The History of Saint Francis de Sales Church

In 1958, Bishop Russell J. McVinney purchased 14 acres of farmland with a few dwellings on them on School Street in Davisville for under $30,000 to be used for a future church.

The parish of St. Francis de Sales was subsequently established on June 24, 1960 by Bishop McVinney. Prior to this date, its parishioners had worshipped at Our Lady of Mercy in East Greenwich and St. Bernard’s in Wickford which were divided at this time to form the St. Francis de Sales parish.

Father Francis E. Driscoll was the first Pastor of the parish from 1960 until 1972. He had to live in three different local motels in 1960, having to move out of the first motel when the Bishop realized that Father Driscoll did not have a phone in his room and had to take calls on the phone in the motel lobby. During the same period, renovations were being done to the little old farm house on School Street to make it livable as a rectory which is still in use.

Before the original St. Francis de Sales Church was built, Father Driscoll had to find a place to celebrate Mass on Sunday. The Chaplain at the Davisville Seabee Base, known as the Naval Construction Battalion Center, Davisville, RI, was Father Gendron of Lewiston, Maine who had been in the Seminary with Father Driscoll.

In order to use the US Government buildings on the base for Church services, Father Driscoll had to become an Auxiliary Chaplain. This allowed Mass to be celebrated every Sunday in a portion of the Navy Exchange Building #102 known as the “Anchor Hall” and the Seabee Cafeteria until the new church being built was ready for use.

This necessitated the setting up each Sunday for Mass, so Father Driscoll and a few parishioners would get up at an early hour and transport the portable altar to Davisville. The women, in order to make the cafeteria more inviting, made draperies that were put up each week as background.

When the initial renovation of the rectory was completed, Father Driscoll moved in “bag and baggage.” However, there were to be two more renovations within a very short time.

On August 23, 1960, Father Driscoll obtained authorization from the Bishop to hire an architect to design a “church-hall “building and by November, 1960, permission was granted to construct the new church and obtain a bank loan.

The dedication of church-hall of St. Francis de Sales was held on the 23rd day of July 1961 at 11:00 a.m. His Excellency, Most Reverend Russell J. McVinney, D.D., Bishop of Providence, blessed the cornerstone and the new church, observing the ceremonies of the Roman Ritual in the presence of various members of the clergy and a large representative group of the lay members of the new parish. His Excellency then celebrated a Low Pontifical Mass on the altar which contains a pre-consecrated portable altar stone.

The initial family registration for the church in 1960 was 175 families and quickly grew to 385 families according to chancery records. The parish of St. Francis de Sales also found its origin in a community of Catholic navy families along with the growing population of people in the area. After their military ended, many of these families settled in the North Kingstown community and became members of our church.

Once into the new church, parish activities were begun in earnest. The new church served as a multi-functional church and meeting place, with movable folding chairs and kneelers and a curtain which could be used to block off the sanctuary. Money was badly needed and the parishioner worked diligently on weekly bingos, cake sales each Sunday morning, and bazaars. The first bazaar was held in the East Greenwich Armory. A choir was formed with Lorraine Colonna as director from 1960 to 1964.

A Rosary and Altar Society was formed, later known as the Women’s Guild, and for many years was a large group in the parish.

The Holy Name Society was founded shortly after the church was completed. Through this organization, a number of the men became involved with the buildup of the parish. Many also joined the Knights of Columbus, St. Francis Council in North Kingstown.

Religious education began under the direction of the Sisters of Mercy from East Greenwich and volunteer lay people. A kindergarten program was also established in 1962. Enrollment was limited to fifty students, twenty-five in the morning and twenty-five in the afternoon session. A graduation ceremony was held each June. This kindergarten operated for seven years and closed when kindergarten was incorporated into the North Kingstown school system.

Many parishioners contributed their talents to beautify the new church in building the altar, hand carved picture of St. Francis de Sales, the Baptistery gates, and statue of St. Francis de Sales.

For a time in 1966, Father Driscoll had health problems and Rt. Reverend Monsignor Daniel P. Reilly was sent to the parish as a temporary administrator. Msgr. Reilly initiated a number of activities for the youth in the parish like roller skating parties and ice-skating events. During the years 1963 to 1968, Father Auguste Delvaux, a teacher at Our Lady of Providence Seminary in Warwick, served as a part-time Assistant to Father Driscoll. Father Delvaux also started activities for the parish youth like cookouts.

Unfortunately, Father Driscoll deteriorating health forced him to take early retirement from the parish. However, he served as chaplain at St. Clare Home in Newport until the respectable age of 89. Father Francis E. Driscoll died on May 9, 1994.

The second pastor of the parish was also called Driscoll. The Reverend Thomas H. Driscoll, a native of Providence and ordained a priest on June 3, 1950. He served as assistant pastor in St. Bernard Parish, Wickford, St. Augustine Parish, Newport, and Sacred Heart Parish, Woonsocket, and became the pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church on May 31, 1972. He was a very talented and dedicated priest, very much liked and appreciated by the parishioners. Unfortunately, his health also deteriorated very early and he died at the rectory on July 26, 1977.

