History of Holy Trinity (German) Church


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In the early 19th Century, German immigrants landing in Boston faced the challenge of adapting to a new social environment, while striving to preserve their unique cultural and religious heritage. Foremost among their concerns was the fear that a rapid assimilation into American society would result in a loss of their cultural identity and even of their Faith.

While Boston’s predominantly Irish pastors tried to be responsive to the needs of their German Catholic flock, none of them spoke German, and so they could neither preach nor hear confessions in the immigrants’ native tongue. They were also unfamiliar with German religious traditions including age-old customs that revolved around important religious holy days. For example, Germans traditionally put a high priority on the celebration of Christmas. In fact, it was German immigrants in Boston who introduced the use of Christmas trees and greeting cards to New England. They also celebrated Easter in a unique way by participating in a wake from Good Friday until Easter Sunday at the Holy Grave with a figure of the dead Christ lying in the ground.

Sympathetic to their plight, Bishop Benedict Joseph Fenwick, S.J. (consecrated 2nd Bishop of Boston in 1825) requested secular clergy from Germany. Between 1836-1846 five priests answered the bishop’s call, but they all moved on, wishing to serve where there were larger German Catholic populations in the Midwest.

In interim periods, Rev. John Stephen Raffeiner from the Diocese of New York traveled several times a year to Boston to minister to the German Catholic community. Recognizing the need for a permanent German parish and clergy, Fr. Raffeiner diligently worked for the establishment of a German national parish. Under his leadership, the cornerstone for Holy Trinity (German) Church was laid in June 1842 and with the generous assistance of Bishop Fenwick, the church building was completed and the first mass celebrated in June 1844.



The Old Holy Trinity Church,

Constructed of Roxbury puddingstone and Maine granite and sporting two imposing towers, it was hoped that this structure would be a unifying force both culturally and spiritually for Boston’s German Catholic population. Unfortunately, divisions between High and Low Germans soon became apparent due to their different dialects and traditions. Unhappy with this infighting, several pastors resigned in frustration. In the meantime, Bishop John Bernard Fitzpatrick became impatient with this discord and made a last ditch effort to save the parish by inviting members of the Society of Jesus to assume control of the parish in 1848, a ministry they maintained until 1961 (although there were three attempts to return the parish to the Archdiocese in 1850, 1919, and 1946).

Under the parish’s first Jesuit pastor, divisions between the parishioners were reconciled. Rev. Gustave Eck, S.J. (1848-1854) also founded a number of organizations, erected a rectory and made improvements to the church by installing a high altar, an organ, and renovating the basement.

As the German population grew, it became evident that a bigger church was needed and so land was purchased on the corner of Tremont and East Canton Streets and construction of a new church building was begun in 1853. Unfortunately, financial difficulties and the departure of the Jesuit pastor due to health reasons ended construction with the builder receiving as compensation the land and construction materials.


  Statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola,
Founder of the Jesuits, which stands
  above the pulpit in Holy Trinity




Holy Trinity Church, 1877 Inset: Rev. James Simeon, S.J.,
pastor 1870-1877

With the parish in a state of disillusionment and debt, Rev. Reiter, S.J. (1854-1856, 1859-1870), tried to return the parish back to the diocese in 1860, and when this failed, asked the Redemptorist Fathers to take charge. When they declined his request, Fr. Reiter took on the task of paying-down the parish’s debts and raising money to buy land on Shawmut avenue in order to build a bigger church. The cornerstone was laid by Bishop John Williams on November 10, 1872 and was completed by Fr. Reiter’s successor, Fr. James Simeon, S.J. (1870-1877) with the first Mass celebrated in the church basement on May 1, 1874. On May 27, 1877, the Feast of the Holy Trinity, Archbishop Williams (who became Boston’s first archbishop in 1875) dedicated the new church, which cost roughly a quarter of a million dollars for the church, land, and rectory.

The new building with seating for 1,200 parishioners upstairs and 700 in the lower church, was, like the first church, made from Roxbury puddingstone and Maine granite. But unlike the first structure, it had tall central steeple that graced Boston’s South End skyline until 1938 when a hurricane damaged it to the point where it had to be removed.

