In the first quarter of the Twentieth Century Italian immigration to America increased dramatically some making their way to New Bedford. The status of the Italian Americans in New Bedford was rising. Many immigrant groups were passing through St. Lawrence ( The first Catholic Church in New Bedford) Parish going on to establish parishes of their own. The Benevolent Society was authorized to secure a site preferably in the west end. The Society purchased a small Protestant church built in 1908 by the First church of the Evangelical Association of New Bedford on February 7, 1928, and the society conveyed the property to Bishop Daniel F. Feehan of the Diocese of Fall River on February 29, 1928.
Father Mezzatesta served as a temporary Pastor and was soon succeeded briefly by Father Benedetti who was also commuted from Fall River. A committee of parishioners chose the name St. Francis of Assisi for the new church and donations from parishioners financed the installation of stained-glass windows, the Stations of the Cross and statues A white stone marble finished altar with a relic from St. Francis of Assisi took its place at the head of the new Roman Catholic Church which was dedicated on April 12, 1928. By 1929 the parish had grown to 500 members and got its first resident Pastor Father Joseph R. Pannoni who was appointed on June 4, 1929.
In the midst of the great joy and pride in having an established church history intruded. In October 1929 the great depression happened. But Italian Americans are not pessimists and with the increasing number of families in need, the St. Vincent de Paul Society was formed to care for those who lost their employment in the textile mills and factories in the city.
Although deemed as the “ Italian Church” after World War II the spread of prosperity brought mobility, and many moved to the city’s suburbs. The membership roster revealed many Portuguese, French Canadian, Irish, Cape Verdean, African American, and Vietnamese. Many of the Neighborhood found the church convenient to attend and soon St. Francis of Assisi became the “ West End Parish”
In our 92 years, we have had 13 Pastors with 10 being resident Pastors. We started with Rev. Messatesta in 1928 who was a temporary Pastor followed by Rev Benedetti who also served as temporary Pastor until our first resident Pastor Rev. Joseph R. Pannoni who was appointed June 4, 1929. Father Alfred Forni who served as chaplain to the Italian Prisoners of War was the appointed Pastor in 1945. Father Forni passed in 1970 and his successor was Rev. Armando Annunziato. He became Champlain of St. Vincent’s Home and was replaced by Father Alexander Zichello. Father Zichello passed in 1977 and was replaced by Rev. Ronald Tosti. Five Pastors would follow Father Tostil but he was the last to carry an Italian surname giving further evidence to the changing population of the parish.
Rev. Brian Harrington was appointed next. Succeeding Father Harrington was Rev. Kenneth Delano, and then St. Lawrence’s longest resident Pastor Rev. John Driscoll who also served as Pastor of St. Francis.
Rev. Albert Ryan was the next resident Pastor followed by Rev. Kevin Harrington who retired in 2019. Also, in 2019 St. Francis became part of one of the first diocesan collaboratives headed by Rev. Michael Racine.