The first Mass said in Winsted, or, as it was then called, Clifton, was offered by the Rev. James Lynch, of Birmingham, in the west district school-house, in 1851, in the presence of about forty persons. An old resident, however, is authority for the statement that the first Mass was said in 1850 by a Father Tucker. One who was present at Father Lynch’s Mass, Mrs. Gabriel Grinnan, is still living, and has vivid recollections of the same. Mr. Peter Dardis came to Winsted in 1849. At that time, he says, there were about twelve Catholic families here. In 1851 land was purchased for a church. In 1852 the Rev. Thomas Quinn entered upon his duties as the first resident pastor of Winsted. Soon after his arrival he began the erection of the church, the corner-stone of which was laid in 1853. Until the church was ready for occupancy, divine services were held in Camp’s Hall.
In 1853 Father Quinn was succeeded by the Rev. Philip Gillick, who came from the diocese of New York. He completed the church, in the basement of which he took up his residence. Rev. Thomas Hendricken came in 1854. Serving here about one year, he was followed by the Rev. Richard O’Gorman in 1855. Rev. Lawrence Mangan came next, and remained three years. While traveling in Europe Father Mangan was drowned. Rev. Daniel Mullen was appointed pastor in 1860, but at the outbreak of the Civil War he resigned to accept the office of chaplain of the Ninth Connecticut Volunteers. “Father Mullen was a man of literary culture,” says the Annals of Winchester, “and earnest patriotism, who served at Baton Rouge and Chackaloo Station, La., and Deep Bottom, Va. He was compelled by ill health to resign on the 26th of August, 1862.” Father Mullen’s successor was the Rev. Philip Sheridan, who a few years later was followed by Rev. Father Leo da Saracena, O.S. F., who had taken Father Mullen’s place as chaplain of the Ninth Regiment.
During Father Leo da Saracena’s first administration this parish was thoroughly organized. Father Leo received his appointment as rector of St. Joseph’s parish on January 1, 1865. In August, 1870, the Rev. Father Anacletus, O.F.M., became pastor, but was transferred in the following year to allow Father Leo to resume charge of the parish, which he continued to govern till 1877. From 1877 to 1880 he was Custos Provincial of the order, and resided at Allegany in St. Bonaventure’s seminary, of which he was the president for three years. Father Leo was followed by Father Ubaldus da Rieti, who held the position of rector until 1878, when he was succeeded by the Rev. Bonaventure Fox, O.S.F. He remained until 1879, when he returned to Santa Barbara, California. In 1879, Fathers Jerome, Daniel, and Francis labored here as well as on the out missions. At the expiration of his term of office at Allegany in 1880, Father Leo returned to Winsted. With the exception of a tour through Europe and the Holy Land in 1891 and 1892, Father Leo labored continuously in the parish until summoned to his reward on November 3, 1897, in the sixty fifth year of his age and the forty-second of his priesthood. His successor, the Rev. Alexander M. Hickey, O.S.F., was appointed by the Custos Provincial, Very Rev. Joseph Butler, with the approbation of Right Rev. Bishop Tierney, and is still in charge of the parish.
Among the works that distinguished Father Leo’s administration were the purchase from a Mr. Philips of a dwelling-house; the providing the Sisters with a building which they used as an academy and convent; the opening of Saint Anthony School in the basement of the church on August 15, 1865; the purchase of a piece of land in 1866 west of the church, and the erection on it of a spacious brick monastery; the securing of the property in the rear of the church, known as the Grove; the building, in 1876, of the convent of St. Margaret of Cortona, which, with the beautifying of the grounds, cost over $15,000.
The corner-stone of the convent was laid on September 17, 1876, and on December 3, of the same year, it was dedicated; the new convent bell was blessed on this occasion. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated by Rev. E. J. O’Brien, assisted by Rev. C. Hughes, of Providence, Rev. Father Boniface and Rev. Father Leo. The discourse at the morning service was pronounced by Bishop O’Reilly, of Springfield, and Bishop Galberry preached the sermon in the evening. In 1883 Father Leo remodeled the church by adding a transept and chancel, and had it thoroughly renovated exteriorly and interiorly—the whole work at an expense of $15,000. The church was dedicated on June 13, 1883, the Rev. Charles McKenna, O.P., preaching the dedicatory sermon.
In 1887 the energetic pastor built St. Anthony School, a fine brick edifice, with a stone basement. The school was blessed by Bishop McMahon on December 11, 1887. He was assisted by Rev. J. A. Mulcahy, now Vicar-General, and Rev. T. W. Broderick. The oration was pronounced by Mgr. Thomas J. Conaty, D.D. The cemetery attached to the parish was purchased during the pastorate of Rev. Father Mangan, about 1858 or 1859. It was secured for the parish by a Mr. McGuire, and cost $400. A portion of it was blessed by Bishop McFarland before the departure of Father Mangan, and the remainder when Father Leo was pastor, before 1876. Prior to the purchase of this cemetery the parishioners buried their dead in the Catholic cemeteries of New Hartford and Norfolk. According to the deed by which Bishop McFarland conveyed the entire property to the Franciscans, the people of the parish must have the use of the church; and it may excite surprise that they have only the use of it. This may be accounted for thus: that the people who visit a church of the Friars Minor on the 1st and 2nd of August, other conditions being complied with, may gain the indulgences granted by the Pope. The circumstance affects the people indifferently, because all the property held in the name of the Friars Minor belongs to the Holy See. When Father Leo took charge in Winsted he had as dependencies Colebrook, New Boston, Torrington, Litchfield and Norfolk. Of these missions Colebrook alone remains. The estimated number of Catholics in Winsted, when the parish was formed, was 250, principally Irish. Father Hickey is assisted in his parochial labors by Rev. Father Lewis, O.S.F., and Rev. C. Ryan, O.S.F.