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