Established as a mission from Sacred Heart Parish, Notre Dame August 15, 1937.
Chaplain: Joe E Payne, C.S.C. Appointed by: Very Reverend James Burns, C.S.C. Provincial, Holy Cross Congregation in the United States. Pastor for (Sacred Heart Church, Notre Dame) - Reverend Edward J. Finnegan, C.S.C.
Little Flower parish began as a mission from Sacred Heart Parish, Notre Dame, Indiana. The impetus for its beginning came from the Seminarians of Moreau Seminar, Notre Dame, who "discovered" "Dogpatch" because of a run-away horse.
Among the Seminarians who canvassed the area and built the church were Mr. Patrick Payton and his brother Thomas. Others were, Mr. John Haley and his brother, Dean O'Donnell, William McAnliffe, Clement Funke and Joe Miller.
The Seminarians, talking with the people they encountered on their search for the seminary horse, discovered that many of them did not attend Mass on Sunday, though nominally Catholics. The excuse given by many was that they had not the clothes considered suitable to wear to church at Notre Dame. This gave them the idea of building a small church for Sunday services to accommodate the poor people. They presented their idea to Father Finnegan, who approved on condition the Seminarians would do the work of building. Bishop Noll gave his blessing and funds were raised by an appeal made by Fr. Finnegan to his business friends and acquaintances of South Bend. Many small donations of from $5.00 to $25.00 eventually mounted up to over $1,000.
With this money, materials were purchased for a small building. Mr. Bert Kunkle, a member of the carpenter force at Notre Dame gave his services as adviser and overseer.
Work was begun on July 15, 1937. Father Finnegan, just before leaving on his vacation. Turned the first shovel full of dirt and the building was underway.
Fortune would have it that I (Joe E. Payne, C.S.C. one year ordained) was appointed to take Father Finnegan's place at Sacred Heart Church, while he was away. He usually remained away at that time for months.
I was very much interested in the "Mission" as it was called and began going with the Seminarians on their rounds visiting the people to take census. Father Finnegan, according to his custom, took his parish car with him on his vacation, so that I had no means of transportation. With Father Burn's approval, I purchased a second-hand bicycle, since I was living at the Presbytery at Notre Dame at the time.
I spent most of the summer flying back and forth from the Presbytery, often with my cassock trailing in the wind, to the mission.
The mission limits were a tiny area bounded only on three sides. North Douglas south, east Ironwood drive and South Bend drive and west Ivy Road.
A lot on which the church was built was donated by Mr. & Mrs. George Hepler who had at one time owned all the area as farm land, but had subdivided it now and sold it a lot at a time since they were both old and unable any longer to operate a farm.
While the church was being built, a first Communion class was being prepared for Sacraments. Also Catechism classes were taught by the seminarians each day in an abandoned store on Juniper road, across from what is now the fine house. Some forty or fifty children attended these religion classes.
On August 15, feast of the Assumption, which was on a Sunday that year, the first mass was celebrated in the new building, though it was not entirely complete.
The furniture consisted entirely of borrowed things - pews, altar and confessional were castoffs from Notre Dame, which had been lying idle in the old boat house. Vestments too were gathered here and there wherever a hand-me down could be located.
At that first Mass, the church was crowded to the doors. One of the seminarians took movies. Crude wooden steps led to the front door. (at 8:00) Father Thomas Steines, C.S.C. assistant provincial, came out and blessed the building.
A few seminarians constituted the choir for it was a high Mass. Our musical instrument was an old reed organ discarded by Notre Dame.
After the opening Mass on August 15, Mass was said each Sunday. While I was still temporary pastor of Sacred Heart Parish at Notre Dame. I nevertheless began to leave the conduct of the Sunday Mass schedule there in the hands of others, while I myself handled the Sunday Mass at the Mission. This obvious interest in the mission on my part led Father Burns to make a decision to leave me in charge of it even after the return of the regular Pastor. Consequently, a little meeting was held in the Pastor's rooms, whereat Father Burns disclosed to Father Finnegan his intention of leaving me in charge. A few small incidents came out of the meeting.
What funds I had were deposited with the treasures at Notre Dame. Regular monthly statements were sent to me from then on. In October, a bill for a bicycle, due the account of Sacred Heart Church and charged to the account of the Mission arrived. I objected to Father Finnegan that the bicycle had been used in the discharge of the duties of the Pastor of Sacred Heart, but the bill stood and I had to pay it. Fr. Finnegan's answer was "You crowed so much about what you made on the social you can surely pay for your bicycle." After that I withdrew my account from the treasures office and deposited my income (about $3.00 per Sunday) in the First Bank & Trust Co. of South Bend where it could not be touched without my consent.
