A Concise History of Our Lady of Grace Church

A “special” View from the Pew” by George W. Reilly

Way back in 1913, long before anyone reading this historical perspective was alive and well, the world was spinning along quietly as The Right Rev. Matthew Harkins, then Bishop of Providence, established the Church of Our Lady of Grace in Johnston, Rhode Island, on January 24. The parish, which began as a mission of Holy Ghost Church in Providence, was created to serve the many Italian immigrants who settled in the Johnston and North Providence areas.
For the proper context of what it was like then, a loaf of bread cost 6 cents, a gallon of gasoline
was 12 cents, a dozen eggs cost 30 cents, an average car went for $490, a house $3400 and the average worker made $1,296 for the year. Oh, and let’s not forget there was a newly enacted Federal Income Tax of 1 percent. My, my, how things have changed a little over a century later.
But, we still have our ‘little parish church’ springing forth from humble beginnings into what we have now … our valued parish church encompassing over 1500 souls. It did not get that way by accident but only through the wise, careful and spiritual leadership of eleven men, more specifically eleven pastors who made us what we are today.
Rev. Nicola Amerito was named first pastor of the church and served for eight years, having
established the Holy Name Society and the Children of Mary groups. He was succeeded in
January, 1921, by Rev. Cosimo Forleo who unfortunately retired soon after due to poor health.
Monsignor Anthony Bove, then the pastor of St. Anne’s Church in Providence, was appointed as church administrator and oversaw parish growth until January 6, 1924, when Rev. Giuseppe D’Agostino was named our third pastor and held his title for the next 24 years of parish growth. Rev. Domenic Russillo became our next administrator in 1948 and was officially named our fourth pastor in 1958. His tenure saw the construction of a new church basement along with provisions for future expansion. The new structure was dedicated on May 18, 1952, by the Most Rev. Russell J. McVinney, then Bishop of the Providence diocese.
Father Russillo was followed by a new administrator, Rev. Philip Magaldi, in 1961 followed by
another administrator in 1965 who would become pastor on October 8, 1968. He was Rev. Jerome Fioretti, our parish’s fifth pastor. Father Fioretti oversaw the completion of the upper church structure which was dedicated on June 29, 1969, by the Most Rev. Bernard M. Kelley, then the Auxiliary Bishop of Providence.
Following Father Fioretti’s retirement, Rev. Richard D. Sheahan was named pastor on June 2,1980. His main contribution over his six-year term as our spiritual leader was the purchase of the property across the street from the church which was eventually converted into church parking. Our seventh pastor, Rev. Roger L. Bacon, served from 1986-1990 and was followed in 1990 by a
native son, Rev. Raymond B. Bastia, the eighth pastor, who spearheaded a capital campaign to revitalize the church and rectory structures.
A new church roof, handicap-accessible ramp, church air conditioning, new church nave
chandeliers and a cry room were all accomplished under Father Bastia’s leadership. Of special
note was the construction of the feast buildings in Festival Field on Sheridan Avenue which are
still in general use for our annual feasts to this day. A recent thorough renovation, cleaning and
painting of the buildings in the late summer of 2023 allow the continued excellent use of these
facilities for our feast and other events. In addition to these achievements, Father Bastia ensured the payment in full of the church mortgage, cementing his special talent for spiritual and administrative leadership of the parish.
Chosen to succeed Father Bastia as our ninth pastor was Rev. Douglas J. Spina who, prior to
being named pastor in early 1997, served four-plus years as pastor of St. Anthony’s Church in
Woonsocket. Father Doug’s able leadership until 2004 oversaw the expansion of the Religious
Education Program with the inclusion of kindergarten and adult programs. His promotion of
parishioner volunteerism added greatly to the vitality and social life of the parish with such things as a Liturgy Committee, a Legion of Mary group, a 13-week novena preceding the annual feast and an active Pro-Life Committee.
Other notable contributions tapping into the assistance of parish volunteers included a new
granite front church entrance, stained glass windows, new church and rectory doors, new
chandeliers in the church sanctuary, a custom-made hand-carved oak altar for the Madonna
statue, the outside front Piazza Grazia, the establishment of Fioretti Hall and various rectory
In recent years, the Rev. Monsignor Carlo F. Montecalvo served as our tenth pastor from 2004 until 2013 when Rev. Peter J. Gower became our eleventh and current pastor.

Our Lady of Grace was always known for its strong Italian family values and church values which had been passed down from the early Italian immigrant settlers to the parish. That spirit is what attracted Monsignor Montecalvo to the parish initially as a deacon, and back to it years later, before serving as a chaplain in the United States Air Force for 26 years.
The church’s tenth annual Primavera event served as a testimonial to the former pastor who was appointed by Pope St. John Paul in 2004 and was eventually honored as the grand marshal of the parish’s 10th annual Primavera. It was Msgr. Montecalvo, in fact, who had been an inspiration to present-day pastor Father Gower through the years dating back to his days as a young boy when he spent the summer at Saint Dominic Savio Camp in Wakefield.
“He was my camp counselor and made such an impression on me that I attribute the early call to a priestly vocation to his pastoral approach,” Gower said. “And as pastor at Our Lady of Grace Church for nine years, Msgr. Montecalvo and his approach to ministry touched the lives of so many, so it was a joy to honor him at the 10th anniversary of Primavera.”
Throughout the years, Our Lady of Grace Church continues to be a vibrant religious and spiritual community serving all who seek to celebrate Christ as an integral part of their lives. From the richness of our Christian witness and our Catholic traditions and diversity, we have truly become one body in the Lord. We especially saw that during the Covid-19 Pandemic when Father Gower cleverly established a way for all to attend Mass in their cars in the parking lot over a dedicated radio station transmission and, later, the live transmission of the Mass on a special Facebook Internet feed channel for all who wished to participate in that manner.
Our beautiful church shines as a beacon of light and testimony of faith due to the devotion and
love of our parishioners. The spiritual life of the parish flourishes with the help of many parish
organizations. One outstanding devotional celebration occurs annually in early September to
honor the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of La Madonna della DiFesa. The annual feast, as it is called, lasts for several days with a variety of food, fun and games for all ages and a Sunday mass and religious procession through neighboring streets to honor the Blessed Mother Madonna. Other parish organizations include an active Holy Name Society for men and the St. Anne Sodality for women, and their many activities span the entire year.
The vitality of the parish is mainly the result of our super-active current pastor, Father Peter J.
Gower, who seemingly never tires of creating new opportunities for parish spirituality and social camaraderie. Although jokingly called Our Lady of the Perpetual Feast, the church’s endless calendar of events from steak and cigar nights, Super Bowl tailgate parties, Easter egg hunts for the kiddies, an annual fundraiser golf tournament, a St. Nicholas Project at Christmastime, the
annual Primavera food extravaganza, an active bocce league, high-low-jack tournaments, a
holiday bazaar, a Club 125 fundraiser with a banquet, the St. Joseph dinner and so many others which usually include a no-cost or low-cost food ticket to ensure high participation. And, as with the feast, most food items are lovingly prepared by our Italian nonnas and clever chefs, and you will not find a food truck here ever God forbid.
As we look back at our humble beginnings and forward to future challenges, we celebrate 110
years of Our Lady of Grace Church in 2023. We thank God for the gifts He has bestowed on us with the wonderful and dedicated clergy who have shepherded us along the way. With their able leadership and a dedicated active parish, this is truly a time of grace and love. As our new future chapter unfolds, another piece of our beautiful parish mosaic will fall into place. The face of Christ will always shine among us. Sia lodato Gesu Cristo! (May Jesus Christ be praised!)

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