End of a Century
When Monsignor Prim passed away in 1933, just 85 years of parish history had been written. Under his energetic direction the parish had been crystallized into a definite, solid, permanent entity through the molding and development of a parish spirit. There remained to be carried out the full fruition of patient labors, dreams, aspirations and self-sacrifice of eight and one-half decades, the final establishment of the parish entity, built on solid foundation, and the final cultivation of God's vineyard, watered with His blessings and divine graces, to bring forth all the purposes of parochial entity such as Mater Dolorosa of Carrollton. That final task was, in God's divine providence, allotted to one of the former assistants of the parish Rev. Joseph Pyzikiewicz.
Father Joseph Pyzikiewicz (now a Domestic Prelate with the title of Right Reverend Monsignor) was born on March 3, 1895, in Rzochow, Galicia that part of Poland which was then under Austrian domination. Having read in Catholic Polish newspapers the appeal of Archbishop Blenk for young men to study for the priesthood for service in the New Orleans archdiocese, he decided to answer it, but it was only after many pleas to his parents for permission, that he was finally able to leave for America.
He came to this country in 1911, and spent three years at St. Joseph's Preparatory Seminary at St. Benedict, LA. He made his studies of philosophy and theology at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis, then received ordination on June 12, 1921 at the hands of the late Cardinal Glennon.
His first assignment was as assistant at Mater Dolorosa Church, where he served from July, 1921, until March, 1925. He was then assigned as pastor of St. Paul's Church, Bayou Goula, LA, a post which he held for four years. In 1929, Archbishop Shaw established the new parish of St. Theresa of the Little Flower, and he was appointed the first pastor. Besides working to organize and develop the parish, he also served as diocesan director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, and diocesan director of the Archdiocesan Union of Parish Sodalities.
On June 29, 1933, the late Archbishop Shaw appointed him as pastor of Mater Dolorosa. The task was a formidable one for more reasons than one. The parish had become an important and influential one. The pastor had to measure up to a predecessor who had accomplished a great deal, and had become a noted figure in both ecclesiastical and civic circles of the city. Mater Dolorosa was at the crossroads of its career. There was the backwash of the welter of expansion, building and improvements - a debt, the bonded indebtedness of which stood at $170,000. There was a complete parish plant, but part of the cost still had to be liquidated.
The task of the new pastor was, besides his spiritual duties, likewise a financial one. The depression had hit America full force. Unemployment was growing to unheard figures. Banks had been closed, and fortunes were lost. It was under such conditions that Father Joseph assumed the pastorate of Mater Dolorosa and with it, the difficult task of liquidating its huge debt.
In his calm, quiet, unassuming manner, he set to work, first of all familiarizing himself with the situation in the parish and its finances. With utmost prudence and care he held down expenses and nursed the revenues. Good priest that he is, one of his first projects was a spiritual one. He called in two Oblate Fathers to conduct a mission. The results were amazing. The number of Holy Communions reached the record of 83,100 for the year 1934 - a number not even approached previously, and still not surpassed. With such an inspiring spirit among his parishioners, Father Joseph felt encouraged and determined to carry through with them, hand in hand. Missions were conducted since then every second year in Mater Dolorosa Parish.
Only one part of the parish boundaries remained in question, and when Father Habeb who had become pastor of St. Agnes Church in Suburban Acres, asked Archbishop Shaw to settle this matter, Father Joseph Pyzikiewicz readily agreed, and the eastern limit of Mater Dolorosa was fixed on Lake Street, extending in a north-eastern direction along the plant of the American Creosote Works.
A check of the church building revealed need for many repairs, the most immediate of which was the resetting of the beautiful stained glass windows, the frame and lead work of which had deteriorated. The repairs, including the windows, in 1934, amounted to $4000. The census for that year showed 1750 families. Dr. James T. Nix, K.S.G., and Walter Garic were then trustees. The present trustees are Dr. William H. Harris and Stanley J. Matherne.
