Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church

Parish History
Learn about how Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church came to be a parish.

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the capstone. Through Him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." Ephesians 2:19-22.

Our Lady of Lourdes Church Sign Image

It was this Spirit that brought Our Lady of Lourdes into existence 55 years ago as an offshoot of the
close-knit Parish of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, located in East Lake, near the airport.

A Holy Temple
The New Church  |  Who Goes Where?  |  Building Days  |  A Fitting Day for a Dedication  |
Local Press Stories  |  Our First Pastor  |  The Early Years  |  Church Improvements |
The Lewis Chase Memorial Youth Building  |  The Early 80's  |  Andrew Gavin Family Life Center  |
Mid to Late 80's  |  Fr. Andrew Kennedy  |  Preparing for the Millennium  |  The Mid to Late 90's  |
Recent Highlights  |  A Parish Summary  |  Closing Thoughts  |  Our Lady of Lourdes Pastors  |

Our Lady of Lourdes 55-Year History

The New Church
In March 1958, Father Andrew Gavin, Pastor, announced plans for a new Catholic Church in Huffman as a solution to a growing Parish and the expanding Birmingham Airport. Devoted to their church family, parishioners were initially lukewarm to the idea of relocating. When it was clear there was no other option, however, parishioners pitched in enthusiastically, holding spaghetti suppers in the Church Hall (which was actually bigger than the Church) to buy the land for the new Church.

The 7 1/2-acre site that would eventually become Our Lady of Lourdes was purchased from Luther Coggins, who owned a car dealership. Pastoral and serene, with a creek running through the middle of the site, the property originally extended beyond what is now Parkway East. On January 13, 1959, Archbishop Toolen ( Memorial ) ( Archdiocese of Mobile Memorial ) broke ground for the new Church. Father Andrew Gavin was appointed Pastor of both churches, offering the 9 a.m. Mass at St. John’s for the people of Huffman.

Who Goes Where?
Deciding who would attend the new Church came down to geography. Parishioners from St. John’s went door-to-door in the Eastern area to let people know that if they lived on one side of Huffman Road they were expected to attend St. Barnabas Church in East Lake. Those on the other side were to become the parishioners at the new Church in Huffman.

Building Days
While it may be hard to believe in this era of committees, subcommittees, committees to think about committees and lawyers, Father Gavin launched into building the new facility with very little input from others. But there were construction setbacks, including the bankruptcy of the original contractor. As a result, much of the wood was left in the field and exposed to rain, which damaged and warped much of it.

Henry Garner, of Garner Stone Company, got the stone for the building and bought the stone for Altar. Margaret and Luke Sartino donated the Stations of the Cross. New parishioners helped purchase pews and Frances and Sam Campis bought the first Organ. Meanwhile, members of St. John's took care that its fixtures, including stained-glass windows, were put in safekeeping in Holy Name Society president Joe Smeraglia's barn. Different churches benefited from St. John's closing. The pews, for instance, went to a church in Scottsboro. The life-sized Crucifix was loaded in two pieces into Smeraglia's Chevy station wagon with help from Clarence Rohling, Melvin Rohling, Frank Rohling, Gene Rohling, Sam Campis, Pete Tortorigi and Joe Amari.

R.S. Harris Construction Co. built the Church, designed by architect Harry D. Hester, and the first Mass at the new Church was celebrated at midnight on December 25, 1959. During the Mass, the men of St. John’s Holy Name Society presented a gift to the new Parish: the Crucifix that had graced St. John’s, repainted and refinished by J.C. Wood.

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A Fitting Day for a Dedication
On Pentecost Sunday, June 5, 1960, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Durick ( Memorial ) officiated at the dedication ceremony of the new Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. It was his first dedication. Father Joseph Allen was master of ceremonies of the dedication. Father Gavin celebrated the High Mass, which was sung by Parish Choir under the direction of Laura St. Lager. Clarence Rohling was master of ceremonies at the Mass. Members of the Birmingham Fourth Degree General Assembly Knights of Columbus formed an honor guard for the ceremonies. Altar servers were David and Melvin Rohling, John Lovetto, Luke Sartino Jr., Trey Obering, Roland Sasserville and Louis Musso.

During his sermon, Father Gavin said,

"Today, Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the Church, is a very fitting day for any Church to be dedicated." "Today," he said, "we have come to think of the Church as a physical building, set aside for the worship of Almighty God." "But Pentecost is a personal day. The Holy Ghost didn't come into a room, but into the people there."

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Local Press Stories
News reports from the time give specifics on the structure.

"The new $90,000 Church and Parish Hall is 120 feet by 50 feet. The Church seats 400.... Featuring an outside facing of natural Tennessee stone, the building also houses a Parish Hall, which can seat 150, behind the sanctuary. It includes a modern kitchen with the latest cooking equipment."

