Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Victor D. Infante
Published: 5:00 a.m. ET Sep. 3, 2021, Updated: 3:24 p.m. ET Sep. 3, 2021
WORCESTER – Father John McGinty says he wanted to become an Episcopal priest to be closer to the people in his parish, but ironically, he arrived at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Worcester just in time to face the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I came March 1, 2020,” recounts McGinty in a phone conversation. “Lucky guy, huh! I was glad to come, but we had two Sundays together in the church, then boom, we were into more or less in lockdown.” Like many others, the church led services online for the bulk of the pandemic. “We just went back into the church, into the building, the last Sunday of May. I’m still getting to know the place, still meeting some people in person for the first time.”
That alone would be a reason to celebrate, but there’s also another big one: The parish is turning 150 years old Sept. 21 and will be holding a two-day anniversary celebration Sept. 18 and 19.
“I think the fact that it’s been a parish for 150 years to the city is something to celebrate,” says District 5 City Councilor Matt Wally, who will present the parish with the key to the city. The parish has also received a commendation from Gov. Charlie Baker. Noting a particular regard for the church’s Gothic architecture and historical stained-glass windows, Wally says, “The city is happy to recognize 150 years of St. Matthew’s parishioners serving the city.”
As part of the festivities, McGinty will officially be installed as rector by the Rt. Rev. Douglas Fisher, who is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts.
“Father John came to St. Matthew’s in the midst of the pandemic,” says Fisher. “How hard it must have been to arrive and not be able to meet your people. John used the tools of technology to engage the people of St. Matthew’s in common prayer. His gentle presence and deep spirituality have been such a gift in this challenging time. I am so pleased that we can gather to mark this anniversary and formally celebrate the mutual ministry of St. Matthew’s and the Rev. John McGinty.”
McGinty was born in Salem and grew up in Lynn. Before being called as St. Matthew’s rector, he served as Rector of Church of Saint Anselm of Canterbury, Shoreham, New York, from 2016 to 2020. He was ordained as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church in 1983, received into the Episcopal Church in 2011. He holds a doctor of sacred theology degree from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome.
The parish itself was founded in 1871, principally by English businessman Matthew J. Whittall, who founded a carpet mill on Southbridge Street that now houses Rotmans Furniture and other businesses – and indeed, had a mansion that once sat about where the Wendy’s on Southbridge Street is located.
“A bunch of people came over from England with him,” says McGinty. “They kind of built up what was the village of South Worcester at the time … They built an initial church, in the same neighborhood, which burned down.” The current church, designed by noted Worcester architect Stephen Earle, was built 125 years ago last year.
“The 150th celebration of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church reminds us all that we labor for an unseen end,” says Fisher. “Generations of faithful people have gathered, worshipped God and served the local community with joy because that is our mission. Think of the many thousands of prayers that have been said in this church. Consider all the lives blessed and the people served. Thank God for St. Matthew’s.”
McGinty says that “the fascinating thing about the parish community is that there are two major groups. One is the families who can trace their roots to the people who came with Whittall from England five generations ago, the other are people from Liberia, who came over here during the Liberian Civil War.”
McGinty says he’s enjoyed getting to know this diverse and interesting parish, but for the most part, he has had to do so online.
“I’m not married,” he says. “I have two dogs. I spent 90% of the pandemic that first year on my own online with everybody. For our people, for everybody, it’s been a really difficult, trying time … which is why this celebration as a parish takes on a special feel in this particular moment.”
McGinty says Fisher will attend a celebration of the Eucharist the afternoon of Sept. 18, followed by a reception with entertainment by children from Worcester Academy; and a brief, COVID-safe meal from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 19 will be what McGinty calls “a family situation, with family-fun games on the grounds, probably a singalong and a barbecue.” He says that’s also when the parish will receive the citations for its long history, but while he’s celebrating the path on which the parish has traveled, he’s also looking ahead.
“I consider it sort of a kickoff of a yearlong celebration of what has been and what will be in the future,” he says, saying he sees a responsibility “not only to maintain community relationships, but to increase and deepen them further as we go.”
It’s a responsibility that McGinty takes seriously. The last church McGinty served at, in Long Island, “was just over 30 years old,” he says, “by comparison a newbie. A place like St. Matthew’s calls me to take the time to learn and understand and appreciate what this parish is at 150 years, and to take the time to learn and appreciate all that it has been to be the best pastoral servant to the church now, and hopefully walk with the people now into a positive future moment.”