In 1905, the Fall River Diocese’s first bishop, the Most Reverend William Stang, invited three priests from the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus & Mary to assist in serving his flock. This congregation had its origin on Christmas Eve in the year 1800 in France, at a time when its founders risked the “guillotine”.
In 1906, what is now St. Francis Xavier Parish, and which remains the only Roman Catholic Church in Acushnet, Massachusetts, began as an area mission under the care of Sacred Hearts Fathers Bernard Pierson and Charles DeBaetselier.
At that time there was no church building so services were held in a transformed grain and feed store. The location of this store is where the first church was later built. On January 1, 1911, a new chapel was blessed by Bishop Daniel Feehan. Regular celebration of Mass and the Sacraments began on this day. On the evening of February 2, 1915 a fire destroyed the first church. Services were held in the town hall of Acushnet for some time afterward.
On April 7, 1915, St. Francis Xavier Mission became a parish. Father Seraphim Ooghe, SS.CC. was appointed the first pastor. Two short years after that, the basement of our present church was completed and the church was dedicated on April 9, 1916 by Bishop Feehan. By 1924, due to the increasing number of parishioners and students of the parish school, the need for a new church building became clear. The new church was designed by Joseph I. Higgins of Fall River, who also designed St. George Church in Westport. St. Francis Xavier was built over the existing basement church at a cost of $50,000. The new church was constructed of red brick with a red tile roof described by an earlier historian as Romanesque in architecture. The Stations of the Cross were taken from the old chapel and were hung in the new “upper church”. The church tower, as an accessory, had a large bell. In June of 1925, this new church was dedicated.
The basement of the church, which presently houses our parish office and religious education classrooms, once accommodated the parish school with its 350 pupils.
At the request of Father Andrew Lariviere, SS.CC, the Dominican sisters came to the parish and began teaching in 1922 in Quonset huts, which were adjacent to the church. With the completion of the upper structure of the church in 1925, grade seven and eight was added to the school.
Father Alexis Wygers, pastor from 1953-1963 began raising $250,000 for the new St. Francis Xavier Elementary School. In 1965, a new modern school building was opened at a cost of about $550,000. (Presently, the school has Kindergarten through Grade 8 and has recently added a Pre-K3 & Pre-K4 curriculum).
The Dominican Sisters lived on the school grounds at was once the Captain Shockley house. It became a convent and it still rests on the school property. In the niches along the stairs where there were once models of ships, there were later statues of saints. The convent served also as a summer home for many of the out of town sisters. On some summer nights, as many as 36 sisters would sleep in the summer house, some getting their slumber on the front porch. On the 60 acres of land, the sisters would plant vegetables and pick fruit for preserving. The convent no longer houses any occupants.
In 1976 a new Rectory was built near the church and the old rectory property was sold to the New Bedford Institution for Savings Bank which is now the Acushnet Federal Credit Union.
In 1996 the Congregation of the Sacred Heart Fathers concluded their long and dedicated service to the parish. In 1996, Fr. Paul Caron was named the first Diocesan priest to serve as Pastor. In 2000 the Rev. Richard Beaulieu succeeded Fr. Paul Caron until April 18, 2001 when the Rev. Daniel W. Lacroix was named Pastor. This was Fr. Lacroix’s first role as pastor. He had formerly served as the parochial vicar of St. Mary’s Mansfield. On June 25th, 2008 Monsignor Gerard O’Connor – ordained a priest on the Memorial of Mary Magdalen, July 22nd, 2000 – became Pastor. He remained pastor until July 1st, 2017 when after receiving permission from Bishop Edgar da Cunha he was assigned as the Director of the Office of Divine Worship for Archbishop Alexander K. Sample in the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon.