By John Lynds
On Sunday, May 21 at 12 noon, St. Joseph- St. Lazarus will celebrate 125 years in the East Boston neighborhood with a special Mass performed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley followed by a reception at the Don Orione Madonna Shrine Hall.
“It is with deep joy and gratitude that I celebrate with you, in this year, the 125th Anniversary of our St. Joseph- St. Lazarus parish community,” said St. Joseph-St. Lazarus Church Parish Priest, Father Mirek Kowalczyk. “When I reflect on the events of the past 125 years, I see a rich history of struggle, hope, faith and love. It is a timeless story of poor immigrants who worked tirelessly to create a better future for the next generations. They put their faith in God,that through His grace and unconditional love, their families would not only survive, but would flourish in this new land. It is also the story of generations of priests and nuns who dedicated their lives to serving God and the local community.”
In May 1892 a few Italian families living in Orient Heights, eager to practice the faith of their fathers, obtained permission to hold a Sunday Masses at the home of Frank DeMarchi on Leyden Street. This was before the mass wave of Italian immigration would hit Eastie between 1910 and 1925.
After two months the first meeting was held for plans to build a little chapel. The committee decided to solicit donations for the cause among Orient Heights families and soon the little chapel under the title of St. Lazarus, named after the Bishop of Milan, was completed on Leyden Street.
In 1899 Reverend John Scalabrini, Bishop of Piacenza and Founder of the Congregation of St. Charles Borromeo for Italian immigrants, came to the United States. Bishop Scalabrini visited a growing population of Italian immigrants in Orient Heights and during this visit administered the sacrament of confirmation to almost two hundred Italian children. After the visit to Orient Heights, Bishop Scalabrini decided to send his missionaries to serve people in St. Lazarus chapel on Leyden Street. One of the first priests sent by Bishop Scalabrini and named pastor of St. Lazarus Parish was Father Francesco Morassi.
By the early 20th Century, the church of St. Lazarus on Leyden Street with a seating capacity for only 300 people was no longer adequate to accommodate its congregation and the growing Italian population in Eastie. The parish committee again decided to solicit donations for building of the larger church among Italian families in Orient Heights.
By 1923 a new church had been erected on Ashley Street and four years later, in October 1927 the St. Lazarus Parochial School was dedicated by the Reverend Richard J. Quinlan.
For decades, St. Lazarus served Eastie’s burgeoning Italian population while St. Joseph’s, around the corner on Breed Street, served Eastie’s Irish immigrants in Orient Heights.
However, because of a big decline in parishioners at both St. Joseph and St. Lazarus it was decided to combine the two parishes with the place of worship in St. Lazarus Church in 1985.
The Scalabrini Fathers who were serving in St. Lazarus Church left Eastie and diocesan priests were appointed to provide spiritual and pastoral care to the parishioners of St. Joseph-St. Lazarus. Then, in 2005, the Parishes of St. Mary’s Star of the Sea and Our Lady of Lourdes were closed. The Parish of St. Joseph-St. Lazarus became the welcoming parish and the new spiritual home for former parishioners of these two parishes.
The church underwent a change in leadership as the Shrine of Our Lady Queen of the Universe became part of the Parish. The Don Orione Fathers, present in Orient Heights since 1949, had been well aware of the demographic shifts in Eastie over the years. Once a stronghold of Italian and Irish immigrants and families, the neighborhood now host new immigrants, many from South and Central American. The Sons of Divine Providence began providing pastoral service and care to the Spanish and Portuguese speaking communities.
“I am so grateful to God that we are still worshiping together as a community of faith–celebrating the Eucharist, taking part in special liturgical services and guiding the next generation in the way of Christ, and that our St. Joseph- St. Lazarus parish is still growing and flourishing mainly because new members from South and Central America,” said Father Mirek. “At this special time, I encourage each one of us to take time out to reflect on how our parish life has enriched our lives over the years and how very precious our parish community is.”
Father Mirek also encouraged the entire community outside of the St. Joseph-St. Lazarus Parish to come to Sunday’s Mass and celebrate the 125th Anniversary of this historic church.