Stories abound about the establishment of Little Flower, but the Moreau Seminary horse always plays a prominent role. The horse escaped somehow from Moreau and wandered East. Seminarians found it in an area just East of campus which they discovered to be "a blighted area of neglected poor people." The area is sometimes referred to as "Dog Patch" (after Li'l Abner comic strip) or "Tin Can Alley". The true name of the area was "Morningside".
Fr. Clement Funke, C.S.C. recalled events this way in a letter to Joe Haley, C.S.C. about his brother:
Vividly comes to mind that Jack Haley and Pat Payton went in search of and found the seminary horse wandering in the vicinity of Dog Patch.
Jack and Pat came back from Morningside with the awful tale of the plight of those people, the need of food for families, instruction for the children, and even a church for them to get to Mass. No adequate transportation was available, no decent clothing for them to be presentable if the did come to the University Chapel. Both your brother Jack and comrade Pat started giving religious instructions in private homes in the area of Morningside, and urging us all to help. Some were allowed, many volunteered but were not given the permission for various reasons. Enthusiasm was building up and the need of a building, one to be used for CCD work or even as a church, was deemed necessary. Fr. Steiner, the Provincial, was approached and he requested the University to allow Bert Kunkle, a member of the carpenter's "union" at the University to supervise and guide the seminarians of Moreau in the construction of a building.
Fr. Connerton, Supervisor of Moreau, was most cooperative and appointed your brother (John Haley) to head the project. He was to keep in contact with Mr. Kunkle, inform him when and what days the seminarians could work, how many would be needed or how many could show up for this project and kept everyone busy until he sounded the end of the time for work the particular day. It was indeed a responsible task and your brother did it well. His enthusiastic spirit of priestly work was already being demonstrated in this early time of his life. He just loved to help souls. God bless him. He did just that for a long time in his priesthood. I know this to be true of Fr. John Haley. I was appointed to be his assistant in the building project at Morningside.
This letter was written on the occasion of the death of Fr. Haley. Fr. James Burns and not Fr. Steiner was Provincial at the time.
It was in the spring of 1937 when the seminarians discovered Dog Patch. They saw that many of the people in the area and their homes were very poor. With other seminarians they came back and did a census and noted that the people were as spiritually poor as they were materially. The people, many nominally Catholic, did not go to Mass at Sacred Heart, Notre Dame, their parish, because they were embarrassed, they said, about their poverty and felt that they did not have the clothes that were good enough for the University Church.
The seminarians felt that if the people were unable to come to church, then the church should come to them.
The census of the area showed two hundred and eight people in forty-eight families. The seminarians began to teach catechism in one of the larger homes and to get priests from Notre Dame to say Mass.
The seminarians soon pushed for the construction of a modest building to serve as a place for catechism classes and maybe also a chapel.
Fr. Finnegan was open to the idea and wrote to the Provincial, Fr. James Burns on June 7, 1937.
My dear Father Burns:
Within the boundaries of this parish, a half mile east of the campus, begins a subdivision known as Morningside Addition, extending eastward a half mile and about a mile north and south of its central street: you have often heard me refer to it as "Tin Can Alley". Its population for the most part is housed in many instances in tarpapered shacks and is largely made up of numerous little children. In this area there are quite a number of families which can loosely be called Catholic, some are mixed marriages, the Catholic parent rather nominally so, the children unbaptized and uninstructed in Christian doctrine, and all non-churchgoers. Too there are a few families without religious affiliation of any kind but somewhat sympathetic to the idea of being instructed.
Due to various charitable ministrations by me and the parish aid society some of the people refer to me as "Santa Claus". Whatever basis for believing that they would respond to Christian instruction, it is certain that there is some goodwill among them. But I cannot boast of much optimism. Some eight years ago I conducted an instruction class in one of the better and larger homes in Morningside for a dozen adults, half fallen-aways and half non-Catholic. After reception of them into the Church, most of them relapsed into their former indifference except to come to Mass occasionally and some years to make their Easter duty and some years not to do so. Their children, for the most part, attended the Sunday catechism classes but after first communication tended to follow the bad example of their parents.
