Our Lady of Lourdes 75th Anniversary
1918-1993 by Edwin Schafer
1918 to 1933 – – THE BEGINNING
It was a bright, sunny day on Saturday, November 9, 1918, 48 degrees high, 37 low, above average for that time of year. This was the day Archbishop Jeremiah J. Harty announced the formation of a new parish in the Hanscom Park area. The Archbishop had been informed by a delegation of future parishioners that this section of the city was growing rapidly and that it was inconvenient for people in the area to walk or ride a streetcar to attend services at St. Peter’s Church which was, and still is located at Leavenworth and 27th Streets.
Property was purchased at 32nd Avenue and France Street. This had been the estate of George W. Holdrege, general manger of the Burlington Northern Railroad for 36 years. On it was built a house in 1884 which was of tree stories and 13 rooms with the address of 2118 South 32nd Avenue. Holdrege with his wife and family of three daughters and a son lived there until 1910 when it was purchased by John F. Kennedy, the attorney, bank president and congressman.
In the November 15 edition of the The True Voice, the diocesan newspaper (later to be named The Catholic Voice), it was stated that the first Mass of “Hanscom Park parish” would be the next Sunday with Father William Borer serving as pastor. Father Borer was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Borer who lived on Hanscom Boulevard at Martha Street.
The first trustees were Dr. Robert Schemel, Dr. Jerry Lyons, Dr. Jim Lovely, Maurice Hinchey, Sr., and Joseph F. Powers.
The fledgling parish was placed under the patronage of Our Lady of Lourdes and the first mass was offered on November 19, 1918, in the “Chapel on the Hill”, as the former Holdredge home came to be known. There were two front rooms of the house which were used for the altar and worshippers. The former dining room on the southwest was used by the choir. A baby grand piano led the choir, played by Juanita Finch (Peterson). The choir consisted of Alice Finch (Stuart), Ellen Dollen, Florence Long Arnoldi, Mildred Long, Frances Roman, Madelin McElligott, Mary Hopkins, Cliff Long, Lyle Daley, Mr. and Mrs. Conboy, Eleanor O’Toole, Sue Morearty (Powers), and later Mrs. Ann Latenser and Leone Leary.
These were unstable times. War had been raging in Europe for almost two years bythe time the U.S. formally entered the fray on April 6, 1917. American troops entered combat in October 1917. All U.S. forces were under the command of General “Black Jack” Pershing who, during his career, had been an instructor in military science at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. In November an armistice brought it to an end and President Woodrow Wilson sailed to Europe for a peace conference. One Hundred twenty-five thousand young Americans had died and a huge const in money and human suffering was the final result.
Coupled with war was the influenza epidemic which scourged the population. More than a half-million people died in the U.S. during the 1917-1918 epidemic which included many of those in service.
People working in the packing houses began at a starting wage of 10 cents an hour. Men’s suits were advertised for sale at $18.50 to $45.00. Against this economic background plans went ahead to build a church and rectory. The basements were dug and cornerstone for the church was laid in 1920. Father Borer left the parish and in 1921 Father William Dowd became the pastor.
The first family to register was Mr. and Mrs. William L. Holbrook with five sons and three daughters. It is said that the oldest daughter assumed the nickname of “Quarter Mary” because she always had her hand out for a quarter. She was sending the money to St. Theresa’s Guild of Juneau, Alaska, where Bishop Cremont had worked as a missioner. He had come to Alaska from France.
Mary Jane Wolsey was the first baptism, Daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Wolsey.
Florence Long and Jim Arnoldi were the first couple to marry in the “Chapel on the Hill”. This was followed by the first marriage in the new church basement on September 20, 1921. It was George Hautzinger and Marie Stephanie Mailander who tied the knot but not without some difficulty. A violent storm dumped a torrent of rain on the area which flooded this new basement structure. Postponing the marriage was considered but the young couple insisted it remain on schedule. Members of the parish rushed to their aid and spread a series of planks across the flooded floor so the couple could approach the altar. From then on, George, in a joking mood of course, told his friends, “and I’ve been walking the plank ever since.”
In 1912 a the age of fourteen, George had gone to work for the Union Pacific Railroad at the customary salary of $25.00 a month. When the call to service came he joined the Navy.