Archbishop Shaw died on November 2, 1934, and the following year, Most Rev. Joseph F. Rummel, S.T.D., Bishop of Omaha, was appointed ninth Archbishop of New Orleans, 1935, and the latter promptly inaugurated a vast program of Catholic Action. Loyally co-operating in this program, Father Joseph Pyzikiewicz organized the Catholic Youth Organization in the parish, the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine and the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women. At the same time, he gave great impetus to existing organizations in the parish. In addition, he formed the sodality for boys and girls.
By 1935, parish revenues had risen to approximately $38,000 and he was able to reduce the parish debt by: $15,000, and by 1937, it had been reduced to $138,000. The parish closed its accounts that year for the first time in years with a balance of $5941 in cash on hand.
Since that time all lotto, bingo, euchre, penny parties, raffles, and even spring and fall festivals were discontinued as means of raising money for parish church needs. The pastor asked the parishioners for a direct support of the church, through the Sunday collection envelopes. He pointed out to them the direct support as one not only more dependable, but also more in keeping with the dignity of the Catholic Church. The process was slow, but finally successful.
Carefully, methodically, prudently and insistently, Father Joseph devoted attention to the liquidation of the parish debt. In 1939, he succeeded in refinancing the parish bonded indebtedness, redeeming all outstanding bonds, and making a loan with the Provident Life and Accident Insurance Co., reducing the interest to four per cent. In 1938, the debt had been reduced to $130,000 and by 1940, it was down to $120,000.
Notable improvements in 1939, were rewiring and the installation of new light fixtures in the church and the erection of a new gymnasium. To conserve resources and avoid unnecessary expenses, Father Joseph served as architect and contractor for the new building, which entailed expenditures of only $8,000. A local architect afterwards appraised the gym as costing $48,000 if handled through ordinary channels. Thus for a very small sum, another unit was added to the parish plant. The building, which required nine months to build, was erected on Oak Street.
Another improvement was the installation in 1941, of magnificent bronze doors at the five entrances to the church, at a cost of $12,500. They were produced by the Michael Bronze Co. of Covington, KY. In 1939, $1200 had been expended for repairs to the heating system or the church, school and rectory, and in 1940, $1000 to waterproof and termite proof the church towers, found in bad condition, and the rectory and church.
Despite these expenses, made possible by the careful nursing of finances, the parish debt was further reduced in 1942 to $102,500, and the following year, it stood at only $92,500. Conditions had materially improved, so Father Joseph decided to clear out the parish debt. He called a mass meeting of parishioners, formed a committee to handle a special parish-wide drive, and the parishioners enthusiastically set to work to rid their parish of debt. In 1944, the entire debt was wiped out, a splendid piece of work by parishioners and a glorious tribute to their spirit. Few parishes can equal the record of Mater Dolorosa and the achievement of the parishioners.
Father Joseph's next step was a memorable one not only in the parish, but also to the archdiocese. This was the establishment in 1945, of the parochial school as a free school. It began under that status in September of that year, and has continued as such. Parishioners hailed this as one of the most progressive steps in parish annals, and their interest and enthusiasm has been reflected in the support it has received.
The trend of growth in the school population after this movement, is readily noted down the years. During 1934, the first full year that Father Joseph was pastor, the enrollment showed 378 boys and 274 girls, taught by 17 Sisters and one lay teacher. Although there was a decline in 1935, and subsequent years, reflecting the conditions during the depression, the number after 1942 began to increase, and the 607 enrollment of 1943, jumped in 1945, to 702, and in 1947, it stood at 771, with 19 teachers.
After Sister Stanislaus was transferred, the next principal and superior of the Benedictine Sisters' community at Mater Dolorosa school was Sister M. Meinrad, O.S.B., whose, term extended from 1936 to 1939. She was succeeded by Sister M. Philippine, O.S.B., for 1939 and 1940. Then Sister M. Walburga, O.S.B., served from 1940 to 1945.