"The Church is built on a 7 1/2-acre lot with parking space adjacent to all sides. The Rectory is located on an adjoining 5-acre lot. Tentative expansion plans call for the building of a School on the lot."

"Above the door on the outside stands a six-foot statue of Our Lady of Lourdes which is illuminated at night. Since the Church fronts the Huffman-Center Point Highway, this is a most impressive sight in the evening for passers-by."

"The interior features laminated wood arches in natural finish with a ceiling of California decking. All floors in walking areas are terrazzo while the floors under the seats are of vinyl. The pews are made of Appalachian Red Oak."

"The Church has indirect lighting, air conditioning and forced air heat. The Church has been so constructed to make future expansion possible if necessary."

"The Stations of the Cross were hand carved in Italy and are set at eye level. A glass-enclosed cry room is located at the rear of the new Church."

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Our First Pastor
Our founding Father - Father Andrew Gavin - Pastor, Dec. 1959-March 1966

The new Parish had about 100 families. Father Gavin, who purchased what is now the Youth House to be used as a Rectory, was named resident Pastor. St. John’s became a mission.

The enthusiastic spirit of St. John’s has been sustained at Our Lady of Lourdes under the leadership of its Pastors, beginning with the cigar chomping, Karmann Ghia-driving Father Andrew Gavin to our current Pastor Father Andrew Kennedy. Father Gavin, it is alleged, was fond of locking the Church’s doors to discourage parishioners from leaving Mass early - until the fire marshals caught on.

The Early Years
During the early days, the Holy Name Society, Blessed Mother Sodality, St. Anne’s Band, Ave Maria Band, Queen of Peace Band and Burse Club were among the groups offering their support to Church activities. The Parish continued to grow and flourish under Father Gavin’s leadership. He served until illness forced his retirement in 1966.

Fr. Desmond J. Regan was named administrator of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1966 and Pastor in 1967, serving in that capacity until July 1969.

During Father Regan's tenure, membership grew and facilities were improved upon and expanded. Those improvements included a new ceiling, the removal of altar rails, a new wall behind the crucifix, and an education/CCD building.

Fr. Roland Inkel became Pastor in July 1969 and served until June 1970. During that year, the Sunday missalettes made their first appearance. During his pastorate at Our Lady of Lourdes, Father Inkel commissioned four laymen as Ministers of Communion by special indult from Pope Paul VI. These were the first laymen to distribute Communion in the Diocese of Birmingham. Also in 1969, the Diocese of Mobile/Birmingham was split, creating separate dioceses.

In June 1970, Father Regan returned as Pastor, following a year as principal of John Carroll High School. He served as Pastor until October 1977.

In 1971, Father Matthew Brennan arrived as the Parish’s first Assistant Pastor, serving until 1973. It was during that time that the rectory at Westminster Place was purchased.

As the Huffman area grew, so did the Parish and its programs. The CYO provided guidance and entertainment for the Youth of the Parish; volleyball, soccer and softball teams provided athletic spirit. Scouting opportunities taught leadership skills and discipline.

In addition to increased opportunities for parishioners to practice fellowship, the facilities were upgraded, too. A new organ was bought and installed in August 1973. Ruth Christian played it for the first time at the August 28th wedding for Dolly Campis and Mike Dennis. A new Church Sign engraved on stone was finished in April 1977.

Father Gerard Kitts arrived in August 1975, staying until June 1977.

Monsignor Edward L. Foster was the new Pastor to lead the people of Our Lady of Lourdes, from October 1977 until April 1981.

Monsignor Foster began renovating the Sanctuary in January 1978, and on October 22nd, Bishop Joseph Vath ( Memorial ) dedicated the new Altar.

Father Louis Giardino joined Our Lady of Lourdes as Associate Pastor in 1978.

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Church Improvements and The Lewis Chase Memorial Youth Building
Among other physical improvements to the Church, were new Holy Water Fonts, a Vestibule, new aisle rugs, a Canopy and loudspeakers installed outside.

On Sept. 3, 1978, the Parish broke ground on the Lewis Chase Memorial Youth Building. Mrs. Gerri Chase felt that the building would be a tribute to her late husband, Dr. Lewis Chase. Joining Monsignor Foster for the ceremony were CYO adviser, Sammy Cashman, and CYO president, Leslie Miranda. The building, built in large part by volunteer labor, was dedicated by Bishop Vath ( Memorial ) on October 7, 1979.

On September 5, 1978, Our Lady of Lourdes began a Kindergarten program for 4-year-olds under the direction of Sara Reese. It supplemented the established Kindergarten for 5-year-olds under the direction of Phyllis Neaves.

