Under the charge of the Redemptorist Fathers, or Priests of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, this church was organized. They are a religious order, founded in 1732 by St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Bishop of St. Agatha, in the Kingdom of Naples, Italy. The object of the order is, principally, to give missions and similar religious exercises in which work they have been engaged in this country for over sixty years.
Right Rev. James A. Healy, Bishop of Portland, when Pastor of St. James’s Church in Boston, recognized the vast amount of good that was being done by these Fathers and induced them to establish a house in the vicinity, the nearest house then being in New York City. According to his wishes, Very Rev. Joseph Helmpraecht, the Provincial Superior of the Redemptorists, purchased the present property on Tremont Street, Roxbury, known then as the Franklin Gardens.
The church was dedicated to Our Blessed Lady of Perpetual Help and was blessed by the first superior, Rev. Joseph Wissel, on January 29, 1871. The small bell summoned not only the neighboring Catholics, but people from all over the city and neighboring towns flocked to this church, where the sermons of powerful speakers and veteran missionaries packed the edifice. So great and eager were the crowds that came to hear the word of God that they were satisfied to sit in groups before the doors and windows rather than return home disappointed when they could not get into the church. For seven years the people worshipped in this humble church, during which time they became very much attached to it. Although it was not a parish church, but a mission church, where the Fathers preached and administered the sacraments of penance and communion only to those who frequented it, indiscriminately, wherever they came from, and from which church the Fathers went forth to preach missions in other places, the faithful, nevertheless, clung to it and seemed to think that it was sufficient to supply all their spiritual wants.
The crowds constantly proved the inadequateness of the frame church to answer to the demands of the faithful, which induced the Fathers to take steps toward erecting a larger church that would be sufficiently large to accommodate the faithful at all times as well as to be a monument to their zeal and fervor. The corner-stone was laid on May 28, 1876, by His Grace Archbishop Williams. The sermon was preached by the Right Rev. Bishop Healy, of Portland, Maine. An event which makes the day still more memorable was the burning of the convent of the Fathers during the following night. As no clue to the cause of the fire could be learned, the popular feeling has pointed ever since to incendiarism. The dedication of the present church took place on April 8, 1878. Rev. James Fitton, one of Boston’s pioneer priests, and author of Sketches of the Church in New England, preached a most eloquent sermon.
One of the principal attractions of the Mission Church is the noted Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, to whom the church is dedicated. This shrine is remarkable for the miraculous character of the image of Our Blessed Lady venerated there, and the frequent miracles and favors obtained there. The picture is a copy of the original miraculous image which was venerated in the Island of Crete, hundreds of years ago, and was finally placed in the Church of the Redemptorist Fathers, in Rome, by the late Pope Pius the IX. Wherever the Redemptorists have a church or a chapel a copy of this picture will be seen over some altar especially dedicated to it.
Many are the favors granted to those honoring this fond image of the Blessed Mother, so that it has become more or less familiar now to most Catholics. Few seem to be the sanctuaries, however, that have met with more favor at the hands of the Mother of God, than this one of Our Lady at the Mission Church. Great was the devotion of the people to it from the very beginning, when the present picture was placed over the altar in the old framed church. Since it has been removed to the present beautiful shrine, miracles of an astounding character have contributed to its fame and prestige. Fresh in the minds of the people is still the miraculous cure of Miss Grace Hanley, now Sister Mary of Perpetual Help of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary, daughter of Col. Patrick Hanley. She had been a cripple from her fourth year, on account of an accident that occurred to her. At the age of sixteen, after finishing a novena to Our Blessed Lady for her cure, and when approaching the altar with the aid of crutches and the assistance of her relatives, she suddenly cast her crutches aside and walked to the altar perfectly cured. She is at present teaching in a convent at Claremont, N.H.
When the district surrounding the church had become thickly populated, whereas the people could not receive all the mecessary spiritual assistance from the Mission Church, as it was not a parish church, His Grace, Archbishop Williams, recognizing the need of such a church in the vicinity, proposed to the Fathers the erection of their church into a regular canonical parish. The proposition was received with favor by the Fathers, who on April 8, 1883, announced to the people the limits of the parish and forthwith took their entire spiritual care into their hands.
The school’s corner-stone was laid April 8, 1888, by His Grace, Archbishop Williams. There are at present 1,250 children in the school. The teachers, to the number of twenty, are the School Sisters of Notre Dame, taken from the two provinces of the order, Baltimore and Milwaukee. The following organizations are connected with the parish: the Arch-Confraternity of the Holy Family, with four branches for both married and single women and men, numbering over 2,000 members; the Conference of St. Vincent De Paul, for the care of the poor of the parish; the Sacred Heart League, embracing about 5,000 members; the Junior Holy Family, for the boys and girls of the parish, having upwards of 700 members; the Young Men’s Mission Church Association; the Young Ladies’ Charitable Society, and the Catholic Educational Society of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.The growth of the parish has been almost phenomenal. From a few souls who lived in the neighborhood of the church at the date of its inception it had grown to number, in 1890, 9,300 souls.
One Hundred Years of Progress: A Graphic, Historical, and Pictorial Account of the Catholic Church of New England, Archdiocese of Boston (Boston: Illustrated Publishing Company, 1895), 155-164.
NOTE: The above has been edited in the interest of blogging brevity.