The couple fostered three sons, George Jr., Richard and John, all of whom attended Our Lady of Lourdes School. George Jr. became an artist working in glass. Many years later his company mounted, renewed and restored art glass windows in the church and donated several windows in memory of the family. Several windows were sponsored by other parishioners at that time. Dick became an assistant vice president at Union pacific and John became a forest ranger in Montana after graduation from the university there.
In the interest of getting a school going quickly and economically a low, one-story frame building was build just south of the convent. The structure was divided into four classroom. The first class assembled in 1924 taught by the School Sisters of Loretto from Kentucky. After services began in the basement of the new church, the “Chapel on the Hill” was converted to a convent.
Within the four classrooms of the old schoolhouse each room held two classes, one teacher to each room. All nuns. When Dick was there in grades seven and eight, he recalls three were 34 in one class and 32 in the other. The nun would alternate teaching various subjects to classes throughout the day. While one class was absorbing teaching, the other class was studying. How effective was this method? When his class took the Creighton Prep entrance exams, Dick said, 13 of the 14 OLL boys had higher scores than the lowest scholarship winner that day.
Music lessons were given by the nuns on the first floor of the old convent. Children in the school went to the toilets in the basement of the old convent. He said the basement was not finished and was quite rough. A few years later it was necessary to hold classes in the basement because of increased enrollment and lack of classrooms.
Father Joseph Osdick was appointed the first superintendent of the diocesan schools in 1926. In 1937 he recommended a room be added to OLL’s school. This was done on the west end of the north and this became the kindergarten room.
When George Hautzinger, Jr. was in the eighth grade, one of the pupils was a large, strapping lad about six feet tall by the name of Joe O’Brien. It was evident that the nun had complete control of the class. If Joe had a small transgression, the nun would take him off to the nearby coatroom with a ruler in hand. What followed was a series of sharp reports from the ruler being applied to something with sounds of Joe moaning and complaining. When they returned to the room it was evident none of the other children wee anxious to test the authority. It wasn’t until some years later the story came out that the nun really did not want to chastise the children so severely so she made a deal with Joe that if he acted his part, the nun would not have to apply the ruler to anyone. It worked.
One other product of the old school house in Father Tom Furlong who moved through the classes successfully and then came back in 1981 as the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes.
The Wolf family is another with a long association at Our Lady of Lourdes. Dick, with his wife Mary Jeane (Keller) Wolf, lived just north of the church. He said his father moved the family into the parish in 1936. Unfortunately, the mother of 10 children died in 1937. The oldest was 13 and t he youngest was 22 months and six of them eventually enrolled at OLL.
From that time until 1991, there was a continuous line of Wolfs in that school. The chain lasted for 55 years until Theresa, the daughter of Joseph and Mary Rae, graduated. She is the youngest to of 11 children in that family.
To improve the social life of the young people dances were held in the basement of the church. The group also danced in the “Tea Room” of the Burges Nash store in the Kresge building at 16th and Harney Streets. These dances were discontinued because of the fatal shooting of Pat Lavelle, a city officer. He had been on duty near Oak Street and Hanscom Boulevard and the report was that a group from outside the parish had gathered and a argument ensued which led to the fatality.
Archbishop Harty, because of his health, went to the Southwest and finally to Los Angeles. It was there he died on October 29, 1927. In March 1928, Right Reverend Joseph F. Rummel became bishop of Omaha.
It was announced that the National Eucharistic Congress was to be held in Omaha on September 23, 24, 25 of 1930. There had been no Eucharistic Congress held in this country for more than 20 years and this caused great excitement. This drew hundreds of illustrious churchmen and tens of thousands of laity from all over the country and abroad. Archbishop Rummel called for the parishes to open their facilities and their homes to the visitors which was the only way there could be sufficient lodging for all. Parish buildings were decorated with national and papal colors and emblems. Th4e Congress went down in history as one of the most significant and most colorful productions ever staged in Nebraska.
Father Walter Theis replaced ?Father Dowd in 1932. He was pastor during 1932 and 1932. Then Father George Smiskol arrived as pastor and remained for the longest tour of duty in OL history, form 1933 to 1953. The parish celebrated his investiture as Right Reverend Monsignor in 1949. Monsignor Wegner, chancellor of the Archdiocese, officiated with Bishop Kucera and Bishop Hunkeler present for the occasion.
1933 TO 1953 – DEPRESSION, WAR, SCHOOL SISTERS OF ST. FRANCIS
The early years of Father Smiskol’s tenure became extremely difficult. Following the financial crash of 1929 conditions worsened and by 1932 the Great Depression had gripped the nation. Unemployment left many families with no means of support, banks failed and closed creating a money panic. Nebraska and rest of the Midwest was hurt critically by drought which further hindered farm income. Church support dwindled and pastors had great difficulty maintaining schools and church facilities. Only a high degree of voluntary effort on the part of parishioners made it possible to bridge these difficult years. In parishes many of the farmers bought and garden-grown supplies to their nuns and priests. Farm mortgages were foreclosed forcing many families off their farms.
When appointed by the Archbishop Father Smiskol was advised he would face a mortgage indebtedness of $187,000, a huge amount in those depression days, which placed the parish in a very precarious financial condition. He assumed this burden and received the Archbishop’s permission to seek help from other parishes if their circumstances permitted. He met with the mortgage holders an succeeded in negotiating the interest rate down to 2%. In his financial report to the parish in 1941, he was able to announce a total of $101,000 had been paid to reduce the principal balance. He was very for this fine achievement by the parishioners and from other cooperative finding sources.
While at Holy Ghost College, which later was named Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, James Hugh Ryan was an exemplary student and starting quarterback for the football team. He decided to be a priest and after seminary was sent to Rome to study,. At the age of 22 he was ordained with a special dispensation because of his age. Some parish work then teaching and he became recognized as a public speaker, author and journalist. He was named a monsignor and then Rector of Catholic University in Washington, D. C. in 1928. In 1933 he was consecrated titular bishop of Modra, an inactive See in Asia Minor.
On August 6, 1935, he was appointed Bishop of Omaha. By special train he arrived in Omaha on November 20 to a tumultuous welcome and was escorted by a mile-long procession. The Omaha World Herald called him “one of the foremost scholars of the Catholic Church.”
The School Sisters of Loretto withdrew from the school because of living conditions and Father Smiskol requested the School Sisters of St. Francis staff the school. Those arriving in 1937 were Sisters Marie Augustine, Rosalina Tharnish, Magnus Nickels, Innocence (Frances) Reckter, Lily Weinandt, Corbiniana Pechota and Januaria Wagner. Sister Maria, generally known as Sister Mary, amassed an incredible record of service and devotion. She was Superior from arrival in 1937 through 1934 and 1949 through 1962. The gap in her service as Superior was due to a canon law which required relocation. Sister Elka became Superior in 1963 and Sister Mary remained at OLL through 1966. She must have been a wonderful nun because today all her former pupils speak of her with endearment.
An orchestra was formed from the school children in 1939 under the direction of Sister Lily and they made their public debut by planning on a radio program that year. A violin ensemble played for all masses on Christmas.
Once again war interrupted parish life. The beginning of battles in Europe became only a prelude for worse things to happen. When the Pearl Harbor attack occurred and war was officially declared, the list of men in the service had already started to grow. On the homefront, women were faced with not only caring for their families but many took jobs with the railroad and in factories producing war material. Rationing of gasoline and food stuffs complicated living. There were 191 young men from OLL who joined the Armed Forces. Mobilizations drew 6,866 people from the Omaha archdiocese, 440 of them never returned. Women too, joined the Navy and Air Force, some as nurses and man as pilots. Twenty-one priests from the diocese served as chaplains to our service people in the U.S. and overseas out of a total of 3,306 from all over the nations. After peace arrived in August 1945, there was rejoicing and a period of adjustment to get back to family living once again.
In August 1943, the parish celebrated its Silver Jubilee. On Sunday, August 7, a Solemn High Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated with bishop Ryan in attendance. At the banquet he said, “The work of the school is beyond praise. We toast the Sisters of our school, who exemplify in the field of religious education those characteristics of love for the devotion to God’s little children. We toast our children, God’s garden in our midst, the joy and the hope of the church and our country – whose unswerving loyalty to the principles of our school make them our pride and delight.”
High masses were offered on successive days of the Jubilee Celebration. The fist in Thanksgiving; second for the deceased Bishops, Priests, Sisters, Friends and Parishioners; third for the Sisters, Children Benefactors, Friends and Living Members of the parish; fourth for the young people who served in the Armed Forces. A parish reunion highlighted the festivities.
