St. Paul’s Church strives to be open in spirit, deep in faith, rich in worship, and active in service.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Holyoke, is an open, affirming, and inclusive Christian community striving through worship, love, and service to welcome all people, just as God created a diverse humanity. Wherever you are on your journey of faith, and whatever your age, race, national origins, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, economic status, abilities, or challenges, we welcome you with open arms and open hearts.
Tucked in the Pioneer Valley, St. Paul`s is in the heart of Holyoke. Nestled between the western bank of the Connecticut River and the Mount Tom range, Holyoke is part of the Springfield Metropolitan Area. Holyoke is not only the birthplace of Volleyball, but also home to the Mount Tom State Reservation, Holyoke Children's Museum, Ashley Reservoir, the Holyoke Mall, Gateway City arts, Whiting Street Reservoir, and the Holyoke Merry-Go- Round. Holyoke is an exciting community with committed citizens, a rich history, a dynamic business sector, and a wide variety of opportunities. Holyoke holds the distinction of being the first planned industrial community in the Nation. As such, downtown Holyoke features rectilinear street grids, a novelty in New England. The city's attractive complement of urban scale and natural serenity includes numerous mill sites as well as a collection of parks, historic sites, and recreation destinations. Holyoke is only a short distance from the Five Colleges (Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and UMASS) which offers numerous opportunities for learning and growth. St. Paul's is located within proximity to excellent healthcare with Holyoke Hospital, Mercy Medical Center, and Baystate Medical center being only minutes away. Holyoke`s central location allows for travel to Boston in 1.5 hours and New York City in less than 3 hours.
El Corazon de Holyoke is a public art installation displayed throughout Main Street, which holds much of Holyoke`s Latinx heritage. The concept of the art project is a cultural appreciation for Holyoke`s rich Puerto Rican ancestry and to uplift the community to bring back hope and activity as the city starts to embrace new life post-pandemic.
History of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church:
For 158 years St Paul’s Episcopal Church has been a place to worship God and to support the needs of our congregation and community. Thanks to a long record of strong and caring leadership and a faithful and dedicated congregation St Paul’s has grown and adapted to an ever changing and a constantly evolving nation, community, culture, and spiritual journey through life.
Our history runs parallel with that of the city of Holyoke and the Hampden and Hampshire counties. The area we now call Holyoke was settled in 1725 as part of Springfield. Holyoke was included as part of West Springfield in 1774 and remained as such until it became a separate township named Holyoke in 1850. As demand started to outgrow the capacity of production, Boston entrepreneurs realized that Western Massachusetts and the broad plain with the 57-foot drop in the Connecticut river in South Hadley Falls could even be more profitable than the mills in Lowell and Waltham. They set out to plan and create an industrial city on a scale never seen before. In 1847 work began on the planned new industrial city. Canals, mills, boarding houses, offices, and a wooden dam were all built by pick and shovel mostly by Irish immigrants. In the summer of 1849, a second dam made of wood was completed and put into operation (the first one failed after one day of operation a year earlier).
Before the city of Holyoke was incorporated in 1850, this area was known as Ireland Parish, a section of the city of Springfield. It was inhabited by Yankee English and Irish. Many of those Irish immigrants were from Northern Ireland and were Protestants. In December of 1849, the Rev. Henry W. Adams delivered the first documented Episcopal service in Ireland Parish’s newly organized Trinity Church. With a mere 3000 residents the city simply could not sustain an Episcopal Church, and the rector resigned after only five months. The treasurer paid the church’s initial debts with his own money.
Things in Holyoke began to grow exponentially from 1848 to 1863, with the completion of the Holyoke dam and the paper and textile mills for which the city is famous. New industries attracted new citizens, and many of them with skilled crafts came from England. On August 30, 1863, an Episcopal service was held in Exchange Hall, located south of Lyman Street on the west side of High Street with visiting clergyman, Rev. Mr. Mines from Westfield MA, and Rev. Mr. Cooley from Southington CT, officiating. On October 12, 1863, St. Paul’s Church was formally organized with a constitution and canons adopted. The names of the original founders are those of the founders of Holyoke: Hancock, Mackintosh, Chase, Orcutt, Flanders, Ward, Grover, and Davis.