Under Father Tom, as he was known, religious education became a program under parish control in 1973 under the direction of Sister Barbara Kelaghan, RSM who was transferred in 1978. In the early seventies, the CYO was formed. Its members participated in many spiritual and social events. The teenagers gave much of their free time to raise money for various needs.

A Community Action Committee was formed in 1973. It sponsored an Apostolate for the Handicapped and the Elderly, and a number of service projects which aided people in the parish and elsewhere. The 500 Club began under Father Tom’s direction in 1976 for monthly drawings for cash prizes.

Through Father Tom’s efforts, the Seabees built a ball field and picnic grounds in 1974 as a public service project. The ball field was officially dedicated on May 22, 1977 and was known as the “Fr.Tom Driscoll Field”. Parish picnics were held at Goddard Park prior to 1974. After 1974 the annual picnics were held on the church grounds. The ball field and picnic grounds are part of the new parking lot in 2010.

The third pastor appointed to St. Francis de Sales Church was Father Joseph P. Henry on October 20, 1977. Father Henry, a native of Providence, was ordained a priest on February 3, 1958 and served as an assistant pastor for over 20 years in various parts of the diocese. St. Francis de Sales was his first parish as a pastor for the next 12 years.

One of Father Henry’s biggest objectives upon assuming the pastoral duties at St. Francis de Sales was that there be an increase in lay involvement in our parish. Under his guidance, the Liturgical and Finance Committees evolved. Post Vatican II called for an expansion of lay ministers in as many areas as possible. Our parish community responded with Eucharistic ministers, lectors, and many others in several areas of parish involvement.

The parish continued to grow to 1500 families in 1985. The Religious Education Program included approximately 900 children and over 150 volunteers working in various capacities to achieve a successful program.

In 1980, our first annual Strawberry Festival was held and proved to be an overwhelming success, attracting close to 1,000 people. Father Henry also initiated a special Mass for the Elderly in the same year. One distinctive feature of the St. Francis de Sales was the Stephen Ministries which was one of the principal lay ministries in the parish.

Music and the choir were highlighted more as a spiritual contribution to the parish. The choir grew in numbers and expertise with an adult choir and folk group. The organ and piano were acquired as donations from local naval facilities upon their closing.

In 1982, Father Henry went to a training program for a “Parish Renewal “program and was authorized by the Most Rev. Louis E. Gelineau, Bishop of the Diocese of Providence to introduce it to the parish. The program was very successful with the cooperation and assistance of Father Henry, Father Frank O’Loughlin and Father Henry Zinno and was praised by the Bishop.

Youth activities increased during Father Henry’s tenure with sport teams for softball, baseball, basketball for all children as well as cheerleading and scouting. In 1985, there were over 150 participants in CYO social, spiritual and cultural activities. In 1984, the CYO group of St. Francis de Sales parish was awarded the title “CYO Parish of the Year”.

In 1983 a Parish Building Committee was formed to investigate the options for expansion which was followed by a major building fund-raising drive in 1984 spearheaded by Father Henry to meet an increasingly evident need for more parish space. The church was enlarged and renovated to include a parish hall/center, office space, and increased church seating. On September 22, 1985, the parish family participated in the dedication of the renovated and enlarged St. Francis de Sales Church and Parish Center celebrating its Silver Anniversary for 25 years as a parish. *Bishop Gelineau celebrated a special Mass to consecrate and bless the church renovations and new parish center.

On July 14, 1989 Father Henry was transferred to SS. John & Paul parish in Coventry as its pastor and from there retired as Pastor Emeritus on July 1, 2003. Father Henry died on March 2, 2023 at the age of 91.

On August 25, 1989, the Reverend Nicholas P. Smith was appointed to succeed Father Henry as the fourth pastor of St. Francis de Sales by Bishop Louis Gelineau. Father Smith is a native of Ireland, but he studied in Dublin to be a priest in the Diocese of Providence. He was ordained on June 20, 1965 and was assistant pastor at the Cathedral in Providence and at St. Mary of the Bay in Warren until 1971 when he became a chaplain at St. Joseph Hospital and later at Our Lady of Fatima Hospital in North Providence before his pastoral appointment.

Father Smith continued the programs, committees, ministries, parties, activities and events that were previously effective within the parish and community that were developed and formulated under the previous pastors.

Father Smith also enhanced the church facilities with the installation of air-conditioning and a new larger parking lot. He initiated the Food Certificate Program, Marriage Renewal Mass, Parish Vitality Committee, and the memorial garden for the founding pastor, Reverend Francis E. Driscoll with a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Groups such as Men’s Night of Prayer and Mother’s Faith-Sharing were begun and flourished.

