We in Greenwich are fortunate to have a great number of beautiful churches located in the community. One that has always impressed me as being very modern is St. Catherine of Siena Church in Riverside. It’s steeple can be seen for many miles. I’ve had many occassions to step inside this beautiful structure. One of them was my wedding!
While scanning some historic negatives, I came across a picture of a new steeple being prepared for placement above the pediment. Until this time, a cupola adorned the church. This looked like an interesting story, so I decided to research the history of the church.
The history of the church begins in May 1913. The Most Reverend John J. Nilan commissioned Reverend Nicholas P. Coleman to organize a parish for Riverside. ( He was the pastor of St. John’s Church in Stamford.) The Catholic population was growing, and people needed a place to worship. Father Coleman immediately set out to establish services in the Mianus School. He obtained a portable altar, and called for volunteers to serve as Sunday School teachers and altar boys. Fourteen women taught catechism. The first service was held on May 11, 1913. Reverend Coleman chose the name Saint Catherine of Siena. Catherine had religious visions ever since she was a child. As a teenager, she joined the Dominican order, and worked with the poor and sick. In 1461 AD, she was canonized by Pope Pius II.
The Church purchased a building for a rectory on the Post Road, as well as some adjoining land. On Septemebr 21, 1913, the cornerstone for the first church was laid. It was located on the former property of the Riverside Post Office and the current Riverside Flooring store. The dedication ceremony was held on May 10, 1914.
Father Coleman was very interested in Catholic education. He was able to aquire 3 acres of the Olive Oddy estate in 1936 to start St. Catherine’s School. It became the first parish convent. In 1936, Father Coleman returned to St. John’s and was named Domestic Prelate with the title of Monsignor. He died in 1963.
The second pastor was Reverend Joseph Ganley. He was faced with a growing church parish and parochial school. In 1938 he was able to open a new school with 9 classrooms, an auditorium/gymnasium, a library and medical and dental offices. A new wing was added in 1950, which added 4 classrooms. Subsequent additions were made in 1955 (2 more classrooms) and 3 more were added in 1955.
Meanwhile, the church was outgrowing its space. Services were crowded. Simultaneous services were held in the auxiliary chapel and the basement. Even though the church could accommodate 200 people, people still had to stand outside! In 1946, Father Ganley purchased 3 more acres north of the school and Convent. Land was also purchased acroos the street. In 1955, the Church undertook a Building Fund Drive. Father Ganley hoped to raise $250,000. Much to his surprise, he was able to raise $320,000!
Reverend Ganley was re-assigned as Pastor of St. Charles parish in Stamford, and passed away in 1958.
Father John F X Walsh, pastor of Our Lady of Peace Church in Stratford, was Father Ganley’s successor. He succeeded in building the new church and rectory. In June of 1957, Bishop Shehan performed the ground breaking ceremony for the new Church on the corner of Riverside Avenue and the Post Road. Gustave Steinbeck, a well-known architect and designer of distinctive churches in New York City and Chicago, prepared the plans. Chimblo Brothers Construction – a local business – did the actual construction. It was built in a colonial style with four columns and a pediment. Initially, a cupola adorned the church. Circa1962, the cupola was replaced with a steeple, which remains today. Land across the street was paved to provide ample parking for the facility. The Church was officially dedicated on December 15, 1957.
St. Catherine’s of Siena remains a vital and involved church today. On its website, it describes itself as a “community of faith, and social justice that cares for the sick and aged, emphasizes liturgy and music, and educates adults and children”. In 1981, Father Joe Amato started the St. Catherine’s Players – an acting group that reaches out o the community. Every summer the community looks forward to the St. Catherine’s Carnival of Fun.
The Faith Community Nursing group tends to the physical, mental and emotional needs of the parish. Volunteers visit the homebound, and reassure those who bereave. An Angel Squad makes phone calls, provide rides and make home visits.
St. Catherine’s Support Circle was formed in 2009 and provides help to those seeking jobs.
The Church reaches out to the community throuh its Social Justice Program. Members sponsor an Annual Thanksgiving Food Drive and monthly food collection. The Migrant Mustard Seed Ministry collects food for a religious order of Nuns. The Women’s Guild collects food for the New Covenant House, Inspirica, Kids in Crisis, and Neighbor to Neighbor. Operation Christmas Child provides gifts for the less fortunate.
On April 28, 2013, First Selectman Peter Tesei issued a proclamation on the 100th Anniversary of the church. It’s played an integral part in the history of the Town, and will no doubt continue to play an important role in the future.
St. Catherine of Siena Church, Riverside CT; Website accessed 5/3/2016: