History of Mater Dolorosa

MATER DOLOROSA GERMAN CHURCH

After the transfer of Father Bichlmayer from Carrollton to Holy Trinity Church, the German parishioners organized, and collected funds to buy their own church property. They bought 12 lots of ground on Cambronne Street on the side opposite to St. Mary's Nativity Church. The ground was bought for $4300 from Margaretta Amelia Gerkins, widow of Solomon Cohn, one of the pioneers of Carrollton, and it is described as located in the square bounded by Cambronne, Third (Freret), Madison (Dante) and Burthe Streets. A loan was made from T. Fischer to buy lumber and construction of a new church got under way, on the downtown lake corner of Cambronne and Burthe Streets, about half of a block from the Nativity Church.

 

When Archbishop Perche returned from Europe, John Friederich handled the transfer of the property to the Diocese of New Orleans on behalf of the Catholic Congregation of the City of Carrollton, under direction of Archbishop Perche with the specific stipulation that it was for the special use of the German congregation of the City of Carrollton. (The transfer is recorded in COB 5, Folio 424, Carrollton Transcript.)

 

Still extant in the records is a draft for the incorporation of the "Catholic Congregation of Carrollton," but undated, composed of eight articles, and providing for a board of eight wardens or trustees to be elected annually. This was evidently proposed for the new congregation. The names of the first trustees listed are Benedict Wendell, Sebaustien Henschel (or Neuschel), John Kunkel, Andres Wunschel, John Kamper, Philip Faber, John Bochug and Phillip Gebhardt. However, nothing came of this as it was contrary to the policy of the archdiocese in regard to the operation of a parish under a board of lay trustees.

 

The parish representatives contacted Archbishop Perche and appealed to him to provide them with a German pastor, and establish their church as a German-language church. After several meetings and understandings, including the proviso that nothing but German would be used for the vernacular, i.e., for sermons, instructions, catechism and announcements (a stipulation that had important consequences later), Archbishop Perche gave his approval. Father Bichlmayer was named pastor of the new German church, but St. Mary's remained as the Carrollton parish church.

 

On December 17, 1871, he offered Holy Mass for the first time in the second Carrollton church, and on February 1, 1872, Father Bichlmayer was formally installed as pastor. Formal dedication ceremonies took place in July, 1872, and the new church was designated as Mater Dolorosa.

 

The German congregation was not satisfied to build a church and provide a rectory, but they also built a frame school on high piling, which was completed at the end of August, 1872. Aloys Deiler, a lay teacher from Germany, arrived in October of that year, and Mater Dolorosa German School inaugurated its work of education.

 

Although Father Bichlmayer began his pastorate at Mater Dolorosa in December, 1871, the parish registers extant begin only on November 17, 1872, with the Baptism of Joseph Friedrich Ebeling.

 

One final discordant note marked the division of the congregation. When members of the societies separated from St. Mary of the Nativity Church, they sought to take their banners with them, but this was prevented. It was necessary to obtain the intervention of Archbishop Perche. One of these organizations was the St. Joseph Society, a parochial benevolent association, which seems to have existed at St. Mary's before 1869, when the organization bought lots in the Carrollton Cemetery for the burial of its members. The society gradually declined and it was listed the last time in 1900. The last living member in November, 1939, was Mrs. Cecelia Bennen. When the congregation divided, the organization moved to the German church.

 

Father Bichlmayer desired to have Mater Dolorosa School under the direction of religious teachers, so he turned to the Sisters of St. Benedict who were to take charge of Holy Trinity School, and finally obtained their consent to provide teachers for his school. Promptly a convent was built to lodge the Sisters in 1874, and that year they took over the school. Sister M. Scholastica, O.S.B., was the first superior. The Sisters maintained themselves through the collection of tuition from the pupils.

 

Sister Scholastica became part and parcel of old Mater Dolorosa School, and she continued in charge until a few years after the reunion of the two congregations in 1899. Her successor was another venerable teacher of the old school, Sister Caroline, O.S.B., who spent the greater part of the religious life there. Both knew everybody in the parish, and everybody knew these two devoted and self-sacrificing teachers, who for years drummed into young heads the "Vater Unser" and the "Katechismus," as well as "Rechenkunst" and "Erdbeschreibung."

 

The Sisters had their own chapel in their convent and Father Bichlmayer attended to their spiritual welfare and direction. At the close of the 1885 session, there were between 40 and 50 boys at the school and about the same number of girls. During 1888, the school population had declined to 29 boys and 41 girls. There were three Sisters who taught, and that number remained fairly constant, fluctuating between four and two, in the course of years until 1898. Enrollment after 1885, reached its peak in 1891, when there were 39 boys and 45 girls. After that it declined until 1898, when it stood at 28 boys and 20 girls.

