St. Mary’s parish was founded in 1873 when Rev. J.S. Michaud was named its first pastor in the fall of that year. His first mass was said in a local schoolhouse with a wooden box for an altar. On July 4th of 1875, construction began on a church, the cornerstone of which was blessed and named ‘Star of the Sea’. This church, completed in 1877 held up to 250 people. At the time there were about 90 families (70 French Canadian, 20 Irish covering the towns of Newport, Derby, Salem and Coventry).
However, by 1896, there were over 350 families and the church could no longer hold the increasing number of parishioners. Because of this, children were no longer permitted to attend Mass on Sundays. This was unacceptable for the new pastor, Rev. Antoine P. Clermont, who even at the opposition of its former pastor and now bishop, his Excellency, Bishop Michaud, began the purchase of land at Newport’s highest point on Prospect Hill.
Excavation for the footprint of the new church began in 1903 and the foundations set in May of 1904. Work slowed to nearly a halt during the harsh winters, which contributed to the strain of available finances. As the outside of the building took shape and neared completion, funds to furnish the interior continued to dwindle. In January of 1909, newly appointed pastor, Rev J. M. H. Bastien arrived to discover the parish treasury empty of money. Along with draining much of his own finances, and with gifts from several families in the area, Fr. Bastien was able to push the completion of the church in just a few months. In June of 1909, a silver statue of the Blessed Mother was raised to its permanent position between the two granite towers. It is said that as it was coming to rest, the statue, for a brief moment, turned east to face the town of Newport before being fixed to face the lake.
On the morning of August 1st, 1909, the dedication mass of St. Mary Star of the Sea took place before hundreds of participants. The local county paper The Express & Standard (now the Newport Daily Express), reported that “the procession which formed at the old church and marched to the new edifice began its pilgrimage at 9:30 am. Never before in the history of Newport was such a spectacle presented to the populace who beheld it; probably never again in our Village will its equal in triumph and splendor be looked upon with the admiration and wonderment that greeted this army of followers of the cross – indeed the array seemed like that of the crusaders who went to rescue the Holy Sepulcher from Moslem ascendancy.”
The church measured roughls 115 feet long and 70 feet wide. Built nearly entirely of local granite, the outside of the structure was painfully constructed with hammers and chisels. Each block is nearly 3 feet thick and is custom cut to fit each space needed to support the block above and to its sides. The two towers are each 105 feet high and capped with copper, with a large cross fixed upon each peak. Two large carillon bells, gifts of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Bouffard and Mr. Jacob Morin, were placed in the eastern tower.
Although the interior of the church has seen many changes over the last hundred years, the footprint and measures are the same. The nave is 104 feet long by 70 feet wide and slopes downward at a slant of two feet. The sanctuary is 44 by 34 feet. The sacristy behind is 70 by 22 feet. The interior walls, arches and columns are of plaster finish. The Stations of the Cross were gifts from parishioners. A pipe organ was installed in the choir loft. The bellows were originally inflated by use of a hand pump until an electric system was installed in the 1920s. Unfortunately, the organ is no longer in use, but the pipes still remain. The pews and kneelers are original, but have been renovated and refurbished. All of the paintings were done by a local artist, a Mr. N. O. Rochon, who obtained permission to recreate the works of French artist Tissaud. Mr. Rochon worked tirelessly alone for years, painting Biblical scenes from both the Old and Testament as well as tributes to St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Changes made during the last century include stained-glass windows in the 1940s. These windows depict the Annunciation, the Presentation, the Assumption and the Crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, Fatima, LaSalette and Guadalupe. Also Maris Stella (Star of the Sea), the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Agony in the Garden and Nativity are featured. Two identical rose windows that feature a ship sailing sit highest on the sides just in front of the sanctuary.
The lighting system has been changed and updated several times Two confessional booths and a ‘cry room’ were built at the main entrance at the back of the church. Many of the paintings have been painted over during repairs, including the depiction of Calvary behind the cross in the front of the sanctuary. The most apparent being the change from blue to white throughout the interior. In 2009, the carpeting was replaced in the sanctuary to a thicker deep red and throughout the church to a light brown to draw more attention above, and in late 2011 a generous contribution was made to improve the sound system.
From 1909-2009, the church has had 16 pastors and 47 associates who have performed a combined 6241 baptisms, 4182 confirmations, 2188 marriages and 3044 funerals.