The first Saint Francis of Assisi Church, built in 1900, served the community until 1962.
St. Francis of Assisi Parish was founded as a mission of St. Joseph parish in Natick, West Warwick, in 1899 in the Hillsgrove section of Warwick. The area was largely populated by French Canadian immigrants who came to work in the Elizabeth textile mill or the Malleable Iron Foundry. The mother church in Natick was staffed by the French-Canadian branch of the religious congregation of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.
In 1899 the missionaries agreed to staff a mission church to be located in Hillsgrove to accommodate the growing Catholic population. The cornerstone for the new Church was laid on Thanksgiving Day, 1900, and a small wooden structure was erected on Jefferson Boulevard. The new Church was blessed on May 30, 1901.
On August 7, 1943 the former mission of St. Francis of Assisi was canonically erected as a parish, with boundaries extending from the present Route 37 on the north to Main Avenue on the south and from Green State Airport and Post Road on the east to the Pawtuxet River on the west.
The small white church was soon outgrown by the new parish as the post-war building and baby boom hit Hillsgrove. In September 1960, Bishop Russell J. McVinney gave permission for the building of a new church and Catholic elementary school for St. Francis Parish. An auditorium for the school would be built first and serve as the church. The school would then be built on the site of the original church. The long range plan was to build a church building when the mortgage on the new structure was paid. The first Mass was celebrated in the new Church/Auditorium on Easter Sunday, 1962. As the 1970’s brought smaller families and record-setting inflation, the dream of a new church building was reluctantly abandoned.
Although priests of the Diocese of Providence replaced the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in 1989, a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as well as shrine to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart brought to the Church by the missionaries remains in a place of honor, a reminder of their many years of service to St. Francis Church. Father Frank Timar, MSC, was the last Sacred Heart missionary to be pastor. Father John A. Kiley was the first diocesan pastor, followed by Father Henry Bodah and Father Timothy Gorton. In 2004, Father Kiley returned as pastor of both St. Francis and nearby St. William Churches in Warwick. Then in 2006, Father Kiley once again became full time pastor of St. Francis parish.
In 1997, a renewal of the Sanctuary and a general refurbishing of the nave was begun. Throughout 1999 and into 2000 the parish celebrated its 100th Anniversary of Foundation.
Today, St. Francis of Assisi is a small but vibrant community of faith. Our 850 families are dedicated to the work of the Gospel through twenty-nine ministries and committees, with a special emphasis on our parish education, on the elderly, and on the transportation and commercial communities that surround Jefferson Blvd. Although St. Francis of Assisi School closed in June of 2009, our continued parish commitment to Catholic education is evidenced by our support of neighboring elementary schools and religious education programs. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield still maintain a presence at the parish school which they have served for over 45 years.