In the annals of practically every Catholic Church parish, one will inevitably find an outstanding pastor who has welded together the members of his flock into a truly parochial family, inspired it to action, developed a real Catholic spirit and formulated a real Catholic way of life and activity. Father Prim was such a type.
It is certainly to Father Prim's great credit and a tribute to his ability that he was able successfully to take over two semi-ruinous churches and inadequate rectories, and two antagonistic groups, and evolve out of these a magnificent parish plant, a united congregation, and an amazing spirit of co-operation, besides a Catholic way of life for a vast number of Catholic people. This he achieved during a pastorate of 35 years.
Born on April 24, 1866, at St. Medard, Treves, Germany, he took up his studies for the priesthood at the American College at the University of Louvain, when he decided to dedicate himself to priestly work in the Louisiana mission. He was ordained a priest at Louvain on February 24, 1893. He came to the Archdiocese of New Orleans on September 28, 1893, but he had been accepted for the archdiocese in February, 1891, by Archbishop Janssens. Upon arriving here, he was assigned by that prelate to St. Mary's of the archbishopric (now St. Mary's Italian Church) in October, 1893, and served as his secretary. In November, 1894, he was named assistant Chancellor. During this period until he was appointed Chancellor in February, 1898, he visited the Barataria Bay area regularly, including Grand Isle, and sometimes he was accompanied by Archbishop Janssens.
When Archbishop Chapelle transferred Father Brockmeier to St. Francis of Assisi, Father Prim gave up St. Mary's Nativity Church, and took over Mater Dolorosa Church which was in somewhat better shape. He had the church enlarged and repaired, at a cost to the parish of $4833.92, but to this he added some of his own personal funds. He also improved the presbytery, filled in the school yard and had it re-arranged. This cost an additional $1021.33. The regular parish revenues in 1900, amounted to only $1634.25. Festivals and other fund-raising affairs were held to cover improvement expenses. The congregation was opposed to the erection of a new Church, despite the fact that the Archbishop had recommended it. So tactfully, Father Prim deferred this move until later. In 1902, he made further improvements to the school, involving an expense of $1604.25.
When Father Prim moved to Mater Dolorosa Church on Cambronne Street in 1899, he discontinued St. Mary's School and combined it with the Benedictine Sisters' School, but the St. Louis School continued until 1909, under the direction of the Sisters of the Holy Family, and Father Prim gave the Negro children catechetical instructions in old Mater Dolorosa Church on Sunday afternoons, after which there was Benediction.
In regard to the school for whites, Father Prim wrote: "When I was sent to Carrollton in 1898, I found the place in the poorest possible condition. The Sisters of St. Benedict had a school with an attendance of 38 children. For salary they took what they could get. Two Sisters were teaching ... I realized that these conditions could not continue, and I opened a free parochial school. This school became popular, and I asked for four Sisters."
Just how popular the school became at once, can be inferred from the report in 1899 which shows an enrollment of 106 boys and 140, girls, and during 1900, the enrollment went up to 150 boys and 126 girls. St. Louis School in 1900 listed 26 boys and 30 girls, and in 1905, the number had grown to 27 boys and 35 girls.
On May 1, 1899, Archbishop Chapelle at a meeting of the board of the parish corporation, approved appointment of F. Pickens Magee and Edward L. O'Dwyer as trustees. At a meeting of the board on September 28, 1899, Father Prim was authorized to finish the sale of St. Mary's Nativity Church and presbytery to the Illinois Central Railroad. He was also authorized to transfer other property of St. Mary's to Mater Dolorosa Church. Thus ended the life of the old French Church of Carrollton, the Church of St. Mary of the Nativity.
Meanwhile Father Prim had directed his energy, eloquence, efforts and learning towards the spiritual uplift of his congregation. He preached, exhorted and catechized, day in and day out. He promoted Catholic societies and appealed to his parishioners to enroll in at least one group. He urged more frequent reception of the Sacraments, and thundered against indifference about attendance at Holy Mass on Sundays and holy days.
To give proper attention to the poor of the parish, he organized Mater Dolorosa Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 1900, and in August of that year, the conference was aggregated. In 1903, the Carrollton Club for Men was organized, and in 1906, he added the Holy Name Society which began with 158 men. In 1908, there was also a Junior Holy Name Society, and the senior group for whites and for Colored, having a total membership then of 225. In 1906, the Children of Mary numbered 210; the Sanctuary Society, 75; Catholic Knights of America, 24, and St. Andrew's Society for the Colored, 65. The Usher's Society was organized in 1909, and the League of the Sacred Heart was revived or reorganized.
One of the tasks that Father Prim undertook in 1899, was the determination of the parish boundaries, which had proved so exasperating to previous pastors. He checked over the decisions and decrees of former Archbishops on this subject, then looked over his parish territory. He found that the pastor of Kenner, Father Roth, was serving Waggaman, likewise territory on the east bank around Christina's Plantation and Harahan, and the Metairie section, all of which Father Prim claimed as part of Mater Dolorosa parish. He laid the matter before Archbishop Chapelle, and the latter referred the matter to Father Roth. Finally, the Archbishop appointed a committee of three priests, under direction of Father Peter Massardier, to look into the controversy, and make recommendations. The outcome was that Father Roth gave up Metairie, and retained Christina's Plantation and Soniat Plantation. The Harahan area and the territory below Christina's, also Metairie, remained part of Mater Dolorosa parish territory.
After the improvements and repairs on the old Mater Dolorosa Church on Cambronne Street, parish finances were quite strained, and so much so, that Father Prim could not pay the insurance on the church, and it was necessary for the board to authorize use of school funds for the time being to meet that obligation. The amount was refunded to the school in the following year.
