PROVIDENCE, 30 MARCH 2019
Text and montage photo by Robin M. Tagliaferri
A unique partnership has been forged between the Board of Trustees of the Heritage Harbor Foundation and the members of the Saint Michael the Archangel Parish Advisory Board, who have drafted a plan to establish the Heritage Harbor Foundation Museum of South Providence History on the church premises.
A year in the making, the history museum project has been spearheaded by Heritage Harbor Foundation President, Patrick T. Conley, Ph.D., and the Reverend Robert P. Perron, Pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish.
The first history museum to be installed in an active Catholic church in Rhode Island, the HHF Museum of South Providence history will explore the period between 1868 to the end of the 20th century, and chronicle the great cultural, ethnic and religious diversity that has defined Providence’s south side since its settling.
The exhibits will showcase the contributions of those who lived in the neighborhoods south of Point Street including those of African American, Armenian, Chinese, Greek, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Ukrainian, Narragansett, and Wampanoag heritage.
The content for the HHF Museum of South Providence History will be primarily drawn from the research and writings of Patrick T. Conley, Professor Emeritus of History at Providence College, Historian Laureate of Rhode Island, attorney and author of numerous books. Conley’s 2006 publication, South Providence, a book co-authored with Paul Campbell, will serve as the foundation for the museum’s identity.
The museum will include exhibits on thirty-two prominent natives of South Providence including Monsignor Peter E. Blessing, Patrick T. Conley, Ph.D., Judge Francis J. Darigan Jr., Governor William S. Flynn, James G. “Lou” Gorman, David E. “Davey” Lopes, Mayor Patrick J. McCarthy, Commander John A. McIntyre, Bernard T. “Slick” Pina, Bishop Daniel P. Reilly, Sister Mary Reilly RSM, Justice Joseph F. Rodgers Jr., Attorney General Arlene Violet and Mayor Joseph W. Walsh, among others.
From the lens of a true Rhode Island institution, the museum will explore the topics of immigration, cultural and ethnic identity, urbanization and industrialization. It will be a microcosm of a typical American inner-city district defined by waves of upwardly mobile immigrants.
Lectures, concerts, symposia and special events will be held in the main gallery of the museum, and changing exhibitions delving into the cultures of today’s residents of South Providence, who herald from Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cape Verde, Guatemala, Liberia, Nigeria, Laos, Vietnam, Korea, Cambodia and China, will be created.
Heritage Harbor Foundation Trustees, Russell J. DeSimone and Albert R. Beauparlant will serve as project advisors and liaisons to the St. Michael’s community. Judge Francis J. Darigan, Jr, member of the St. Michael’s Parish Finance Committee, will provide stewardship of the project on behalf of the parishioners.
Providence-based architect, Jonathan Chambers has been chosen to design the museum galleries along with interior designer, Kelly C. Taylor and graphic designer, Victor Russo. The team has begun drafting a plan to transform the church’s lower level into a multi-purpose exhibition space and community center.
Reverend Perron is presently pursuing a separate yet complementary project to install an elevator and renovate the bathrooms adjacent to the museum site. A chapel is also located in the lower level of the church. To date, there are no plans to relocate or renovate the chapel.
Strategically located on Oxford Street in the heart of Lower South Providence, St. Michael the Archangel Church, constructed over a twenty-five year period from 1891- 1915, occupies an entire city block. It is part of a complex of buildings listed on the National Register of Historic places along with the rectory and convent (now the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence) and Bishop McVinney School, a former parish school that was regionalized and renamed in 1973.
The city block includes the South Providence Library, designed in 1930 by architect, Wallis E. Howe and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In addition to his dedicated work as pastor, Reverend Perron is the Director of the Propagation of the Faith for the Diocese of Providence. He is deeply committed to his flock and embraces a ministry rich in diversity. Reverend Perron is fluent in five languages, and Mass is offered at St. Michael’s in English, Spanish, French, Haitian Creole, and Hmong (portions of the mass are also offered in Kinyarwanda/Kirundi, too).
“For almost two centuries, St. Michael’s has welcomed the stranger to South Providence,” said Reverend Perron. “With open arms, we welcome people from different cultures and countries and we celebrate the diversity around us. We look forward to having a museum on our campus as it will showcase our extraordinary and diverse history.”
In 2019, Reverend Perron and his parishioners are implementing a full slate of programs and events to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the parish’s official founding in 1859.
The Heritage Harbor Foundation was founded in 1996, and its original goal was to develop a Rhode Island state history museum on the site of the Narragansett Electric Company’s South Street Power Station. A plan, devised by historian, Albert Klyberg and a team of historically minded supporters, was never realized.
In 2015, Dr. Conley converted the assets of the proposed museum into a multi-million dollar foundation over which he presides as president.
Today, the HHF promotes the understanding of Rhode Island history and instills in individuals and communities a sense of place, leading to greater civic engagement. Annually the HHF awards grants to certified 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that seek to create programs and projects exploring topics of Rhode Island history with intent to share the final product or outcomes with the Rhode Island public.
As the project unfolds, the HHF Museum of South Providence History will share its progress and disseminate historical essays and writings relative to the content of the new museum. The committee is considering holding a number of events to share the project with the public. The museum is slated to open in fall 2019.
For more information on the Heritage Harbor Foundation Museum of South Providence History contact Project Manager, Robin Tagliaferri at (401) 323-4090 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the Heritage Harbor Foundation visit the website: https://heritageharborfoundation.org/.
For more information on St. Michael the Archangel Parish visit the website: https://www.saintmichaelprovidence.org/.
For more information contact:
Robin M. Tagliaferri
Heritage Harbor Foundation
History of South Providence Museum
1445 Wampanoag Trail, Ste. 201
East Providence, RI 02915