In 1895, a group of 50 families and 17 hired stone masons built a Catholic church in Shelburne.

The groundbreaking was Aug. 19, 1895. Just four months later the first mass was held in the new church on Dec. 19.

After more than a century — 125 years to be exact — the church has built the first expansion of the original building, adding both a gathering room and a parish hall.

This was a $2.1 million building project that was completed toward the end of 2020, but with social distancing and other COVID restrictions, there’s been no big celebration, said Ann Cousins, who works on special projects at the church and is on the capital campaign committee.

“We were supposed to have a big celebration on Dec. 20, but we’re going to put it off and instead have yearlong celebration next year. It’s better to keep everybody safe,” Cousins said.

The 50 original families emigrated to Shelburne in order to work at Shelburne Farms: 35 from Quebec and 15 from Ireland.

The Webb family, founders of Shelburne Farms, donated $1,000 to the construction of the Catholic church, even though they were Episcopalian, Cousins said.

A reason to celebrate

While a party hasn’t happened, people have celebrated as best they can given the circumstances.

The new parish hall includes what Cousins describes as a beautiful kitchen that members are anxious to use for meals with the congregation — on hold until the quarantine ends.

People celebrated, in a way, on Dec. 16 when, they partnered with Age Well to hand out more than 100 meals to older community members.

Age Well and the church will have another meal pickup on Tuesday, Jan. 12. The last day for registering for a meal is this Friday, Jan. 8.

Cousins said the church talked a lot about, by expanding the building, expanding hearts.

“We could get really depressed with this pandemic,” Cousin said. “All of the psychological studies say that, sort of, the key to getting through tough times and being happy is do things for others.”

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