St. Michael Catholic Church
1886 - St. Michael Church – 29 Young Street
During the late 1800s, Roman Catholic residents of South Berwick – many of them mill workers of Irish and French Canadian origin -- worshipped at St. Mary Church in the village of Salmon Falls, Rollinsford, NH. It was built in 1857 and for many years was administered under the Diocese of Portland, Maine. When the Diocese of Manchester, NH, was created in 1884, St. Mary came under the care of a new bishop. This church, St. Michael, was built for South Berwick two years later.
The building became home to South Berwick Public Library in 2012.
The St. Michael's Parish Directory of 1968 quotes an old newspaper: “The early Catholic settlers in South Berwick had little or no opportunity to receive the consolations of their religion until 1827, when Father Mahoney of the Boston Diocese said Mass in Dover. NH. During the same year, Bishop Fenwick offered Mass in the house of Mr. Burns in Dover and the Catholics of So. Berwick more frequently attended religious services. A short time later, the parish of Great Falls, N. H., now known as Somersworth, was established and South Berwick and Salmon Falls were placed under the care of Fr. Lucey. Eventually, Salmon Falls and South Berwick became one parish under the charge of Rev. Sullivan. Finally, So. Berwick a separate parish in 1886.
“The first pastor of South Berwick was Rev. Michael Walsh, who built our present church. Fr. Walsh was succeeded by 1888 by Rev. J. B. Sekenger. In 1892 Rev. J. P. Gorman became pastor."
St. Michael's Parish Directory of 1968 continues: “Fr. Gorman's successor was Rev. Denis O'Brien who remained here for 19 years. Under his guidance the church was remodeled.
“The next pastor, Rev. Michael Drain, was here for 2 years. Fr. Edward Fitzpatrick followed Fr. Drain, and during his pastorate, the entire parish debt was repaid. Succeeding pastors included Rev. T. C. Maney, Rev. James Redden, and Rev. William Lem.
“Fr. Lem directed the renovation of the exterior of the church and his successor, Rev. John J. Curran, supervised the most recent redecoration of the church in 1955-56. The present day seating capacity is 450.”
In 2008 the town of South Berwick bought St. Michael Church with plans to adapt it for the town library. South Berwick Public Library moved from the Jewett-Eastman House and opened in 2012.
Rev. William Lem became pastor of St. Michael in 1933
(This summary by Wendy Pirsig was written from archives of the Counting House Museum archives and updated in December 2020. Color photos by Pirsig, 2007.)