Omaha was named an Archdiocese on August 7, 1945, and therefore, James H. Ryan was elevated to Archbishop. He was the first Archbishop of Omaha. Archbishops Harty and Rummel had governed the diocese but they had been elevated to the rank prior to arrival in Omaha.
Father Smiskol brought good news to the parish when he announced they had “burnt the mortgage” on the church and rectory on Sunday evening, August 26, 1945, leveled the house and turned the ground into the upper playground it is today.
There was house facing 33rd Street, the address 2137 South 33rd Street. George W. Megeath and his family lived there. According to an early description, there also was a steam heated garage over which there were six bedrooms. Mr. Megeath made most of his money selling coal and had other business interests which included stationery stores. At the time he bought this property it was prairie. In 1923 he donated this residence to the Masonic Order and it became the “Masonic Home for Children” until 1945. After relocating, it is now known as “The Omaha Home for Boys”.
Our Lady of Lourdes purchased the property on August 6, 1945, leveled the house and turned the ground into the upper playground it is today.
In 1889, Megeath owned one-third of the land which is now Hanscom Park. Andrew Jackson Hanscom, a realtor, owned the other two-thirds. Believing this property, deeply ravined and wooded, would never be suitable for residential development, they donated it to the city for a park. At the time, the Hanscoms were living at 1824 Douglas Street.
Our parish was saddened to hear of the death of Archbishop James H. Ryan. IN November 1947, he attended the annual Bishops’ meeting in Washington D.C. He returned a very sick man and died November 23. It was necessary to appoint a temporary administrator and on November 27, 1947, Monsignor Nicholas Wegner was chosen. This was expected as he “for all practical purposes already had been running the diocese for the past twelve years,” according to one historian in reference to Archbishop Ryan’s dislike for detail.
On March 30, 1948, His Excellency the Most Reverend Amaleto Giovanni Cicognani, Apostolic Delegate to the United States, elevated Reverend Gerald T. Bergan to archiepiscopal dignity and installed him as Archbishop of Omaha and the seventh major prelate to rule Catholics in the vicariate of Nebraska since its establishment in 1857.
He was a very popular man, outspoken and active in civic affairs, and had numerous friends from all faiths. A truly gifted speaker, he had a topical humor that would spice up his addresses to many groups. He was the first authoritative voice demanding equal rights for all minorities. He excoriated the peddlers of indecent literature and entertainment. Traveling throughout the Archdiocese, he pushed building plans and aided in the selection of sites beside his participation in dedications, jubilees, masses, ordinations and confirmations in every parish and mission.
In November 1964, he launched a $13,6000,000 fund drive which was the largest campaign of its time in the Omaha area. Monsignor Roman Ulrich was superintendent of Catholic schools at he time and together they laid plans to revitalize the school system. Enrollment on Omaha parochial grade schools had tripled from approximately 7,000 to over 21,000 in the 16 years since Bergan’s installation. It was his aim to double the capacity of local Catholic high schools from 5,000 to 10,000 students.
Called the Archbishop’s Educataional Fund, it was given three years, 1965-68, to achieve its objectives. This called for new facilities, expansion in existing facilities, additions and improvements and reduction of mortgage payments for several of the high schools.
With his seemingly endless vigor and personality, he pushed the campaign to a roaring success. In the closing days of his life, Archbishop Bergan remembered the 1965 campaign as the most significant accomplishment of his administration. Our Lady of Lourdes’ contribution to the campaign was $165,000.
The School Sisters of St. Francis were honored by Monsignor Smiskol, on Easter Monday of 1949. A Pontifical Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Bergan in honor of the order. A banquet served by the Altar and Rosary Societies followed mass.
Monsignor Smiskol continued to plan for the new school from the day he announced the parish free of debt in 1945. Unfortunately, he was not to see fruition. Just prior to midnight mass on Christmas 1952 he became ill and was taken to S. Joseph’s Hospital. On April 7, 1953, he died.
In the brochure prepared as a memorial to Monsignor Smiskol, Archbishop Bergan called it “an invitation to prayer for one of Christ’s gentlemanly, cultured, zealous priests.” In the eulogy, Father James O’Brien recalled his service at St. Cecelia’s Cathedral and North Bend and said the fact that the church was “packed to the doors” with people from these parishes and Our Lady of Lourdes, “gave evidence to all of us, the great love and respect you had for your pastor.”