For the next two years the church met in a building on Maple Street provided by Mr. Davis, the agent for the Hadley Company Spool Cotton Manufacturing Company, and the Lyman Mills. The first rector was the Rev. Joseph Kidder who arrived December 17, 1863. His annual salary was $900, which was $300 less than the sum gathered from renting the pews. The first baptism was celebrated on Whitsunday (Pentecost), May 15, 1864, using the Portland Stone font donated by Miss Fannie Bartholomew of Hartford CT. That font still stands near the doors of the present church.
The next rector arrived in November of 1864, and the Rev. O.H. Dutton’s inspirational sermons were so well regarded that he was chosen to preach the combined Holyoke services for the death of President Lincoln. The church was growing, and it moved to a cloth room in the Lyman Mills and then to the Engine House of Lyman Mills on High Street. By July 1866, the church laid a cornerstone for the first St. Paul’s Church building located at the southeast corner of Maple and Suffolk Streets, given by the Holyoke Water Power Company. The first church was built of stone from locally quarried rock and was completed on February 9, 1868. The new church featured a $3000 organ donated by J.G. Mackintosh with the stipulation that he play at the Sunday services. A choir followed in 1875 and St. Paul’s has enjoyed the inspiration of an adult choir and organ music ever since. On January 20, 1891, leftover Christmas greens came into contact with a gaslight, and the church was severely damaged in a fire. The person of St. Paul’s worshiped at the Holyoke Opera House as they made plans to rebuild. They decided to move to the Highlands and purchased a lot from the Holyoke Water Power Company this time, on the corner of Appleton and Linden Streets, for $25000. The cornerstone of the present church was laid on October 10, 1903.
On Thanksgiving Day, the following year, the first service was held in the new stone church on Appleton Street. The cost of the buildings totaled $50,922.40. The church was consecrated almost a year later in October of 1905, two full years after the first stone had been laid and 42 years to the day since its formal organization.
The present church was designed and built by Frank Dibble, a local builder who also constructed the Holyoke Public Library. Inside the church the walls were covered in deep red brick with stone pillars holding up the wood-clad ceiling. In the chancel stands a sculpture of Christ seated in heaven, holding the life in which the faithful are enrolled. Carved from Caen stone from France, it is said to weigh 6 tons. Before it was a black cross designed by the rector in the late !950’s, the late Rev. David Evans, who was responsible for significant alterations to the chancel. Two large windows in the transepts of St. Paul’s are beautiful and impressive, not made by Tiffany but in the style of that artist and time. Other windows throughout the church depict saints and scenes in rich colors of the Gothic style. A carved wooden credence table and bishop’s chair match the original oak pulpit and lectern.
Over the years changes have been made to the church buildings. In 1931, the second-floor addition to the Parish House was made, and the first renovations to the church came in 1942. More additions and renovations came during the time of Rev. James Madison, who, during the 1950s, arranged busing for Mt. Holyoke students and faculty so they might attend St. Paul’s. He later founded the Student Chapel which became All Saints Church in South Hadley. The church building underwent further renovations and upgrades in the 1980s. New carpeting was installed, and the slate roofs were restored. New windows were added here and there, spectacular examples of creativity and color. The tower masonry was restored in 2010 as were the flat roofs of the various buildings.
The greatest alterations to St. Paul’s came two generations ago. In 1954, with the baby boom in full swing and the seams bursting at St. Paul’s, a capital campaign resulted in the construction of the auditorium/ kitchen/classroom building adjoining the Parish House. The new auditorium was dedicated to the memory of Mr. Kenneth Riley, senior warden, and chairperson of the building committee. As an indication of growth, a Feb 6, 1955 church bulletin announced that Sunday School registration was now at 190 boys and girls, an increase of over 30% from the year before. Originally used for Sunday School rooms, the new classrooms also came to share space with St. Paul’s Nursery School which began operation in 1957 as a non-sectarian preschool for the community. During its operation, the St. Paul’s Nursery School won national recognition by receiving accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a recognition only achieved by 7% of early childhood programs nationwide at the time. At present the Nursery School space serves the Y-Kids Preschool, a joint effort with the Greater Holyoke YMCA.
