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Founded in 1832, St. Mary’s Parish is the oldest Catholic parish in New Haven. The church (originally called Christ Church) was dedicated in 1834, but only fourteen years later, it caught fire and burned down. Construction of the Gothic Revival-style church in its new Hillhouse Avenue location began in 1870 under Irish-American architect James Murphy. The new church, now named St. Mary’s, was dedicated in 1874. Not long afterward, St. Mary’s priest Father Michael McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic charitable society. The church steeple was added in 1982 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Knights of Columbus. The church is managed by Dominican friars from the Province of St. Joseph.

  • St. Mary's Church stands on tree-lined Hillhouse Ave., one of the most scenic streets in New Haven.

  • The church's pointed arches are characteristic of Gothic Revival architecture. (source: Burt Westermeier)
St. Mary's is built in Gothic Revival style, which draws its aesthetic inspiration from the Gothic churches and cathedrals of the Middle Ages. This style grew popular due to a romanticized, nostalgic view of the medieval past, encouraged by the works of nineteenth-century artists and writers. Characteristics of Gothic Revival include: pointed arches, steep roofs, and intricate decorative work. This style also became fashionable for university buildings; you can find multiple examples of Collegiate Gothic on Yale's campus, such as Dwight Hall, Harkness Tower, and Branford College.

Architect James Murphy (1834-1907) designed dozens of churches in New England. His designs also include St. John's Church in Stamford, CT; Sacred Heart in Springfield, MA; and St. Patrick's Church (now Cathedral) in Norwich, CT. 

St. Mary's appears in Elizabeth Kostova's 2005 novel The Historian, described as "a homely little piece of Victoriana" where the protagonist hopes she will find help in her struggle with vampires: after all, "Didn't Catholicism deal with blood and resurrected flesh on a daily basis?"
Byrne, William, et al. History of the Catholic Church in the New England States. Vol. 2. Boston, MA: Hurd and Everts Co., 1899. Especially p. 335-339.

Kostova, Elizabeth. The Historian. New York: Little, Brown, and Co., 2005. Chap. 20.

Stanton, Phoebe. The Gothic Revival and American Church Architecture: An Episode in Taste, 1840-1856. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968.