Building the Church in Boston

A photo of the former Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the late 1700s.

By Robert Johnson Lally
Archdiocesan Archivist and Records Manager
The next time you’re downtown, stroll over to 24 School Street, around the corner from the Borders Bookstore. There is a plaque on the wall indicating that this was the site of the first Catholic Church building in Boston. On November 2, 1788, the Abbé de la Poterie, a former French naval chaplain serving Boston, celebrated the city’s first public Mass in a converted Huguenot chapel located here. He renamed the building Holy Cross Church. It had been eight years since the freedom to worship as a Catholic had been codified in the Massachusetts Constitution.
By the turn of the century, Fr. Francis Anthony Matignon and his assistant, Fr. Jean Louis Lefebvre, both refugees from the French Revolution, were ministering to a growing Boston Catholic population. They determined a new church building was needed and raised the funds to build The Church of the Holy Cross. President John Adams was one of the financial contributors.
Neither of the first two Holy Cross Churches is still standing. But they were the building blocks of what was to come.