and with a whip in his hand, entered the church. He always inquired how many people were going to receive communion. One day he did not see my hand go up and when I went up for communion he said sharply and loudly, ‘You can only have a half.’”  Joe Wagner remembers the dogs. “Their names were Winter and Easter. During Mass they usually sat in the sanctuary and stared at us. Sometimes, they would come out where we were and Father Danahy would shout, ‘Don’t be afraid of the dogs. They protect the sacred host and also me, as we come here from Newton.’” In the 100th Anniversary Book of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes parish, Father Danahy is described as “a dynamic, strong-willed, and colorful individual.”  

Father Danahy’s church served Needham Catholics until it was suddenly destroyed by fire in the middle of the night, in February 1913. The Needham Chronicle reported that “the splendid St. Joseph’s (Catholic) church was ruined beyond repair by a stubborn interior fire that probably originated from defective electric light wires. The walls still stand, with the tower and the gold cross, but so completely is the wreck that what is left will have to be torn down.”  Father Danahy was early on the scene, and though he watched the destruction of his own work, he was perhaps the calmest and most self-possessed man there. “Surely it will be rebuilt,” he said in answer to our inquiry, “It will cost twice as much as it originally did (some $36,000) and it will be impossible to obtain materials such as were used at first, but my people will be generous, and the church will soon again be ready.” The writer of the newspaper article gave this opinion, “Father Danahy is averse to personal publicity, but we venture to say that he was so courageous a leader the Catholics of Needham cannot fail to heartily approach their task.”

Although many other Needham churches offered their facilities, Fr. Danahy accepted the Selectmen’s offer to use the Town Hall.  Reconstruction of the church began after the ruined part was cleared away by parishioners and helpful townspeople.  The walls, the tower and the front part of the building had not burned in the fire. A parishioner remembers, “My brother was an altar boy.  They were called over to the church to help scrape cement off bricks, so they could be used again.”

It was not long before the lower floor was reconstructed and the congregation could return from Town Hall. The lower floor served as an all-purpose space until the upper floor was completed. On May 20, 1914, the rebuilt church was dedicated, twenty years after the dedication of the original building.  Father Danahy also established the Holy Name Society and the Knights of Columbus in the parish. 

For several years there was a desire from those in Needham to become their own parish.  Father Danahy was hesitant to give up this church he had built.  One reason appears to be St. Joseph’s generosity. In this regard, Cardinal O’Connell’s secretary wrote to Father Danahy and requested that he send separate annual reports for Mary Immaculate and St. Joseph.  On June 7, 1915, the Cardinal wrote to Father Danahy on the matter, “The time has now come when I must again take up the question of setting apart Needham as a separate parish.  Your indebtedness is sufficiently reduced that there is no longer the necessity you formerly felt of having the assistance of the Needham Parish.”

Almost two years went by before St. Joseph’s officially became a Canonical parish in April 1917. The Cardinal’s secretary wrote to Father Danahy on April 10, 1917 saying a pastor will be appointed shortly for St. Joseph in Needham.  Two weeks later, Cardinal O’Connell sent a notice to Father Danahy of the appointment of Reverend Henry A. Walsh of South Natick as pastor, effective May 1, 1917. 

Reverend Henry A. Walsh (1917 – 1923)

The Reverend Henry A. Walsh was appointed the first pastor of the new parish on May 1. He came to Needham from South Natick where he had been pastor for nine years. Father Walsh lived at 888 Highland Avenue and one of his first objectives was to build a rectory. He received permission from the Cardinal to take a mortgage on the church property of $3000 in order to purchase the Tucker property.  Rectory construction had to be abandoned for three years because the church, which had been rebuilt after the fire, was determined to be unsafe and needed immediate attention. The architect for the rebuilding of the church had complained about the condition of the roof as it was left by the contractor. His protest had resulted in a lawsuit.  Now he reported to the Cardinal that “the walls were not in a true and plumbed condition and should be remedied.” 

On June 13, 1917, in a letter to the Cardinal’s office, Father Walsh stated, “The church building presents a very serious condition of affairs. Faulty construction renders it unsafe for occupancy. Mr. Charles Logue and Mr. Joseph McGiness decided last evening that it should be closed at once and that I would be doing a great wrong if I did not do so. On the strength of their word I locked the doors this morning. I would be pleased to know what arrangements His Eminence might allow me for Sunday. I think it’s quite likely that I can secure the use of the Town Hall.”

The Cardinal fully agreed with the necessity to close the church and repairs began at once.  A month later, Father Walsh reported to the Cardinal that some of the work had been completed but there was still need for a great deal of reconstruction.  Despite shortage of materials under wartime restrictions, Father Walsh was able to create a handsome structure with sturdy brick walls and an imposing tower. He followed the reconstruction carefully step by step.

Cardinal O’Connell was delighted with the handsome gothic building and when he dedicated it on November 24, 1918, he reviewed the difficulties Father Walsh and the parishioners had experienced. The Cardinal said: “One of the clearest lessons of life is very commonplace, yet it sums up all the great actions of life and gives them their proper merit and reward. The lesson is this: that whatever is worth getting is worth striving for…difficulties will come, but the glory of this church will stand as an example. Today you have your reward in a doubly beautiful church.”

Difficulties in the reconstruction of the church building were not the only difficulties Father Walsh underwent in his first two years as pastor.  Two of these difficulties had implications that far exceeded the boundaries of St. Joseph Parish or the Town of Needham.  The first was the United States entry into World War I, which occurred in the same month that St. Joseph Parish was established.  Many young men and a few young women from Needham answered their country’s call to service, including a proportionate number from our parish. On March 17, 1918, an honor roll flag was unfurled with 52 stars representing parishioners serving in the war.  It is not recorded if a member of St. Joseph Parish was among those from Needham who were killed in action.