A funereal service was held April 13 in Chicago, where Father P. W. Burke recalled that although of Polish extraction, Monsignor Smiskol loved to tell Irish jokes and visited Ireland on his way to Rome for the Holy Year. Father Burke said he sent postcards saying he was there visiting his relatives. Her recalled the Great Dane weighing 180 pounds which accompanied the Monsignor on his daily walks. Named Michael David, the gentle, giant dog was a friend of the neighborhood children.
Monsignor Smiskol was buried in St. Adalbert’s Cemetery in Chicago next to his parents. A delegation of sisters from Our Lady of Lourdes attended with the Superior, Sister Mary.
The sisters were busy – provisions had to be made to handle the growing school enrollment. Classes had to be held in shifts to use the same room for two grades. Morning classes were held from 7:30 until 12:30 and the afternoon classes were from 12:30 to 5:30. It was evident that original plans formulated for the new school would be totally inadequate. The new school would have to be one-third larger. The plan newly revised would be designed to accommodate 800 students.
The contract for the new school was signed and the wrecking ball went to work on the brick wall which had separated the east side of the upper playground from the school site. However, it was decided to delay proceedings until the arrival of the new pastor.
1953 TO 1963 – NEW SCHOOL, NEW CONVENT
Father Marcel Keliher was selected to become the new parish shepherd and it was his lot to guide the future of the growing community. He had been editor of The True Voice for 14 years. With the assistance of professional consultants, her organized a successful fund drive for the school in 1953 and again in 1957 for the new convent. Creighton Micek and James Corcoran served as co-chairmen on the initial drive.
When the school children left for summer vacation the excavating began. Construction of the new school was underway. It came time for the setting of the cornerstone and Father Keliher produced a rock which he brought from the famous shrine and grotto at Lourdes, France, and this was made part of the cornerstone. The blessing of the new building took place September 8, 1954, and classes resumed. The new school cost $500,000.
Now attention could be turned to construction of a new convent. Plans were drawn at an estimated cost of $220,000. Three lots and houses were purchased along 33rd Street and the houses sold and moved away. A fund drive was devised which would extend over a two-week period. The cornerstone was blessed and placed before the Blessed Virgin’s altar. The design included twenty-one bedrooms each with a bath, a chapel, dining room and community room. It was, indeed, quite a departure from life in the old house on the hill. Archbishop Bergan blessed the convent and Father Keliher the chapel which was dedicated to St. Joseph. Beautiful wood-carved statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph graced the chapel. The dedication took place in 1956.
During a “no school-snowstorm day” the nuns took advantage to the time and, with the help of some students, moved all the desks and other furnishings out the back door of the old house into the new one. To celebrate the occasion, the Sisters were given a used Mercury station wagon by Jack Cremer. It was welcome and put to good use.
Fr. Anthony Milone became an Associate Pastor with Monsignor keliher at OLL. Father Mi9lone had been an altar boy serving Monsignor Keliher at St. Philomena’s parish. Father Milone later was named an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Omaha. He is presently Bishop of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Montana.
In 1957, the parish celebrated the elevation of Father Keliher to Monsignor.
A clamshell at the end of a long boom began to claw at the top of the old convent in March 1959 and it did not take long until the building and the old wood schoolhouse were history. The hill where they had stood was carried away in dump trucks and the area landscaped. Bone were the long course of concrete steps which ascended from 32nd Avenue, often referred to s a “the 100 steps up the hill”, there were actually 31, but a long climb, nonetheless.
1964 to 1981 – VATICAN II CHANGES, SCHOOL MERGER
As a result of Vatican II one of the most visible changes in the liturgy was presented to the congregations in 1964. An announcement was made that the mass was to be said with the priest facing the congregation. Also, that the prayers of the mass were to be said in the local language except for the Consecration which would continue in Latin. Only for one more year. Immediately this caused some consternation amongst members of parishes. Some areas preferred to delay the changes so the Archbishop mandated a date when they would be exercised. A temporary, wooden altar was erected in the sanctuary.
When first built, the shrine in honor of Our Lady of Lourdes was located in the bank on the south side of the rectory front yard. It was replaced by the present grotto built along 32nd Avenue by Reverend James Hannon, S.J., and the men of the parish in 1961. When the Activity Center was built the shrine was moved just a pit closer to the sidewalk but great care was taken to preserve the shrine substantially as originally designed.
