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History of Our Parish

An Abridged History of Little Flower

This page contains an abridged history of Little Flower, compiled and written by Sr. Joanne Clavel, OSF. The following pages may also be of interest:

List of past Little Flower pastors
Partial biography of Fr. Payne, first pastor of Little Flower
Fr. Payne's recollections of building the church
History of the parish from the Notre Dame Provincial Archives

These resources, located elsewhere, may also be of interest:
Art and architecture of Little Flower (in Worship section)
Parish Necrology, through 2007, available at the parish office

The Little Flower Story Begins
One day in 1937, two seminarians from Moreau were sent in search of the seminary horse that had run away. They found it grazing in the area of town known as the Morningside Addition, ('Dog Patch' as it was sometimes called). More importantly, these seminarians also found a small settlement of nominal Catholics that were living in appalling poverty. They knew something had to be done for these people. They spoke with their provincial and convinced him that these people needed help: food, clothing, housing, as well as a place of worship and religious instruction. The seeds of Little Flower Parish were planted.

With permission to help these people, the first "capital campaign" was underway. Land at the corner of Willis and Warrick was donated by Mr. and Mrs. George Hepler. Within a month's time, a chapel able to seat 125 people was built and Fr. Joseph Payne, then a student at Notre Dame, was given temporary assignment of the mission church. His "temporary" assignment lasted 35 years!

Fr. Payne's leadership brought into being a parish with the charisms of vibrant liturgy, faith development and reaching out to those in need. Long before Vatican II took place, the laity was actively involved in every aspect of parish life. The Christian Family Movement began with Fr. Payne. The parish was family, and the family was the parish.

1950's
In 1950 the mission church officially became St. Thèrése of Lisieux parish, aka "Little Flower." By the mid 50's the parish had grown from 48 to 366 families. The chapel was bulging at the seams. So, in 1954 a pledge drive to build a new church was undertaken. Again, Mrs. Hepler donated land on Ironwood, where Little Flower church stands today. In 1958 the new church was dedicated by Bishop Pursley. The modern ark structure bore its people to new life and a new vision. We are the heirs of this vision.

A new church building, new members, a growing vision. Focus continued to be on the laity as church and the responsibilities that brought. Rote catechism was thrown out, and meaningful instruction was emphasized. Parishes around the country were asking about and establishing similar programs.

1960's
The 1960's and Vatican II brought a new age to the church as a whole and to Little Flower. Annual liturgical fairs began here. The pastoral committee was formed (forerunner of the current pastoral council). The People of God were called to alleviate the lot of the poor, the hungry and the sick. An active laity willingly took initiative and moved the parish into new ministries that dealt with the deep-rooted causes of hardship and poverty in our parish neighborhood. Several ministries including the clothing center began.

1970's
1972 was the final year of Fr. Payne's leadership at Little Flower. He had seen the parish grow to over 600 families. The identity of Little Flower also grew from a chapel established to care for the local poor, to the People of God, responding to the call of Vatican II, to be a vital expression of the church in the modern world.

Fr. Payne died in 1976. Although he had left us in body, his spirit remains. The parish continues its dynamic involvement of laity leadership. Today we continue to be the keepers of the vision, the People of God in the modern world. We moved to a very strong parish council leadership represented by married, single, religious, and youth.

The 1970's saw the beginning of summer service trips by the Youth Group. Our youth became ambassadors sharing their faith, skills and talents. Traveling to places such as Arizona and Tennessee to mend roofs and porches; and to West Virginia where they transformed dilapidated houses into warm welcoming homes. In the process they came to know that being a part of the People of God meant caring for their brothers and sisters, and so they grew in that stance. They began to call themselves the Kingdom Construction Company (KCC).

1980's
In the early 1980's the parish formulated its mission statement which is an expression of this lived experience as response to the gospel. The mission statement became the guiding force in determining what we would focus on as a parish with our time, talent and treasure.

1987, our 50th anniversary as a parish! A third capital campaign was underway; the parish had again grown beyond its space. As a result of this campaign, the communion rail was removed, the pews were angled, the confessional was changed into a welcoming reconciliation room, and the gathering space was renovated to be an area of hospitality in which to begin our celebration as we enter into liturgy.

Fr. Payne Hall was renovated and the classrooms improved. We said good-bye to the green room and hello to the Rose room.

1990's
The three year Renew Program brought new life to the parish. Our faith sharing groups are a continuation of the Renew Program. The 1990's saw a new model for the pastoral council emerge: the model of election. That year, 120 parishioners were nominated as potential council members!

1992 - The Year of Listening, later called A Time of Listening: Neighborhood meetings, a parish wide survey, and questionnaires. Actively and creatively listening to the needs and concerns of parishioners led to future plans, programs and directions. A new vision emerged and the need once again for more space.

In August 1993, 3 factors came together - the needs of the parish, the dreams of the council to address those needs and a new pastor. Projects began to become reality. A grand piano and new sound system were added to the church in 1994. The next summer, air conditioning. In 1996, health ministry became a part of the parish when a nurse was hired.

The expansion of ministries brought the need for new and renovated facilities. In 1997 The Promise of Little Flower capital campaign was begun. A Chapel was added and a residence to serve as the rectory was purchased on the corner of George and Bailey streets. A Parish Center was built to include a gymnasium, six multi purpose rooms, the wellness center, youth center, family activity area and kitchen. The dungeon, the former area of the youth group behind Fr. Payne Hall, was renovated for an expanded food pantry and clothing center. On October 1st, our parish feast of the Little Flower, in the Jubilee Year of 2000, we came together to celebrate and dedicate this accomplishment. Bishop John D'Arcy joined us for this occasion.

The 21st Century
In 2007 we celebrated our 70th anniversary as Little Flower Parish. We continue to come together as the People of God, sharing our gifts of time, talent and treasure as a parish family.