From its construction in the fall of 1930, the building provided area Catholics with a year-round worship space—first in the rear meeting hall and later in the main section of the building. Its gambrel frame was raised by two French Canadian storekeepers from Blodgett's Landing, Joseph and Philip Bourgeau. Joe's ice cream and novelty shop was called The Green Maple, but he closed the shop and tea room after five years and sold the building to Bishop Peterson, Diocese of Manchester, in 1936.
By then about 30% of New Hampshire's population was Catholic. Most were immigrants from Quebec, Ireland, Germany, Lithuania, and Poland, and highly concentrated around the textile cities. In the Lake Sunapee area, the Catholic population was small, and Father John McCarthy traveled from St. Helena's in Enfield to celebrate mass. After the summer of 1936, the novelty shop closed and was converted into worship space. The second floor became a parsonage for Father Walter Blankenship after the parish was officially established on October 31, 1952. Sometime after the new Our Lady of Fatima building was dedicated in 1967, the old church was turned over to the newly-formed school district, which used the space for a classroom and later for administrative offices until 2010.
|Catholic Chapel (1931-1952); Our Lady of Fatima (1952-1967)|
As the site of the earliest Catholic worship in New London and the product of two French Canadian immigrants, this building reflects an interesting point in our history and society. Not too long before its construction, non-Protestants had been actively discouraged from vacationing at many of our hotels and boarding houses. In 1928, the Democratic party nominated a Catholic as its presidential candidate, Alfred E. Smith of New York. His religion reportedly contributed to his sound defeat by Herbert Hoover. In 1936, however, New Hampshire elected its first Catholic governor, Francis P. Murphy, who served two terms.
This modest commercial/religious building, built in the popular Dutch Colonial style, will soon be destroyed, but at the Archives you can still see its mark on New London's cultural landscape through photographs, newspaper articles, and oral histories.
Further reading: Upon This Granite: Catholicism in New Hampshire: 1647-1997 by Wilfrid H. Paradis (Peter E. Randall Press, 1998).