Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church
Compliments of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church Church History, 1950-2020
In October of 1948, C.O. Franklin, a Germantown citizen, wrote to the Most Reverend William L. Adrian, Bishop of Nashville, expressing a need for worship space in Germantown. Due to the shortage of priests and the greater need of Catholics in outlying areas, Bishop Adrian responded to Mr. Franklin by saying that he found it difficult to fulfill this need but would give it serious thought. During the next few years, further appeals were made to the bishop for a Catholic church to be erected in Germantown.
Mr. Franklin contacted the bishop again in June of 1950 asking permission to have Mass celebrated in city hall (2276 West Street). In a letter dated August 26, 1950, the bishop appointed Fr. Joseph P. Gresham to create in Germantown a mission from St. Anne Parish on Highland. This parish would be the eighteenth parish in the vicinity of Memphis. Fr. Gresham was named Assistant Pastor of St. Anne’s, though his duties were to celebrate Sunday and Holy Day Masses in Germantown at city hall.
The original membership of the mission parish consisted of thirty families. Gresham celebrated Mass using a portable altar, while a folding screen, set up in the corner of the building, served as a confessional.
In May of 1951, an Altar Society was established in the mission parish. Mrs. C.O. Franklin was elected president; Mrs. R. L. Stevens, vice-president; Mrs. Alex Barzizza, treasurer; and Mrs. Jay Crawford, secretary. Funds to build a permanent church were raised and the property for the church site was donated by an Episcopalian family, Mrs. and Mrs. Jere L. Crook, Jr., and children, Senter Crook, II and Jere Crook, III of Germantown in honor of Mr. Crook’s father, Dr. Jere Lawrence Crook, M.D., L.L.D., F.A.C.s. The original property consisted of seven and a half beautifully, wooded acres situated on the highest elevations in Shelby County.
On June 1, 1952, the first Mass was celebrated in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church (OLPH) in Germantown (8151 Poplar Avenue). Formal dedication ceremonies were held on October 19 of that same year. The Most Reverend William D. O’Brien of Chicago, and President of the Catholic Extension Society which donated $2500 to the building fund, was celebrant of the dedication liturgy. Fr. Joseph P. Gresham died at the age of thirty-nine twelve days after the dedication of the new church. In May of 1953, the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary was dedicated to Father Gresham’s memory.
Over time, the Diocesan Bishops would appoint the following pastors to OLPH:
- August 26, 1950, Fr. Joseph P. Gresham
- November 8, 1952, Fr. James Driscoll
- July 15, 1954, Fr. Paul J. Morris
- June 1969 Fr. Edward C. “Ned” Elliott
- April 1986 Fr. Michael L. Stewart
- July 1, 1992, Fr. Milton Guthrie
- August 1998 Fr. J. Edwin Creary
- June 28, 2017, Fr. Mathew Panackachira
- August 2020 Fr. Jolly Sebastian
The first parish council was formed with John D. Canale, Jr., as its first president. The parish religious education program was formalized under the guidance of the Sisters of Mercy. The first parish census was conducted and bus service from the Catholic schools in Memphis was extended to include the OLPH children.
By 1965, the rectory was built and Father Morris had moved from a rental house on Dogwood Road to the present rectory. The parish membership had grown to about 100 families. The opportunity soon presented itself for the parish to purchase an additional fifteen acres of land adjoining the property.
It was recognized that there was a great need for an all-purpose building to accommodate the many activities of the growing Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish family. William P. Brennan, Jr., constructed the building and Marshall Tillman volunteered to oversee the construction of the facility. The building was named in honor of the parish’s first pastor, Father Gresham.
The Diocese of Memphis was created on January 6, 1971, with the Most Reverend Carroll T. Dozier being ordained the first Bishop of Memphis. Father Gresham Hall was dedicated on April 22, 1972. In 1977, the parish celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the dedication of the original church. Parish records show that in November of 1980 there were 478 families registered in the parish. In 1982, larger offices were added to the existing rectory.
In April 1986 discussion began on the need for building a new church and family life center to accommodate the 650 families registered in the parish, and by 1987 an open parish meeting was held to discuss and evaluate the parish building philosophy. A blessing and groundbreaking ceremony, with Bishop Buechlein presiding, was held on Sunday, May 15, 1988. The first Mass in the new worship space was celebrated on Saturday evening, April 9, 1990. The parish welcomed the Korean community in 1994.
Father Guthrie was asked to promote the development of a Catholic School, and the new Family Life Center soon incorporated plans for a school. The blessing and dedication of the new Parish Family Life Enrichment Center were held on Sunday, October 20, 1996. The blessing of the outdoor Pavilion took place in September of 1996. The chapel once referred to as “the Church, “ was now called the Chapel and used for daily Mass, weddings, and funerals.
In 2000, OLPH celebrated its 50th Anniversary. On September 23, 2001, the new Education and Recreation Facilities were dedicated, and the parish hall was rededicated in honor of Saint Therese of the Infant of Jesus. In 2006, commencement exercises were held for the first eighth-grade graduating class, coinciding with the 10th Anniversary of OLPH School.
Pope Benedict XVI bestowed the title of “Chaplain to His Holiness,” with the title of Monsignor to Fr. J. Ewsin Creary and five other priests in the Diocese on September 8, 2009.
In July 2012, the church acquired the property next to the rectory known affectionately as “The Lil White House” and in early August added two new Columbariums to each side of St. Francis in the Garden. In 2014, OLPH was named Germantown’s best school for the 9th year.
Click here to learn more about the church http://www.olphgermantown.org/