Saint Romuald Chapel

imageA unique component of our parish identity is that we have two distinct worship sites: Saint Francis Church in Wakefield and Saint Romuald Chapel in Matunuck.  The clergy and staff of Saint Francis Parish serve both worship sites.  Below is a brief history of Matunuck and Saint Romuald Chapel.

The village that is home to Saint Romuald was once simply potato fields, a farmhouse or two, that great big ocean, and not much else.  Over time, a vibrant year-round community has emerged.  When the chapel was built, the beach was one wide expanse of sand and dunes, with unlimited access to the entire shoreline.

In 1901 electricity came to Matunuck, and street lights were installed in the late 1930’s.  As people discovered this gem called Matunuck, needs arose which precipitated the founding of the Matunuck Beach Improvement Association.  Men in the community gathered, knocked on doors, and solicited a fee of five dollars a year per family.  This paid the salaries of two lifeguards and a weekly garbage collection.  The community at Matunuck today sprang from that grassroots endeavor.

Saint Romuald Chapel SanctuarySeasonal storms have changed the face of Matunuck.  A series of beach clubs sprang up along the shore, and one of them, Blackberry Beach Club, was washed out to sea in a nor’easter in 1983.  Most recently, a pavilion was installed at the town beach.  The grand hotel called the Matunuck Beach House has been replaced by small cottages and the one-room schoolhouse is now a private residence.  The ride into Wakefield is no longer considered a once-a-summer trip.  Matunuck has the convenience of an outstanding summer theater, a Victorian inn, and the Hale Library. In spite of its rapid growth, the village has retained its rural and seaside nature.

In the early 1900’s, the inconvenience of a horse-and-buggy ride to to Wakefield for Sunday Mass led summer families to petition the Most Reverend Bishop for a much needed Catholic chapel in Matunuck.  This was the onset of the Irish Catholic invasion of South County and the Diocese was willing to support the enterprise.

Thus the present chapel of St. Romuald was built in 1907, as part of the parish of Saint Francis of Assisi.  The structure was much smaller, measuring only half the length of the nave.  Appropriately so, birds fly in the open windows and an occasional cat or dog wanders in.  One time, as the celebrant was leaving the altar after Mass, he had to detour around a kitten who was curled up in a patch of sunlight, fast asleep.  We also shared the chapel with a family of mice who chewed on the candle wax and made a cozy nest from bits of altar cloth!  As the summer population grew, a new wing was added in the 1940’s.  During the 1970’s, as the year-round population mushroomed, a heating system was installed, enabling a Sunday Mass all winter long, a far cry from the one old-timer’s recollection of having Mass on the back of a buck board.

Saint RomualdSince there has never been a resident custodian, people voluntarily took over the day-to-day functioning.  Summer residents would set up for Mass, clean the sanctuary, dress the altar, set out flowers, wash and iron linens and set up a schedule for altar boy assignments.  Due to the number of visiting priests in Matunuck, it was not uncommon to have three or four daily Masses.

No longer merely a summer chapel, St. Romuald is still a simple country place, but infused with new life from a more recent renovation in 2002.  The handsome wooden pews, new organ, quiet and efficient heating system and carpeted aisles enhance the beauty and charm of the chapel while retaining its rustic and prayerful atmosphere.  Occasionally, the chapel bell rings out on the sweet salt air of Matunuck, sometimes in competition with the foghorn from the Point Judith Lighthouse.  St. Romuald Chapel is a gift, indeed.  As it was once the focal point of the summer, it is now the hearth at which so many gather, binding them together as an authentic community of faith.

Saint Romuald Chapel is administered by William Harding.

The street address is 61 Atlantic Avenue, Matunuck (South Kingstown).