Sister M. Edith, O.S.B., was principal of Mater Dolorosa Parochial School until June, 1948, when Sister M. Patricia, O.S.B., was appointed to the post of principal.
The spirit of piety and charity, and the desire to take active part in Church organizations and parish activities, on the part of parishioners, have reached a high degree' during the administration of the present pastor. In 1938, the statistics for the parish societies stood as follows: Senior Holy Name Society, 205; Juniors, 155; Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 190; Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, 45; Girls' CYO, 80; Boys' CYO, 170; League of the Sacred Heart, 450; Altar Society, 275; Society for the Propagation of the Faith, 310. The sodality was affiliated with the Prima Primaria at Rome, in 1934.
The religious spirit of the parish has also been reflected in Baptisms, marriages, Confirmations and reception of Holy Communion. Although the record number of communicants in 1934 has not since been reached, the number has increased steadily year by year, though there have been fluctuations, such as in 1941, when the Passionist Fathers gave a mission in March and April. Communions in 1942 totaled 71,200, and in 1943 they increased to 71,340. In 1945, there were 79,500.
In 1939, 196 Baptisms were registered, 95 marriages and 97 funerals. That year, 17 converts were received into the Church. By 1942, the Baptisms had increased to 247 and marriages to 115. Converts numbered 13, and for 1947, there were also 13 converts. Baptisms were up to 241 in 1945. The 1947 parish report discloses a Catholic population of 6400, 359 Baptisms, 120 marriages and 96 funerals. The year 1943 saw 152 persons Confirmed, and in 1945, 134, but the. number dwindled to 67 in 1947, because of the change in regulations about the age limit and period of instructions for candidates for Confirmation.
One striking development among parishioners of Mater Dolorosa during the past 15 years has been the spirit of co-operation with the works of the Universal Church and national diocesan-wide projects. The contributions of parishioners to the various collections other than for their own parish, and their response to many appeals, have shown a remarkable growth. This has been the result of the zeal and inspiration and instructions of Monsignor Joseph Pyzikiewicz and his assistants. All collections for purposes other than parochial during the year 1930, totaled $960.50. In 1935, they had increased to $2109.61, and in 1940, to $4364.14, while the 1945 total had reached the figure of $7783. This soared in 1947 to $12,743.36. These collections included such appeals as the diocesan seminary, Bishops' relief, Propagation of the Faith, Indian and Negro missions and Catholic University, besides others.
When the Youth Progress Program campaign was undertaken, the parish as always, came through with flying colors, individuals pledging $120,000 and paying to date more than 82 per cent.
Monsignor Joseph Pyzikiewicz consistently promoted devotion to the Blessed Mother, and since the parish church was under the' invocation of the Mother of Sorrows, he inaugurated in the fall of 1938, special weekly devotions in her honor, every Friday. His Excellency, Archbishop Rummel, gave permission for the installation of the Stations of the Mother of Sorrows, and for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament twice in one day for the weekly novena exercises. The devotion was inaugurated by Rev. Hugh Calkins, O.S.M., prominent Servite Father from Chicago. The devotion continues to the present time, attracting many clients of our Lady.
Among other improvements to the parish by Monsignor Joseph was the changing of the steps and altar railing in 1941, and repairing of the school roof. In 1947, he bought a lot for the parish in the 1300 block on Dublin Street, from Mathilda Roemer for $1500, with the intention of erecting one of the houses on present church property, for quarters for the church sexton.
Finally, in August, 1948, he purchased the property from the Benedictine Sisters on Dublin Street, lots 4, 5 and 6, for $20,000 in cash. This will provide additional school yard, so sorely needed as the result of the steadily growing enrollment in the school. To provide more suitable and adequate lodgings for the Sisters, plans are under way for a new convent which will be erected on the roof of the present school building, together with a four-story extension, 25 feet wide at the rear of the school building.
