The fifth Episcopal Church established in Rhode Island (and the first after the American Revolution) was St. Paul’s, Pawtucket. In the spring of 1815, the Rev. John Blake began to preach regularly to a small group, building on the previous work of the Rev. Nathan Bourne Crooker, Rector of St. John’s Church in Providence (formerly King’s Church), and when the numbers grew to 120, a permanent place of worship became essential. The parish was organized with Samuel Slater as the first senior warden. On February 13, 1816 a charter was granted by the General Assembly, making this the legal founding of St. Paul’s.
The site for the first building on Church Street was donated by the sons of Oziel Wilkinson. On October 15, 1817 the church was consecrated and the Rev. Mr. Blake was installed as rector. In that same year, a bell cast in the foundry of patriot Paul Revere was hung in the steeple. This bell still hangs in the tower of the present church.
The Rev. Mr. Blake was succeeded in 1820 by the Rev. George Taft. During his 49 years of service the building was enlarged to accommodate the growing Sunday School which had evolved from that started by Samuel Slater in 1791. After Dr. Taft’s death in 1869, the Rev. Emery Porter was called and served for 21 years which was a period of “steady and health growth of the parish.” He was succeeded by the Rev. Theodore Foster who served as rector until 1896.
Under the rectorship of the Rev. Marion Law, the Sunday School enrollment swelled to nearly 600 pupils, the largest in the Diocese. The number of adult communicants grew to over 600 as well. The parish had outgrown its’ early buildings and construction on the present church began with the laying of the cornerstone in 1901.
In 1914, with monies from a large bequest from Mrs. Jane Frances Brown, the Parish House was built just behind the church. During this year, the Rev. Roberts A. Seilhammer was called to assist Mr. Law. When Mr. Law resigned in 1917, Mr. Seilhammer was elected rector and for the next 24 years he guided the destiny of St. Paul’s with great success. During this time the number of families nearly doubled and the endowment of the church was healthily increased. Mr. Seilhammer’s last assistant was the Rev. Harold Hutton, who was chosen as rector following Mr. Seilhammer’s untimely death in 1941.
When Mr. Hutton resigned in 1950, a call was issued to the Very Rev. Canon Arthur F. Roebuck, then Dean of the Cathedral of St. John, Providence. Many additions to the interior of the church were made during Canon Roebuck’s tenure and the altar was made free standing. In 1964 he realized the accomplishment of a long cherished dream-the erection of the education building, named in his honor after his death in 1972. In November 1973, the Rev. Bruce Jacobson became the ninth rector of St. Paul’s. Under Father Jacobson’s guidance the merger of St. Paul’s and Trinity Chapel was completed with all services being held at St. Paul’s. After the Episcopal Church approved the ordination of women to the priesthood, St. Paul’s sponsored two women who studied for holy orders. Father Jacobson resigned to accept a call as dean and rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul, Burlington, Vt. on November 1, 1982.
The Rev. C. Perrin Radley was called as rector on March 4, 1984. He was an accomplished pianist and composer and he brought a renewed interest in music to the parish. A new pipe organ was installed and dedicated in October of 1986. On November 30, 1989, Father Radley resigned to become rector of St. Mark’s Church, Waterville, ME. In March 1993 we called a new rector, Father Halsey “Chip” Stevens. He served as our rector until his retirement on July 31, 2000. Under Father Stevens leadership, parish visitation and outreach ministries began to grow and flourish. On January 7, 2002, the Rev. William Locke began his ministry as the twelfth rector of St. Paul’s Church, bringing a focus on liturgy, music and church growth. All of the rectors of St. Paul’s have had their own special qualities which have guided us on our spiritual journey. Marion Law’s sermons, Roberts Seilhammer’s’ travels and lectures, and Canon Roebuck’s love of children. Bruce Jacobson promoted lay involvement in all aspects of parish life. Perrin Radley brought a renewed interest in music to the parish, and Fr. “Chip” Stevens was instrumental in establishing and promoting visitation and outreach ministries. Our current rector, William Locke, along with the rest of the staff, is calling us to grow in spirit and in members. Altogether, we have had twelve rectors in our more than one hundred and ninety years. All different, but each one leading us in his own way to fuller, richer lives in Christ.