One of the first Catholics to come to New London wrote, ”The pioneer Catholic living in a remote village in New Hampshire in the early 1900’s needed an adventuresome spirit and a strong faith.” In those days there was no Catholic church in New London or in Andover. Visiting priests occasionally offered Mass in private homes.
At the turn of the 20th century Sunday Mass was offered during July and August in a tent on Great Island in Lake Sunapee. Attendance required a boat ride! Somewhat later, the growing number of summer visitors prompted the offering of Mass at a small chapel in George’s Mills and at the Odd Fellows’ Hall in Sunapee. After Labor Day, the only Catholic Church in the area was St Patrick’s in Newport and, at one point, Mass was offered at the old Unitarian Hall in Potter Place. The few Catholics living in the New London area had a long and often difficult journey on bad roads to attend Mass.
In 1930, Mr. Joseph Bourgeau of Blodgett’s Landing bought land on Main St. in New London and built the structure that was to become the first Our Lady of Fatima Parish church. The front of the building functioned as an ice cream and candy store while the back room was used for Mass, celebrated by priests from LaSalette Seminary in Enfield.
In 1936, Our Lady of Fatima was established as a mission church of St. Helena’s in Enfield. A building on Main St. was purchased and dedicated as the church. That building underwent many renovations over its 31 year life as the New London Church. Afterwards it became the offices of the Kearsarge Regional School District, and was ultimately demolished.
The Bishop of Manchester, the Most Reverend Matthew F. Brady, formally established Our Lady of Fatima as a parish in New London in October, 1952 and appointed Rev. Walter C. Blankenship as the first Pastor. In the same year, construction of Immaculate Conception Church began under the direction of Fr. Archie Lettre, Pastor of St. Helena’s in Enfield. The church was dedicated on December 14, 1952, and shortly thereafter became a mission of Our Lady of Fatima.
During the pastorate of Father Blankenship, plans for a church building were developed and the initial fund raising was begun. In 1955 the parish purchased the land on which the present church and rectory stand. The marble altar in the church was dedicated in memory of Father Blankenship.
The Rev. David Hutchinson became the second pastor in June, 1957. The parish continued to grow and plans for the new church matured further. Because of the steady increase of summer visitors it was necessary to offer five Sunday Masses during the summer months.
The third Pastor, Rev Roland O. Blais, was assigned to Our Lady of Fatima Parish in September 1961. Under his leadership, the Parish grew to more than 350 year round parishioners. One of the highlights of Father Blais’ pastorate was the special Mass for the blessing of skis.
Construction of the long anticipated new church was approved by Bishop Earnest J. Primeau in 1964, and a groundbreaking ceremony was held on October 3, 1965.
Fr. Blais wrote, “The new church was completed and we entered it for the first time with the Blessed Sacrament on December 15, 1966. Our year round parishioners were more than happy to be in their new church…The celebration of Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, with new snow falling outside and candlelight shining on the softly polished wood of the nave and the new pews, was an occasion of great joy.”
The 70s and 80s brought further growth and a settling in to the new, modern church.These were the years of the pastorates of Rev. Edward Bracq, known for wearing his overcoat indoors during the winter to save on the rectory’s heat bill, who was succeeded by Rev. Robert Goodwin. Father Goodwin immersed himself in the life of the community as well as the parish, using his many talents to write and direct musical theatre productions. Father Goodwin initiated many modifications to the church and an extensive renovation of rectory. He was well known for his sense of humor.
By the time of Father Richard Lower’s pastorate, which began in 1991, the parish had grown to 800 families. A broad range of activities became traditions that enjoyed wide participation; the parish picnic, Immaculate Conception’s famous rummage sales and spaghetti suppers, the Men’s Club Christmas party and Communion Breakfast, the Holiday Craft Fair, the White Elephant Sale, Musterfield Farm pies and the Fourth of July strawberry shortcake booth, bringing parishioners together in work and enjoyment as well as in prayer and belief.
In 1993, some serious problems were detected in the structure of the church in New London. Over the next few years plans and funding for a major renovation were prepared. For several months in 1997, Mass was held in the Kearsarge Middle School auditorium while the renovations were underway. This reconstruction produced the lovely church we have today with its fine lighting and grace filled serenity. At its rededication in December 1997, Father Lower wrote, “our newly renovated house of prayer reflects the beauty and simplicity of this tranquil spot in New England… All the light and warmth signify that we are a community of welcome.”
Father Lower’s tragic death in December 2002, stunned the community and left parishioners grieving and bewildered. The mourning for Father Lower was a painful process that coincided with the onset of the sexual abuse crisis. For the next six months Mass was celebrated by Rev. Marc Guillemette from the diocesan staff who helped parishioners in their healing and in preparing for a new pastor. The stained glass window over the choir is the parish’s memorial to Father Lower.
In 2002, Gregory McGinn was welcomed as the Parish’s first Permanent Deacon. He serves the parish in liturgical celebrations and preaches monthly. He officiates at baptisms, marriages and burials. Greg is found everywhere in parish life; committees, Pastoral Council, preparation of altar servers, RCIA, generally doing what needs to be done.
In June 2003, the current Pastor, Rev. Robert Biron, arrived. He was very warmly received and parishioners were astounded by the size of his library. Books and books and more books were carried into the rectory. Father Biron’s learning and wit are ever present in his homilies that parishioners and visitors deeply appreciate, not just on Sunday’s, but at daily Mass, and in a particular way at funerals.
At present, the parish is growing and large. Its largeness is partly geographical; the area of the parish covers sixteen towns and its membership is diverse in every respect. Much of today’s growth comes from new families moving into the area from out of state.
A striking feature continues to be the seasonal population. From its earliest days to the present, visitors swell Mass attendance in the summer. Without the visitors, and the snowbirds who go to warmer places, attendance is lower in the winter.
The character of the OLFIC parish is that of warmth and friendliness, both within the parish and in the larger community where good working relations with other churches and service organizations exist.
Recent years have seen much increased lay involvement in parish work. “We are very blessed by hard working people and financial stability”, said Father Biron. The generosity of parishioners is notable, whether it is the many hours of hard work in committees or projects or in the work and financial support of community service groups.