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The history of St. Irene parish began as the Second World War was ending. At that time, Carlisle was part of St. Bernard parish in Concord. Because of the distance, in 1945 Fr. Mark Sullivan of St. Bernard’s began to organize an effort to begin Catholic services in Carlisle. Mr. and Mrs. James Barron offered the use of their home for the first Mass, which was held in their orchard on July 7, 1946. As cold weather arrived, the Mass was moved into the garage, where a few benches were set up and which was often filled with smoke from the wood-burning stove.
In the search for a permanent place to gather for Mass, it was discovered that a recreation building located at the Sudbury-Maynard Ammunition Dump could be acquired for $250. Contractors were hired to move the structure, but members of the church dug and laid the foundation and painted the building after it was erected. On September 13, 1947, the building was dedicated by Archbishop Richard J. Cushing as a chapel called St. Elizabeth’s Mission (still a part of St. Bernard parish). On February 16, 1960, Cardinal Cushing declared the establishment of a new parish to serve Carlisle and West Billerica, to be known as the parish of St. Irene.
The land on East Street was acquired for a rectory with the intention of siting a church adjacent to the rectory at some future time. The rectory was completed in the spring of 1960 and was occupied by the first pastor, Rev. Paul H. Doherty. Fr. James P. Byrne was pastor from 1970-1988, and he cultivated the warm family atmosphere and volunteer spirit that characterizes our parish. Fr. Thomas P. Donohoe became pastor in 1988 (after the death of Fr. Byrne), and he continues that legacy and adds a dimension of leadership and organization that has helped us to thrive.
The character of the area has changed over the years from that of a rural farm community. Our parish has been gifted by the contributions of many people from all walks of life and the active participation of many families from the surrounding communities of Acton, Bedford, Billerica, Chelmsford, Concord, Littleton, and Westford. The number of families in our parish has grown to approximately 850.
With the growth of the parish, the need for a church with gathering space became more apparent. Bishop McNamara officiated at the groundbreaking for a new church/hall complex in March 1997, and Cardinal Law dedicated the new church in December 1997. There were many wonderful memories connected to our little church on Bedford Street. As our community processed to the new church on East Street, we were mindful that the church is not the building, but the people of God attempting to give Him worship and to do the work of the Body of Christ. We pray that He will allow the spirit of community that He has developed among us to continue to flourish as the new millenium unfolds.