In keeping with a directive from the Bishop and to handle an ever-growing Faith Community, plans were made to set up a Parish Council by the end of 1978. It would be responsible for decisions regarding spiritual growth and apostolic work of the Parish. Members of the steering committee charged with setting up an effective Parish Council were Henry Garner, Louise Deale, Tom Smith, Peggy Southerland and Dolores Clark.

The Early 80's
In 1980, a problem that had plagued the Church since its construction was finally solved: The creek running through the Church property was covered as part of the Martinwood Project. Early members recall many times when the creek overflowed, often flooding the Church despite the efforts of men with sandbags and shovels.

In December 1980, Father Giardino left the Parish and Father Paul Donnelly ( Memorial ) arrived to assist Monsignor Foster. He was named Pastor in April 1981 upon Monsignor Foster's departure. Father Donnelly was then transferred in August of that year.

Father Patrick J. Murphy was named Pastor in September 1981 and was joined in 1983 by Father Tom Sadler, who later died. In November 1984, Father Henry Thorsen was appointed Team Minister to Our Lady of Lourdes. There were about 900 families in the Parish, the highest total ever. Youth activities continued to flourish with scouting, athletics and social youth groups. Senior citizen activities were also popular, especially the luncheon and bingo get-togethers.

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The Andrew Gavin Family Life Center
On May 19, 1985, ground was broken for a new Family Life Center, designed to incorporate the existing Kindergarten/CCD building. The day began with a May crowning of the Blessed Mother, followed by an outdoor liturgy. The building would be used for recreational, educational and social functions for all age groups.

The Andrew Gavin Family Life Center was dedicated on December 1, 1985. Co-pastors Father Murphy and Father Thorsen were joined by Bishop Vath ( Memorial ) for the dedication ceremony. Also attending were members of Father Gavin’s family, who generously gave Father Gavin’s Chalice to the Parish in his memory. A portrait of Father Gavin, who died in 1967, hangs in the entrance to the building.

The center was designed by Our Lady of Lourdes parishioner Dean Arrington to include previous classrooms in a way that gives the appearance of a single building. It features hardwood maple floors in the Gymnasium and a fully equipped Kitchen with quarry tile, fruitwood cabinets, an industrial-sized freezer and stainless steel work island. An open-top counter is exposed to the Gym and Social Hall.

The Family Life Center also features four Classrooms and a Library with two adjoining Offices for the Kindergarten Principal and Director of Religious Education.

Caddo Construction Company submitted its newest project as "Building of the Year." The stone surrounding the building was supplied by Henry Garner and the Garner Stone Company.

Others recognized for their efforts were Ralph Harbison, who donated the equipment for improving the parking lot; Pete Tortorigi and Dave Parrish for landscaping; and Joe and Jerome Covington, who were the primary contractors for the flooring. Electricians who donated their time and skills were Bill Roberson, Ray Vaughan and Ernie and Kenny Essig.

Mid to Late 80's
In February 1986, Father Murphy left Our Lady of Lourdes and Father Thorsen was named Pastor. He was joined by Associate Pastor, Father Albert Fisher.

The Choir Loft was renovated in 1987 and now holds 50 people.

In 1987, Our Lady of Lourdes revived the Labor Day Festival once sponsored by St. Thomas on the Hill. The first festival was enormously successful and continues to improve each year.

In 1988, ground was broken to add Church Offices to the Chase Memorial Youth Building. Present at the ceremony were Father Thorsen, Father Fisher, George Rogers, Kathryn Earle, Clarence Robling, Jon Ryan, Jim Moore, Eddie Easter, Robin Boilek, Harvey Martin Jr., and Charlene Frechette.

The youth groups and Scouts had been meeting in the Youth Building, but then-Youth Director, Tony Gagliano, spearheaded an effort to buy the old Rectory/Office Building to be used for the Youth activities.

The Sodalities, though reduced in number, continued to provide services for the Parish. The Knights of Columbus also helped, providing money each month to help with bills.

Father Ray Remke arrived in 1989 to fill the position left open by Father Fisher’s departure.

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Father Andrew Kennedy
Father Thorsen
left the Parish in March 1993, though he continues to work at area parishes each year as needed. Father Remke also left in 1993 and was replaced by Father Bob Sullivan, who was not replaced when he was transferred in 1995 because of the shortage of priests.

In July 1993, Father Andrew Kennedy was named Pastor. On October 23, 1994, the Parish dedicated a new Electronic Pipe Organ. Donations to the Organ Fund included a generous $5,000 gift presented by Josephine Sartino on behalf of the Sartino family. The occasion was marked with a concert by Robert Woods.

Preparing for the Millennium
In February 1995, an extensive effort was made to determine the needs of the Parish family and its strong - as well as its weak - points. Parish volunteers worked long hours organizing and hosting "town meetings," the results of which were sorted and ranked in order of importance. Stewardship efforts continue, with attendance at national conferences, an adult education series, an annual Parish Thanksgiving Dinner and special guest speakers. At parishioners' requests, someone now greets Churchgoers at each Mass, making members and visitors feel welcome.

