Last Years of Separation
Father Vallee passed away after 19 years of devoted service to the. Catholics of Carrollton, during which he crystallized the Catholic spirit in that section and made his influence strongly felt among all ranks. He gave the necessary impetus to Catholic activities and to Catholic education, needed to insure the future of the parish. However, he suffered from the serious handicap of division of the parish with two churches on the same street, almost opposite to each other, and progress was not what it should have been. Both congregations suffered. Mater Dolorosa German Church was gradually declining and St. Mary's Nativity was finding it difficult to continue financing not only operation, but also maintenance.
Such was the situation, when Father Welte assumed the pastorate of St. Mary's Nativity Church at the beginning of 1893. He made a determined effort to continue the fine spiritual work of Father Vallee, and this is evident in parish activities and increases in Communions and Baptisms. The finances, however, did not show any improvement. To the contrary, the revenues declined year by year.
The total of 60 white Baptisms in 1893, went up to 64 the next year, then went up to 87 in 1895, to 92 the year after that, and the same for 1897. Father Welte reported 3575 Communions in 1893, and 3900 for the succeeding year, while the year 1895 brought 4700 communicants to St. Mary's. There was a decline to 3300 in 1896, and an increase to 3900 in 1897. Marriages for the period fluctuated between 18 and 23 per year. The Confirmation class of 1896 had 36 persons, but 93 in 1897.
The revenue of the parish was reported as follows: In 1894, a total of $1194; in 1895, $1057.50; in 1896, $1122.50, and 1897, $1092.
Father Welte served St. Mary of the Nativity Church without any assistant from his installation in 1893 until 1897. However, several priests visited the parish and helped him for brief periods. Rev. J. P. Chaffey, who had helped at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, was there in August, and Rev. J. B. Andre in May, 1895. Early in 1897, Father Bertels, the Jesuit, spent a few days at the French Church. While, Father Welte was absent from the parish for one and one-half months during April and May, 1897, the parish was served by Rev. Patrick A. Hayes.
Finally at the beginning of November, 1897, Rev. H. Van Grinsven arrived and he administered St. Mary's while Father Welte was away, November 3, until December 12. After Father Welte's return, Father Van Grinsven remained as assistant and continued until the end of June, 1898.
Father Welte continued the work of education undertaken energetically by Father Vallee. St. Mary's School in 1893 had an enrollment of 27 boys and 39 girls, with a staff of six Sisters of Charity. The 1896 report reveals a school attendance of 38 boys and 76 girls, taught by five Sisters, with Sister Eustolia as Sister Servant. This enrollment was nearly the same for 1897-40 boys and 75 girls, but another Sister had been added.
Until the time that Father Welte assumed the pastorate, the school for Negro children had been taught by lay teachers, but in September, 1893, the Sisters of the Holy Family opened a private school, as the result of a donation of a house. This was undertaken by Reverend Mother Austin, superior general. The site of the school was at the present 824 Cambronne Street. This became St. Louis School. The first Sister to take charge was Sister Mary Rosary, now deceased. Her assistant at the time was a novice, who became later the superior general, Reverend Mother Mary Elizabeth, who died two years ago. Other Sisters who were in charge of the school are still living: Sister Xavier, Sister Borgia, Sister Andrew, and the present superior general of the Sisters of the Holy Family, Reverend Mother Mary Philip.
The St. Louis School was discontinued when the Josephite Fathers took over old Mater Dolorosa German Church and renamed it St. Dominic Church. The Sisters who staffed the St. Louis School took charge of St. Dominic's School, and the former school was closed. This was in 1909.
The zealous and self-sacrificing work of these Sisters has perhaps never been properly evaluated, and how many souls were preserved in the Faith through their patient catechetical work, only Judgement Day will reveal. Those were days when spiritual work among Negroes was tragically neglected. It was the Sisters of the Holy Family unquestionably who were mainly responsible for the maintenance of the Faith among members of their race in the Carrollton area, in days when religious activities for them were restricted to weekly catechetical instructions, first Communion, and Mass once a year, on Easter Sunday.
The same tribute may be paid also to the Sisters of Charity who added parochial school work to their task of caring for the orphans, and the Benedictine Sisters at Mater Dolorosa German school, recalling also the Marianite Sisters of Holy Cross, who labored in Carrollton for five years. Those were truly heroic pioneers of Catholic education in that section of New Orleans. They toiled during times when the work was extremely difficult, in the face of countless obstacles, not the least of which was indifference and sometimes outright antagonism. The splendid educational system of today is the heritage from the self sacrifices, patience and devotion of those pioneers of former decades.
St. Louis School enrollment for 1896 under the care of two Sisters of the Holy Family totaled 48, and in 1897, it stood at 50.
