St. John the Evangelist Church
In July of 1879, the Reverend John C. Harrington, pastor of St. Joseph’s in Lynn, journeyed to the Swampscott Town Hall to offer a Mass for those faithful few Catholics living in the northeast corner of his parish. The township had been incorporated as a town in 1852 with a citizenry of 1000. Its three square mile area on the Atlantic coastline was home to many wealthy financiers, farmers and landed gentry. By 1900, the influx of Irish, Italian and Nova Scotia immigrants had swelled the town’s population to over 4500. In 1902, there were six Protestant churches within the town borders. There was an ingrained puritanical prejudice against these new Catholic townsfolk who were themselves now about 800 strong.
Despite all efforts to halt the construction, a modest, gray-shingled mission church was erected on the site of the Stone Estate across Humphrey Street from the rocky shore of Nahant Bay. The first Mass was celebrated on Christmas morning of 1904; Bishop John Brady blessed the edifice in September of 1905; and in April of 1906, Reverend Dr. Patrick Colman was appointed resident pastor. The new parish embraced all of Swampscott plus one-half square mile of East Lynn. It was placed under the protection of St. John the Evangelist, a tribute to its first benefactor and counselor, Father John C. Harrington.
In 1908, the Wardwell Estate next to the church was purchased as a rectory. By 1912, parishioner growth to 1300 souls necessitated a tripling enlargement of the original church building. Attendance was impacted in the summers by vacationers from all over the nation who visited the seaside hotels and inns. Eventually, large estates were divided into house lots; the summer trade subsided; Swampscott became a stable, year-round residential community.
St. John’s Parochial School, staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph, opened to 110 students in 1922. Enrollment increased each year. A brick convent building was erected adjacent to the Blaney Street School in 1927 to accommodate an expanded teaching staff. When the school census increased to over 400 after World War II, a second school building was erected next to the church in 1966. In early 1973, the Sisters were withdrawn to teach in inner-city schools. In its 50th year, the school was closed.
That fall, two Dominican Sisters came on staff and, with 83 volunteers, introduced a C.C.D. Program for over 800 students which has since earned national recognition. 283 teachers and volunteers are currently involved in the Program at the Religious Education Center. For the younger set, a Nursery School was opened in 1978. In 1981, in its 75th year, St. John’s registration showed 1900 families, approximately 6500 souls. The mandates of Vatican II had been fully, carefully implemented. In 1987, an after-school “Beacon Program” was initiated for children of grades 1 through 6. Today, the school on Humphrey Street houses St. John’s Children’s Center, a State-accredited educational program for 80 pre-schoolers.
St. John the Evangelist Parish continues to thrive as a faith community of approximately 2000 families. Advisory councils and committees meet regularly to assess the spiritual, service and social needs of the parish. Over 500 volunteers are currently participating in various Stewardship programs, serving church and community members. St. John’s has adopted a sister parish, St. Catherine’s in Haiti, and continues sending medical supplies and funds to support the destitute, struggling Island clergy and laity.
Since September of 1905, St. John’s Church has remained, in its picturesque prominence in the Swampscott skyline and its vital faith community, A BEACON BY LAND AND BY SEA…..and its people, ONE IN CHRIST.