Parish History Committee
, 534-2319, ext. 10
Dedicated to gathering and documenting the continuing history of Our Lady of Lourdes Church
Time Commitment: Approximately 4 meetings per year
Our Story begins with a small community of Polish immigrants who came to the
United States to escape poverty and oppression in their homeland - simply,
for a better life.
The first Roman Catholics to arrive in the Whitehouse area had to endure
serious challenges that threatened their dream, including cultural and religious
isolation and outright bigotry manifested by visits from the Ku Klux Klan.
But not even this could stop them from creating a home for their parish family
to take root and grow.
"In 1923, there were forty seven Polish Catholic families in the White House area
but no Roman Catholic Church or priest. To receive the sacraments of the Church,
children and adults had to travel back to the city, an arduous and inconvenient
journey to say the least..."
With faith and determination, the small Catholic community took action to build
a better life and "Our Parish Story" began.
"The new church was to be named Our Lady of Lourdes and a young Polish priest,
Father Mieczyslaw Konopka was to be the first pastor.
For six months Father Konopka lived on the second floor of Hyman Danzig's
mill house on Mill Road. So poor was he that the only food he had
was offered by parishioners. During this same time period, Mass was celebrated
in the barn of Wladyslaw (Walter) Szablowski, commencing June 10, 1923."
Many parishioners may not know that Our Lady of Lourdes was built by the
parishioners themselves from the ground up, from digging the foundation
to hauling stones and building our landmark Grotto...
"Ground was broken for the new church, August 19, 1923. Much of the original
site work was done by volunteer parishioners. As with any new parish involved
in a building program, money was needed. The farmers and laborers who lived here
were not wealthy and their gifts were from the heart. A $5.00 donation in 1923
would probably equal $75 to $100 today. So grateful were the parishioners that
there were many five dollar gifts.
November 1923, Thanksgiving Day, marked the laying of the cornerstone
and blessing of the church. Mass was held in the cellar of the unfinished church.
At last the little congregation had moved out of Szablowski's barn
and into the building, even if it was only the cellar."
Christmas Eve Mass! ...was the first official Mass in the completed church.
A parishioner present at this Mass told the story:
"When the first people started to arrive, about 11:30 o'clock they found
a large cross burning right opposite Pulaski Road. That put a damper on things,
but as soon as they got inside the church they were happy to see such a beautiful church.
The organ started to play and the choir started singing, it seemed as nice
as any church in the city. The organ played a Christmas Carol and Harry Engel
sang a carol. I can still hear his big voice ringing through the church.
George Salch took up the first collection while the priest walked behind him
and marked down the names of everyone who put in a dollar bill. A dollar bill
then was like a $20 bill today. I was surprised to see so many dollar bills.
From that time until the Depression every Sunday they put in a lot of dollar bills.
I think the first church that comes to a neighborhood electrifies the people,
and that they never get over it, because the founders of the church talk about it
until they die. That first year is so branded in their minds...you remember
everything as though it happened yesterday..."
Excerpts from "For a Better Life, The History of the Polish Community at Whitehouse,"
by Stephanie B. Stevens, 1990