The other difficulty had an even larger impact on the town and the parish.  This was the influenza epidemic of 1918.  The 1918 Needham Town Report paints a graphic picture of the effect of the influenza epidemic on Needham.  Of the 157 deaths reported that year, 68 could be attributed to influenza.  To keep this in perspective, the year before the total death toll in Needham was 99. The Board of Health suggested that there could have been over 1000 cases in town. The Glover Memorial Hospital reported treating 121 patients of whom 22 died. The Board of Health closed all places of public gathering including schools, the library, and churches.  Saint Joseph’s newly reconstructed church was closed shortly after its dedication. Another way to gauge the epidemic’s impact on St Joseph Parish can be extrapolated from the burial records. Of the 36 influenza related deceased who were buried in Needham, thirteen were interred in Saint Mary’s Cemetery.  One can also get a picture of the makeup of the parish from these records. In the month of October, the deadliest month, there were victims buried in Saint Mary Cemetery whose places of births were listed as two from Italy, four from Russia (Poland), and one each from Lithuania and Ireland.  All but one of the victims were in their twenties or thirties. 

In its first years, St Joseph Parish was relatively young with a significant immigrant population. The size and growth of the parish necessitated another priest. In 1919, the Reverend Thomas F. Devlin was assigned to St Joseph’s as its first curate. With the addition of another priest, the building of a rectory, which had been put on hold because of the need for church reconstruction, was completed on the corner of May St and Highland Ave in February 1921, at a cost of $20,000. 

Two years later, Father Walsh asked for permission to build a brick garage at a cost of $1,500. In 1923, after six busy years at St. Joseph Parish, Father Walsh was appointed pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Dedham.

Reverend Hugh M. Smith   (1923 – 1937)

The Reverend Hugh M. Smith came from Medfield and was appointed as second pastor of St. Joseph Parish on July 16, 1923. He would serve for 14 years, from 1923-1937.  With an Irish lilt in his voice, he sometimes proclaimed: “My middle name is Malachy,” emphasizing his background by referring to a twelfth century saint from Ireland. A kindly, but strict man, Father Smith came at a time when there were still few Catholics in Needham. 

He was a great walker and went out regularly with a shopping bag to Rimmele’s Market, greeting everyone along the way. He would go out even in the middle of the night to visit sick parishioners if they needed him. It was remembered that people in Needham, regardless of their religious domination, were impressed by him. One of the things for which he was especially noted was his concern for all patients at Glover Hospital.  He visited every day and talked with each patient.

During Father Smith’s pastorate, the parishioners became increasingly active in church organizations such as the Holy Name Society which was begun at St. Joseph’s as early as 1908. Father established a Children of Mary Sodality and a Massachusetts Catholic Woman Guild, which flourished.  He also started the adult and children’s choirs. While Father Smith was termed a ‘gentle and holy man’ by members of the congregation, he was at the same time very concerned about raising money. The church debt was a great concern for him.  When he arrived in 1923, the debt was $51,000. In four years he reduced the debt to $25,000.

Father Smith’s tenure at St Joseph was a crucial one.  Beginning in the good years of the twenties and ending during the Depression of the thirties, he experienced the full range of an economic cycle. All this time he felt the weight of the church debt. Yet, he accomplished a great deal in his time: building, buying land, and still reducing the debt. The people in the parish did not have high wages, especially during the Depression, and Father Smith devised his own way of inducing them to contribute the most they could afford.  He had a clicker to count those entering the church and he used a trick collection box which would only open when a donation was placed in it. He also simulated a burning of the mortgage whenever he had raised $1,000.

Father Smith walked miles around the town and visited parishioners in their homes for the census and to collect donations.  Father Smith’s frugality and interest in the parish’s debt reduction are apparent in his correspondence to Cardinal O’Connell. In one letter, he tells the Cardinal that he has received a check for $1,000 representing a bequest to him from a relative in Ireland and wanted it to be applied to St. Joseph’s debt.  In another letter, he states that St. Joseph’s does not need two priests and that he can get by with just one “to help save expenses.” The third example of his frugality is that of his correspondence. For more than a few years he continued to use his personal stationery from his previous assignment with ‘St. Edward Parish’ and ‘Medfield’ xxed out and ‘St. Joseph Parish” and ‘Needham’ typed above.

Father Smith’s involvement in the Town of Needham included joining with the Needham School Committee in “emphatically protest(ing) the granting of a permit for a gas station next to the rectory.”  The Selectmen did grant permission.  This encroachment upon the church’s property no doubt influenced Father Smith’s decision in 1927 to purchase the Bowmar lot, which was also next to the rectory, for $9,500.

During Father Smith’s time as pastor, one of the most startling events in Needham’s history occurred: the 1934 brazen machine gun robbery of the Needham Trust Company on Great Plain Avenue. During the robbery, police officer Forbes MacLeod was gunned down near the railroad tracks outside the bank. As the gunmen ran away down Highland Avenue, police officer Francis Haddock was fatally shot in the Heights.  Both officers were Roman Catholic, although only Macleod was a parishioner at Saint Joseph’s (Officer Haddock lived in the part of Needham still within the boundaries of Mary Immaculate in Newton Upper Falls and his funeral was held there. He is buried in Saint Mary’s Cemetery.) Officer MacLeod’s solemn requiem Mass was held at Saint Joseph Parish and celebrated by Father Smith and two other priests from nearby parishes. The funeral was attended by many state and town officials, with the church filled to capacity.  The local papers carried pictures of the flag draped casket being carried up the steps of the church as well as a view from the balcony.

Upon his death in February 1937, Father Smith’s body laid in state at St. Joseph Church. A great many priests as well as parishioners paid their respects and attended his funeral.  Auxiliary Bishop Francis J. Spellman presided.          