In 1958 nine rooms for the Sunday School and the choir were added to the lower level of the church. There countless children have enjoyed the ministries of Youth Group, Church School, and Vacation Bible School. The James Hamilton Fund was used to sponsor the Hamilton Learning Center beginning in 1970, an effort begun by Rev. Evans, which operated for almost 35 years in that lower-level space, a tutoring and special education program for after-school students in the Holyoke area.
St. Paul’s has benefited from the gifts of many musicians. James Maes began with the Rev. Evans when Jim was 22 and continued at St. Paul’s for the better part of 38 years. We were also blessed to have had two young organists during the last decade. One named Monica Czausz, a promising organist and choir director who was with us during her final two years of high school. After Monica we had a young organist/choir director, Seth Clark, who was a graduate of Westfield State University and played the organ and many other instruments. The adult choir stands with countless others over the years in providing music to the glory of God on Sunday mornings.
With a large group of African Americans drawn to this area by the Westover Air Force Base, in 1942 an Episcopal mission church, St Luke's, was founded by the rector Percy F. Rex in Holyoke at 620 East Street. By 1955, with the stirrings of civil rights and the changes going on in America, the rector James Madison merged the mission into St. Paul’s where all St. Luke’s members were welcomed. The Griffin, Jennings, Hill, and Evans families were among those involved with both churches and members of those families are part of St. Paul’s even now. St. Paul’s has continued its goal for diversity and was proud to recognize the contributions and dedication of Mrs. Mary Sabbs as the first Deacon at St. Paul’s and the first Black Deacon in the diocese of Western Massachusetts. Her contributions were numerous. She was a teacher in the bilingual program in Springfield; she used her skills to collaborate with our local Spanish community to offer baptism classes and to support the Spanish Services offered at St. Paul’s. She was a lay reader for many years. She also brought communion to the sick and performed services at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. Her daughter Gina Nelson is our Senior Warden, and we are blessed to have our third generation of the Sabbs’ family as members of our congregation. Today the congregation strives to continue the work with and support of the Spanish Community.
One tradition that continues is the Children’s Pageant, held on the Sunday before Christmas in which parish children take the parts of the first Christmas and Epiphany story, and are accompanied by live lambs. The pageant is followed by the celebration of the Birthday of the Christ Child in the auditorium, at which time each person receives a star ornament made by a group at St. Paul’s. In 1981, the Rev. J. Gollan Root (nickname Gollie) succeeded Rev. David Evans as rector. He furthered the church’s ministry of outreach and progressiveness. Gollie led by example, as a member of the NAACP, Integrity, Holyoke Council for Human Understanding, the local YMCA, and Rotary. He offered the Bethel Bible series in the early 1980s and a number of parishioners increased their biblical literacy as students and teachers in that program. Gollie retired in 2005 and sadly passed away in 2009.
In May 2007, the parish called its first woman rector, the Rev. Barbara Thrall. She and her husband, Ed Farrell, enjoyed working alongside others to bring new things to St. Paul's which added to the congregation’s involvement in the community and the diocese. The blessing of the animals in October, the men’s breakfasts, a Holy Week Feast of Freedom, a Mother’s Day Children’s Service, Prayer shawl ministry, Smile Ministry (clowns, Face painting, movies, letterboxing), the St Paul’s Neighborhood Fiesta, PB & J making in Kate’s Kitchen, backpacks and Christmas gifts for the children of women incarcerated at the jail in Chicopee, Community Roots Neighborhood Services are all now part of St. Paul’s life. The Spirit of St. Paul’s group, begun some years ago, continued to offer pastoral care and hospitality with generous hearts. Rev. Thrall retired on July 1, 2017. She and her husband Ed stayed in the area.
In October of 2017 when Rev. Marisa Egerstrom became the Priest in charge at St. Paul’s. Rev. Marisa was deeply involved in the community and her mission to support the local Spanish community. After completing her third year at St. Paul’s Rev. Marisa decided to move on to other callings.
St. Paul’s was honored to have as Interim Priest, the Rev. E. Tom Barrington. Rev. Barrington had provided extraordinary support and balance to our congregation during this period of transition while we look for our 21st rector of St. Paul’s.