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St. Joseph Church

Christopher Columbus


Willimantic /  Christopher Columbus


The statue is not present anymore (it was still there in 1967), the pedestal is still there carrying a statue of Jesus.


1492-1892. Unus Erat Mundus; Duo Sint Ait. Iste Fuere ait


The Mystery of St. Joseph's Missing Statue
Tom Beardsley
The Chronicle, July 15, 2000.

The Reverend Father Florimond DeBruycker is a highly important figure in local history. He arrived in Connecticut in 1863 as a Catholic missionary from Belgium. His task was to organize the newly arrived Roman Catholic immigrants working in Windham County's textile mills.

DeBruycker was known for his "forcible character." He was also a "gifted organizer." In 1865 he secured 30 acres of land for St. Joseph's Catholic cemetery. By his energy alone, St. Joseph's Church was built in 1874. DeBruycker organized St. Joseph's parochial school (1878), convent (1892) and hospital (1907), and started the St. Joseph's Temperance Society, and a Temperance cornet band. He recruited six Dutch nuns from Tilburg, Holland to teach in the parochial school. DeBruycker was principal for 24 years. He also successfully organized Windham's bicentennial celebrations in 1892 after competing Protestant factions had abandoned it. He died in December, 1902, and the Willimantic parish split into French Canadian and Irish factions, DeBruycker had forecast this and left money in his will for the development of a French church, St. Mary's.

In early 1892, in recognition of his sterling service for St. Joseph Church, the Reverend Father Florimond DeBruycker was granted leave by the Diocese to tour Europe and to visit his hometown in Belgium. He was greatly missed, and was warmly welcomed on his return. His Catholic church in Belgium, recognizing that 1892 was America's bicentennial, gifted DeBruycker a statue of Christopher Columbus. During his service on September 19, 1892 he announced that the statue had arrived in New York harbor and would be shipped to Willimantic in a few days. He planned to unveil it on Columbus Day.

Willimantic celebrated Columbus Day in style. The mills and businesses were closed on Monday, October 22, 1892, so the populace could celebrate the 400th anniversary of the "discovery" of America. The celebrations began at 9 am with a service in St. Joseph's Church. The Church organized a vast parade, which began on Valley Street, turned south onto Jackson Street, and then west onto Main Street. It was headed by local Chief-of-Police J.H. Hills, and a platoon of policeman. They were followed by the town's dignitaries, who marched to the stirring, patriotic music of the Thread City Band.

The town's fraternal organizations were well represented, including the Grand Army of the Republic, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the St. Jean Baptiste Society, the Montgomery Hose Company, and the Knights of Columbus. The town Warden and Burgesses reviewed the parade from a stand located at the corner of Bank and Main Street.

The afternoon's celebrations took place in front of the new Catholic Convent on Jackson Street. At 2 pm, a choir and orchestra performed a program of patriotic singing and music. The assembled crowd was then addressed in French, before Father DeBruycker unveiled the statue of Christopher Columbus. It depicted Columbus in the act of stepping on American soil for the first time, bearing a cross and a banner. The statue was fitted on a pedestal, and placed in the grounds of the new convent. In the evening, the children of the parochial school rendered a four-act drama in St. Joseph's hall, portraying the voyage and discoveries of Columbus, "with musical and literary pieces."

The pedestal of the statue can still be seen in the grounds of the old convent and hospital. Upon it there is a plaque, written in Latin, which reads, "1492-1892. Unus Erat Mundus; Duo Sint Ait. Iste Fuere ait." Loosely translated, this reads, "There was one world. He insisted there were two. This man said it. And there were." But the statue of Christopher Columbus has gone, and has been replaced by a statue of Jesus. Do you recall the Columbus statue? If you do, and know of its whereabouts, give me a call.

Tom Beardsley wrote to me on December 12, 2001: I received no replies regarding the statue, but I do know it was there as late as 1967. I recently saw a film of a wedding that took place at St. Josephs, and as the bride got out of the car, you could clearly see Chris on his plinth behind her.

Sources & Information


Location (N 41°42'47" - W 72°12'26")

Item Code: usct16; Added: 11 August 2003

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