Saint Julie Billiart Parish
In the 1960’s the town of Dartmouth and the adjacent West End of New Bedford grew rapidly. Many new homes were built, bringing young families into the area. Bishop James L. Connolly believed a new parish was needed to serve this expanding community, and on November 17, 1969, a new parish was established and placed under the patronage of St. Julie Billiart, who had been canonized earlier that year. Our parish became the first one in the United States dedicated to the new saint.
St Julie’s Parish was separated from the mother parishes of St. Mary’s in South Dartmouth, St. Lawrence in New Bedford, and St. George in Westport. It is bounded by Buttonwood Park on the East, the Westport town line on the West, the Dartmouth town line on the North, and Sharp Street on the South. The local community welcomed the new parish, and soon about 600 families became parishioners of St. Julie’s.
Bishop Connolly appointed Father John F. Hogan, who was well known in the area, as the first pastor of St. Julie’s. He asked Father Hogan to get some plans together and look for land to build a church. After considering a few sites, the DeMello Farm on Slocum Road was selected. The property was adjacent to Bishop Stang High School and contained a house and barn. The house would serve as the rectory, but the church needed to be built.
Ground was broken in the spring of 1970 and the church began to take shape. A long driveway was cut in from Slocum Road, and a parking lot was laid out to the North of the church. During the construction phase, Masses were held in the Bishop Stang cafeteria and Dartmouth High School auditorium.
After months of anticipation, St. Julie Billiart Church was ready for occupancy. Bishop Daniel A. Cronin dedicated the new house of worship on October 11, 1971.
From the very beginning, St. Julie’s Parish community enjoyed tremendous vitality and benefited from the generous spirit of its members. Contributions to the Building Fund, and fund raising activities by parish organizations, brought the sizeable mortgage under control. Weekly Bingo provided much needed financial assistance for 20 years. Annual events, such as the Septemberfest and Merry Market, brought members of the parish together, while providing important revenues to defray parish expenses.
The parish continued to grow. Between 1980 and 1990, membership doubled and reached more than 2,000 families, straining the church’s facilities. Looking to the future, the parish had purchased a large parcel of land on the South side of the church, the former Poole property, when it became available in 1981. The house on that site was sold and moved, and in 1984 the upper parking lots were situated on a portion of that land. Our Lady’s Grotto was also constructed at that time. It was the last major project undertaken by St. Julie’s founder. Father Hogan died August 7, 1986.
Monsignor Patrick J. O’Neill was appointed pastor after the death of Father Hogan, and the parishioners welcomed him warmly. Monsignor O’Neill realized that St. Julie’s would have to consider an expansion program to enlarge our church and parish facilities.
Due to the overwhelming generosity of the parishioners of St. Julie’s, and the careful consideration and planning of Msgr. O’Neill and Father Avila, in concert with the Parish and Finance Councils, the expansion of St. Julie’s was begun. The last Mass in the original St. Julie’s was held on June 28, 1992. It was followed by a beautiful procession to Bishop Stang High School with the Blessed Sacrament and other liturgical items. The administration at Bishop Stang had again graciously offered the use of the school facilities to St. Julie’s. During the construction phase, weekend Masses were held in the auditorium and daily Mass was offered in the Bishop Stang Chapel.
In November 1992, work on the main church was close to completion, and a grateful congregation returned to its refurbished, and greatly enlarged, home for weekend Masses on the first Sunday of Advent. Finish work went on throughout the winter and spring, and parish offices moved to the new wing in June.
St. Julie’s Parish community celebrated its return to its enlarged facilities in a Weekend of Thanksgiving on June 26 and 27, 1992. The highlight of the weekend was the blessing of the new office wing by Monsignor O’Neill at a special ceremony on June 26. On this special occasion, the Parish Council presented Msgr. O’Neill with a plaque to be placed in the new wing, dedicating it to Msgr. O’Neill in recognition of his faithful service and many contributions to St. Julie’s Parish.
The blessing of the new wing was Monsignor O’Neill’s last official act as pastor of St. Julie’s. He had announced his retirement in May following a long illness.
Monsignor O’Neill died on July 8, 1995. His funeral Mass was celebrated in the new St. Julie’s on July 13, 1995.
At the retirement of Monsignor O’Neill, Bishop Sean P. O’Malley appointed Father Brian J. Harrington pastor of St. Julie’s. On June 28, 1993 Father Harrington, began to serve this parish of over 2,300 families. A parish which echoes the words of its patroness, St. Julie, “How good is the good God?” May her prayer, “May Jesus live in all our hearts,” be realized.
In October of 1995, the parish family of St. Julie’s gathered together to celebrate its Silver Jubilee. The celebration began with an evening of dinner and dancing at White’s on the Watuppa, which was attended by Bishop O’Malley, priests and deacons of St. Julie’s – past and present – as well as many parishioners. The following day the 25th Anniversary Liturgy was concelebrated at St. Julie’s with Bishop O’Malley as the principle celebrant.
After 13 years of dedicated service which saw the parish increase in size to approximately 2700 families, Fr. Brian was transferred to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Seekonk. In June of 2006, Fr. Gregory A. Mathias was assigned to be the new pastor of our parish. Fr. Greg came to St. Julie’s as a rookie pastor, though with ample pastoral experience “under his belt.”
In January of 2006 programs for the continuing formation of adult Catholics were established to answer the need for adult spiritual and catechetical opportunities.
After one year as the sole resident priest of St. Julies, Fr. Karl Bissinger was assigned to be the full time parochial vicar following the completion of his studies in Rome.
A Youth ministry program was established according to the model of Life Teen in July of 2007.
Following Fr. Karl’s departure, Fr. Jay Mello was assigned in the dual role of High School Chaplain and parochial vicar.
During this time period that parish has experienced a growth in ministry and some physical changes as well: A new steeple and roof was installed in the winter/spring of 2008, to remedy problems with leakage and heat loss. In November of 2009, St. Julie’s celebrated her 40th anniversary with a home-coming of priests and pastors who had served her, as well as with a banquet which featured a retrospective video, a quilt in the likeness of the St. Julie sunflower window, and a cake adorned with the façade of the church.
At the present time we are a parish of approximately 2400 families we look forward to many more years of growing together as a parish community and in our faith in Christ Jesus.