A large number of Roman Catholics arrived in Milford in 1884 with the employment of Irish workers to construct the railroad through the area. At this time priests came from St. Mary Parish, New Haven to celebrate Mass in the homes of the communicants.
Rev. Edward J. O’Brien of New Haven recognized the need for a church as the congregation continued to grow. In 1850 a small parcel of land was purchased on Gulf Street near the present railroad bridge. Three years later, Milford’s first Roman Catholic Church, known as Milford Mission, was constructed, later known as St. Mary Church. For several years the Mission would be under the jurisdiction of St. James Parish in Bridgeport, St. Mary in New Haven, St. Mary in Bridgeport, and St. Mary in Derby. In 1908, St. Gabriel Mission was started, with Mass held in Union Chapel, a non-denominational church at Wildermere Beach, during the summer months. It was a mission of St. Mary, which is now an independent parish.
In 1910, a chapel was constructed at Andrews Avenue and Church Street. This chapel, a wooden structure, was dedicated on August 21, 1910. The following year, new pews were added, and four years later an addition. For the next several years Mass was held here to accommodate summer visitors to the shore. Walnut Beach, Wildemere Beach, Laurel Beach and Cedar Beach made up a thriving summer community, with Walnut Beach Park a successful attraction, including two movie theaters. The summer population continued to grow.
Until 1916 Devon’s Catholics went to Mass at St. Mary’s or at St. Gabriel’s. Mass was celebrated for the first time in Devon on November 26, 1916 in the Devon Auditorium, a one-time movie house located at the present 592 Naugatuck Ave.
The first St. Ann’s Church was opened in January of 1917. The building, which still stands on the corner of Naugatuck Ave. and Cottage St., had once been the Devon Chapel and was now being rented by St. Mary’s for the use of her mission church.
The first chapel of Saint Gabriel’s was destroyed by a fire on Sunday, February 23, 1923. The present church was constructed, and dedicated on August 26, 1923. The church’s unique architecture reflects the influence of a Spanish Mission chapel. The interior was completed and the church was rededicated on August 3, 1930 by Father John Anderson. The beautiful stained glass windows depicts the life of Jesus Christ from birth to His ascension into heaven. The window above the altar shows Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary.
In 1924, St. Gabriel Mission Church opened year round. On August 5, 1924, St. Ann’s became an independent parish and still rented the church. There was no priest but St. Ann’s was on its own and a mother to the mission at St. Gabriel Church. St. Gabriel continued as a Mission of Saint Ann until 1946.
St. Gabriel Church, no longer a mission, finally became able to support a church, following a growing population in the West Shore area. The winterizing of summer cottages, plus return of World War II veterans contributed to parish growth. The first pastor was Rev. Robert P. Sullivan. Church membership grew to number 1655, with two Sunday Masses celebrated.
The newly established parish of Saint Ann purchased the land on the corner of Naugatuck Avenue and Church Street that is now the site of the actual parish plant. Construction started immediately and on September 28, 1924 the Most Rev. John J. Nilan, Bishop of Hartford, dedicated Saint Ann’s basement church.
On November 14, 1924 the Rev. Edward P. Curran was appointed as Saint Ann’s first pastor, and the separation from Saint Mary’s was official. In addition to ministering to his growing flock, Fr. Curran was authorized to borrow the funds to “buy, repair and furnish a rectory” on Naugatuck Ave., near Lenox Ave. Ill health forced Fr. Curran’s retirement and on June 15, 1928 Saint Ann’s welcomed Rev. John H. Anderson, D.D. as its second pastor. Fr. Anderson ministered to the parish during the difficult depression years and during the slow recovery and rapid population growth that followed. With the influx of young families into Devon, the parish reached out to the Sisters of Mercy from Lauralton Hall for assistance in its first formal program of religious education, Sunday classes after the 8:45 Mass.
On April 13, 1935 Rev. John E. Ryan became St. Ann’s pastor, and a new era of development began. Fr. Ryan launched a drive to raise funds for a convent to house a small community of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who would take over the program of religious education, assist in parish visiting and also teach the children of Saint Gabriel’s parish. Convent construction began in 1940, but, sadly, Fr. Ryan died before the building was completed.
Rev. Cornelius Looney, parish curate, filled in ably for Fr. Ryan until the appointment of Rev. Joseph L. Kinney as pastor on June 5, 1940. Under Fr. Kinney’ supervision the convent was completed on the parcel of land next to the church, a handsome brick building that was renovated in 1992 to become the parish rectory and office.
Rev. Francis A. Murphy succeeded Fr. Kinney as pastor in 1946 and was in turn succeeded by Rev. Francis P. Breen in 1953. Fr. Breen drew up plans for St. Ann School, the first Catholic school in Milford. Construction began in 1955 and the school opened in 1956. Under Fr. Breen’s auspices the present church was built in 1961 and dedicated on April 7, 1962.
In 1965 St. Gabriel School opened its doors to welcome local children to excellent Catholic education. In little over half a century, Devon and West shore Catholicism had struggled “brick by brick” from a faithful handful to a large faith-filled community with both churches and both schools thriving for many years.
However, due to declining population both Saint Ann School and Saint Gabriel School were closed. In 2015 the Archdiocese of Hartford linked Saint Ann Church and Saint Gabriel Church sharing a pastor in Rev. Maurice J. Maroney until 2015. Rev William Agyemang was assigned as temporary pastor in 2015. 2016 saw a change bringing Rev. Declan Creighton to shepherd the linked churches. In 2017 both churches were merged into Saint Raphael Parish, with Rev. John F. Brinsmade named as Pastoral Administrator. Rev. John F. Brinsmade currently serves the people of Saint Raphael Parish as Pastor.
Pastors who served Saint Gabriel Church include: Rev. Robert P. Sullivan (1946-1951), Rev. Francis J. Bratton (1951-1969), Rev. William F. Lynch and Rev. F. Donahue (1970-1972), Rev. James O. Lambert (1972-1978), Rev. Patrick J. Speer (1978-1992), Rev. Thomas E. Bennett ((1992-1995), Rev. Maurice J. Maroney (1995-2015).
Pastors who served Saint Ann Church include: Rev. Edward P. Curran (1924-1928), Rev. John H. Anderson, D.D. (1928-1935), Rev. John E. Ryan (1935 until his death), Curate Rev. Cornelius Looney filled in until Rev Joseph L. Kinney served as pastor (1940-1946), Rev. Francis A. Murphy (19461953), Rev. Francis P. Breen (1953-1968), Rev. Edward H. Rooney (1968-1990), Rev. John F. Brinsmade and Rev. George Couturier (1990-1991), Rev. John F. Brinsmade and Rev. Thomas Bayliss (1991-1993), Rev. Thomas Bayliss (1993-2002), Rev. Thomas Ptazynski (2002-2008), Rev. Brian A. Shaw (2008-2013), Rev. Maurice J. Maroney (2013-2015).