Father Welte maintained some of the parish societies that Father Vallee had organized, and the principal, active groups were the Altar Society, the Society for a happy Death and the Children of Mary.
In 1894, in compliance with the plans of reorganizing the affairs of the Archdiocese of New Orleans by Archbishop Janssens, St. Mary's parish was formally incorporated. The act was passed on April 9, 1894, before W. Morgan Gurley, notary, and the legal title adopted was: "The Congregation of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church of the Parish of Orleans, Carrollton." It is recorded in COB No. 516, Folio 21. Archbishop Janssens was the president of the corporation; Very Rev. John B. Bogaerts, Vicar General, the vice-president; Rev. Marins Welte, pastor, the secretary-treasurer, and the two lay trustees, Eugene Fortier and Louis Turati.
The little Nativity Church was sorely in need of repairs and Father Welte made a brave effort to maintain it, but finances were poor. He installed a little organ in 1896, and in addition, had the statues cleaned and the floor painted. Finally, heavy timbers had to be installed on the sides of the church to shore it up and prevent its collapse.
The boundaries of the parish continued, during Father Welte's administration to be a matter of dispute, particularly the section in Jefferson Parish beyond the Protection Levee towards Kenner. The people who lived in that section up to Christina's Plantation considered themselves parishioners of St. Mary's Nativity, but this area was claimed, in part, by the Kenner pastor, then Rev. Leander M. Roth, but Monseigneur Janssens disapproved and it was retained by Nativity Church of Carrollton. An agreement had been reached between Father Ehrhart of Gretna, and Father Roth of Kenner, whereby the latter would serve Waggaman, despite the fact that it had been confirmed as assigned by Archbishop Janssens to Nativity Parish. This was finally settled shortly after Father Prim became pastor.
During Father Welte's administration the first efforts were made for a church in the Metairie section. This territory was also part of Nativity Church of Carrollton, but it began to be served by Father Roth from Kenner, but Father Kennedy, the previous Kenner pastor, had claimed supervision at Metairie since 1892. Father Roth visited Metairie and offered Mass for the Catholics there, but he lacked a horse and buggy, so eventually gave up his visits. A subscription list was opened and pledges were made by people of that section for the erection of a church, but they could not come to an agreement with Father Bogaerts, the administrator of the archdiocese, in regard to the location of a church. The project was abandoned and the pledges were cancelled.
Archbishop Janssens died at sea in June, 1897, while on his way to Europe to re-finance the diocesan debt. Archbishop Chapelle became his successor. A young priest from Germany, who had come to the archdiocese in 1893, had served as secretary to Monseigneur Janssens, then as assistant Chancellor. This was Rev. John Francis Prim. Archbishop Chapelle appointed him Chancellor in February, 1898. He was quite familiar with the affairs of the archdiocese and its parishes.
Archbishop Chapelle made a survey of the conditions of the archdiocese, and noted the conditions existing in Carrollton. Thereupon, since there was a vacancy at Holy Trinity Church, he transferred Father Biehlmayer of Mater Dolorosa German Church to the downtown German church, and in his place at Carrollton, he assigned Rev. Charles Brockmeier, who had been serving as assistant at Holy Trinity. Father Brockmeier was a native of Paderborn, Germany, who carne to this country in 1875, became an American citizen, and finished his studies at St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee. He was ordained there on June 27, 1880, and offered his first Mass at St. Louis, MO. He served as assistant and pastor in the St. Louis archdiocese, but transferred to New Orleans in 1894, and was appointed assistant at Holy Trinity. In 1896, he was honored by appointment as a Knight of the Holy Sepulcher. On May 15, 1898, he took charge of Mater Dolorosa German Church of Carrollton.
Conscientious priest that he was, Father Brockmeier made a complete study of his parish, and found by actual count, he told Archbishop Chapelle on December 24, 1898, 400 to 450 souls attached to his church, "not counting nearly 200 who have fallen away in the last 20 years." Out of the 450, he went on, "only 50 understand German, and very few speak it. For this reason, the whole congregation, without exception, have applied to me repeatedly for English sermons. Thus, the people think that I am neglecting them in the most essential part of religion .... My people beg for English sermons."
Meanwhile, on July 5, 1898, Father Francis Prim, the Chancellor, was sent to St. Mary of the Nativity Church in Carrollton, as Archbishop Chapelle had assigned Father Welte to Labadieville, LA. He recalled later that the small dwelling behind the church which served as rectory had barely enough room and furniture to accommodate him. The church, he wrote to the archbishop was in ruinous condition, and supported on the sides by large posts. It was unfit, he said, for Church services.
However, energetic and determined priest that he was, he was bent on doing something with the church and parish, but the Archbishop had plans in mind at the time, and Father Prim had to keep his ideas in abeyance.