Reverend Edward P. Twigg   (1937 – 1952)

The Reverend Edward P. Twigg became the third pastor of St. Joseph Parish on April 7, 1937. He remained here for 15 years until his tragic death in 1952. His great hope was to establish a parish school and during his pastorate he was relentless in trying to raise the necessary funds. Just as Father Walsh’s dream to build the rectory had to be put on hold, building the school also had to wait a number of years, and Father Twigg did not live to see it. In his first five years, he was able to reduce the parish debt of $28,000 to $9000. He installed chimes and the first electric organ and made many improvements on the church’s property. The children helped to raise money for the organ with food sales and a victory bridge game. Father Twigg announced gleefully that Bing Crosby gave a contribution to the organ fund. A very careful spender, he would always first receive permission from the Cardinal’s office.  Some of his early requests were to spend $270 dollars for two new confessionals, $300 to repair leaks in the church tower, and as much as $3000 to replace the pews in the church basement “…because they are falling to pieces and are beyond repair.”

In 1939, Fr. Twigg invited the Sisters of Charity of Halifax from the Academy of the Assumption in Wellesley to supervise Christian Doctrine classes. The sisters were driven back and forth by parishioner volunteers. Because of wartime regulations, St Joseph Parish was forced to change from oil heat to coal in 1943.  After a few years struggling with this regulation, Father Twigg asked the Archbishop to spend $600 to put a new oil burner in the church as there was no place to store the coal and “it was difficult to dispose of the ashes since the town does not collect rubbish.”

In 1947, Father Twigg asked for permission to bid $25,000 on a partially condemned school building on land next to the church property, the Emery Grover building. The immediate purpose of the bid was to gain the space and prevent inappropriate occupancy. By this time Father Twigg reported that he had “saved $37,000 in the parish treasury with no indebtedness.”

The following year the Holy Name Society asked the Needham School Committee for permission to use the Needham junior high school for a communion breakfast at which Bishop Wright was to be the guest of honor. The request was rejected. The Society than asked the School Committee to reconsider their refusal in view of the Massachusetts State law requiring the use of school buildings be permitted “for social philanthropic and like purposes” with a specific provision that “the affiliation of any association with a religious organization shall not disqualify such association from being allowed such a use for such a purpose.” Reconsideration was rejected by the Committee. The Holy Name Society decided to take this matter further and Father Twigg wrote to the Archbishop asking permission for members of the Holy Name Society to bring action against the School Committee.  The Chancellor, who was the aforementioned Bishop Wright, gave permission on behalf of Archbishop Cushing.  Atty. J. Frederick Harkins, a parishioner and incoming president of the Archdioceses Union of Holy Name Societies, filed petitions for writs of certiorari and mandamus asking the court to require the School Committee to explain their actions and to allow the Society use of the junior high. The judge dismissed these petitions without comment.   Prior to these court proceedings, the Board of Selectmen had granted the use of Town Hall to the Holy Name Society for its communion breakfast. This action made the use of the junior high building moot and may have weighed in the judge’s decision.  The communion breakfast was a great success, filling the Town Hall with almost 200 men.  In his speech, Bishop Wright referred to the court action as “highly technical” but said it was “the American towns that made America great.” He urged Catholics to take more active roles in their community.

Father Twigg recognized the place Catholics had in Needham. He once asked Cardinal O’Connell if a Catholic man from outside the parish could marry a non-Catholic woman in her Needham home. In his letter, he said that “Needham is a strongly Protestant town with twelve Protestants to every Catholic.” The Cardinal gave permission for the marriage in order to “avoid greater scandal which would undoubtedly occur if the request were refused.” Parishioners have described Father Twigg as a simple, holy man who gave eloquent moving sermons. “You could feel the goodness radiating from him”, one person said.  He had a very deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin and often reminded his people that the Virgin Mary could and would take their requests to her son, Jesus, who would never refuse her.

After Father Twigg had been at St. Joseph Parish for a short time, the church became very busy. There were four Sunday Masses, three morning Masses of Holy Days and two for First Friday. Sunday school was held after the 8:00 AM Mass and Benediction was prayed every Sunday afternoon.  An advanced class in religion was taught for boys on Monday evenings, and for girls on Thursday afternoons. A novena service was held on Friday evenings.  Parishioner activities included: the Holy Name Society; a Ladies Sodality; the Literary Society; the Caritas Club; the Saint Vincent de Paul Society; the Knights of Columbus; Girl Scouts; Boy Scouts; and the CYO. One hundred members of the Holy Name Society went regularly to St. Gabriel’s Monastery for Lenten retreats.  Annual Parish reunions were scheduled as social gatherings and to raise funds for the church.  Gerald Casey was working in the Dover Post office and was asked to bring a letter over to Father Twigg. Since he was not at the rectory, Casey went to the church, but only found a man in overalls building a closet for vestments. ”Have you seen Fr. Twigg?” he asked the man. The answer was “What do you want him for?”  Gerald showed him the letter and he took it from Gerald.  “I am Father Twigg. Didn’t you know I was a carpenter before I became a priest?”

Father Twigg’s death on May 4, 1952 followed a tragic accident at the church. On the previous afternoon after confessions were over, he went to the front door which was not working properly and pulled it out with all his might. In doing so he lost his balance and fell backwards down the flight of steps, banging his head and badly injuring the rest of his body. He was taken by ambulance to Glover Hospital.  A short time later he died and his death was announced the next morning at Sunday Masses.  Parishioners were aghast at the news. His body was laid in state at St. Joseph’s and there were a tremendous number of people who attended his funeral.

At the dedication of Saint Joseph Parish Center and School, almost exactly three years after his death, Father Twigg received a beautiful tribute which spoke of his deep spirituality and unremitting devotion to God and his fellow men.  “His long cherished ambition was to provide his people with the means to enable their children to learn more about God and to provide them with a better spiritual foundation on which to build their lives.”

