Located just a block of Main Street in Ridgefield, Connecticut, St. Mary’s Catholic Church stands out as a rare example of Victorian Gothic architecture in a village full of Colonial (and Revival) and mid-19th century buildings. The first known Catholic to arrive in town was James Brophy, who’s family settled in Ridgefield in 1848. While growth of a local Catholic church in Ridgefield was slowly being established, the character of the town was changing by the second half of the 19th century, with wealthy New Yorkers building homes for vacationing in the summers. From this, many Irish Catholic immigrants were hired to work on the new estates. The first permanent Catholic church in town was built in 1867 as a modest wood frame church. As the congregation grew, a new church edifice was needed, and after a capital campaign, funds were gathered to erect a new church. Connecticut architect Joseph A. Jackson (who specialized in ecclesiastical design), was hired to furnish plans for the new church. The building exhibits eclectic architectural styles. Gothic design is seen in the pointed or lancet windows, arches and cast iron finials. The Queen Anne style is reflected in the use of textured and varied building materials, such as brick, brownstone, and shingles. And St. Mary’s most unique feature, its unusual steeple with its four turreted abutments and conical roof worked in shingles, is representative of the Shingle style.
This 2-story Neo-Gothic Revival church constructed of buff brick and limestone, is dominated by an off-center, 4-level tower and showcases how even smaller towns in New England have some of the finest 20th century churches. In 1849 St. Mary’s parish, in nearby Warren, Rhode Island, was founded to serve residents there as well as Irish and French Canadian immigrants in Bristol, which began arriving en masse. Just years later, in 1855, the first St. Mary’s Church in Bristol, was constructed as a plain wooden structure, and operated as a mission of the Warren church. In 1874 the Bristol church became an independent parish and saw large increases to membership with more Irish families settling here. Over the next decades, the space became more cramped and a building campaign was started to get a new place of worship. The present St. Mary’s Catholic Church was built in 1911, from plans by the Providence-based architectural firm of Murphy, Hindle & Wright, who together (and separately) designed many ecclesiastical buildings, in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The interior is even more stunning than the exterior detailing, and remains very well-preserved.