Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Governor Patrick Visits St. Peter's

The following article appears on the front page of today's Salem Evening News.

What a wonderful day for St. Peter's.

Governor's visit to venerable St. Peter's makes history

By Chris Cassidy
Staff writer

SALEM — The last time a governor walked into St. Peter's Episcopal Church, he faced the threat of being spit on.

Yesterday, a much friendlier assembly greeted Gov. Deval Patrick, who paid a visit to this downtown church celebrating its 275th anniversary.

"This crowd wouldn't do a thing like that," the Rev. Paul Bresnahan told Patrick after he shook hands with the 25 or so parishioners at the church.

Patrick walked inside to discover he had his very own pew waiting for him — The State Pew — at one time occupied by one of the region's least-popular governors.

It's a seat with a lot of history.

In 1774, tensions in Boston ignited to the point where the royal governor, Gen. Thomas Gage, fled to Salem for his own safety. While in Salem, Gage attended church services at St. Peter's, and his seat became known as The State Pew.

But St. Peter's was affiliated with the Church of England, making it a popular target for the rebels who wanted the British out.

"We were on the wrong side of the Revolutionary War," said lifelong parishioner Virginia Lavoie.

It grew so bad that a church member was assigned to keep an eye on the balcony, where patriots would spit on parishioners during worship.

Its British emblem still intact, the pew has never been occupied by another governor until Patrick visited yesterday.

"It wouldn't do to ask you to update the coat of arms?" Patrick joked.

Bresnahan invited Patrick to the church to commemorate its 275th anniversary, and Patrick spent about 15 minutes here before hosting a town hall-style meeting at Armory Park.

"It really shows (Bresnahan) has been aggressively trying to increase the visibility of the church," parishioner Robert McHugh said. "He's a tireless guy, and we're quite thrilled."

"It's wonderful," said Heidi Milman, a parishioner for more than 40 years. "It's a lot of recognition for the church. ... We're very proud of our anniversary."

Staff writer Chris Cassidy can be reached at


Gov. Deval Patrick listens as Rev. Paul Bresnahan explains the history of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Salem during the governor's visit to the church yesterday afternoon. Patrick is the first governor to visit the church since before the Revolutionary War, when England's royal governor occupied what became known as The State Pew. Matt Viglianti/Staff photo (Click for larger image)

Gov. Deval Patrick says hello to Nathan Grimes, 1, of Salem, and Nathan's mother, Michele Myrie-Grimes, during Patrick's visit to St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Salem. Also shown are Stephanie Myrie, Michele's sister, center, and Pamela Myrie, their mother. Matt Viglianti/Staff photo (Click for larger image)

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