Msgr. Thomas H. Kennedy   (1952 – 1973)

On May 15, 1952, the Reverend Thomas Kennedy was assigned as the fourth pastor of Saint Joseph Parish by Archbishop Richard J. Cushing. Prior to this assignment, Father Kennedy had served as Director of the Catholic Charitable Bureau in Boston. In a personal letter to Father Kennedy, the Archbishop explained why he had made this choice: “You have been most cooperative with me, most devoted to your work, and most kind to the poor. I could not pay any one a greater tribute. I wish you every blessing and happiness at Saint Joseph Parish in Needham. I know you will serve the good people of the parish with your customary priestly zeal, example, and devotion. They will welcome your fatherly interest and they will richly deserve it.”

Immediately upon arriving, Father Kennedy set out to fulfill his predecessor’s dream of building a school for his growing parish. The enormous postwar growth of Needham’s Catholic population was so significant that only four months after his assignment to Saint Joseph’s, the parish was reorganized with the establishment of Saint Bartholomew Parish in Needham. This new parish first held services at the Mitchell Elementary School while the new church and school were under construction on Greendale Avenue. The church construction never began and St. Bartholomew’s “temporary church” that was originally designed as a school gymnasium/auditorium is still used as the church to this day.

Even with the division of the parish and the establishment of a new parish with a school, Father Kennedy continued with his school plans as the need was great. He purchased two parcels of land on Pickering Street from the Gallagher family who were long time parishioners.  The Needham Chronicle reported on April 22, 1954 that a building fundraising committee was established and had set a goal of raising $200,000 for the construction of the school. In May 1954, plans were announced for a new school and parish center complex.  The building on Pickering Street near Needham Center included eight classrooms, an 800 seat auditorium, a cafeteria, and outdoor and indoor playing areas.  The building was designed by the firm Whelan and Westman and built by Walsh Brothers. 

On August 10, 1954, construction began for the school and parish center. Not wanting to wait until construction was complete, Father Kennedy made arrangements with St. Bartholomew to share their just completed school building. In September of 1954, four classes of Saint Joseph’s students were taught by the Sisters of Charity of Halifax on the school’s lower level while Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur taught St. Bartholomew’s students on the upper floor. This arrangement continued until May 9, 1955 when the nine room school and parish center were completed and dedicated by Archbishop Cushing. The school opened for kindergarten through third grade.  Sister Mary Francis, of the Sisters of Charity, Halifax served as principal. She and the sisters staffing the school lived at the Academy of the Assumption in Wellesley.    






Looking to the future, Father Kennedy purchased a house at the southwest corner of May and Pickering Streets adjacent to the school. This house was used as temporary housing for the Sisters of Charity of Halifax who were teaching at St. Joseph School, so they didn’t have to travel from Wellesley Hills each day while the convent was under construction.

Construction of a 21-room convent began on March 7, 1958 and was completed on April 17, 1959.  This is attested to by a perusal of the Town of Needham Street Lists for 1959 and 1960; the 1959 list identifies a number of young women, some with Canadian nationality, living at 98 Pickering Street and the 1960 list shows the same young women living at 1350 Highland Avenue.  Soon after the new convent opened, the 98 Pickering Street house was torn down and an eight-room school addition was built in its place. This addition was dedicated in June 1960. 

All the construction was necessary due to the continued growth of the town and parish. The 1950 census listed the population of Needham as 16,313, while the 1960 total was 25,793, a 58.1% increase. Father Kennedy was recognized for his spiritual contributions during this time of growth and named a Domestic Prelate in January 1959.

This increase in population also made clear that the handsome brick church building of 1918 was now too small to adequately serve the parish. On Christmas Day 1963, an announcement was made that architectural plans for a new building were being prepared. It was decided to double the capacity of the existing building and to build a new structure on the same site.

Monsignor Kennedy arranged for the groundbreaking ceremonies for the present church on September 24, 1964 and construction of the church took two years.  Monsignor Kennedy was very involved in the design and details of the new church, including the beautiful stained glass windows and the symbolic woodwork. During that time, Mass was celebrated in the parish center (school) auditorium. Marriages took place either at St. Bartholomew church or at Mary Immaculate of Lourdes church. Monsignor Kennedy purchased the house on the corner of Oakland and May streets, which is the current location of Mary’s Garden.  The new church was dedicated by Archbishop Richard J. Cushing on St. Joseph Day, March 19, 1966. 

The incredible growth and success of Saint Joseph parish under Father Kennedy could not have occurred without able assistants. Of the nine curates who served during Msgr. Kennedy’s tenure three deserve special recognition: Reverend Richard Cunningham, Reverend Francis Garrity, and Reverend William Wolkovich.

Father Cunningham came to St. Joseph’s in 1960 and quickly involved himself in a number of parish activities. Soon after arriving he established a Catholic Family Movement chapter in the parish. Father Cunningham had a great love of musical theater and called upon those in the CFM to start the St. Joseph’s Parish Players.  This troupe staged two original comedies written and directed by Father Cunningham: Through the Middle of Town and the Moon in June. The former was about small town politics and the latter about a NASA lunar project. One of the lead actors and Father Cunningham’s assistant director was Brendan Fay. These performances were always sold out and Father Cunningham involved many parish groups in their production. The CYO provided the ushers and stage/lighting crews. The Holy Name Society was in charge of ticket sales. The Catholic Women’s Club served refreshments at intermission. Father Cunningham left St. Joseph’s and earned advanced degrees in theology and canon law. He served the Archdiocese as a canon lawyer at the chancery as well as teaching at St. John’s Seminary.  On September 18, 1973 Father Cunningham retired to Regina Cleri.

Father Francis Garrity was one of the longest serving curates at St. Joseph’s arriving in 1961 and leaving in 1974. Father Frank was a kind, gentle, and holy man who made many long lasting friendships in the parish. He was the chaplain or spiritual adviser to every organization offered in the parish: the Holy Name Society; the Knights of Columbus; the Catholic Women’s Club; the Ladies’ Sodality; the CYO;  all the Scouts, Cub, Brownie, Boy and Girl. After leaving Saint Joseph’s, he would often return to marry and/or bury many parishioners. He renewed many of his Needham friendships while serving as pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish from 1988 to 2003.

