Portrait of St. Margaret Mary’s Past – A Look Back

(Compiled By Gladys Koval)

St. Margaret Mary’s is blessed with a rich history. We look back to honor those who were not afraid to take the risks necessary to build a new parish. They had enormous faith, energy, enthusiasm and dedication.
In 1948, Rev. Joseph Flanagan, CSsR, Pastor of St. Gerard Parish started negotiations to purchase land for a chapel to serve the people in the Highland Hills area. The land on Fair Avenue was purchased from parishioners Mr. Edward Pawlik and Mrs. Bernard Wiatrek. A chapel was built for $42,000 and dedicated in the name of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque on May 18, 1950. Father Flanagan celebrated the first Mass in the building which is now the school gymnasium. On September 15, 1955 Archbishop Lucey designated St. Margaret Mary as a parish to serve 1500 families formerly served by St. Gerard’s and St. Cecilia parishes. Father Edward J. Dworaczyk was named founding pastor, and the St. Catherine of Alexandria Chapel, which had been built and dedicated in 1952  as a mission of St. Gerard’s, was transferred to St. Margaret Mary Parish. “This parish has been the place of countless sacramental and individual encounters with God, sometimes in joyful celebration and at other times in sorrow and trial. I believe that St. Margaret Mary Parish has become the realization of our founders’ dream – a place to be at home with the Lord. May it continue to be just that for the generations yet to come.”

Rev. Marvin Doerfler In commemoration of the St. MM Silver Jubilee

Organizations quickly began to form within the new parish to serve the needs of the people. The Ushers Club and the Altar Society were begun in 1950 while still a part of St. Gerard’s. The chapel choir began, and they donated an organ in 1952. The Legion of Mary and Holy Name Society were formed in 1955, followed in 1956 by the Double Ring Club. CCD began in 1956 and the school opened in the same year with an enrollment of 746 students. The year 1957 saw the beginning of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, followed in 1959 by the first Girl Scout Troop, 1960 the first Cub Scout Troop and 1962, the first Boy Scout Troop.The rectory was built and dedicated in 1962. The current church was built in 1964 and dedicated in 1965 while Fr. Ed was still pastor. Plaques in the north and south church foyers list the names, several of whom are still active parishioners today, of generous donors who helped make the building possible.Msgr. Alexander C. Wangler succeeded Fr. Ed as pastor. Under the leadership of Msgr. Wangler and directives from the Second Vatican Council, came the founding of the Pastoral Council in 1967. It was chaired by Jack Fohn. The Men‟s Club followed in 1969 and continues to be important in the life of our parish today.Gever’s Hall, then known as the “Optimist Building”, was purchased in 1970. In that same year, lights and a concession stand were added to the baseball diamond. The most recent building, the Activity Center, was completed in 1982. In 1987, students and staff celebrated when air conditioning was installed in the school.
“Msgr. Wangler needed some help with administrative matters, so he called a bunch of the ‘old timers’ to form a council.”

Jack Fohn

Under the direction of the third pastor, Fr. Marvin Doerfler, who became Pastor in 1975, many new lay ministries were begun. Lay Ministry to the Sick and Aged was started in 1977. The Liturgy Committee convened in 1979 as did lay-led Eucharistic ministry. In 1980 Meals on Wheels and the Family Life Ministry began serving community needs.
Growth continued under the fourth pastor, Fr. Anthony Pesek, and the parish continued to see new beginnings. In 1986 the Youth Ministry program was started, and in 1987, 23 teens were commissioned as Eucharistic Ministers.Parish leadership of the 1990’s were faced with a new set of challenges. The sagging economy and the northward migration of many founding families, brought new diversity, and increased need for economic assistance for parishioners. Additional parishes established after St. Margaret Mary were sharing responsibility for Catholic education, so school enrollment declined and was further plummeted by the economic downturn. Heavy use of the facilities and grounds was beginning to take its toll. Unfortunately, the economic downturn caused revenue to decrease at a time when needs were greatly increasing. This period of transition proved difficult for the parish. But the dedication, determination and hope of the “old-timers” continued to help sustain the parish.

Today, under the leadership of a new Archbishop and Pastor, Fr. Jimmy Drennan, St. Margaret Mary looks to the future. “Fully aware of the legacy laid by those in the past, and fully aware of the need to continue to attract those who will strengthen, nurture and fortify St. Margaret Mary to carry the faith forward in our families, we look to lay the foundation for the next fifty years. It is good to look back. It is good to celebrate the past. It is good to build on the wisdom of those who came before. But it is important to live in the present and keep looking to the future.” “They have worked hard to erect not only the buildings but to strengthen, nurture, fortify and spread the faith.”Archbishop Flores commemorating the St. MM Silver Jubilee.