Over the next two decades, great strides were made to reduce the parish’s debt while making necessary repairs and renovations and purchasing some important additions to the church including statues, a baptismal font, and an iron fence. By 1900, the congregation had grown to some 6,000 and under the leadership of Rev. John Jutz, S.J. (1896-1906). Holy Trinity Church became a model parish in the city of Boston. It built the first Catholic parish school in New England and founded a number of parish societies which embraced social, intellectual, and religious objectives. Fr. Jutz also founded Holy Trinity Church’s monthly parishnewspaper, the Monatsbote

                    Rev. John "Iron Gaze" Jutz, S.J.
(monthly messenger) in 1899, which is still published today in a newsletter format.
The next important Jesuit pastor, Rev. Joseph Faber, S.J. (1910-1918), guided the parish during the period of WWI. During the first three years of the war, Holy Trinity’s parishioners supported the German war effort by producing favorable articles in the Monatsbote and by making donations to the widows and orphans of German soldiers killed in battle. However, when the U.S. declared war on Germany, the parishioners of Holy Trinity patriotically rallied to their country’s cause. Ninety men from the parish served in the U.S. armed forces and three were killed in action. After the war’s end, the Holy Trinity Relief Committee was established in January 1920 to assist the suffering people of post-war Germany and Austria. Also during his tenure, Fr. Faber worked to make improvements to the church building by installing of a marble communion rail and Stations of the Cross in the upper church and stained glass windows in the lower church.



Rev. Charles P. Gisler, S.J.

Shepherding Holy Trinity between the two wars was Rev. Charles P. Gisler, S.J. (1921-1940). A devout and prayerful man, he was responsible for changing the novenas and religious exercises from German to English, adding other devotions customary in other Jesuit parishes, and doubling the attendance at services. By early 1941, Holy Trinity was a thriving parish community, consisting of 490 families and 1,900 souls with more than 400 students in the parish’s schools.

During WWII, Holy Trinity once again rallied to our country’s defense. A special abbreviated Monatsbote was sent to servicemen overseas, a special mass was said for troops serving abroad each Wednesday at 8 AM, and the local Boy Scout Troop 31 held scrap paper collections for the war effort. After the war, Holy Trinity played a major role in providing relief to wartorn Europe as reports of starvation and illness poured into the U.S. Between 1946-1949, $85,000 was collected for the purchase of food, medicines and postage. Almost 500,000 pounds of clothes and shoes and almost 18,000 cans of food were shipped during the period.

Holy Trinity, ca. 1935 (The steeple was later destroyed by the Hurricane of '38)

Holy Trinity Rectory Relief, ca. 1943

By 1945, there were six Jesuit priests working with the parish that by then consisted of: two churches, 4 chapels, two parish halls, two priests’ houses, two convents, two grade schools, one high school, five apartment buildings, one garage, two playgrounds, and one building with rooms for parish organizations. This complex represented a tremendous commitment of financial resources and personnel at a time when the South End’s demographics were changing and parish membership was slipping. For example, while there were over 700 families in the parish, only 250 were active.

In 1948, the Jesuits delivered a proposal to the Archbishop that would have effectively left them with the church and rectory, while the rest of the buildings would be returned to the Archdiocese. After a series of discussions over this proposal, the Society decided that they would have to, in time, turn the parish back to the Archdiocese. The Jesuits departed in August of 1961, and with the departure of their beloved Jesuits, many parishioners gave up on Holy Trinity.

On September 1, 1961, Rev. Robert L. Ryer became the first secular administrator (1961-66) and pastor (1966-67) of Holy Trinity (German) Church in 100 years. During his tenure, the parish schools, orphanage and home for the elderly were all finally phased out. By 1966, only the church and rectory remained.

In the ensuing years, the parish has strived to maintain its commitment to the spiritual and cultural needs of German-Americans by celebrating a German-English mass each



           Rev. Robert L. Ryer

Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m.and by hosting a number of cultural events every year, from its annual Oktoberfest to several concerts performed by visiting German choirs under the auspices of the Christian Art Series. The Archdiocese has also reached out to the local neighborhood by establishing the Cardinal Medeiros Center of the Kit Clark Senior Services in the basement of the church, which is a day shelter for older homeless people, and converting the parish rectory for use by Bridge Over Troubled Waters, a shelter for homeless and abused teenagers.

As we begin a new century, Holy Trinity (German) Church proudly continues to serve our Holy Mother the Church in Boston by remaining true to the spirit of its founding as a place where Catholics, striving to bring age-old traditions into the future, can practice their faith to the greater glory of God.

This history is an abridged outline of the book, Holy Trinity German Church of Boston: A Way of Life, by Robert J. Sauer with sections repurposed in their entirety.


At the turn of the last century Holy Trinity was, as one commentator put it, "more of a colony than a parish." Below are photographs of three such "colonies": 1) the Holy Trinity Orphanage and Home, Roxbury; 2) the Holy Trinity Grade School, Roxbury; and 3) the Holy Trinity School and Convent.




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