Father William Wolkovich was a curate at St. Joseph’s from 1957 to 1961. Proud of his Eastern European heritage, he was a friend of many in the parish. Leaving St. Joseph’s he served as a pastor of several parishes with Lithuanian, Latvian, or Polish congregations.  Later he earned an M.A. in history from Boston College and wrote biographies of a number of priests of Eastern European descent who served in the Archdiocese of Boston.  He was an accomplished violinist.   There were two other priests who, although not actually assigned to St. Joseph’s, celebrated Mass here on a regular basis; Reverend Francis Hynes S.M.A. and Reverend William Hill S.M.A. These priests were members of the African Mission Society and taught at their order’s Queen of Apostles Seminary in Dedham. Both men were from Ireland and were fondly remembered for their lilting sermons and Father Hynes for his Irish sense of humor.

Reverend Francis P. Connors   (1973 – 1988)

The pastor of a Catholic Church fills a unique role in the life of the parish.  Generally he leans towards being an administrator, a teacher or an evangelist.  On September 18, 1973, Reverend Frances P. Connors was appointed to take over from the capable hands of Monsignor Thomas Kennedy, not an easy position to find oneself in. But the Holy Spirit works in strange ways, and that was never so evident to the people of Saint Joseph parish.  Father Connors was open and receptive by nature, very human and down to earth in his manner.  He was well loved by the children of the parish.  He cared for his people and had that rare gift of being unable to hold a grudge.  This quality was one of his greatest strengths in the years of change that were to occur during his pastorate.

Many people don’t like change and the Catholic Church has embraced many changes since the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965.  It took time for these changes to come from Rome to the National Council of Bishops for acceptance, and then for acceptance by the individual dioceses before arriving at the parish level. Saint Joseph’s present church had been dedicated in 1966 and its design had not anticipated some of the new liturgical requirements.  The sanctuary in the upper church was remodeled and the altar was brought forward so the celebrant could face the people. Altar rails were removed, and the tabernacle was moved to a side altar.  In the lower church, a room for the Sacrament of Reconciliation was constructed.

The parish center was formally designated The Monsignor Kennedy Center in November 1974 and Monsignor Kennedy was present at the dedication.  In April of 1976, the final $30,000 on the parish mortgage was repaid to the Archdiocese.

This was truly an exciting time to be involved in the Church. In its wisdom, the Vatican Council had restored the ancient order of Permanent Deacon. In 1972, Cardinal Medeiros called a class of 40 men to study and prepare for ordination to the order of Permanent Deacon.  In 1976, after completing their requirements, thirty-seven men were ordained. One of those ordained in this first class was Reverend Mr. Brendan Fay from St Joseph Parish. He was assigned to the parish to assist the pastor and serve the people.  Most of the Permanent Deacons are married and support their families by working in various positions.  They receive no compensation from the Church. 

The youth choir was established under the direction of Priscilla Nardi and numbered 80 youngsters.  The Mehigan Room was provided through a most generous bequest of parishioner Cornelius Mehigan and was used for meetings and as a children’s library.  In 1977, the parish celebrated its 60th anniversary with a dinner at Mosley’s-on-the-Charles that was attended by more than 600 people.  The Wicks pipe organ was custom-made in 1981 for St. Joseph’s and was quickly underwritten by a fund donated by parishioners.  The lower church was remodeled in 1987 providing a meeting room for up to 300 people. This room was funded by Irmi Linse in memory of her husband William Linse, a prominent builder and parishioner.  The Holy Family Shrine in the lower church was blessed at this time and was dedicated to the memory of Patty Roche, a fine young woman of courage who was called to heaven at 25 years of age.

The elementary school continued to grow under the capable direction of Sr. Nancy Cavanaugh. In the early 1980’s a basketball program was started at St. Joseph’s. The youth basketball program was a parent run organization for girls and boys and grew to two divisions: grades 5-6, and grades 7-8.

During Father Connors’ pastorate, nine priests served at St. Joseph’s. Most notable were Reverend George Pucciarelli and Reverend Robert Hennessy. Both of these men left St. Joseph’s and went on to remarkable priestly ministries.  In 1981, Father ‘Pooch’ became a Marine Corps chaplain.  In November 1993, he was on the cover of Time magazine ministering to injured and dying Marines after the bombing in Beirut.  

Father ‘Bob” joined the St. James Missionary Society in July 1986 and went to Bolivia.  Returning to Boston, he was appointed Assistant Director of the St. James Missionary Society and took up residence at the Society’s office at St. Stephen’s Church in the North End section of Boston. In 1994, he was appointed pastor of Most Holy Redeemer parish in East Boston. In October 2006, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Boston. In March 2014, he was appointed Bishop of the Merrimack Region of the Archdiocese, a position he still holds.

During Father Connors’ time, the role of Parish Council was prominent. There was such interest in serving on the council that contested elections were held and a candidates’ guide was published prior to the elections. Another example of laity involvement was that many parishioners were called to be Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist and Lectors.  An additional liturgical change was made and the faithful were allowed to receive the Body of Christ in their hands.

In 1979, with the encouragement of Father Connors, who recognized the need for spiritual renewal, a five-day program called “Celebration of Faith” was undertaken with more than 650 people coming to the church for five nights, listening to a well-presented program of basic prayer and reflection aimed at our relationship with God.  The program was presented every two years throughout the eighties and could very well have been the most important contribution Father Connors made to the people of God here in St. Joseph Parish.  Father Connors himself, due to ill health, had to leave his beloved people with great reluctance.  His pastorate ended on January 12, 1988 and he was granted senior priest/retirement status. He participated in the parish 75th Anniversary celebration.  St. Joseph parishioners grew in number and faith during Father Connors’ pastorate, working hard in a great many activities all aimed at the greater glory of God.  