There are, I presume, several explanations for this negligence of Catholic practice; one is the "human stuff"..., another is the appalling indigence of such a degree that they have not suitable clothing in which to come to church; still another reason is probably human respect which recoils from the thought that they must be part of a university congregation (which of course is not true). Then in this area there is a Protestant Sunday school in a very small dwelling which plays up a "rich and high-hat Notre Dame" where poor persons are not wanted (I have been told of remarks of a nature which seem to lead to this conclusion).
You will probably recall my reference now and then to two seminarians, Mr. Pat Peyton and a Mr. Haley, who with Fr. Connerton's consent asked my permission to take up a census in Morningside. They got the notion from this occurrence. The seminary horse strayed from home one day: in searching for it they found it near a house where a fallen away Catholic family had but recently moved in. The Gaelic susceptibility of two seminarians readily saw the hand of God in the fact that the horse had stopped at this particular place. After three months of tireless effort in visiting practically every home in this area, reporting weekly to me on their progress, these zealous and, because of undreamed of experience, startled young men came to me and begged me to permit them to build a small chapel where Mass could be said and catechism taught. Their amazing faith and wounded spiritual sensibilities and plea to permit them to cooperate with me in this work of salvation actually stunned me. There was but one thing I could do under the circumstances - I promised them I would take up with you the advisability of their proposal.
So far I have tried to encourage their efforts by following up their visits by personal visitation and by organizing an instruction class in one of better and larger homes where I meet on Monday and Thursday evenings - at the start I had eight adults and now after several weeks only three come regularly and four not at all! I told these two seminarians that I could obtain a piece of ground for nothing and that I thought Fr. O'Hara would be glad to donate a lot of secondhand material for the building. Last week George Hepler showed me several parcels of land and I chose one (with a 76 foot frontage) tentatively that is centrally located for this district).
Of course, the proposed building would be small and unpretentious (really a kind of glorified shack to harmonize with the surrounding homes). The latter have an idea that they could complete the job by the first of August.
I do not think that this proposition would interfere very much with the present constitution of the parish if limited to this area; probably it would be the right foundation for the future eventualities such as the need of making the "east side" a separate sustaining unit. As I have said the efforts and results of these two seminarians have been stimulating and edifying to me, and for them as I observed, as weekly they came to my office, horror in wide-opened eyes, hesitation for proper words to express unexpected experiences and prayerful wishes that should be rescued. I knew that their theological studies would carry a new significance. These two and a half dozen other seminarians in Moreau have started a spiritual campaign with a great leader. They have composed a prayer in honor of St. John Bosco to be recited daily, have promised certain daily self-denials for conversion of Morningside. They wish, also to begin teaching catechism to these children who have not been attending the Sunday classes during the school year. We have found a suitable place to hold the classes if we can get Fr. O'Hara's permission - the dining room in the rear of the workmen's house at the corner of Eddy and Bulla Roads.
May you give this proposition your earliest consideration and decision.
Respectfully yours in Holy Cross,
Fr. Burns granted this request and the work began. On June 16, Fr. Finnegan sent out the following appeal letter to raise money for the project:
About a mile east of the campus there is a settlement known as Morningside Addition - popularly called "Tin Can Alley" - where "home" is, for the most part, tar-papered shacks and tumbled down cabins. A canvass of this district by two seminarians revealed a large number of fallen-away Catholics including a large number of children unbaptized and uninstructed in religion, and some non-Catholic families who are willing to be convinced of Catholic truth.
An attempt is to be made immediately to erect a small mission chapel where Catechism will be taught and Mass will be said. This building, sixty by twenty-five feet, will be built of second hand materials, so far as possible, with a tar-paper exterior and should not cost more than $500.00 since the labor will be that of the seminarians of Moreau Seminary.
The gospel relates the incident of the miraculous draught of fishes, but Peter's net broke because of the large number of fish: the number of souls to be saved is still too large for the church's net - won't you, by a small donation, help to "mend" the net, at least to enlarge it so that you may share in the "catch" in Morningside!
The church was completed in August with a great deal of seminarian effort.
In September Fr. Finnegan published an account of the construction of "Morningside Chapel" which concluded that cash donations received amounted to $1,118.10 and cash expended amounted to $1,118.10.
