History of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church

History of Blessed Sacrament Parish and School

When the movement to erect a parish in Binghamton began in the second decade of the 20th century, the world was talking about Scott’s exploit in reaching the South Pole and about China becoming a republic. The SS Titanic had hit an iceberg in the Atlantic and gone down with 1,517 lives lost. William Howard Taft was President of the United States. The horseless carriage was fast replacing the horse and buggy.

The ninth parish established in Memphis, Blessed Sacrament in Binghamton, was the first parish erected in the eastern part of the city. In its 100 years, under fifteen pastors, it has erected four buildings, and several annexes have been added to the school. When it celebrated its golden jubilee in 1962, Blessed Sacrament was one of the most flourishing parishes of the entire diocese.

When Blessed Sacrament Church was opened, some five miles from the riverfront, it was the only parish on the eastern side of the city. Since then, eleven “daughter parishes” have arisen in the territory originally assigned to Blessed Sacrament. Today the parish is about four miles north to south and three miles east to west. Roughly, it extends from Wolf River to Central and from McLean to Highland, an area of approximately twelve square miles.

By the summer of 1911, it was estimated there were between thirty and fifty Catholic families living in the Binghamton area. Early in August, a committee of three wrote to the Bishop of Nashville, Bishop Byrne. In December, the Binghamton Catholics started a drive to raise funds with which to purchase a building. At that time, it was planned to locate a church on Cambridge, now Yale Ave.

On May 12, the bishop appointed Father Kemphues founding pastor of the new parish. He arrived in Memphis May 27, and at once plunged into the uphill work of organizing the new parish. On the Feast of Corpus Christi, June 6, Father Kemphues celebrated Mass at 9 a.m. for the first time in the new parish and this was followed by a procession. At Father Kemphues’ suggestion the bishop named the new parish “Blessed Sacrament” (June 26). The next day the purchase of the Bingham Home was consummated at the price of $5,500. The first baptism in Blessed Sacrament parish took place on July 7 when Frances Lily Keywood received the sacrament. The first marriage was that of Louis Fracchia and Adel Piano.

Late in the summer, arrangements were completed for the Sisters of Mercy from Nashville to take charge of the school. Three sisters arrived by train and streetcar and reported to Father Kemphues on October the 1st. The new Blessed Sacrament Convent, which was located above the rooms to be used for school and church, was not ready for occupation. The sisters proceeded to St. Agnes Academy, on Vance, where they lived until their new quarters were ready. The school was opened on October 4th with an enrollment of about 30 students. By September of 1914, the enrollment had doubled and four Sisters of Mercy were now assigned to the parish.

Early in January 1913, Father Kemphues bought the house and lot, next to the church on Hale for $2,250 and made it the pastoral residence. To help pay for this property, a parish picnic was held on September 18.

Father Kemphues was assigned as pastor of Sacred Heart and Bishop Byrne selected Reverend James O’Connor as pastor. Father O’Connor took charge of the five-year-old parish on March 26, 1917. During these years, three major buildings of the parish were erected: the combination church and school, the rectory, and the convent. One of the first things Fr. O’Connor did was to select a new convent for the sisters. In August 1919, he bought a house at the northeast comer of Bingham and Yale for $3,500. The sisters moved into their new home early in September.

In November 1920, Fr. O’Connor wrote the bishop that he had $2500 on hand and would start a drive for funds for a permanent church. After careful study, he decided that a new location for the parish was desirable. He recommended a site at the corner of McLean and Galloway but Bishop Byrne decided that this was not a good location, because it was too close to the zoo in Overton Park. After some further study it was decided to erect the new buildings on the original site at Hale and Bingham.

Construction of the new church and school started on September 14, and dedication ceremonies were held July 27,1924. The Rt. Rev. Alphonse J. Smith blessed the building. The Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree members formed a guard of honor for the bishop. A huge crowd assembled to witness the solemn ceremonies.

On the second floor were the eight schoolrooms, and on the first floor was what was intended to be the temporary church. With its yellow glazed brick and red tile roof it was a landmark in that area. Two years later in June 1926, Fr. O’Connor started constructing the rectory next to the church and school, at 2564 Hale. It matched the church in architectural style.

Not long after the completion of the convent, Fr. O’Connor was stricken with heart trouble and had to be hospitalized. On Saturday evening, July 6, 1929, he suffered another attack, which proved fatal. Fr. O’Connor’s funeral was in the church he had built and he was buried on Priests’ Mound in Calvary Cemetery.

Blessed Sacrament’s third pastor was the Rev. Patrick O’Hanlon who took charge on October 2, 1929 and served for three years. Due to failing health, Father had to resign. In September of 1932 Rev. Edward Desmond was appointed to Blessed Sacrament. During his time as pastor, the school grew rapidly. To transport the children from a distance, a school bus was purchased. After eight years of service, Fr. Desmond was moved to Knoxville.