Monsignor James J. Haddad   (1988 – 2003)

On January 12, 1988, Bernard Cardinal Law appointed Reverend James Haddad the sixth pastor of Saint Joseph Parish. Father Haddad was learned, experienced, personable, and energetic.  Just what the parish needed.  Previously he had served in several parishes and was pastor of St. Eulalia Parish in Winchester.

From 1965-67, Cardinal Cushing sent Father James Haddad to St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth, Ireland, where he earned his doctorate in Sacred Theology.  Father Haddad often joked that while in Ireland he called himself Seamus McGowan which was the Irish form of the Arabic Haddad and English Smith.  On returning from Ireland, Father Haddad began his teaching career where he was assigned to the faculty of St. John’s Seminary.  

In 1968, Father Haddad helped found and was the first director of the Pastoral Institute, a center of continuing education for priests. Education was a priority for Father Haddad and he served in many continuing higher education committees.  He served as the Director until 1977. He also taught theology at a number of Catholic colleges in the area. Father Haddad’s role as an educator led him to St. Joseph Parish because he had asked Cardinal Law to assign him to a parish with a school.  His interest in the youth of the parish could be seen by his teaching CCD classes to all high school sophomores.

Young and old alike felt close to him and appreciated his warmth and charm.  All were welcomed at the rectory for comfort, guidance, solace and advice.  During his years here, more than 2000 families were registered, 45 organizations were operating, and the parish newspaper “Parish Life” was published.  A total of ten Parochial Vicars served at St. Joseph Parish with Father Haddad. 

Also during Father Haddad’s time, an outreach service program was established with Villa El Salvador, Peru. For almost a decade, a group of high school juniors from St. Joseph’s would travel from affluent Needham to this ever expanding squatter village south of Lima. Although each group would collect and bring needed medical and nursery supplies, it was the contact and friendship with their Peruvian contemporaries that marked the real value of the trip. As they worked together on community service projects, the students came to recognize the social mission of their shared universal Church.  This eye-opening experience was included in many a college application essay.  Father John Delaney began this Peru outreach program and it was continued, first by Father Scott Euvrard, and later by Father Patrick Armano.

Another outreach service project also occurred around this time, as a group of high school sophomores and others traveled to Louisa, Kentucky to work with Father John Beiting and the Christian Appalachian Project. This Appalachian experience was also led by Father John Delaney. Louisa, Kentucky is on the West Virginia border and was a most depressed and impoverished coal mining area. Our parish youths were involved there in a number of community service activities: cleaning a school, sorting a clothes locker, and preparing a summer camp facility.  Another interesting project was outfitting Father Beiting’s boat for his month-long preaching tour down the Ohio River.

Two other youth programs encouraged by Father Haddad, which served the entire town, were the St. Joseph’s Summer Theater and continuation of St. Joseph’s Basketball. The theatre group has produced a musical each summer. They rehearse and present major Broadway musicals which have been totally youth directed and run. These productions have been rehearsed, prepared, and presented at the Kennedy Center. More recently they have had to stage their productions in larger, air-conditioned venues.

The basketball program grew and provided an exceptional service to the town and its youth. From December through March, the sounds of dribbling basketballs are echoing throughout the gymnasiums at the Kennedy Center and the Monsignor Haddad Middle School, as well as at the Pollard Middle School. Both of these programs exemplified Father Haddad’s ecumenical spirit as they are open to all in the community. 

Father Haddad was most interested in improving and updating St. Joseph School.  His first activities involved the reconfiguration of space for the library and special education rooms. Father Haddad also recognized that the K-8 program needed to be brought in line with current models. In this regard, he completed the purchase of the May Street properties between the school and the rectory.  On these properties, construction began on a new middle school building. Although connected to the elementary school and sharing the library, the middle school was a separate school, with its own faculty, administration, dining room, and gym. St. Joseph’s Middle School was dedicated in 1995 with Bill Gartside being the principal. Later the school was renamed the Monsignor James J. Haddad Middle School. 

Pope John Paul II named Father Haddad a prelate of honor on April 21, 1998, earning him the title of Monsignor. His beloved Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle bestowed on him its highest honor, the Cardinal Cushing Medal, in October 2002.

Another milestone under Monsignor Haddad was the closing of the convent. Originally constructed to house 25 sisters, attrition and changing focus had reduced the Sisters of Charity of Halifax living at the convent to a few and most of them were serving elsewhere. Expanding need for school space required use of the convent building. The convent was closed and replaced with kindergarten rooms and Office of Development space.  Moving into the building served Monsignor Haddad’s interest in being on the cutting edge of education. The offering of all-day kindergarten was in line with many public school systems, yet two decades before Needham public schools. Paul Kelly became the principal of the elementary school. All this work by Monsignor Haddad began to take its toll on his health. In his last years at the parish, he suffered illness including kidney disease which required regular dialysis. 

During Monsignor Haddad’s last year at the parish, the Archdiocese of Boston was undergoing a crisis.  In January 2002, the Boston Globe investigative Spotlight Team published a series of articles naming a number of pedophile/abusive priests and describing the Archdiocese’s handling of the situation. Many parishioners of St. Joseph’s were concerned about these reports, especially when it was learned that one of the alleged pedophile priests had abused young boys while serving as a parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish two decades earlier. In response, some parishioners invited the lay group Voice of the Faithful (V.O.T.F.) which had been established in neighboring St. John Parish in Wellesley Hills. VOTF came to Saint Joseph several times addressing this disturbing issue. At one of VOTF meetings, parishioners heard from a representative from Survivors Network of Abusive Priests (S.N.A.P.). At this time 51 priests wrote a letter expressing their concern with Cardinal Law’s leadership. Later that year, Cardinal Law was reassigned by Pope Benedict XVI.  Bishop Sean O’Malley C.F.M. was appointed as Archbishop of Boston on July 1, 2003.  Soon after taking office he conducted seven prayer of repentance services throughout area parishes, with one being at St. Joseph Parish.