Among the contributions were $50.00 from the poor box; $130.00 from the University Council; $70.00 from Fr. O'Hara; $30.60 from the parish; $153.00 from Moreau seminarians; $43.00 from the Parish Social Welfare League and $100.00 from "Father Payne's Social". The remaining money was contributed by thirty-four lay people. In-kind contributions were the real estate given by George Hepler, a 2% discount from the lumber company and gift of a half dozen kegs of nails. The electric fixtures were donated by the Notre Dame electric shop. Secondhand pews, confessionals, organ, vestments and vesting case, a sanctuary lamp and altar lines were all arranged through Fr. Steiner. A new hand-carved altar was given by Fr. Lange.
The work was directed by Bert Kunkle of the Notre Dame carpentry shop and Walter Berger and Louis Pulman of the maintenance department. A Mr. Elmer Kintz of Morningside is also mentioned and the men of the electric and paint shops at Norte Dame "donated their time besides some hours permitted by the university".
A note also says that Fr. Payne's time and efforts were indispensable and that the church bell was donated by Mr. Nick Guljas.
Construction had indeed moved quickly. On June 20 the foundation was poured, on July 12 the superstructure started and on August 15 the first liturgy was held.
Fr. Payne was appointed to administer the mission from Notre Dame. Fr. Burns wrote Bishop Noll on August 6, 1937:
With your approval we would like to assign Fr. Joseph Payne to have charge of the new chapel east of Notre Dame. We have thought it best to leave Fr. Finnegan as Pastor of the Sacred Heart Church. The new chapel, east of Notre Dame, as you will recall, is largely to afford opportunity for catechetical instruction to the children of that district by the seminarians of Moreau Seminary. Many of the adults and children will not come to the church at Notre Dame because they say they have not decent clothes to wear. There is to be one Mass each Sunday in this chapel. Fr. Payne is to continue his studies at Notre Dame, but he can in addition, attend to this chapel. He has been supervising its construction. He is a very zealous young priest. The people in this district all belong to the parish of Notre Dame and I presume it will be best to still regard them as members of the parish, with the chapel just as an auxiliary to the church at Notre Dame.
One year after his ordination Fr. Payne began his work at Little Flower which was to last for the next thirty-five years.
Because of his devotion to St. Thérèse, the parish was named for her, but quickly became known, not as "St. Thérèse's Parish" but as "Little Flower".
An article in the South Bend Tribune on the new church described the interior of the church as "beaverboard" and the exterior as "white frame". It noted that "a handful of Catholics" gather there to worship and that the "only Mass is said at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday".
Fr. Payne would commute from the community house at Notre Dame by bicycle each day until a room was added to the back of the church and he took up residence there. It was ten years later in 1947 that the mission became a parish in its own right. Joe did not receive a salary until 1950 because the parish remained very poor. The geographical area of the parish was established at a meeting of area pastors as new boundaries were drawn.
In 1941 it was arranged that the children from Little Flower could attend St. Joseph Grade School. For two years the children were shuttled between their homes and Notre Dame bus stop, where they caught the city bus to school. Fr. Payne did the shuttling. A scrap drive by the parish netted enough money to buy their own bus to take the children to school and Joe became the bus driver.
In all ways Joe gave himself to Little Flower "with complete devotion and love and with extraordinary success". The new parish in Dog Patch, that numbered twenty-five families, had grown to number over six hundred families. Always an innovator, Joe lead the parish to a forefront position. For example, the Christian Family Movement had its first group organized on a parish level established at Little Flower in 1947.
The little chapel in Morningside served as a parish church twenty-one years and many "new attitudes, new customs" that are part of Little Flower's history began in the church.
John Wilson, In the Province Review article of June 1976 that spoke of Fr. Payne's death, wrote that "what comes through clearly is that under unusual circumstances an unusually dynamic parish, led by an unusually dynamic priest-pastor, came into being and prospered in an unusually fruitful way..."
In the funeral eulogy it was said of Joe:
He knew the riches of the gospel vision were never meant to be kept to himself. He knew the essence of pastoral service to the parish is that we give away freely what we have received freely, that in our pilgrimage of service there is room in our caravans for everybody.
The Iowa farm boy from such a poor family was drawn to serve the poor. The young man suddenly attracted to the idea of joining a "missionary community" and who took the missionary vow, found a mission work one mile from Notre Dame and dedicated it to the patroness of the missions, the Little Flower.