Encouragement, News

History of Blessed Sacrament Parish

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

Father Fitzgerald loved the Irish, but clearly he loved all of God’s children! Agreeing with this statement, were our late parishioners, Robert Rumschik, Edward V. Ryan and Edward R. Turner, then President of the Parish Council. Other Trustees in the years that followed, included Edward Pempsell, Peter McGlynn, William McKernan, Ed Ryan and Jerome Schwaed, who also would have happily agreed. (Currently, our parishioners serving as dedicated Trustees are Mrs. Sally Kingsley and Mr. John Rozak) Father could also be found as a frequent visitor in the homes of these earliest parishioners, which included the McCormick’s, the Bagles, the O’Neills, Ellises, Barretts, Mowreys and Burnses. And he was also a constant visitor with the Weber, Fleischman, Jann, Kalick, Miller, Frediani, Ferrand, Milbrod, Ayler, Meiler, Nichter, Hagen, Wagner, Karnath, Cicero, Pempsell, Drexelius, Altenburg, Rechlin, Glose and Kreutzer families. Indeed, all of families gave much of their time, substance and to this parish, which we should never forget. This kindly priest, who became a legendary figure in the Kenilworth area of the Town of Tonawanda, sparked these pioneer efforts to build a church and school with typically Irish wit and a sense of neighborliness that endeared him throughout the pre-ecumenically-conscious years to other Christians and Jews. Seventh in a sixteen article series; this installment was originally published in our March 27, 2016 bulletin

In addition to Father Fitzgerald’s great love for his parishioners, he also loved the “Fighting Irish” football team of Notre Dame University, which during the 1920’s was coached by the legendary Knute Rockne. Interestingly enough, the games were broadcast by radio and our priest seldom missed listening to a Notre Dame game.  The games were played during Saturday afternoon when Father generally heard confessions. One Saturday afternoon, while listening to the Notre Dame/Navy game, a knock came to the rectory door.  The interrupter was a small girl who wanted to go to confession.  Father Fitzgerald asked her, “What in the name of heaven could a child like you do wrong?”  Father instructed her to kneel down and he would give her absolution.  The young one knelt; Father patted her on the head and asked her to pray for him.  He instantly realized and obviously regretted that the great game had, for a minute, caused him to place his priestly duty second to something not quite as worthy of his attention.  In addition to his love of the fighting Irish, not many people knew of his ability as an expert Bridge player. Eighth in a sixteen article series; this installment was originally published in our April 3, 2016 bulletin

    In the 1950’s there was a need for more buildings, however, there were always more bills than cash to pay them.  Yet, to Monsignor Fitzgerald the fact that the children could attend a Catholic school as they desired made the struggle worthwhile!  Monsignor felt that the needs of the children always came before his own.  Next to the children, Father showed his     greatest concern for the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur, an order that originated in Namur, France.  (The order worked throughout elementary schools in the Kenmore/Town of         Tonawanda area and also ran Mount Saint Mary’s High School, on Delaware Avenue.)    Father so appreciated the work the Sisters did to bring Christ to the children, he would do anything he could for them. During the 1950’s, the Sisters insisted that the student population of Blessed Sacrament School put on a “Christmas Program” for the clergy.  Enrollment in the school was significant, yet the sisters would “pack” the entire student body into the main hall of the school, which we know, today, as Father Cotter Hall.  Each grade participated either by recitation of Christmas stories, poems, singing, or the re-telling of the Christmas story-complete with costumes and props. This program would last 2-3 hours and, at its conclusion, Father Fitzgerald would stand, with other members of the clergy, and applaud and smile with great enthusiasm and appreciation.  Often, you could see tears in his eyes.  Father was so proud of the students and the Sisters; he would extend    exuberant thanks for the work and effort that had gone into the Annual Christmas Play.  Father then would “rally the students” and announce that each child would get a candy cane from him as a Christmas gift.  Then, he would proclaim, because the program was so grand, “there will be no school tomorrow!!”  You can only imagine the surprise of the dedicated sisters and the great enthusiasm of the students.  It was something to behold! Ninth in a sixteen article series; this installment was originally published in our April 3, 2016 bulletin