The Sisters enjoyed a long list of celebrations from 1968 through 1974. Sister Ursella started the parade with the celebration of her Golden Jubilee – all of these followed with Golden Jubilees in the years indicated, Sister Corbinella 1969; Sisters Helen , Lisa and Lillian 1970; Sister Frances 1973; Sister Gene 1974. Sister Paula celebrated her Silver Jubilee in 1970. Another big celebration arose in 1974 when the School Sisters of St. Francis marked 100 years of the founding of their Order. On Sunday, November 3, Archbishop Sheehan celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving at OLL. There were 100 Sisters of the Order present for the mass.
There was a realization as early as 1952 about a shortage of Sisters. The Archdiocese knew there would be a need for qualified lay teachers. Therefore, there came a continuing climb of lay instructors from 1953 through 1958 while the number of religious remained just about the same. In the 1952-1953 school year there were 12 nuns in our school, that rose to 16 in 1957-58, and reached a peak of 20 in 1971-72. OLL was bucking the trend.
Four businessmen in Seattle started the International Serra Organization in 1935. An Omaha chapter of the Serra Club was formed in 1951 under the aegis of Archbishop Bergan. He supported the group totally in its efforts to foster vocations.
It was Monsignor Roman Ulrich who had to cope with this changing school situation. HE was appointed Archdiocesan Superintendent of Schools in August, 1950, and served until 1968. Monsignor Joseph Osdick was the first Superintendent, appointed in 1926, and Father Paul Schneider the second, appointed in 1942.
Through the 1950’s salaries of religious were about $600 per year, lay salaries for the same period were about $2,000, less by a great amount than that earned by lay teachers in public schools. By 1962, religious moved to $1,000 a year and lay teacher salaries in Catholic school rose to $4,000 and to $4,700 in 1967. The lay teachers requested tenure guarantees, hospitalization and other benefits which were being granted to the public school teachers. In 1964 the Archdiocese examined the possibility of pension and medical insurance plans. Of course these situations had great impact on the operational expense of the schools.
For example in one location in the diocese in 1967, the payment of grade school tuition covered only 11 percent of the cost. For both grade and high school in this location, costs overran receipts by $38,534 in one year. This continued to be a common problem.
One answer was consolidation. The first occurred in 1962 when one larger community absorbed the Catholic schools of two smaller, neighboring towns. It happened here in 1971 when St. Adalbert’s kindergarten class was merged into Our lady of Lourdes. Finally in 1977, St. Adalbert’s closed their school and merged with OLL.
For the 1993-94 school year, the school teaching staff included 22 teachers. There were 20 lay teachers and Sister Elizabeth Heese, Principal, and Sister Marianne who teaches first grade. Two lay women handle before and-after school child care and two women work as kitchen helpers as a result of the lunch program. There are two maintenance positions. Sister Charlita, a Dominican nun is school secretary. There are some volunteers, but none as consistent as Sister Clarella who retired with the close of the 1991-92 school year and still works every school day.
Some of the children are also offered remedial study in reading and mathematics through the van teacher supplied by the Omaha School District.
Monsignor Ulrich became administrator of OLL when Monsignor Keliher approached retirement in 1979. In 1971 Monsignor Ulrich was named pastor. He served until 1981 when he requested a rural parish and became pastor of the church in Lyons, Nebraska. In his farewell message the Monsignor said “my stay at Lourdes was the happiest of all my years in the priesthood.” Almost from his ordination, his name arises in the many ways he served the Archdiocese and parishes.
Following the edicts of Vatican Council II, Monsignor instituted the appointment of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist (EMEs). Those first chosen in 1972 for this duty were Dr. Jack Beltz, Paul Nelsen, Tom Riley and jack Vail. Currently there are 42 parishioners in this service for all masses.
It had long been Monsignor’s wish to build a parish activity center. At the request of a group of men of the parish he placed this subject before the Council in 1977. He suffered an illness, however, which limited his activity for a whole the subject was tabled. It was considered again by the Council in January 1980, with the building to be located on the upper playground but because of inflation and financial conditions it was tabled once again.
