Blessed Sacrament Church and its Elmwood Neighborhood
Blessed Sacrament parish was founded in 1913 as an offshoot of the Sacred Heart parish. This was due to the growth in homes in the Elmwood neighborhood since the start of the 20th century. Elmwood under the name Baptist Parish was one of the original two villages of Holyoke with the other being Ireland Parish. The first mass of the new Blessed Sacrament was in the auditorium of the new Metcalf School (built in 1911). For the first year on each Sunday a worker and his son would set up the seats and altar for the congregation. In 1914 the first Blessed Sacrament was built at the corner of Hitchcock and Northampton Streets. This building also had a basement for utilities and a second floor for Sunday school classrooms. John Lunney was the first priest and his rectory was the home one lot south of the church. All settled in nicely but like most Catholic churches in New England, the church could not stay for long without a school. In 1927, the Blessed Sacrament School was placed into the floor above the church becoming now a true multipurpose building. The nuns were from the order of the Sisters of Saint Joseph and their rectory was the home directly behind the school along Hitchcock Street.
Timothy Merrick was the spooled thread king of the United States. He came to Holyoke in 1865 from Mansfield Connecticut. He built five mills whose total capacity was one million miles of thread. In 1872 he bought land at the northwest corner of Northampton Street and Westfield Road. His grand mansion and stable befit a very rich family. He died in 1888 and his family lived in the mansion until 1910. At that point the novitiates of the Carmel Sisters of Providence moved into the Merrick mansion. Novitiates are the new recruits to an order that have not taken their religious vows yet. In 1931 the Blessed Sacrament rectory was put into the mansion and the ample land was the pastor’s yard. This was the start of the parish moving nearly all of its operation into this area. In 1953 alone the church was built at the SE corner, a new rectory was built at the NE corner, and a school was built at the SW corner. The last component the convent came along in 1962. The former church was now being used for the lower grades.
The first religious buildings and the first religious organizations of Holyoke were in the Elmwood section of Holyoke. The Third Parish of Springfield was the northern parish and this would become Holyoke in 1848. This area needed a meeting house for its religious needs. This was built in 1792 at the corner of Gilmore Street and Northampton Road. Both the Baptists and the Congregationalists used the building together. In 1799 the Congregationalists started their formal organization. In 1803 the Baptists started theirs under the name Second Baptist Church of West Springfield. In 1811 the meeting house was moved to where the Metcalf School is now and was also finished off inside with pews. Finally, in 1826 the First Baptist Church built a wooden church of their own at the corner where it is now located. The following year the Baptist parsonage was built at the SE corner of the same location. The Congregationalists would also eventually leave the Meeting House in 1836 moving to the village of Ireland Parish.
In 1879 the parsonage was moved and the Baptist Church was torn down. By 1880 there was a new brick faced Baptist Church and a new parsonage. These would serve the congregation well. The church is still there. A third parsonage was built behind the church on the same side of South Street. No good church would be complete without a school and the same with the Baptists. It first minister organized the Rand Seminary on Homestead Avenue along his own home. In 1846 the academy was moved to the NW corner of Northampton Road and Westfield Road where the Blessed Sacrament Parish would be. It was disbanded in 1872.
In 1882 Sacred Heart started the Calvary Cemetery. Rosary Church and Blessed Sacrament Church would also use this cemetery. It lies along the old Elmwood Cemetery. Its former names were Third Parish Burial Ground and Baptist Village Cemetery. Its first burials were in 1755 which might be the year that it started since there were only a few settlers in the area by then.
There are also many important homes in the Elmwood area. One is the Prosper Hitchcock home one house south of the SW corner of Westfield Road and Northampton Street. The home was then owned by his son Dexter Hitchcock who became a state senator. Another is the Lawson Long home just south of the Blessed Sacrament rectory along Northampton Street. The home is the oldest home left in Elmwood and is from the 1820s. He and his son also named Lawson were the preeminent physicians in Holyoke.
The Elmwood section of Holyoke is the oldest section of the city. Still as far as Catholics are concerned it could be called the youngest.