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The Mid to Late 90's
In September 1996, Sister Anna Flanagan ( Order's News Article ) arrived in the Parish, primarily assisting with the Ministry For Care of the Sick and Bereaved, but also serving as needed by parishioners. She left the Parish in 1998 to work at St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Many facilities are in place to help with parishioners’ spiritual needs: In addition to daily Masses, there is a Prayer Room in the Youth Building, the opportunity to participate in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on a regular basis and a Book and Video Library for in-depth study of spiritual topics.

Regular programs of the Church include Ministry For Care of the Sick and Bereaved, a Stewardship Ministry ( including a yearly Time and Talent Fair ), Kindergarten ( with six classes and After-School Care ), Religious Education Programs, an active Youth Ministry currently under the direction of Jessica (Brill) Lloyd, and a Music Ministry under the direction of Nancy Ryan.

Recent Highlights
Among the highlights for each ministry:

Volunteers in the Pastoral Care Ministry continue to assist Father Kennedy with visits to the sick, elderly and homebound.

In January 1999, Our Lady of Lourdes became a Tithing Parish , giving 5 percent of income to charitable causes. In January 2000, we raised our tithe to 6 percent. Eventually, it was increased to 10 percent.

The Kindergarten, led by Beth Abts, has a Computer in each classroom and a new Playground.

RCIA continues to prepare people who wish to become Catholic.

Youth in the Parish are active in spiritual activities as well as fellowship.

The Adult Choir, one of the Parish's oldest organizations, makes Holy Days and Holidays more meaningful with special presentations.

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A Parish Summary
For 55 years, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish has grown physically and spiritually. There are approximately 600 families registered, and newcomers are always welcome. Opportunities for fellowship are plentiful and currently include an Adult Choir, a Children's Choir and Youth Choir; Junior and Senior High Youth Group; Adult Education; Kindergarten; RCIA; Senior Citizens Luncheons; "Young at Heart" led by Joanne Wills; Knights of Columbus and Ladies Auxiliary of Knights of Columbus; St. Anne’s Band; Weekly Bingo; Men's Basketball; and Adult Volleyball.

Closing Thoughts
Did Father Andrew Gavin, standing in his tiny airport Church, ever imagine such growth and success for his new Parish? We don't know that, but we do know he believed very firmly in the hearts and souls of the good people of St. John’s - and surely he wouldn't be surprised to know that things have gone so well for Our Lady of Lourdes.

And so it is, that a Parish family reflects on 55 years and, with abundant blessings from God, looks ahead to the next 55 years.

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Our Lady of Lourdes Pastors

Father Andrew Gavin, R. I. P.
December 1959 - March 1966
Click here to see:
Father Andrew Gavin Family Life Center

Father Desmond J. Regan, R. I. P.

March 1966 - July 1969
Ordained - June 8, 1946
January 23, 1922 - October 23, 2014
Click here to see:
Photo  -  Memorial

Twitter  Twitter Link Image  Info Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama

Father Roland J. Inkel, R. I. P.

July 1969 - June 1970
Ordained - June 7, 1947
January 30, 1921 - September 24, 2000
Click here to see:
Photo  -  Memorial

Father Desmond J. Regan, R. I. P.
June 1970 - Oct 1977
Ordained - June 8, 1946
January 23, 1922 - October 23, 2014
Click here to see:
Photo  Memorial

Twitter  Twitter Link Image  Info Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama

Monsignor Edward L. Foster, R. I. P.

Oct 1977 - April 1981

Father Paul J. Donnelly, R. I. P.
April 1981 - Aug 1981
Born: February 29, 1932 - Dublin, Ireland
Ordained - May 31, 1958
Died: September 20, 2007 - Birmingham, AL
Click here to see:
Photo  -  Memorial

Father Patrick J. Murphy, R. I. P.
Sept. 1981 - Feb 1986
Ordained - June 7, 1953
February 14, 1926 -  September 16, 2000
Click to see:
Photo   Photo with Bishop  -  Memorial

Father Henry B. Thorsen

Feb 1986 - March 1993

Father Andrew J. Kennedy, R. I. P.

July 1993 - March 16, 2017
Born: January 12, 1936 - Tipperary, Ireland
Ordained - June 1963
Died: March 16, 2017 - Birmingham, AL
+ Laid to Rest + April 1, 2017
St. Michael's Church Cemetery, Tipperary Town, Ireland

Click here to see:
Photo - Memorial - Twitter - Obituary

Guest Book Memories - Diocese - One Voice

Announcement in Ireland

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Father Alex Steinmiller, C.P.

March 24, 2017 - Current

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Photo used on this Page: Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church Sign

Last modified: April 24, 2017