New Parish Plant
Many preliminary arrangements had to be made and details settled. Theodore Brune was retained as architect at a meeting of the parish board on January 29, 1907, and Father Prim was authorized to incur a debt of not exceeding $90,000. It was at first decided to erect a church to cost $75,000, but this eventually ran up to $105,000. Father Prim then took up with Archbishop Blenk the question of finances and means of raising funds to cover the cost of the new church. A mass meeting was held at the St. Charles Hotel. Collections were made and many benefit affairs were conducted. An example of how parishioners entered into the project of the new church may be gathered from the schedule of less than three weeks during 1908: "July 11, young girls' penny party; Sunday, July 12, lawn party; July 16, tenth anniversary of Father Prim's pastorate in Carrollton, entertainment for church fund in new trim house, opposite Carrollton Market; July 23, penny party; July 30, picnic at Covington for Mater Dolorosa parishioners." Benefit tickets were sold to Archbishop Blenk by Father Prim, who missed no opportunity to gather funds.
Finally, in April, 1908, Archbishop Blenk gave Father Prim and his parishioners permission to go ahead with their new church. The parish corporation board on May 23, of that year, approved the bid of W. O. Erwin for the construction of the new church. The following month, Erwin entered into partnership with James A. Petty, forming the firm of Petty and Erwin, and the contract with the new partnership was approved.
Work got under way promptly, in May, 1908, and rapid progress was made. The cornerstone of the new church was blessed and installed by; Archbishop Blenk at 5 p. m., on Sunday, August 9, 1908. A procession with the clergy in carriages escorted the Archbishop from the old rectory on Cambronne Street to the site of the new church, where a throng crowded Carrollton Avenue and Plum Street. The sermon for the occasion was delivered by Very Rev. Father O'Connor, S.J.
Parishioners saw with enthusiasm the magnificent, impressive new church rising in beautiful architectural style, and they rallied around their pastor in raising funds. Dedication ceremonies drew a vast throng of people, symbolic of the unified spirit and the desire to work together for a greater Mater Dolorosa parish.
The formal dedication ceremonies were memorable, and the date, Sunday, March 7, 1909, is a well-remembered one among older parishioners. Bishop Van de Vyver, Bishop of Richmond, who had ordained Father Prim as a priest, was celebrant of the Solemn Pontifical Mass. Archbishop Blenk officiated at the blessing of the beautiful new brick structure. Bishop Meerschaert of Oklahoma, delivered the sermon. Bishop Van de Ven of Natchitoches (now Alexandria) gave Solemn Pontifical Benediction in' the evening. Present in the sanctuary were Abbot Paul and the Vicar General, Monsignor Laval. The master of ceremonies for the occasion was Archbishop Blenk's secretary - Father Jules B. Jeanmard, now the Bishop of Lafayette.
The new spirit in the parish was evident from the funds contributed and the donations made to the new church. Artistic new Stations of the Cross were among the gifts to the new parish church. They were given, one station each, by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Mrs. Hoffman, Miss Thibodeaux, Mrs. S. Thibodeaux, John Cleary, J. B. Honor, Gabe Correjolles, Mrs. Rolling and Mrs. Eckles. Five were donated by ladies of the parish. On Friday, May 21, 1909, at 5 p. m., the Stations of the Cross were erected by Monsignor Laval, Vicar General, assisted by Father Sigisbert and Father Benedict. Father Prim preached the sermon. The wooden crosses were carried by the members of the Ushers' Society.
Still needed to complete the church were the bells and stained glass windows. Father Prim obtained donations for all three bells and 10 windows. The consecration of the bells and blessing of the new windows were carried out by Archbishop Blenk on April 10, and Confirmation was also administered in the new church. The ceremonies were divided between the morning and afternoon. The bells were furnished by the Henry Stuckstede Bell Foundry of St. Louis, MO, all three having a total weight of 5000 pounds.
The largest was named "Jacobus" (James) after Archbishop James Hubert Blenk; it carries the inscription: "Laudo Deum" (I Praise God). The godmothers were Miss Jeanne Labasse and Mrs. C. Friedrichs; the godfathers, J. A. Sperl and P. O'Brien. The second bell is called "Franciscus," after Father Francis Prim. The inscription reads: "Funera Plango" (I Mourn the Dead). The sponsors were Mrs. P. Fabacher and Miss C. Sporl, and P. Fabacher and Gabe Correjolles. The third bell was christened "Maria" after the Blessed Virgin Mary, patroness of the parish. The inscription reads: "Plebem Voco" (I Call the People). Misses A. Williams and Corallie Serio, and E. Buhler and Theodore Bucher were the sponsors.
The windows were executed by E. Frei of St. Louis, and relate the life of the Blessed Mother. Mrs. H. Johnson donated two, and one each was donated by C. B. Fischer, the Children of Mary, L. H. Marrero, Mr. and Mrs. P. Fabacher, a friend, Mrs. Fazende and Father Prim.
