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New London’s first Catholics came in the 1840s. Primarily Irish, they rebuilt Fort Trumbull. Their first place of worship was a rented room where a missionary priest celebrated mass once a month. By 1850 there was a Catholic church on Jay Street, which was then followed by a larger one on Truman Street. In 1867 groundbreaking began for the congregation’s third church building, the present Saint Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church on Huntington Street. The cornerstone was laid in August 1870. The north wall collapsed during construction, delaying completion of the church until 1876. The tower was added many years later. St. Mary’s served the people of New London, Waterford, Montville, and Groton until the towns were divided into separate parishes during the first decade of the twentieth century.
Saint Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church, c. 1920

Father Thomas Joynt became pastor of St. Mary’s in 1883. A good administrator, he organized a temperance society and started a parish school (at first only for girls). By 1893 he was serving a congregation of approximately 3000. The O’Neill family attended mass at St. Mary’s. James O’Neill was a close friend of Father Joynt’s. When Eugene O’Neill was in his early teens he discovered that his mother was a morphine addict and he refused to attend St. Mary’s. In the play Days Without End (1933), O’Neill expressed his spiritual disillusionment through the character of John Loving, saying: "He abased and humbled himself before the Cross—and, in reward for his sickening humiliation, saw that no miracle would happen" (Collected Plays, 955). For the remainder of his life, O’Neill never attended mass.


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