From the book, Catholicism in Rhode Island and the Diocese of Providence,1886-1921 by Robert W. Hayman, most of the visitors to beach resorts along the shore east of Westerly came to the center of town to attend Sunday mass. Vacationers to Watch Hill were able to attend mass in the Union Chapel on the main street that was built on land given by one of the Watch Hill hotels in about 1870. The chapel was constructed and maintained through contributions of various religious denominations who used it during the summer season. The Marist Fathers offered mass at the Union Chapel after they arrived in Westerly.
By 1910, about 400 people usually attended the 8:30 am mass at the chapel. In 1915, Fr. Lawrence Kelledy, S.M., suggested to Bishop Harkins that a chapel be built at Pleasant View (better known as Misquamicut). A 78' by 38' wood frame chapel located on Crandall Avenue at its junction with Atlantic Avenue was ready for use in the summer of 1916. It was dedicated on Sunday, 13 August 1916 in honor of St. Clare.
After the Hurricane of September 1938, an article in the Westerly Sun noted that “Only a hole in the ground marks the location of St. Clare’s Chapel.” By April of 1940, plans were made to construct a new mission chapel, under the jurisdiction of the Immaculate Conception Parish to be located on the Westerly side of Crandall Avenue, opposite Second Street. According to the specifications of the architect, John F. Hogan of Providence, the building would have a gabled roof and be constructed in such a way that additions may be built if more room is needed. It was 62' wide and 109' long, with a total of 5,525 square feet. The total cost was to be about $20,000. Bishop Francis P. Keough, D.D., dedicated the new chapel on August 11, 1940.
(The hurricane of 1938 was devastating to this area, those who survived and still belong to the parish recall what they did to stay afloat, whether riding a mattress down the flooded streets or holding onto the roof for help. Once the storm left and residents were allowed back to the area, they noticed all that was left of the church was the foundation and the organ, which was lifted and dropped back down, they also found a candle stick and church bulletin, these items have been preserved in a shadow box in the sacristy of the church).
It was on 29 September 1946, that Saint Clare’s became a canonically established parish under its first diocesan pastor, Rev. Philp McKenna. A charter was granted under the laws of the State of Rhode Island on 10 October 946 under the legal title, "St. Clare’s Church Corporation.” Edward Fenelon and Russell A. Lenihan were the first trustees. Mr. Lenihan served the parish under Fr. Philp McKenna, Fr. Edward J. Tiernan, Fr. Edward P. Boland, Fr. William J. Beane, Fr. Shea, and Fr. Harold J. Flynn.
During Fr. Beane’s pastorate, the new rectory was built and the parking lot provided for parishioners. The church’s capacity increased from 500 to 800 during Father Flynn’s pastorate. The church was completely remodeled to conform with Vatican II. A new parking lot was added and the old one remodeled. Schulmerich “Coronation Carillons” were installed. Monsignor William F. Murray succeeded Fr. Flynn in 1979 and it was during his tenure that the adjoining Santoro house and property were acquired to serve as a parish center. Fr. Edmund Fitzgerald succeeded Monsignor Murray.
In February 1998, Fr. Peter Cavanaugh was appointed pastor of Saint Clare Church, where he remained until his retirement as pastor emeritus in March 2005. Under Fr. Cavanaugh’s leadership, stewardship ministries were established and a major capital improvements campaign allowed the restoration and repair of the interior of the church. A new organ was purchased, a new church steeple was added, and all the windows were replaced and new siding added to the rectory. Fr. Cavanaugh was was assisted by Fr. M. J. Bernard Dore during his tenure.
Our current pastor, Rev. Kenneth Suibielski, began his ministry in Saint Clare’s on 1 July 2005. Under his leadership, the adjoining Santoro house and property were sold and a new parish center has been built. Through Fr. Ken’s inspiration and dedication, stewardship ministries have grown and flourished, serving both our parish and our community.
Fr. Philp McKenna, first pastor of Diocesan Church of St Clare, 1946-?
Fr. Edward J. Tiernan, pastor ?-1954
Fr. Edward P. Boland, pastor 1954-57
Fr. William J. Beane, 1957- ?
Fr Shea, pastor, ?-1965
Fr. Harold J. Flynn, pastor 1965-1979
Monsignor William F. Murray, pastor 1979-1992
Fr. Edmund Fitzgerald, pastor 1992-1998
Fr. Peter Cavanaugh, pastor 1998-2005
Fr. Kenneth Suibielski, pastor 2005- present
Our new parish center opened in June of 2009. The lovely main hall comfortably seats 450 people and includes a large, commercial size kitchen for preparing and warming food. There are four classrooms located just off the main hall which are used for religious education and various church meetings. Each room is equipped with a 42” flat screen TV for multi-media viewing.
Hurricane Sandy hit the Misquamicut shores on October 28, 2012. The tides came in with the wind and our beautiful beaches, only two blocks from the church, were demolished. Atlantic Avenue separates Block Island Sound and one of our many tidal salt ponds, the surge came in so fast and furious, there was no longer a separation between the two, the water lifted and carried away a home at the connection of Fisherman's and Kimball Ave.. The day before the storm was to hit, Fr. Ken had Alice Duffy and Jennifer O'Connor move everything from the parish office to a higher portion of the rectory just to be safe. (When the church was rebuilt after 1938, they poured a foundation over five feet high and the walls are almost eight inches thick with sheets of metal on each side of the studs along with four sheets of plasterboard,...just in case). The ocean did come up, but didn't reach the foundation, no damage other than a few roof shingles and fence sections.
For the first time in a long time, the parish was closed for two weeks, the rest of the area didn't fair as well as the church. The Army National Guard was posted at every access point to Shore Road with Humvee's and automatic weapons to keep the homes safe from looters and danger, also to keep it clear for the clean-up crews to move the heavy equipment around. Once the roads were open, the devastation was beyond belief. The sand that covered Atlantic Ave. had to be moved with enormous bucket loaders the size of a house. The crews worked day and night to clear a path for the home owners, the sand was four feet high, dumpsters in the salt pond, beach trailers tossed like Lincoln Logs, strewn everywhere. The Misquamicut State Beach playground was like a haunted graveyard of brightly colored pipes, the smell of human waste was overpowering, everyone's septic systems were destroyed and mixed with the sand. The water was so powerful, one house is standing that you can see where the water just blew right through it leaving a shell of a summer home. Everything has been cleaned up and almost back to normal. Please go to our photo page to see more.
Visit the church calendar for a schedule of parish center events.
Contact the parish office for information on renting the main hall or any of the classrooms for meetings or special events.