A highlight during Father Smith’s time was the ordination of Father Ronald Bengford who was a parishioner of St. Francis de Sales Church in his youth and celebrated his First Mass at the church on June 5, 1994.

Father Smith was loved and supported by the parishioners until he was transferred to St. Francis of Assisi Church in Wakefield on June 27, 1997. Fr. Smith retired as Pastor Emeritus of St. Francis of Assisi in 2011.

Father Smith was succeeded by the Reverend Farrell E. McLaughlin as the fifth pastor of the parish. He was a native of Providence and was ordained on May 22, 1971. Father McLaughlin was a teacher at LaSalle Academy in Providence and at Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick. He was a part time assistant in various parishes until his first pastoral assignment at St. Joseph Church in Hope Valley and later at St. Lawrence Church in North Providence. After the completion of sabbatical studies in Rome, Italy, he was appointed pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church on June 27, 1997.

Father McLaughlin also continued the previous activities and program of previous pastors and formed a Parish Council from members of different major committees of the church to inform him of the various operations of the different committees and organizations of the parish.

Father Mac, whose awareness of cultural diversity and the many needs of “the least of these” was demonstrated by the introduction of Jacob’s Gift Fund and established a supportive relationship with St. Teresa’s Church in Providence with financial donations and collecting food for their Food Bank. He also supported an active Seniors’ Group and meaningful liturgical practices such as the blessing of the animals, the Healing Mass, the Youth Mass, and emphasis on the uniqueness of Pentecost.

Father McLaughlin was reassigned on March 27, 2000 from his pastoral duties at St. Francis de Sales parish. He went on to serve as the Pastor of St. Ann Church in Cranston. Father Mac retired in 2015 as Pastor Emeritus of Our Lady of Victory Church in Ashaway and St. Vincent de Paul Church in Westerly. (Fr. Mac also represents Catholic Cross Outreach).

On July 1, 2000, Reverend Bertrand L. Theroux was appointed by Bishop Mulvee to be the sixth pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church. Father Bert Theroux was ordained a diocesan priest on June 3, 1967.

Prior to Father Bert’s appointment, he was the dean of the East Bay parishes, pastor of St. Mary of the Bay and administrator of St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Warren. Earlier assignments included assistant pastor and chaplain at the University of Rhode Island and priests’ personnel director and judge of the Marriage Tribunal. In 1977, Father Bert returned to school and earned a degree in canon law at the Catholic University of America.

Within the first year of his duties, Father Bert established a twelve-member Parish Council to collaborate as an advisory body with his pastoral responsibilities. A Property Planning Committee was also established to analyze the physical plant of the parish, and after reviewing the physical needs and current growth of the parish recommended that a Master Plan be developed according to diocesan guidelines.

In July of 2002, a two-year master plan study began with professional architects concerning the programs, the needs, and the buildings of our parish. It was determined that the existing facility was lacking in size and functional capacity based upon growth projections of the parish.

The parish leadership received Diocesan approval for the Master Plan on May 7, 2004. A Capital Campaign was initiated in August 2005 to raise the necessary funds for the project, reaching the phase one goal of $2.5 million in pledges and donations in April 2008. A second Capital Campaign for phase two commenced in April 2010 for the balance of $1.5 million the project to meet the overall construction cost estimate of $4.0 million for the building a new 800 seat church on church property near the existing church.

On March 21, 2010, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin consecrated the ground at the project site with Fr. Bert and representatives from the firms of Doyle-Coffin Architecture, the architect designers, and Pariseault Builders, general construction contractor.
Construction began in April 2010 and on October 16, 2011, a Solemn Mass of Dedication of the new church was celebrated. His Excellency, Most Reverend Thomas J. Tobin, presided.

Father Bert was also instrumental in obtaining the antique church bell from St. Casimir’s Polish Church in Warren, RI that is set upon a new stone base outside of the original church.

One of the major changes in the spiritual growth of the parish and in the Faith Formation of the parish youth is the transformation from weekly classroom of religious instructions to a successful faith formation of religious education call “Generations of Faith ( GOF)”.

All members and ages of the parish who wish to continue growing in their understanding of beliefs, traditions and rituals of the Catholic faith are also welcome to attend GOF sessions. GOF is an event-centered experience that brings the community together to eat, learn and share faith as a community.

Another great event occurred in our 50th Anniversary Year with the ordination of Father Adam A. Young on June 26, 2010 in the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in Providence by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin. Father Young grew up in North Kingstown and celebrated his First Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving at his home parish of St. Francis de Sales Church.

Father Bert Theroux retired as Pastor Emeritus of St. Francis de Sales in June of 2013.

On July 1, 2013, Reverend David C. Procaccini was appointed by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin as the seventh pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church. Fr. Procaccini was ordained on June 12, 1993 by Bishop Louis E. Gelineau and after several parish assignments within the Diocese of Providence, is currently enjoying serving as the pastor of such a vibrant parish of faith, hope and love.