DERRY — Long before he became America's first man in space, astronaut Alan Shepard attended Sunday school in the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Derry.
Shepard was a third-generation member of the local church that was founded 100 years ago, said Pollyann Winslow, a church representative.
The church is celebrating its centennial this year, and its long history that stretches back across the decades.
"It's important for people to realize that it's been around for generations," Winslow said.
Other church members have memories of when Shepard's family attended services in the modest white church at 1 Boyd Road, across from MacGregor Park.
Vincent Ferdinando, president of J & F Farms in Derry, remembers with some humor attending Sunday school with Shepard. And Ferdinando's daughter, Gina Ferdinando-Murphy said she recalled how Shepard once came to their farm to pick strawberries.
"That's when he was famous," she said.
Ferdinando-Murphy said she also remembers how the astronaut's mother, Renza Shepard, used to attend services in the church and then invite the entire congregation over for lunch at her home.
Ferdinando-Murphy said the centennial celebration has prompted her to reflect on the church and its local history.
"It's really good to know that Christ Scientist has been an active presence in the community for 100 years," Ferdinando-Murphy said. "It would be good for more people to know about the history of the church in the community."
Before the church on Boyd Road, which was built in the 1940s, members held services in the Knights of Pythias Hall on Broadway Street. Winslow said the hall probably stood not too far from where Mary Ann's Diner is located today.
By April 27, 1913, the Derry members had incorporated as a branch church of the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, and adopted its bylaws, Winslow said.
It was a Granite State native, Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the religion in 1866. Eddy was born in Bow and lived in Concord between 1889-1907.
Eddy authored the textbook "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,'' the central text of the Christian Science religon.
First published in 1875, it was cited by the National Women's Book Association as "one of 75 books by women whose words have changed the world,'' Winslow said.
At 88, Eddy launched a daily newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor, which became the first national circulation daily.
The newspaper has received seven Pulitzer prizes and has a worldwide readership of its print and electronic editions.
In 1995, Eddy was the first New Hampshire woman inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. She was recognized by the organization for founding "a lasting American religion which continues to influence religion, medicine, and journalism," Winslow said.
Although she lived her final years in Chestnut Hill, Mass., New Hampshire continued to hold a special place in her heart, Winslow said.
She wrote in part about her home state, "I love its people — love their scholarship, friendship, and granite character. I respect their religious beliefs and thank their ancestors for helping to form mine.
Eddy knew famous people of the day, including Mark Twain and Clara Barton, Winslow said.
At the time of her death, she was probably the most recognized woman in the world.
"Her death made international news," Winslow said.
As the beginning of the church's second century approaches, Winslow said, "The church isn't planning to do anything differently than what it's been doing over the last 100 years. It is just planning to be a resource for the community and welcomes the community at any time."
For more information, visit the church website at: http://www.christiansciencederrynh.org/