Monsignor Haddad eventually received a call, in the middle of the night, for a kidney available for transplant. The transplant was successful, but his health would not allow him to serve at St. Joseph’s in the way he felt the parish deserved, so he requested an early retirement. On January 1, 2003, Monsignor Haddad was granted senior priest status.  Upon his retirement his parishioners and friends gave him a generous gift, which he donated to the St. James Society to build a clinic and church in Peru. Monsignor Haddad lived with his mother in their home in Southborough. After her death, his health further declined.

Monsignor Haddad spent his last years at St. Patrick’s Manor in Framingham.  He died on Thursday, August 9, 2007, due to complications of kidney disease.  He was 74.  The Most Reverend Robert F. Hennessey presided at his funeral Mass on Tuesday, August 14 at St. Joseph Church.  The church was filled to honor this inspirational parish priest who was devoted to and available for all in St. Joseph Parish.

Another gift that parishioners can be thankful to Monsignor Haddad for was his invitation to Reverend Francis McGann to spend his retirement years in our parish. Father Frank was ordained in 1949.  In the summer of 1995, Father Frank was planning to retire from St Eulaila’s Parish in Winchester.  Father Haddad and Father McGann had served together at St. Eulaila’s. Father Jim was pastor and Father Frank was administrator assigned to relieve Fr. Haddad from pastoral duties when he was involved with the Archdiocese Office of Development.  Father McGann had succeeded Father Haddad as pastor in Winchester when Father Haddad came to St. Joseph Parish in Needham.

Father McGann served as the president of the Priest’s Senate, as a member of the personnel board, in pastoral support of the Priest’s Advisory Board, and on the Presbyteral Council.  In August 1995, Father McGann joined St. Joseph Parish as senior priest in residence.   

At the end of 1995, Father McGann was named a Monsignor. Twenty-two years later, Monsignor McGann was still living in the parish, becoming the longest serving priest in the history of the parish. Father Frank was a priest out of central casting.  Kind, humble, and friendly he soon became beloved by parishioners.  Often he would share personal stories.

One story Monsignor McGann told whenever new altar servers were being installed in the parish went back to the first time he served Mass.  Growing up in Woburn, Father McGann had attended public school at a time when all the St. Charles altar boys were chosen from the parochial school. In his first week at the seminary, a priest there asked the young seminarian to serve Mass for him.  He explained that he had not been trained as an altar boy and had never served Mass before.  The priest said that now was a good time to learn.  After a mistake laden service, the priest said to him, “Well, Frank, I know you said you had never served Mass before, but have you ever been to Mass before?”

Throughout his time at St. Joseph Parish, Monsignor McGann served as a worthy model and mentor to the seminarians and newly ordained priests assigned to the parish.  His presence here also ensured a smooth and seamless transition for both Reverend Michael Lawlor and Reverend David Michael when they were named pastors. Monsignor McGann retired to Regina Cleri in Boston in September 2018 and subsequently passed away on April 6, 2020 after seventy-years of priestly service to the Archdioese of Boston. 

Reverend J. Michael Lawlor   (2003 – 2010)

On February 24, 2003, Reverend Michael Lawlor was appointed by Bishop Richard Lennon as the seventh pastor of Saint Joseph Parish. Father Lawlor came to Needham after having served as pastor at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.  Father Lawlor, in his own words, recognized the “great heritage” of Saint Joseph Parish. In all of his parish activities he strived to protect this heritage.

In order to continue this heritage, Father Lawlor had to make sure that the parish was on a sound financial footing. Father Haddad’s program of expansion had been costly, and even though parishioners made significant contributions towards the middle school construction and convent renovation, considerable debt had been incurred.  It was clear that parish and school needs could not be met unless something was done to reduce the parish debt.  Working with the Parish Finance Committee, a fund-raising campaign was introduced, and through the generosity of parishioners, in a little more than three years the parish was debt free.

Central to the fundraising effort was the Parish Development Office which oversaw parish funding activities other than the weekly and annual collections. Fundraising included the annual Christmas Bazaar, the biennial auctions, as well as a golf tournament, and the Polar Express. Fr. Lawlor also endeavored to continue the many programs that make Saint Joseph a great parish. Among these were providing facility space to St Joseph Basketball and St. Joseph Summer Theatre. Also added was the use of the Kennedy Center to the Town of Needham’s New Year’s Eve celebration.  The continued vibrancy of St. Joseph Parish was evident by the existence of over 60 programs and activities offered through the parish.

Central among these activities were the faith formation programs. W.I.N.G.S (Women in God’s Spirit) met weekly and was very well attended. Fr. Lawlor provided a faith formation series each year.  Among the most popular were: The Journeys of St. Paul; The Second Vatican Council; and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Fr. Lawlor was known for his three-point homilies which focused on the weekly Scripture readings and always included the message of God’s love. Memorable homilies include ‘Little Nino’ at Christmas and a funeral homily focusing on the Everyman character from the medieval morality play.

Many parishioners grew to know Fr. Lawlor as he walked around the parish, usually accompanied by his Brittany spaniel, Bosco, named after St. John Bosco.

At this time Saint Joseph Parish continued to be a popular site for seminarians to spend their diaconate year. Saint Joseph Parish embraced the opportunity to support these young men in formation. Many of these young deacons, after ordination to the priesthood, would celebrate their first Mass in their home parish, and would return to St Joseph to celebrate their second Mass. St. Joseph Parish was often the first or second assignment for newly ordained priests.  Included in this group were Reverend Paul Sullivan, Reverend Patrick Armano and Reverend Guy Sciacca. Upon leaving Saint Joseph Parish, they went on to serve as pastors or administrators in their next assignments. And speaking of first assignments…after serving a seven year appointment at Saint Joseph Parish, Father Lawlor was named pastor of St. Paul Parish in Hamilton on July 1, 2010. This had been his first parish assignment after ordination to the priesthood.