The pastor of Blessed Sacrament for the next eight years (1940-1948) was the Rev. Merlin F.X. Kearney. The shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in the churchyard was erected in December of 1940 and the two statutes in the front of the church, a memorial to parishioners who died in World War II, were blessed in August 1947. Fr. Kearney completed extensive repairs of the five parish buildings in 1945-1946. The school continued to grow and by June 1948 the enrollment had reached 540 pupils. An annex for the school cafeteria was built in 1946 in the former convent at 2574 Yale. Two years later the house at 2532 Hale was bought and used by the first grade.

When Msgr. Kearney was assigned to Immaculate Conception Parish, Memphis, in December 1948, Rev. Leo H. Ringwald was named to succeed him at Blessed Sacrament. To provide for the constantly growing school Fr. Ringwald built another annex on the lot at the northeast comer of Hale and Merton. This structure of concrete blocks cost $8,500 and was used for the second grade.

In September 1951 Fr. Ringwald was named pastor of St. Michael’s Parish and the Fr. John A. Welsh, was given charge of Blessed Sacrament. During Fr. Welsh’s pastorate (1951-1956) the Philomena Guild donated a new main altar for the church. When Fr. Welsh was transferred in December of 1956, the Reverend Francis P. Pack became pastor of Blessed Sacrament.

In December 1960, Father Pack completed a new building, a combination auditorium, gymnasium and cafeteria, at the cost of $100,000. Another change of pastors took place in June 1961 when Father Pack was moved. The Reverend Morris G. Stritch was designated pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish. One of his first projects was the Golden Jubilee of Blessed Sacrament. During Fr. Stritch’s 21 years as pastor, he led the parish through the liturgical changes ushered in by Vatican II. The new altar facing the people was set in place in 1965. During the years since 1961, changes in family life, economics, and educational needs generated many changes in the school. In 1977, the first floor of the convent was converted into a kindergarten.

By 1980, there were no longer Sisters of Mercy teaching in the school, the lay faculty continued to hand on the Catholic faith in the tradition begun by the sisters in 1912. In 1980, the parish held a reunion that was attended by many who had studied and worshipped at Blessed Sacrament.

Of special note in the history of Blessed Sacrament Parish is the seventy-five year presence of organist Margaret Vuille. She began playing in 1921, while she was in high school at Blessed Sacrament. Miss Vuille taught organ and piano here and in many Catholic and public schools. She retired from the organ post at Blessed Sacrament in the winter of 1996 and probably holds the record for the longest continuous music service to a single parish in our Memphis Diocese.

When Father Stritch retired in 1982, Fr. Bill Davis became our pastor. He quickly became the heart that united our parish community. Fr. Davis served us for two years and was followed by Fr. Patrick Heenan in 1984. Fr. Heenan worked tirelessly to keep our school open, but the school was forced to close in 1991. After six years, Fr. Heenan was reassigned and Fr. Dan Moore was appointed Parish Administrator. Fr. William Kantner followed Fr. Moore as Pastoral Administrator for six months.

In 1991, Fr. Charles Bauer was appointed our pastor. He and Fr. Heymer began the Latin Masses at Blessed Sacrament in 1993. The Polish community also used Blessed Sacrament for their Masses four or five times a year. The parish celebrated its 80th anniversary in 1992. In 1997, Fr. Bauer was reassigned and Fr. Mike Morgera was appointed as pastor. During Fr. Mike’s seven years as pastor, he added a Vietnamese Mass in 1998, and a Spanish Mass in 2003. In the fall of 2000, De La Salle Elementary at Blessed Sacrament opened as a Jubilee School with funding coming from the Diocese. On the Feast of Corpus Christi, June 2, 2002, Blessed Sacrament celebrated its 90th birthday in gratitude for the many blessings received throughout our history.

Fr. Morgera was assigned to Nativity parish in 2004 and Fr. Kevin Bravata became our pastor. Fr. Kevin served the parish well for seven years, remodeling the church and installing a protective covering for the stained glass windows. In 2006, Fr. Kevin worked with the Hispanic youth to raise funds for a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Hispanic men built a grotto around the statue and hired an artist to paint it.

In 2011, when Fr. Kevin was reassigned, Fr. Edward Fisher was appointed as pastor. Our parish now numbers about 180 families and the school has an enrollment of 165 students. Since coming to us in July, Fr. Ed has turned the area between the church and rectory into a large patio with benches for parish gatherings. Fr. Ed has been thrust into preparations for our 100th anniversary celebration, which will be held on June 10th, 2012 at 2:30 PM. Bishop Terry Steib will be present for this special Mass on the Feast of Corpus Christi. All are welcome to join us for this joyous feast!

*Edited from the History of our Parish by Msgr. George J. Flanigen editor of the Tennessee Register. 1962

*Revised and updated to 2012 by Betty Pate, 100th Anniversary Committee