The pastor carefully nursed parish finances, and began collecting and saving money against the day when a new church would be built, as it was evident that with the growth of the parish, and the heavy increase in church attendance, this was eminently necessary. In 1904, Archbishop Chapelle visited the parish and Father Prim pointed out to him the conditions that existed. He promptly recommended to the pastor that a new site be sought where a larger church might be built.
Thereupon, Father Prim held a meeting on May 1, 1904, with the parish board, and told the members of Archbishop Chapelle's recommendations, also the suggestion that property should be bought on Carrollton Avenue. It was then voted that Father Prim should negotiate with John Cleary for sufficient ground, but if it was impossible to get sufficient ground, he was authorized to buy the best location on Carrollton Avenue. It was also agreed that lots on Zimple and Cambronne, and the square opposite the Catholic Cemetery should be sold to pay for the property for the new church. Father Prim then proceeded to purchase five lots at Carrollton and Plum Streets - three fronting on the avenue, and two key lots fronting on Plum - for which he paid $6000 to Mr. Atkinson. In addition, he bought two lots, known as the McCann property, near the other piece of ground, for $5000.
In 1904, the parish was given the square of ground which for more than 30 years (at the time) had been used as a burial ground, and known as the Catholic Cemetery. The square bounded by Adams, Cohn, Spruce and Burdette, was sold that same year for $3000. All of these transactions were carried out while Mr. Magee and Mr. O'Dwyer were trustees, but the latter resigned in 1906, and Archbishop Blenk appointed Thomas B. Cleary as trustee.
No regular assistant was assigned to Mater Dolorosa Church after the union of the two congregations, but in 1900, Father Prim was assisted by the Benedictine Fathers - Rev. Erasmus Gloeckner, O.S.B., in April, 1900, and Rev. Columban Wenzel, O.S.B., from May to August, 1901. Father Prim's brother was also at Mater Dolorosa very briefly in April, 1900 - Rev. John B. Prim.
Finally, Archbishop Chapelle in January, 1904, assigned Rev. Anthony F. Isenberg as assistant at Mater Dolorosa, but he remained only to the end of April of that year. He is now Right Reverend Monsignor and a dean in Lafayette, and rector of the Lafayette Cathedral. Father Prim bought the diocesan paper, The Morning Star, in 1903 and published it for three years. For a time, Father Isenberg directed the paper. However, in 1906, Archbishop Blenk felt that the paper should belong to the archdiocese and it was sold back to the diocesan corporation.
Monseigneur Gustave A. Rouxel, Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans and Vicar General, made the visitation at Mater Dolorosa Church on April 30, 1905, and again the following year on April 22, when he was serving Apostolic Administrator, following the death of Monseigneur Chapelle.
During 1907, Rev. Joseph Moye, C.Ss.R., spent a few days in the parish in October, and in December, it was Rev. Father Louis, O.S.B. In November, 1908, and in January and February, 1909, Rev. Sigisbert Zahn, O.S.B., assisted Father Prim.
Some time after 1900, the Sisters of Charity gave up the orphanage at Carrollton and all the children were reunited at New Orleans Female Orphan Asylum. The Sisters had already given up St. Mary's Nativity school, when Father Prim had combined it with Mater Dolorosa School under the Sisters of St. Benedict. In 1907, the property was put up for sale, and Father Prim pointed out to the Sisters' superior that the people of the Carrollton congregation had helped considerably by their contributions to improve the property.
The preparatory seminary conducted by the Benedictine Fathers at St. Benedict, LA, had burned down, so Archbishop Blenk, casting around for a temporary site, was told by Father Prim about the old Carrollton Female Orphan Asylum on Maple Street. Abbot Paul Schaeuble, O.S.B., came to New Orleans in August, 1908, and made arrangements to lease the building. Repairs were undertaken immediately, the renovation costing about $1000. The temporary preparatory seminary opened in Carrollton on October 3, 1908, with some 20 students in attendance, under a staff of Benedictine Fathers. Ceremonies were conducted by Rt. Rev. Msgr. Jean M. Laval, Vicar General, who gave an address as did Very Rev. Peter Canon Scotti, Chancellor, likewise Abbot Paul. Archbishop Blenk was then absent from the city. The seminary continued in Carrollton until the summer vacation. The newly built brick St. Joseph's Seminary at St. Benedict, LA, opened on October 2, 1909. The old orphanage on Maple Street was eventually sold and demolished some years ago.
When Archbishop Blenk went to New York in the summer of 1908, Confirmation was administered in the city parishes by Bishop Cornelius Van de Ven, Bishop of Natchitoches (now Alexandria). He Confirmed a class at Mater Dolorosa Church in May, 1908.
During all this time, since Father Prim's advent to the parish, a new spirit had developed in the parish, a spirit of unity, co-operation and zeal, all engendered by the capable, tactful and patient pastor, who had gradually eliminated the antagonism and differences that had so long divided the congregation. He succeeded in making the parishioners see the need of a more worthy and more spacious church for their parish, and once the property had been bought on Carrollton and Plum, enthusiasm mounted. Within three years, he paid off the debt for the property, using, besides, proceeds from fairs, penny parties and other benefits, the money acquired by sale of the property in Carrollton, belonging to old St. Mary's and Mater Dolorosa.
Late in 1906, Father Prim decided to go ahead with the plans for a new church. Parishioners enthusiastically approved. Carrollton was finally on the way to obtain a magnificent new Catholic Church.