During this time, the parish experienced events of joy and of sadness involving the ordination and death of Reverend Daniel J. Kennedy Jr.  Danny Kennedy was a bright, energetic, and inspiring young priest.  He attended Saint Joseph School, Catholic Memorial, and Providence College. He was not the first young man from Saint Joseph Parish to be ordained to the priesthood, yet he was one whom the parish totally embraced. (Over the years 15 young men from Saint Joseph Parish and schools were ordained as diocesan priests.) Father Dan was ordained on May 26, 2007 and celebrated his first Mass at Saint Joseph Church on Sunday May 27th. Parishioners packed the church and hundreds came to the Kennedy Center to receive his blessing.  Less than nine months later, the same parishioners again packed Saint Joseph Church for his wake and funeral. Father Dan had suffered a massive heart attack at age 37 while in Connecticut to baptize the baby of one of his friends.

Rev. David C. Michael  (2010 - 2019)

On November 7, 2010, Reverend David C. Michael was assigned by Cardinal Sean O’Malley to be the seventh pastor of Saint Joseph Parish. Father Michael had most recently served as pastor at St. John Chrysostom Parish in West Roxbury. His previous assignments included serving as the Catholic chaplain at Brandeis University. Father Michael brought to St Joseph Parish his own considerable talents and interests. Father Michael is learned, contemplative, and possesses amazing energy. He is serious in his commitment to the many responsibilities of leading a parish of this size with two schools. He is always considerate and kind in his role as shepherd to the parishioners of St. Joseph Parish.

An accomplished organist and pianist, one of the first things he did was to have a piano installed in the church. He also saw to it that the pipe organ was brought back to fine working order.  Father Michael has invited renowned organists to play in concert at the parish. These concerts have been a gift to the wider community.

Another interest of Father Michael’s is ecumenism and he serves the Archdiocese in the office of Interreligious Dialogue. His work in Catholic-Jewish relations and in Christian-Muslim Dialogue has been a blessing to all involved. St. Joseph Parish has hosted several ecumenical events, including a visit from the PM Greek Orthodox Patriarch, the Needham Interfaith Thanksgiving Service and Interfaith Choir performances. 

Father Michael celebrated his silver jubilee at St. Joseph Parish in Needham on Sunday, June 5, 2011 at a 12:30 Mass. Each year at St. Joseph Parish, Father Michael has mentored seminarians from St. John Seminary in their diaconate year, as well as seminarians throughout their formation. He has prepared and led retreats for seminarians from St. John XXIII Seminary. He continues to welcome newly ordained priests as parochial vicars for the parish.

Upon arriving as pastor, Father Michael immediately recognized the special grace and opportunity for reflection and celebration presented by two major milestones for St. Joseph Parish, the 50th Anniversary of the construction and dedication of the Church building and the 100th Anniversary of the Parish. Under his vision and leadership, the parish was able to look back with gratitude for what and who has gone before us, reflect on where we are now as a parish, and to look forward to where the Holy Spirit may be leading the parish. The Centennial year served to reaffirm the parish’s role in the spiritual and social life of its parishioners.

The Centennial celebration began with a “tea” for parish seniors, a “welcome back” weekend, blessing of the pets, Advent wreath and Centennial ornament sales, Rediscover Jesus book discussion, an historical presentation about Needham’s churches and life in early Needham by Gloria Greis of the Needham Historical Society, a Lenten parish mission led by a native son, Father Hugh Burns, Art, Architecture & Symbolism tours of the church, a presentation on Laudato Si, a Centennial visitation of “Our Lady of Fatima” statue, participation in the Needham Community Farm Project, a presentation on immigration, a Centennial gala dinner/dance that was attended by 400 parishioners, a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and the Christmas Express train ride.    

Cardinal O’Malley celebrated Mass on Sunday, April 30, 2017 for this special occasion of the Parish’s Centennial. Another happy celebration occurred during the Centennial year when a young man from the parish was ordained to the priesthood. In May, Reverend Michael Zimmerman, who attended Saint Joseph Schools, Xaiverian Brothers High School, Boston University, Saint John’s Seminary, and the North American College in Rome was ordained by Cardinal O’Malley.  Parishioners joined his family and friends as Father Zimmerman celebrated his first Mass at St. Joseph Parish 

The parish schools continue to evolve and adjust to changing demographics and needs under the excellent guidance and direction of Father Michael. Plans to update the physical plant were announced. In the summer of 2017, the lower level of the elementary school was completely renovated, including the cafeteria, library and a new STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Analytics, Math) lab. The second phase of the project, completed in the summer of 2018, included outdoor draining, landscaping, and a play structure.  The principals, Charlotte Kelly for the elementary school and James MacDonald for the middle school, are creating an excellent atmosphere for education. 

A capital plan has been set in motion for renovations to upgrade our Church building, including the installation of an elevator for accessibility to the lower church. The future of our parish looks quite bright as we enter our second century. 

Thank you to the contributors of the History section of our parish website. Those who wrote the history for our 75th Anniversary of the Parish include Margaret and Frank Dermody, Deacon Brendan Fay, Mary Lyons and Jan Sylvestor. Updates for our 100th Anniversary were written by Tom Harkins, Jim Benoit and Susan Horne.  2017


About Saint Joseph Parish

Click to download a copy of the  parish history document



Pastors of St. Joseph


1890 - 1917


Rev. Henry A. Walsh 1917 - 1923


Rev. Hugh M. Smith 1923 - 1937



Rev. Edward P. Twigg 1937 - 1952



Msgr. Thomas H. Kennedy 1952 - 1973



Rev. Francis P. Connors 1973 - 1987


Msgr. James J. Haddad 1988 - 2002


Rev. Michael Lawlor 2003 - 2010



Fr. David Michael 2010 - 2019


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