The Shrine on Bowdoin Street from 1883 – 1958

75th AnniversaryThe Story of the Mission Church of Saint John the Evangelist in the City of Boston, Massachusetts as told at the time of its Seventy-fifth Anniversary

Robert Cheney Smith, S.S.J.E.

Foreword to the Web Edition

This book, a snapshot of St. John’s history, was scanned and reformatted for the Web and finished in 2005.  Although we have taken liberties with the text layout and ordering of the photographs, all of the original text and photographs are present, and nothing more has been added that is not clearly identified.  Circumstances and sensibilities have changed much since 1958!  St. John’s is no longer a mission church, and members of the S.S.J.E. are infrequent visitors (but ever  welcome).  This book does not vouch for who St. John’s is today, but it certainly does provide insight into who we are.  We hope you enjoy it.

DM, LT, 2005


FROM THE TIME of their first arrival in the United States until the present day, the old stone church at the foot of Bowdoin Street in the city of Boston, has had a close and intimate relationship with the Fathers and Brothers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. When the Fathers first came to Boston the building was the place of worship of the Church of the Advent; after the construction of the new Church of the Advent on Brimmer St., the old building was acquired by the Society, and became the Mission Church of St. John the Evangelist, as it is to-day. This year of grace marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the formation of the Mission Church. It seems desirable that this anniversary should be marked by the publication of a brief history of St. John’s, and Father Smith, S.S.J.E., who had already compiled a history of the Society in America up to the year 1900, seemed the obvious person to write the story of the Church of St. John the Evangelist. He has, we think, done a noteworthy piece of work, which we trust will be of interest not only to members of our congregation, and friends of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, but to many others as well.

For many years, the old LIVING CHURCH ANNUAL, in the notices relating to the Society of St. John the Evangelist, contained a sentence to the effect that “the center of the life and work of the Society in America is the Church of St. John the Evangelist, Boston”. That was absolutely true – for although the Society undertook other works the care of parishes in Philadelphia and San Francisco for example and numerous preaching and teaching engagements at home and abroad, the, old Mission Church always remained as “home” for the Fathers, and the Mission House on Bowdoin St. was the “Mother House” of the American Province and Congregation of the Society. Not until the building of the Monastery of St. Mary and St. John in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1925, did the old Church on Bowdoin Street cease to be the “center” of the Society’s life and work in America. And when St. John’s ceased to be the “center” of the Society’s life and work, it by no means ceased to have an especial place in the affection and devotion of members and friends of the Society. The old Church remains for all of us a shrine of devotion, where heroic priests of the Society have worked in the past, a center of missionary activity whence lay men and women, sisters, lay brothers, and priests have gone forth to carry the Gospel literally to every quarter of the globe, a place made holy by the prayers and love and devotion of the thousands of faithful who have worshipped there in the years that have passed. As we thank God for the blessings bestowed on us in the past we earnestly pray that He will continue to bless this beloved Church of St. John the Evangelist in the years to come.

Superior, S.S.J.E.
May 6th, 1958

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