Announcement of the fact that Archbishop Bergan was moving to retirement was made by the apostolic delegate which also contained the message that Bishop Sheehan was to be his successor. Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum was filled to overflowing on Sunday afternoon on August 3, 1967, to bid him a fond farewell. Congratulatory messages poured in from all over the nation and abroad. Asked about his retirement the Archbishop pointed out he had a fine library and he would continue to say mass in his chapel. He added, “It is about time to say a few prayers for myself since my final exam is fast approaching.”
For a time he enjoyed limited activity but was briefly hospitalized in 1971. Later in 1973, he became ill and was rushed to the hospital where he died July 12. He was laid to rest in Calvary Cemetery which he had initiated in 1950.
Rev. Daniel E. Sheehan had been appointed Chancellor in 1949 and was elevated to Auxiliary Bishop and consecrated in St. Cecelia’s Cathedral March 14, 1964. He was the first Nebraska-born bishop to be assigned to the See of Omaha. In 1969 he was named Archbishop.
About 1975, under the able direction of our own Lela Everhart, a former Broadway performer, the parish staged the production of the celebrated musical “Carousel”.
1981 to 1993 — CHURCH RENOVATION, NEW ACTIVITY CENTER
A reception was held in the school hall on Sunday, April 24, 1983, on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of Sister Alexis Arends, the school Principal, and Sister Agnessa Laur, the second grade teacher.
Sister Alexis remained at Lourdes until June 1990 when a reception with musical entertainment by the OLL choir was held in her honor. Born and raised in Nebraska, Sister now resides at the motherhouse in Milwaukee. Sister Agnessa remains at the OLL convent. Both are very active in the service of their community.
Sister Elizabeth Heese was named school principal, serving jointly with Sister Alexis during her last two years at the school.
Today OLL school serves children and young adolescents in their most formative years – kindergarten through eighth grade. The school continues in existence because of the dedication and support of parishioners from St. Adalbert and Our Lady of Lourdes parishes who work endlessly to provide a well-rounded, quality education in the Catholic tradition. OLL opened in 1924 and is located just southwest of down town Omaha, close to many fine residential neighborhoods of varying economic brackets. The school is a key element in providing and maintaining a safe, caring and beautiful neighborhood for families to grow physically, spiritually and academically.
The OLL staff is intensely dedicated to education and the development of young people. They hold the belief that each student is a person of dignity who can and deserves to grow to his or her fullest potential intellectually, spiritually, physically and emotionally. The school’s goal is to provide an environment where this can happen.
At our Lady of Lourdes teachers are certified, degreed teachers, some with masters degrees. Teacher/pupil ratio is 17/1. There are specialized teachers in areas of math and science (grades 5-8), and in computer, music, physical education and library (K-8).
The year 1987 culminated fifty years of teaching and other services by the School Sisters of St. Francis to Our Lady of Lourdes parish. The Sisters had many celebrations during the year, including a Sunday reception in the Social Hall which brought out many of their successful efforts and remarks as well as the joys and sorrows of the fifty-year history. Billy Meyers, a choir member and graduate of OLL performed as Master of Ceremonies. Sister Mary returned for the reception as did many other former teachers and students.
Mention should be make of Laura Schulte who served as housekeeper for the clergy for 29 years. Her stay ran from 1953 to 1982, a long span of service to the priests and the parish.
The name, Reverend Thomas Furlong, was not strange to OLL parishioners. His family had lived in the parish and he attended OLL school. At the age of eight he served his first mass in our church. People in the community were well aware of the outstanding job he had accomplished as pastor of Sacred Heart parish. Now, in 1981, he was coming back to serve as our pastor.
It was a celebration of joy when the parish joined with him marking his Silver Jubilee on June 2, 1985.
Throughout 1984 and 1985, Father Furlong advised the parish about the work the Parish Council and an Ad Hoc Committee had done studying plans for the proposed renovation and refurbishing of the church. Some of the work was a matter of necessity, the roof was leaking and had to be repaired along with other construction. Also, to conform more readily to the liturgical changes which grew out of Vatican II, there were necessary structural changes which had to be made inside the church. Education meetings were held on select occasions which were attended by approximately 300 parishioners. Of course, a fund drive had to be initiated to supplement those funds available for the work to minimize loan carrying costs.