The bells were a donation of parishioners and friends of the pastor, and for this purpose ladies of the parish made a collection. Mrs. Theodore Gillen donated the sanctuary lamp and Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Gardner donated the statue of St. Ann for the high altar.
The decoration of the interior of the new church was undertaken in 1926 at a cost of $7400. The artist was Theodore Brasch of Cincinnati.
The rectory was built on a site adjoining the church at 1226 Carrollton Avenue, but it was later moved to Plum Street, to make way for the new school.
After the congregation and pastor moved from Cambronne Street to the avenue, the corporation board authorized Father Prim to sell the old Mater Dolorosa Church and rectory. Archbishop Blenk had decided that proper attention should be given the Negro Catholics of the Carrollton area, so he invited the Josephite Fathers to take charge of the work there. They agreed, and bought the old Mater Dolorosa in 1910 from the corporation for use by the Negro congregation, for $20,000. Father LeBeau, native Louisianian and first Josephite priest to undertake work in Louisiana, who had charge of a church at LeBeau, LA, near Mellville, LA, was sent to Carrollton as pastor. The old church became known as St. Dominic's Church. The Sisters of the Holy Family took over direction of the parochial school after closing the old St. Louis School. St. Dominic's was destroyed by the 1915 hurricane, and so the last of the historic pioneer buildings of the two Carrollton churches passed away.
A new church and rectory having been taken care of, Father Prim turned his attention now to the establishment of the parochial school at the new site. On this subject, he wrote: "In 1909, I began to build the present church building seven blocks away from the old location. The
former church and school building on Cambronne Street were turned over to the Josephite Fathers for work among Negroes. The convent for the Benedictine Sisters was located in the same square. I rented a large building one square away from their convent for a school. I personally paid the school rent, and all revenues I allowed to go to the Sisters.
"I watched for the opportunity to get the school nearer the church and after some negotiations in spite of all hostile opposition, I was able to acquire the hall on Oak Street and Carrollton Avenue, the present (1918) school building."
This structure was the famous Olympia Hall, famous landmark and social center of Carrollton, and for this the parish paid $17,500, in March, 1911. This left the Sisters seven squares away from the church and school, so they bought three lots on Carrollton Ave. with the intention of building their convent. However, because of the proximity of the rectory, the plan was changed and the Sisters bought two lots on Dublin Street, and the present convent was erected there. Meanwhile, the lots were used as a playground for the school, and eventually they were bought by the parish.
In 1919, the parish sold the corner of Oak and Carrollton to the Whitney Central Trust and Savings Bank for $18,000. The removal of the school building was deferred until 1920, when old Olympia Hall, converted into a school, was moved and remodeled. During this period, L. A. Livaudais succeeded Mr. Cleary as trustee, the latter having moved out of the parish. Mr. Magee died in 1923, and J. A. Mattle took his place. Frank L. Barker, K.S.G., had replaced Mr. Livaudais. Later, Dr. James T. Nix, K.S.G., became a parish trustee.
Further improvements were made to the school in 1924, and that year, the parish bought the Bonstoff property - four lots - on Plum Street for $16,000.
The need for a modern, substantial parochial school had long been evident. Father Prim paid steadily on the debt of the parish for the new church, reflecting the splendid spirit of the people of the parish and their spirit of co-operation, and by November, 1921, the church debt was liquidated. The project of a new school met instant approval. The architects, Favrot and Livaudais, drafted the plans for a substantial three-story, brick building, including an auditorium, to provide adequate facilities for the mounting enrollment of the parish school. In 1927, the contract for the construction work was awarded to Gervais Favrot for $107,364. The cornerstone was blessed by Archbishop Shaw in April, 1927, and on September 18, 1927, the impressive new school was formally dedicated by the same prelate.
The work of the tireless and energetic pastor had not gone unnoticed. On February 24, 1920, he had been elevated by Pope Pius XI to the rank of Domestic Prelate with the title of Right Reverend Monsignor. Four years later, upon his return from Rome with Archbishop Shaw (1924), the Holy Father further honored him by appointing him a Prothonotary Apostolic, the second time it had been conferred in Louisiana.
The Mater Dolorosa School continued under the direction of the Benedictine Sisters. Sister Carolina, a.S.B., was succeeded as superior by Sister M. Theresa, a.s.B., and the next superior was Sister M. Stanislaus, a.S.B., who served until 1936. The school enrollment in 1925 was 249 boys and 256 girls, taught by 11 Sisters. The number increased steadily, especially after the erection of the new building with greater facilities.
Another improvement of 1927, was the removal of the rectory and its remodeling. It was then moved from Carrollton Avenue to the Bonstoff property on Plum Street. An arcade and garages were also added.
Finally, Mater Dolorosa Parish now had a complete parish plant, nearly four decades after the parish had been founded. Monsignor Prim had completed the task some 28 years after having undertaken the direction of the parish, despite all obstacles and endless difficulties.
Next: EXPANSION AND SERVICE