The old rectory preceded construction of the church/school building as well as a building behind the rectory.  This building housed Father Fitzgerald’s car, a few turkeys and a goat, which Monsignor claimed “kept the grass cut cheaply”.  Father built outdoor basketball courts near his garage “to keep the boys off the streets.” The former rectory, a big brown house had to be replaced with a more functional building.  During 1950, heavy cranes, trucks and bulldozers were moved in and the “house” was then picked up and swung over to the open field (or lot) where it stands today, at the corner of Wendel and Chelsea.  The “house” was of great interest and, hopefully, ownership to our former parishioners, the late Mr. and Mrs. Joseph (Marian) Dundon and their large family of eight children.  However, before the sale could take place, the mover wouldn’t move the house until all the cobblestones were removed from it, however, the attorney wouldn’t let the cobblestones be removed until the Dundon family paid for the house and the bankers wouldn’t give the Dundon family money to pay for the house until it was moved.  Mr. Dundon kiddingly said he was going to write a letter to the Pope on this unusual dilemma—he was so exasperated because of the many roadblocks.  Finally, after a visit with the Bishop, the home was purchased by the Dundon family.  Three weeks after the purchase,  the    Dundon family (all of them) were outside cementing the stones back into place on the house.  To their surprise,  25 Holy Name Society members from the church came along and plastered all of the cracks between the         cobblestones.  Friends and relatives came forward and installed two flights of stairs.  The house was complete with exactly 12 rooms for the large family.  “The house felt tears on the floors and laughter bouncing off the walls, and usually the latter”, Mrs. Kathleen (Dundon) Sullivan laughingly explained. “Our house was very sociable!  It loved Christmases, birthdays and parties”, which she wrote about in an article she titled, “Our House”, for the June 1960 issue of The Catholic Miss of America magazine.  She noted that she and her brothers and sisters referred to their home as “the wrecktry”, that it has been blessed three times, had two bibles, three   statues and two crucifixes in it when the family moved in.  Kathleen smiled as she recalled, “Our house laughed a lot and if you were to listen today, she’s sure you can still hear the giggles, and, if you look carefully, you can still find secret hiding places.”   Every time, Monsignor Fitzgerald encountered any member of the Dundon family, he was quick to ask, was the family happy and enjoying their new home?

     During this time, the parish was growing in so many ways with increased families, additional buildings, more parish activities and, as always more debt. In 1950 Monsignor Fitzgerald “borrowed” rectory plans from his good friend, Monsignor James Donovan, Pastor, of St. Andrews Church (Sheridan & Elmwood Avenues).  The old  rectory was then moved over to its new address at Chelsea and Wendel and was replaced by the more up to date, modern, green-awninged building we see today.   Tenth in a sixteen article series; this installment was originally published in our April 10, 2016 bulletin

              During Monsignor Fitzgerald’s 31 years as Pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church, our revered founder oversaw construction of a church, a school and rectory.  At the time of his retirement at the age of 65 years, there were 1600 families, school enrollment of 1100      pupils, where originally there were 90 families and 70 children in the school.

     At the time of his resignation and prior to his departure to his homeland, our founder wrote these words:

     While on his way to his family home in Killarney, after leaving his adopted country and Buffalo, he died    suddenly of a heart attack on February 20, 1961, in a Dublin hotel, while awaiting a reunion with his two brothers.  He is buried today in St. Joseph Church, Rathmore Cemetery, located in a small town in Kerry, Ireland, just west of the border of Cork.  (We extend our sincere thanks to the family of our long-time (1946) parishioners, the late Eugene and Anne Reger, who just recently donated letters their parents had received from Monsignor Fitzgerald after this return to Killarney, Ireland.  It was Monsignor Fitzgerald’s assistant at the time, Father William Snyder, who drove Monsignor from Buffalo to New York City, where he would board his ship for the return to Ireland.  Perhaps it was those long days at sea that got him thinking of Blessed Sacrament and all of his many friends that he had left behind.  He wrote from Muckross, Killarney to the Reger’s: “I was weaker than I expected – it must have the long days at sea that got me down.  The weather is nice, sunshine each day—not that Florida heat.  The ocean was rough.  As ever, M.J. Fitzgerald.”  Then the Reger’s received a second note, which would be the last.  Again written from Muckross, Monsignor wrote: “So nice to hear from you.  So the old Buick faded.  I will be back sooner than expected.  The U.S. is my home and there I want to turn my toes to the daisies.  I will see you in three-week’s time.  As ever, M.J.F.” Eleventh in a sixteen article series; this installment was originally published in our April 17, 2016 bulletin.