Work began January 2, 1986. Three months later Easter services were offered in the newly-refurbished church. The work included pew refinishing, a new tile floor, marble floor in the sanctuary, newly decorated side altars, baptismal fountain, restoration and preservation of the stations, new lighting and other reconditioning not readily seen. All of these items make a beautiful church.
During the renovation mass was offered in the school Social Hall and the convent chapel was used for Perpetual Adoration. Another phase of reconditioning was the church basement in 1988. Volunteers from the parish donated their skill and efforts, cutting the cost of the project fifty percent. This new assembly room was named “St. Bernadette Hall” in honor of the young girl who witnessed the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin in Lourdes.
This was followed in 1989 by a much sought-after improvement: air conditioning. As the basement renovation was done, space was provided and electrical power installed for this job.
Archbishop Sheehan announced the Archbishop’s Capital Campaign to run through 1986 and 1987. Its purpose was to provide funds for the rehabilitation of offices of the Catholic Department of Education on North 60th Street and stabilization of the pension funds for priests and nuns. Combined needs were for a seminary fund, priests’ continuing education, high school tuition scholarships for urban and rural areas, family counseling endowment, St. Cecelia’s Cathedral endowment, new property debt reduction, capital improvements for Archdiocesan facilities, development of schools and programs for urban and rural life campaign expense.
The goal was $10,000,000 with pledges extending over a three-year period. Our Lady of Lourdes parishioners pledged over $150,000 to this campaign.
A somber note appeared in the news – Monsignor Ulrich died February 22, 1988, at the age of 69. this intellectual man of quiet voice and gentle mien was loved wherever he went. Memory of would be maintained by Our Lady of Lourdes parishioners.
The need for capital funds for elementary and high school education in the Omaha area became apparent. Therefore, the Archbishop’s Campaign for Education Excellence was inaugurated in 1991 to provide funds for a new Catholic high school in west Omaha and also aid the elementary schools and existing high schools. Parishes could include funding for a needed project of their choice as part of the campaign. The OLL campaign was $300,000, of which one half was to revert to the parish as collected for use in financing construction of a new parish center/gymnasium. The remaining half would be used primarily to provide the local high schools our graduates attend, the sum of $500,000 each, payable quarterly as collected.
A dream of two decades became a reality with the ground breaking ceremony on Sunday, July 21, 1991, with Archbishop Sheehan wielding one of the shovels. Announcement folder of this event stated that the new building would be named the “Monsignor Roman C. Ulrich Center”. The dedication and blessing of the center/gymnasium took place Sunday, June 26, 1992. Father Furlong took this occasion to thank parishioners for their dedication, as well as contributions from alumni, former parishioners and friends. He cited the substantial assistance of parish organizations through various projects, the sums from priests and teaching staff and all other efforts that made this dream a reality.
Soon after this event, the announcement was made that Father Furlong would be going to St. John Vianney in Millard. Our new shepherd would be the Revered Frank Partusch who had served as associate pastor at OLL with Monsignor Ulrich.
In the spring of 1993, we heard of the pending retirement of Archbishop Sheehan and the fact that a new leader would be succeeding him. Soon the announcement was made that the Bishop of the Diocese of Helena, Montana, had been chosen for the post.
In the afternoon of June 25, 1993, in Ct. Cecelia’s Cathedral, Bishop Elden Francis Curtiss was officially installed as Archbishop of the Omaha diocese. The appointment was sealed by the presentation of the official letter of appointment by the Apostolic Pro-nuncio,Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan.
That same evening at Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum, a huge crowd of the faithful took part in a mass and the public installation of the Archbishop. A massed choir sang for the service which was attended by 300 priests and 50 bishops and abbots.
An announcement was made that Archbishop Sheehan had been appointed Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Omaha.
What’s next? It is difficult to say but we know this parish cannot stand still. Not to keep pace with the passing years means retrogression. The physical plant must be maintained and renewed. Education of our Children, for instance, is undergoing an evolution but must be maintained within the precepts of the Church..
Generations ago when our ancestors came to this land of freedom, many because of religious restraints and intolerance, they found they had to learn a voluntary sense of giving. It was a new way for them to support their church and religious. In many countries from which they came, a portion of the taxes they paid was distributed to established religions based on the religious preference they had named during the country’s census. It is still practiced today in places in Europe.
They learned and we learned that from our budgeted offerings in weekly envelopes can be built those churches, schools and educational systems we admire and find such an important part of our daily life with God.