Since Archbishop Chapelle had been in the archdiocese only a short time, he felt it wiser to appoint three priests to look into the situation in Carrollton and consider the request of Father Brockmeier, then report their recommendations to him. These were Very Rev. Peter M. T. Canon Massardier, pastor of St. Theresa's Church; Rev. Joseph Hanrahan, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul, and Rev. J. F. Lambert, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel. The last mentioned priest, however, did not serve, and Rev. Arthur Drossaerts, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church was named in his place.
They recommended to Archbishop Chapelle that a new church be built for the English and French congregation, on lots in that area which belonged to the archdiocese; that the German church be left exclusively to the German-speaking Catholics, and that no English be permitted to be preached in the German church as it would be a continued source of friction between the two churches.
To Father Brockmeier, Archbishop Chapelle wrote that St. Mary's Nativity would continue to be considered as the parish church of Carrollton, and that since a new church and rectory were absolutely necessary, they would be built as soon as possible (at a different location), and that since Mater Dolorosa was built exclusively for German Catholics, it was just and proper that the church remain absolutely dedicated to the spiritual wants of the German Catholics. (This was fully in keeping with the insistent demands of the Carrollton Germans and the proviso in the property deed.) It was under those terms also that Archbishop Perche had permitted the establishment of the German church.
It was quite evident that nothing could be accomplished in Carrollton with the continuation of the division that existed. Father Brockmeier promptly pledged his obedience to the instructions of the Archbishop, who sent him the report of the three priests, whom he had appointed. Father Prim likewise realized that the whole situation was untenable. Both needed new churches and rectories, but St. Mary's was in worse condition. The solution lay in the reunion of all Catholics of Carrollton.
After discussing the matter with the consulters, Archbishop Chapelle decided upon that plan, and on May 4, 1899, he transferred Father Brockmeier to St. Francis of Assisi Church as pastor, and appointed Father Prim as pastor of Mater Dolorosa Church, with specific instructions to gather all Carrollton Catholics into one parish with no national lines of any kind.
This brought a protest from Mater Dolorosa parishioners, 211 of whom signed a petition which they sent to Archbishop Chapelle, calling attention to the consolidation undertaken "without consulting the members of our church," but since arrangements had gone so far already, there was nothing they could do. However, they asked that Father Prim be removed, and some priest who was "an entire stranger to both congregations" be appointed.
Fifteen years later, the parishioners sent a memorial to Archbishop Blenk and paid the highest tribute to Father Prim for his zeal, self sacrifice and devotion to them. What he had to face in those first years of attempted consolidation is related by the parishioners themselves: "Both churches were buildings absolutely unfit for the services of our holy religion ... The French St. Mary's Church was almost in ruins, and supported on both sides with heavy timbers to prevent collapse ... The German Mater Dolorosa Church although in better condition, was, nevertheless, a poor wooden building, badly situated and requiring continual repairs . . . Well do our older parishioners remember the days when our present pastor had to knock down plaster or make hurried repairs on Saturdays to prevent a possible disaster on Sundays ... The task of amalgamating the French and German congregations, opposite spirits and temperaments, both striving their utmost to maintain supremacy, brought upon our pastor innumerable difficulties."
Father Brockmeier remained at Mater Dolorosa Church exactly one year. His report of 1898 shows a parish population of 650, and Communions totalling 1500. There were 28 boys in the school and 20 girls. Seventeen Baptisms were registered and two funerals. The parish societies were St. Joseph's Society, the Men's and Ladies' Society, and the League of the Sacred Heart. In an effort to improve conditions, he spent $122 for a vestment case, some vestments and an ostensorium, and $438.34 for repairs to the house and for furniture.
Father Prim in his 1898 report listed two new parish societies, the Catholic Knights of America and the Ladies CKA. The school enrollment stood at 25 boys and 120 girls. The St. Louis School had five boys and 30 girls. His 1899 report was also for Nativity Church, listing the parish population as 1500, and Communions as 8407. The other statistics were: Baptisms 125 white, 16 colored and one adult; Confirmations 149 and one adult; marriages, 13 Catholic and nine mixed; burials 43. The parish revenues totaled from all sources $1424.70, for the year (1899).
The activities of Father Prim are already evident from this report which gives the following societies in the parish: Society of St. Joseph, Society of St. Aloysius for Boys, Altar Society, Children of Mary, the League of the Sacred Heart and the two branches of the Catholic Knights of America.
Thus ended the 28 years of division in the Catholic congregation of Carrollton. Under the capable direction and efficient leadership of Father Prim, the congregation was destined to make amazingly rapid strides and develop into one of the outstanding Catholic parishes of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.