 

The Carrollton section was swept by a cyclone on April 18, 1882, and Mater Dolorosa German School was practically demolished. The building, because of damp ground, rested on high pillars. The wind swept the structure from its foundations and the debris was piled on Carnbronne Street. The school was already closed when the wind struck, fortunately, so there was no loss of life or injury to pupils or teachers. The school was rebuilt and classes continued.

 

During the 26 years that Father Bichlmayer served as pastor of Mater Dolorosa Church in Carrollton, he was absent only twice. In September, 1890, he was away from the parish for two weeks, and Rev. Simon Barber, O.S.B., took care of the church. In 1893, the year of his silver jubilee as a priest, he was away for five weeks, when Rev. Paul J. Yolk served the German congregation.

 

On November 6, 1893, Father Bichlmayer celebrated his silver jubilee - rather the parishioners put on a memorable celebration in honor of their beloved pastor. In testimony of their affection and esteem, they erected a new rectory for him at No. 43 Gambronne Street.

 

In his annual parish report for 1884-1885, Father Bichlmayer listed the number of parishioners as 800, but in 1888, he reported only 523. For 1895, it was given as about 700, for 1896 as 500 and 1897 as 600.

 

Statistics for the parish showed a gradual decline. The number of Holy Communions in 1884-1885, totaled 2000 or more, besides 400 at Easter. This number increased in 1888 to 3453, the largest in the history of the German church; in 1890 it declined to 3257; in 1891 to 2947; in 1894 to 2681, and in 1897, to 2343.

 

Baptisms for 1884-1885 numbered 33; 27 in 1888; 34 in 1890; 28 in 1892; 36 in 1894; 37 in 1896, and 28 in 1897.

 

Archbishop Leray Confirmed 60 persons in 1885. In subsequent years those Confirmed were: 31 in 1888; 31 in 1889; 33 in 1891; 25 in 1893; 20 in 1896.

 

Marriages were never numerous in the parish: For 1884-1885, 6; 1888, there were only three; in 1890, there were four; in 1893, six; in 1895, nine, and in 1897, four. Funerals were likewise relatively few: For 1884-1885, 7; for 1888, six; for 1890, 10; for 1893, 10; for 1895, a yellow fever year, 24, and for 1897, three.

 

The revenues of Mater Dolorosa parish were never spectacular. The total receipts for 1888 were $1241.15. That year, the parish still owed $300 on the debt contracted with Fred Fischer for the lumber for the church in 1871. In 1889, Father Bichlmayer spent $896 for repairs to the rectory, and that year the receipts reached $1909, and the expenditures $1221.40. The ensuing year was poor, revenues showing only $950.35, but the expenses were only $300.45. In 1894, the parishioners contributed $1131 and Father Bichlmayer reported expenses of $1001. By 1896, revenues had declined to $907.10, and in 1897, to $706.05.

 

The earliest parish society registered is St. Joseph's Society which had been formed in St. Mary's Nativity before 1869. In 1884, Father Bichlmayer reported that 14 male members of the congregation belonged to parish societies and 51 women. The societies listed for 1888 were St. Joseph's Society; the Altar Society and the Young Ladies Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Catholic Knights of America first appear in parish reports for 1884. In 1889, a new organization, St. Martin's Society, evidently a charitable society, was reported for the first time. Later there appears St. Mary's Society, evidently the sodality.

 

When Archbishop Janssens was installed, he gave serious attention to the re-organization of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and its finances in an effort to prevent the burdening of the archdiocese with the debts of individual parishes. In 1894, he directed the establishment of each parish as a separate and independent corporation. Mater Dolorosa was granted its charter April 9, 1894, registered in COB No. 516, Folio 14, the act having been drafted by W. Morgan Gurley, notary, and the charter being granted for 500 years. The legal title was "The Congregation of Mater Dolorosa Roman Catholic Church." The two laymen chosen as trustees and members of the parish corporation board were Gustave A. Mattle and Rodolph T. Kampen.

 

However, Mater Dolorosa German parish was destined to continue only five more years after this important event. Father Biehlmayer remained as pastor until early May, 1898, when Archbishop Chapelle transferred him to Holy Trinity Church as pastor. The assistant at the latter parish, Rev. Charles Brockmeier, was assigned to Mater Dolorosa German Church as pastor. He took possession of the rectory May 13, 1898, but his pastorate was destined to be quite short, as plans were being considered that meant a revolutionary change for the Catholic Church in Carrollton.