Three years ago, our Parish Historian spent countless hours researching and chronicling the history of our parish. We then ran the historical articles for sixteen consecutive weeks in the bulletin – the positive response was tremendous! So, in this 90th Anniversary Year of Blessed Sacrament Parish, let’s run these wonderful articles again as we lead up to our 90th Anniversary Celebration on October 26th, 2019. The first in the series is below.
If you happen to have an old photo or two that you’d like to share, we can see if it will duplicate well and perhaps include it along with the articles. And, enormous gratitude goes out to our parish historian (who prefers to remain anonymous) for this wonderful contribution to our parish!
THE BIRTH OF A PARISH
The Bible tells us that nothing happens by mere chance and that there is a time for different things. Thanks to the vision of St. Joseph’s Parish, especially Mrs. Ayler & Mrs. Milbrod, it was seen that there was a need for a parish nearer to their homes in “Duck Town”. After securing enough petitions from their Catholic neighbors, Mrs. Ayler and Mr. Thomas Rechin took these petitions to Bishop Turner, who agreed to make a priest available for Mass if the people could come up with a suitable location for the celebration of Mass.
This resulted in the first Masses being celebrated in the Kenilworth Fire Hall on Sunday mornings. It was Fr. Klauder from St. John’s and other neighboring priests who kept alive “the Mission of St. John’s” by saying Mass for the people of Duck Town.
(First article in the series, originally published in the February 14, 2016 bulletin)
From the beginning, the congregation was known as “Saint John’s Mission, Kenilworth”. The portable altar (built by early parishioners) and an old organ donated by Father Klauder (Pastor, St. John the Baptist Church) were utilized. Thanks to good neighbors, the portable altar was stored in the attic of the home of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Rechlin (at 142 Hawthorne) and rolled down Hawthorne to the fire hall on Sunday mornings. The first Masses of the little congregation took place in the fire company’s former fire hall, a wooden structure on Hawthorne Avenue, originally established in 1919, that preceded the handsome brick building at Hawthorne and Maxwell that was built with funds from the Work Progress Administration (WPA) in 1938. (The current fire hall building was dedicated in 1999.) The three young daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Rechlin (our former parishioners: Mrs. Clara Kelly, Mrs. Ethel Buchanan and Mrs. Ellen Wielopolski) used to scrounge the neighborhood for garden flowers for the 9 o’clock Sunday Mass. The vision of the early parishioners bore fruit when in October 1929, Bishop Turner appointed Father Michael Fitzgerald as the first pastor.
It should be noted that Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Rechlin, their daughters, and their familiesmaintained a strong, active, interested membership in our church and its school all of their lives.
Second in the sixteen article series, originally published in the February 21, 2016 bulletin
Rt. Reverend William Turner, Bishop of Buffalo established this new parish north of Kenmore Avenue and east of Niagara Falls Boulevard, east of the Niagara Falls High Speed Tracks. While Rev. Michael J. Fitzgerald was appointed Pastor, he, in turn, asked Messrs. Frank J. Drexelius and James O. Burns to act as Trustees. The gentlemen agreed to their new roles and their names are affixed to the incorporated title of our parish. It was suggested by the new pastor to procure property in a central location and make arrangements for a permanent building. Later on, as Father Fitzgerald recalled the adventure of purchasing his parish’s property, he referred to the property as “a wilderness and roadless hamlet”. The new church made arrangements with M & T Loan Company with the purpose of procuring a mortgage at a later time from the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank of New York. Once the property was procured, plans for a building were drawn up. Father Fitzgerald determined that the name of his new church would be Blessed Sacrament because of his devotion to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Indeed, this could have been the needed “extra” that enabled this parish to survive its unique and difficult birth, considering the fiscal condition of our country at the time of the stock market crash. The people of this new congregation had shown their good faith by having $3,200.00 available for Father Fitzgerald to buy the land. A whole block: 700 feet by 250 feet between Claremont and Wendel from Chelsea to Berkley. The money was raised by card parties, raffles, etc., before the start of the parish. Father Fitzgerald showed his courage and dedication when he assumed a mortgage of $72,000.00, when his first Sunday collection was $22.60 and a raffle for a bushel of potatoes brought in the sum of $5.00. Third in a sixteen article series; originally published in the February 28, 2016 bulletin.
THE GROWTH OF A PARISH (OURS!)
Reverend Michael J. Fitzgerald first saw the light of day at the twilight of the nineteenth century, May 27, 1895, in Muchross, Ireland. He studied at St. Brendan’s Seminary, Killarny; St. Kieran’s College, Ireland. In 1914, Father Fitzgerald prepared for the priesthood at the Seminary of Our Lady of the Angels at Niagara University, Lewiston. He was ordained December 1, 1918. Prior to his pastorship, he was named Assistant Pastor of Saint Joseph’s Cathedral and then at St. Monica’s Church and, St. Thomas Aquinas, all of Buffalo. He was invested with the rank of domestic prelate, with the title of Monsignor at ceremonies December 13, 1959 in Saint Joseph’s New Cathedral in Buffalo. He had been elevated to the rank by Pope John XXIII, two months earlier, along with other Pastors from the Town of Tonawanda, which included: Rt. Rev. James Donovan of St. Andrews, Rt. Rev. Timothy Ring of St. Paul’s, and Rt. Rev. William Solleder, Pastor of St. Christopher’s Shine. The First Announcement Book shows that Father Fitzgerald said his first Mass for the newly formed parish on December 8, 1929 (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) in the Kenilworth Fire Hall. In addition, Father Fitzgerald’s first entry in the Record Diary, dated December 15, 1929 noted: 3rd Sunday in Advent. (1) census to be continued; (2) am now living in the parish; (3) collection last Sunday $22.60. Fourth in a sixteen article series; this installment was originally published in our March 6, 2016 bulletin
Since the church’s founding in 1929, our first Pastor, Rt. Reverend Monsignor Michael J. Fitzgerald remained our Pastor for 32 years–years of great struggle. While, it’s great to see growth, paying for it is quite another issue. Little did Father Fitzgerald realize what lay ahead; his new assignment became effective the day the stock market crashed, sending much of the nation into panic. During the 1930s, there were times when Father Fitzgerald was unable to collect even the small salary that was due him. History records that at one time our founder even sold his car in order to buy groceries to help those parishioners who were destitute and out of work. The rest of the story of the 1930’s, and beyond, can be summed up with our Pastor’s many trips up and down the streets in his car, to bring the children to and from school as no one provided school busses in those days. This typical kindness was especially appreciated at lunchtime as it would give those students that lived close to or beyond Englewood Avenue more time to eat their noon meal and still walk back to school in time for their afternoon session. We must recognize his battles with the banks and his contagious Irish humor inspired a parish that would not give up! A parish that could survive a Depression could also survive World War II, but again it wasn’t easy. Fifth in a sixteen article series; this installment was originally published in our March 13, 2016 bulletin
In July 1935, Father Kenneth Muller, a newly ordained priest, was assigned to assist Father Fitzgerald. Father William Snyder replaced Father Mullen in July 1, 1939 and proved to be of great help to our Pastor in the four years of his assignment. When Father Snyder was transferred, the Bishop was unable to send Father Fitzgerald another assistant, resulting in an increased work load that fell on his shoulders. While other priests were periodically assigned during the late 40’s, Father Fitzgerald was often without an assistant. To add to his burden, the financial struggles and preoccupation with the war was increasing in the minds of the nation and of the parish. Sixth in a sixteen article series; this installment was originally published in our March 20, 2016 bulletin