St. Mark’s Episcopal Church was founded in 1860 by Joseph Burnett, a native resident of Southborough, Massachusetts. Burnett’s desire was to create a local parish in which he and others could worship in the Anglican tradition. As a businessman and chemist, he developed and marketed the world-famous Burnett Vanilla Extract; as the owner/proprietor of Deerfoot Farms, Burnett had brought various breeds of English cows to the United States and created one of the region’s largest dairy-producing enterprises; as a concerned citizen he founded St. Mark’s School, and played a major role in the establishment of the Fay School, two well-regarded private preparatory institutions that are still in operation today.
The first Episcopal service in Southborough was the baptism of Joseph Burnett’s daughter in 1850, held at the Pilgrim Church that stands just next to St. Mark’s today. After that, services were held in a stone mill (which still stands on Deerfoot Road, near Main Street). By 1862, Mr. Burnett and his colleagues acquired 1.8 acres of land just west of the Southborough Town House, and gave it to the parish under the stipulation that the church built there should be “free to all, with no distinctions as to wealth, color, race or station” — a very unusual and forward-thinking concept for that time.
The first St. Mark’s Episcopal Church was essentially the mid-section of the present-day building. As the congregation grew over the years, stonework extensions and the stone tower were added. In 1906, the church was expanded eastward and the chancel was raised to its present height as a memorial to Joseph Burnett, who died in 1894. The historic stained glass windows, which were brought over from England, include two by Tiffany and eight by Kempe. There is also one window built by the well known American artist Maitland Armstrong.
Until 1910, the headmaster of St. Mark’s School served as the rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Since that time, St. Mark’s has been fortunate to be served by rectors who have made long-term commitments to our parish. The Rev. Edward Cheney served from 1910 to 1945; the Rev. Gene Goll from 1950 to 1985; the Rev. John Chane from 1987 to 1996; and the Rev. Craig Lister from 1998 to 2009. The current rector, the Rev. Phil LaBelle, arrived in January 2011.