The Block Island Times

St. Ann's by-the-Sea celebrates 125 years

By Gloria S. Redlich | Jul 28, 2013
Source: Courtesy photo The first service at the new site is held during the summer of 1981, with Dr. Lincoln Dunn in the foreground.

St. Ann’s by-the-Sea will celebrate its 125th anniversary on Block Island with a special reception and service the weekend of July 26 - 27. Parishioners will also honor the recent ordination of the Rt. Rev. Dr. William Nicholas Knisely as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island.

Of the planned festivities, St. Ann’s Senior Warden Theresa Sisto said, “It is a very exciting time to be celebrating our 125th anniversary with our new bishop.”

Beginning as a mission in 1888, St. Ann’s purchased land on Chapel Street and built its first edifice there in 1889.

Though the history of the church has been marked by a number of unfortunate events, the persistence and faith of its leaders and worshipers have insured the survival of St. Ann’s. The Chapel Street building was destroyed by fire and replaced by a larger, Victorian structure on Spring Street. This location was home to regular services until 1938, when the hurricane that devastated much of Rhode Island also destroyed the church. All that remained after the storm were a communion flagon, a chalice, the lectern bible, the baptismal font and a few pews.

Because of economic difficulties during the Second World War, the congregation was unable to rebuild, leaving the years between 1940 and 1947 without Episcopal services on the island. After that, congregation members met at the library and at other island churches until 1968 when services were conducted outdoors on the site of the former church building. At times, services were held at the Harbor Baptist Church.

Much later, a replica of the exterior of the church was built and is now part of the 1661 Inn. Through extensive fundraising and donations from members and summer visitors, a building fund was established. In 1979, Dr. Lincoln Dunn presented the church with the gift of land on Spring Street on which the current rectory and church were built and consecrated in 1985.

From that dedication, Rev. Gary Lemery, currently interim vicar, took up leadership of the small island church and remained vicar for a number of years. After some interruptions to his service on island, in 1991, he and his wife Kate lived in the rectory for four months, during which time he led services every Sunday. After several other spiritual leaders filled the post of vicar at St. Ann’s — most recently Rev. Daniel Barker — Lemery returned last summer in an interim capacity.

In 2005, a stained glass window depicting St. Ann and her daughter Mary was installed. The window was found in storage at Trinity Church in Bristol, which had been forced to close during hard times. A narthex addition (an entrance hall at the west end of the church) was completed in 2007.

In a poem William H. Butler celebrates the church’s survival, opening, “It’s taken forty-seven years to rise/like a Phoenix from the fire …/So many years of work … to build an edifice and replace the old/destroyed by storm so dark …”

Church treasurer Mike Lofaro and his wife Anna, who is the music director, reflected on the role of their church and congregation in the Block Island community.

“Although St. Ann’s is a very small parish, we are big on hospitality and warmly welcome all who pass through our doors. Our members work together as a family when organizing parish events and supporting the community at large,” the Lofaros said. “We look forward to growing our family.”

The reception is to be held at Smuggler’s Cove from 4 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 27, and a service at St. Ann’s will be conducted by Bishop Knisely on Sunday, July 28 at 9 a.m. The public is invited to join on both occasions in what has been termed an “historic celebration.”

Comments (2)
Posted by: Robert Downie | Aug 03, 2013 11:13

I've always admired the ecumenical nature of the island's churches, cooperating with each other and sharing efforts for the greater good of all. But their histories should not be erroneously combined too, with misinformation perpetuated into the future.

This story is wrong in the following, and subsequently similar, statements:

"Beginning as a mission in 1888, St. Ann’s purchased land on Chapel Street and built its first edifice there in 1889."

Correction #1 to this story is that St. Ann's, an Episcopal church, never had any building, nor any presence, on Chapel St. The only church on Chapel St. that burned in a fire was a Baptist Church (in December 1944). Those facts can be found using the indexes of local history books.

Correction #2 --- The first St. Ann's was built off of Spring St. in 1887 (not 1888).

Correction #3 --- Before completion, that church burned in 1888. There are no photos nor other images of this structure.

Correction #4 --- The 2nd St. Ann’s church was begun in 1888, finished in 1889, and consecrated in 1890. That is the building that was destroyed during the great 1938 hurricane, causing pundits to rename the church from the official “St. Ann’s-by-the-Sea” into “St. Ann’s-in-the-Sea.”

Omitted from the story in the Times are the names and actions of St. Ann’s original benefactors, who in the late-1880s donated the funds to construct St. Ann’s on Spring St. Their story would lead us back even further in history, into the depths of the nation’s Civil War activity when --- it could be reasoned --- the nurturing of Block Island’s future St. Ann’s was made possible.

The rest of the story in the Times is correct, and how fortunate for the island --- despite the need for two resurrections of the building --- that the story, and the history, and the church exist.

--- Robert M. Downie, Aug. 3, 2013

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Posted by: Martha Ball | Aug 03, 2013 13:09

Thanks, Bob, but you must be reading this on-line because I know you would not say the rest of the story is correct if you'd seen the print version. It includes a reproduction of a poster with a photo of the Baptist Church and the caption "First Service held at Harbor Baptist Church after the hurricane of 1938."  Unfortunately the photo is of the Harbor church that was built in 1952.

Martha Ball, August 3, 2013



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