The Roman Catholic Church of St. Peter the Apostle was the most important unifying force in the town’s social and spiritual life through much of the 20th century and, in many ways, remains the heart of the Portuguese community. The first Catholic house of worship was in the former Wesleyan Academy, still standing at 119 Bradford, which was purchased by the Rev. Joseph Finotti in 1853-1854 and used until 1871, as the Irish majority in the Catholic population was giving way to the Portuguese. Under the Rev. John Maguire, a large new church was built on Parker’s Plain. With its dedication in 1874, the parish was canonically erected in the Diocese of Providence, where it remained until transferring to the Diocese of Fall River in 1904. The campus and mission were significantly expanded by Msgr. Leo Duart. In 1953, a parish hall was built. The church was renovated in 1956. A parochial school was dedicated in 1967, but lasted only four years. The building is now the Hiebert Marine Laboratory.
A physically and spiritually devastating fire in 2005 destroyed the church. But firefighters, some of whose families had worshiped at St. Peter’s for generations, saved the nearby rectory, the tabernacle, and the 1887 church bell, though it was cracked beyond repair. For more than three years, Masses were celebrated in the parish hall. The fire gave the Rev. Henry Dahl a chance to overcome the lack of convenient parking for parishioners, who were far likelier in the 21st century to drive to Mass from distant points on the Cape than to walk from nearby homes. Over objections from the Historic District Commission, the architect, Thomas Palanza, created a large parking lot in what had once been the church’s front yard.
The new stained-glass windows, donated by the Knights of Columbus, were made by New England Stained Glass. The principal window depicts Peter’s walk on the water, as did Eugene Sparks’s mural in the original church. A statue of Peter, salvaged from the fire, holds a scroll with the words, “Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam.” These words are also inscribed on the 7,000-pound granite altar: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” The new church seats about 440 people. The project cost $4.3 million. Construction began in 2006 and was completed in 2008, in time for St. Peter’s to reclaim its 60-year-old role as the spiritual home of the Blessing of the Fleet.
More than 2,000 buildings and vessels are searchable on buildingprovincetown.com. The Building Provincetown book is available for purchase ($20) at Town Hall, Office of the Town Clerk, 260 Commercial Street, Provincetown 02657.