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St. Mary’s Parish was established in 1844. During the 1850s, 1860s and into the 1870s, services were held in various buildings and parishioners homes, and the parish struggled to find a permanent location. In 1879 a building committee was formed to collect funds to build a church located at the corner of Park St. and Church St. in Manchester on land donated by the Cheney family. The first service was held on Easter Sunday in 1883.

In 1923 a new building program was initiated but activity and interest slowed during the Depression. Eventually enough money was raised to build a new church and ground was broken in 1955 to connect the original church with a larger church that was dedicated in 1956 and consecrated in 1971. The sanctuary of the original church, which contained several historic Tiffany stained glass windows, was renovated in 2009 and re-consecrated as the “Resurrection Chapel.” In addition to the church proper, the St. Mary’s campus grew to include the original rectory that was converted to administrative offices, a two-family rental property and a landscaped memorial garden where several parishioners chose to have a portion of their cremains interred.  

Throughout its history, one of St. Mary’s defining characteristics was its outward focus – supporting and advocating for those less fortunate whether locally, nationally or in the world. Notable activities and mission trips sponsored by St. Mary’s included:

  • Irish Children’s Project in collaboration with St.James, Roman Catholic Church, Manchester
  • Rebuilding trips to Mississippi and Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina   
  • Multiple spiritual and relationship-forming retreats to Bermuda
  • Three pilgrimages to the Holy Land

Over time, the parish earned its reputation as a generous partner that ministered to and supported the greater Manchester community. For example, St. Mary’s was instrumental in founding two Manchester-based community organizations: the Manchester Area Conference of Churches (MACC) – an organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty by providing outreach and emergency services, and that operates a food pantry, kitchen and thrift shop; and the Manchester Interfaith Social Action Committee (MISAC) – an organization that manages a large low-to moderate-income housing complex and funds other projects focused on reducing homelessness and providing affordable housing. Additionally, St. Mary’s was the organizer for over thirty years of Seasonal Sharing, a food ministry  that collected and distributed  food baskets to families at Thanksgiving and Christmas, one of the early churches to join the Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance (GHIAA) in its work to dismantle racism and a long-time supporter of Manchester school partnerships.  

In late 2021, the Vestry of St. Mary’s determined that continuing as it had was not sustainable. Leading up to this, the parish had experienced years of declining membership and financial resources and large budget deficits made worse by COVID-19.  In April 2022, the parish voted to have the Vestry pursue a merger with St. John’s Episcopal Church, Vernon. The merger was ratified at the ECCT Annual Convention in October 2023, and by the end of the year, the memorial garden was moved and rededicated at the St. John’s Memorial Garden, and St. Mary’s was deconsecrated as an Episcopalian church.

St. Mary’s was blessed to be served by the following rectors:

1844 to 1903: Rev. William Corbyn, Rev. James Coley, Rev. Abner Jackson, Rev. Enoch Huntington, Rev. Arthur Cox, Rev. Beverly Warner, Rev. James  Betts, Rev. J. Henry La Roche, Rev. Edward Coley

1903 to1974: Rev. Manning Bennet, Rev. James Neill, Rev. Alfred Williams, Rev. George Nostrand

1974 to 2023: Rev. Stephen Jacobson, Rev. Andrew Smith (who later became Bishop Diocesan of ECCT), Rev. Harry Elliot, III, Rev. Paul Briggs, II, Rev. Lynne Grifo, Rev. Ann Lovejoy Johnson and Rev. Dr. Shaw Mudge

With the decision to merge, the decision to sell the property and buildings was also made with the intention of earmarking a portion of the proceeds to specified charities and community social service agencies as St. Mary’s ongoing legacy to the greater Manchester community. In January 2024, St. Mary’s was sold to Christian Fellowship Ministry, and the St. Mary’s Legacy Fund was established. Continuing to support the charities and social service organizations in the Manchester area honors the past and present St. Mary’s parishioners and families who believed so strongly in giving back to their community.

Once officially merged, a new St. John’s faith community was formed. Together, our many personal gifts and increased resources will be used to serve our neighbors and spread God’s message of peace and love throughout the region. The possibilities are endless.