On the stroke of midnight, December 24, 1948, over five hundred residents of the Town of Hampton assisted at the first midnight Mass to be said in the three hundred ten years of Hampton’s history.
This Mass, celebrated by the Reverend Leo K. Ryan of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, also officially opened the new church of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, the first permanent Catholic Church to be erected in the town.
In 1907, the town was organized as a mission of St. Michael’s Church of Exeter, and a movement was launched to raise funds for the erection of a church in Hampton. In 1914, construction was commenced on St. Patrick’s Church, Hampton Beach. Meanwhile, Masses were being said during the summer months in the new Hampton Beach Casino, and during the winter, in the Town of Hampton.
In the spring of 1917, St. Patrick’s Church at Hampton Beach was dedicated and the town was organized as a mission of St. Joseph’s Cathedral of Manchester. The Reverend P. J. Scott became the first rector of the Hampton mission. The Right Reverend Jeremiah S. Buckley succeeded him in 1921.
In view of the fact that the new church was designed solely for use during the summer months, it was necessary, during the winter, for Hampton Catholics to attend Mass in nearby towns.
By 1930, however, the resident Catholic population had become so large it was deemed desirable to conduct services during the winter months. Accordingly, under the direction of the Right Reverend Edward A. Clark who had succeeded the Right Reverend Jeremiah S. Buckley as rector in 1928, the community hall, located over the Hampton Beach Fire Department, was procured for the purpose of celebrating Sunday Masses. This arrangement was followed for several years with the priests coming from St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Manchester.
In 1936 construction was commenced on a chapel, which was to be attached to St. Patrick’s Church. Dedicated in August of 1937, this chapel not only increased the summer seating capacity of the church to 1,070 but inasmuch as it was equipped with a heating system it became the place of worship for residents during the winter. This arrangement served with decreasing satisfaction until 1949 when the Hampton population had reached proportions requiring more spacious quarters.
The planning for a new church had commenced earlier when, in 1945, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Manchester, New Hampshire, acquired land on Lafayette Road in Hampton. Accordingly, in the summer of 1948, construction began on the Church of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal; a structure of New Hampshire red brick and of colonial design. The church, designed to harmonize with the other public buildings of the town, was completed in December of 1948.
In January 1949, the Reverend Matthew J. Casey, a native of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, who saw service as an Army Chaplain during World War II, came from Lincoln, New Hampshire, to become the first Hampton pastor.
The early days were not without their difficulties. The rectories were temporary and at some distance from the church. Funds had to be raised that the debt might be paid and the parish complex completed. Although he was alone as a priest, Father Casey was not alone as a person. The men formed their club, later on to become the Holy Name Society, and the women formed the Catholic Women’s Club. They launched their projects in the original church hall.
By 1963 the material building of the parish was complete. As background for the church, a permanent rectory was added. A spacious convent was provided for the Sisters of Mercy who came to staff the Sacred Heart School. The school opened in September of that year and became the most important adjunct to the church.
The Bishop of Manchester, in the year 1966, looked upon this community and its labor and found that it was good. In that year, he honored it. At his request, the Papal See named Father Casey a Domestic Prelate. The honor was intended not only for Monsignor Casey, but also for the parish. During the ensuing years, Monsignor Casey felt that his work of administration was complete. In 1972 he retired.