In early September 1937, our first social was held. It was little more than a lawn social, but the work put in on it was much more. Many a day I spent in back of the church working on a special project. I was determined to have a ride for the children and was engaged in making a merry-go-around. I mentioned this fact at a meeting of the women one evening, and I met only disbelief that I could do such a thing. Their incredulity was turned to admiration, however, when with unrelenting labor, I actually came up with a merry-go-around, and the children had a fine time riding at a nickel a ticket. The contraption was man-powered, and the men were not in a mind to exert themselves to the extent for nothing. The upshot was that an agreement had to be reached with the children to push once for a ride. This worked very well, but it did not make any money.
We did clear about $150.00 on that social - a grand achievement for depression time.
A reporter and a photographer from the local newspaper showed up & had me pose with the merry-go-round and inside the unfinished church. These pictures were actually published along with an account of the beginnings of the mission.
This write-up was not wholly acceptable to the Pastor, who on his return had a different article published, more in accordance with his liking.
The question of a name for the new church soon arose. In fact, it had to be named before it could be blessed. In accordance with a devotion to the Little Flower I had conceived in my novitiate days, I wished to name it after her. I submitted my proposal to Father Burns. He hesitated because Father Finnegan had thought it should be called St. George, after Mr. George Hepler, who had donated the lot. My contention was that it should be named after a saint and not after a benefactor. My argument won and the church was called Little Flower.
Before I left on my vacation, soon after the social, the question came up about a meeting place for organizations and for social events. The men were for having a basement. This was agreed on and while I was away the men began excavating. If I had known all that I was to go through because of that basement I would never have consented to it. If I knew then what I know now, I would have dug the basement in a different place and moved the church over on it. Not knowing it the digging proceeded underneath the building.
All that fall, until the ground froze late in November, the digging continued. Each evening some neighbor's truck would be borrowed or hired and five or six men with shovels, myself among them, would load the truck again and again and dumped on the street leading to Bulla road. This was a great help to cars in the spring thaw. But even in spite of the mixture of gravel and clay on the road cars would be stuck by the dozen early each spring.
When the ground froze in November, we decided it would be better to discontinue the work until spring. That was a fatal decision. The spring thaw brought tragedy. The sandy soil under the church had been reinforced part way up with a cement-block wall. It stood up well as long as the ground was frozen, but when it loosened, it was child's play to cave in the wall, which stood in its own right without any weight what so ever on it.
So we had our basement, but the church was in it, come spring.
The agony of it! The building had to be jacked up and a company was engaged to do the lifting. But we had no money to hire masons to lay a wall for the church to rest on. Our original mason, a good man of the parish, engaged as a mason, at Notre Dame, a Mr. Walter Berger, had by this time got his belly full and could not be persuaded, even though it had been on his advice that the method that proved so disastrous, had been adopted in the beginning.
Then came the WPA to the rescue. All volunteers, engaged by a Mr. Buck Cabanaw, one of their overseers, a group of strangers (God bless them) they came and cleared up the rubble and began to lay the wall.
Hurried and hastened by the lifting company, who wanted their material for other jobs, many mistakes were made, but finally the wall was ready and the building was let down upon it.
Due to the haste, the wall was not level in all places and some of the windows cracked with the result of the twisting of the building. Only the two sides and front wall had been laid. The back end was supported by a post in the middle. The basement was therefore accessible to the whole wide world.
This did not prevent us, in the fall, from holding a bazaar. The open end was boarded up and a concrete floor laid - instead of gravel and sand, Mr. Cabanaw suggested that we use some of the material taken from the basement, and this resulted in many pits and holes where lumps of clay had been mixed with cement. But it was a floor and we were proud of it.
So we laid our plans for the bazaar. Many companies in South Bend were visited and asked for gifts. Others were good enough to give us prizes on consignment. Mrs. Betty Major donated a hand made quilt for the raffle. She and Evelyne also took charge of the raffle books, typing them out one at a time and getting them a few at a time to Mr. Kintz who had charge of the selling end.
The great day (September 16, 1938) finally dawned; shelves and booths laborously set up, were now laden with attractive displays of merchandise. All went well, a large crowd was in attendance and we made a little money. At night, since much valuable merchandise was readily accessible to any thief who could easily rip his way through the boarded up end, it was decided someone would have to remain on guard. I was selected, and after everyone departed, about 11:30 or 12:00, I settled down on a couch with a German lugar and two Collie dogs borrowed from the Majors. One of the dogs became attached to me, and until the day she died (probably old age) she spent more time here than at home.
At the end of the third and final night, of our first bazaar, we counted up $389.26 receipts, this was our gross; the net is not known for sure, but would probably be about $200.00. It was a great success.
In October of this same year (1938) we had our first mission. It was given by Father Hart. After each conference, Father Hart would see individuals privately in the basement. He had a rocking chair set for him on the carpet placed near the door and evidently had several visitors. Father Hart took no stipend during the mission, he stayed at the Mission House (at the college building) and I picked him up each morning, for Mass, afternoon for the children's conference, and each evening for the evening conference.