Since coming to the parish in 1933, Monsignor Joseph has not only worked with his parishioners to pay the entire debt on the parish, but in addition together they have expended $151,216.80 in improvements and repairs to the church, school and rectory, and for the establishment of the, gymnasium and the purchase of the old convent. Truly, this is an outstanding achievement, and a notable example of cooperation between parishioners and their pastor for the maintenance, operation and improvement of their parish plant.
No wonder that when in June, 1946, Father Joseph celebrated his silver jubilee of ordination to the holy priesthood, members of his flock showered him with expressions and symbols of their affection, respect and esteem. Not the least among these were' spiritual bouquets, one from parishioners, and another from the children of the parish, listing huge numbers of spiritual good works, revealing their keen, personal interest in his welfare and their pious good wishes springing from their heart. The parish celebration was a genuine demonstration of affection, and a marvelous tribute of a flock for its shepherd.
His Excellency, Archbishop Rummel, named him as a diocesan consultor, and later asa pro-synodal judge, making him a member of the diocesan court. In addition, he is also serving as a member of the Advisory Board of the Youth Progress Program.
The Holy Father took cognizance of the patient, fruitful and extensive labors of Father Joseph, and on May 25, 1947, Pope Pius XII elevated him to the rank of Domestic Prelate with the title of Right Reverend Monsignor. His investiture took place on September 29, 1947, at the St. Louis Cathedral. Once again, members of his parish gathered to pay him tribute and rejoice with him over the recognition from Rome.
When Monsignor Prim died in 1933, Rev. Clemens Schneider, parish assistant served as administrator of Mater Dolorosa, and Rev. Paul Landsmann continued as assistant. Both were transferred in June of that year. Father Schneider served at Bourg and is now pastor at Violet, LA, after service as Army chaplain during World War II. Father Landsmann served as pastor at Smoke Bend and is now pastor of St. Theresa's Church, New Orleans.
The two new assistants, who came in July, 1933, were Rev. Vincent Kleinpeter, now pastor at St. Gabriel, LA, and Rev. Paul Gaudin, now pastor at Bourg, LA. Father Kleinpeter continued at Mater Dolorosa until June, 1937, and Father Gaudin, until 1939. In July, 1937, Rev. Warren L. Yolk began his work as assistant in the parish, continuing until July, 1947 - a period of 10 years, and the longest term of service as curate in the history of Mater Dolorosa parish. Rev. Peter Walton, O.S.B., assisted Monsignor Joseph during September and October, 1939, then Rev. Gerard Pelletier served as assistant from January 1, 1940 through June of that year. He was immediately succeeded by Rev. Robert P. O'Neill, who remains as parish assistant during the current centennial year.
Rev. John A. Fisher, M.M. (a Maryknoll priest), served temporarily during April and May, 1944. Rev. Thomas Van Engelen, S.V.D., was in the parish in January and, February, 1946. In May, 1946, Rev. George A. Landry became assistant and he remained at Mater Dolorosa until January, 1948. Early in July, 1947, Father Volk was assigned to the chaplaincy at the state penal farm at Angola, La., and Rev. Philip L. Whitney was appointed as parish assistant.
As the first century of existence of the Catholic Church in Carrollton comes to a close, one notes the happy condition of a full fruition existing after one hundred years of patient efforts, many sacrifices, untold labors and cherished dreams of former pastors, who tilled the soil and carefully nurtured the budding plants of Faith. A complete parish plant, substantial, impressive and efficient, stands as the tangible realization of the work of a century, but impressive and significant too as characteristic of Mater Dolorosa parishioners, is the absence of all debts from the parish records, and finally, impressive too is the record of the status of souls in the parish, revealing a genuine Catholic spirit of devotion, piety and fidelity to Holy Mother the Church. To Monsignor Joseph came the honor and the privilege to bring Mater Dolorosa to this full fruition in its centennial year.