Shortly after the installation of Bishop Francis E. Kelley, as Bishop of the Diocese of Oklahoma, he wished to know exactly how many Catholics resided in Oklahoma City and where. So in October 1924 he invited the Sisters of Corpus Christi House, Duluth, Minnesota, to come to the city and take a census. These sisters were known as the Pink Sisters due to the color of their habit. They went door to door in every neighborhood to see where the Catholics were and what their needs were.
The census revealed 671 Catholics, were living East of the Santa Fe railroad tracks, although only between 75 to 100 actually attending Mass on Sundays at St. Joseph Church and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church.
As a result of the censes, Bishop Kelley decided there was a need for a parish on the east side of Oklahoma City. Therefore 10 lots were purchased at 8th Street and Durland, together with a large three-story residence, a barn or carriage house and servants quarters, it was the former home of C.G. Jones.
In August Rev. P.I. Wilwerding was named the first pastor of Corpus Christi. The first Mass and others were celebrated by Father Wilwerding in the residence which was also the covent for the Corpus Christi Sisters. The first baptism at Corpus Christi Church was Juanita Francis Cooley on March 3, 1925. The first marriage celebration was Gilbert Geary and Mabel Marie Caraway on March 23, 1925. There was no school the first year however religious instructions were given to 35 children.
The parlor soon became too small for church services so a concrete floor was laid in the carriage house where Mass was then held.
In 1926 some 300 families were on the parish registry at Corpus Christi however less than 100 attending Mass regularly. The carriage house was soon torn down and a two-story combination church and school built with a full basement. The upper part of the new building was used for school in the lower part for church. At the close of 1925 there is a total debt of $66,000 against Corpus Christi Church while the Sunday collection was about $55.
After a year Father Wilwerding and inexperienced pastor lost heart in his first undertaking of a construction and requested to be moved. On September 1, 1926 Father John J. Walde was appointed administrator of Corpus Christi Church by Bishop Kelley. The Diocesan drive was underway at the same time and was very successful in the Parish relieving Corpus Christi of some of its debt. In October 1926 Father John J. Walde was appointed the pastor.
The Corpus Christi Sisters were not a teaching order. However, they opened a school in September 1926 with 91 students and taught until the summer of 1928. After which the Sisters of Corpus Christi House were recalled and disbanded because they have been unable to obtain Papal approval of their community.
The first Novena of Grace in Corpus Christi Church in honor of St. Francis Xavier was March 4 to the 12th of 1927. Around 400 person's attended. It was conducted for years after.
Bishop Kelley confirmed the first class of 56 on April 17, 1927.
In August 1928 The Sisters of Providence from St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana were brought in to staff Corpus Christi School. There were six sisters with 104 pupils that first year. A few months after their arrival the Corpus Christi PTA was organized. By 1936 Father John J. Walde and his parishioners reduce the debt on Corpus Christi Church from $66,000 to $4,000.
The next problem facing Corpus Christi Church was the fact that there was no possibility of furniture development at the first location. The attendance at Sunday services has increased from an average number of 100 to 800. So in 1936 Bishop Kelley suggested that the Associated Catholic Charities purchase the property of Corpus Christi for a maternity home and that Kelley Park an entire block at 15th and Stonewall was available to the Parish.
On March 1, 1937 the new two-story school building was begun. There were 12 classrooms, a large kitchen and an auditorium that seated 450. On August 7, 1937 Corpus Christi School was officially moved to 15th and Stonewall. Across the street a residence and six lots were purchased for a rectory. There was no covent as yet so the sisters occupied a portion of the new school building.
Money for the new building was nearly all raised with the sale of the old school, the sisters home and the rectory to Associate Catholic Charities, some royalties and through a financial campaign conducted in the month of December 1936.
For eight years the school auditorium was used as a church. In the new school there were 185 pupils in the eight grades with six sisters of Providence as teachers. The dedication of the new school took place on October 17, 1937.
In November 1944 Father John J. Walde and his parishioner saw construction began on their new church with a seating capacity was 500 with another hundred in the choir.
On October 18, 1945 Bishop McGuinness dedicated the new church. Catholic Daughters of America, Knights of Columbus, altar boys and 80 clergy took part in procession. The pontifical High Mass was celebrated by Bishop McGuinness with Rev. John J. Walde, assistant priest; Rev. J. Bernard Loftus, Deacon, and Rev. R.F. Harkin, subdeacon. Deacons of honor were Rev. E. Vader Grinten and Rev. John L. Garvey. Masters of Ceremonies: Rev. C.A. Buswell and Rev. James K. Couhig, CPPS. A stirring sermon was given by Rev. Edward Lodge Curran, Brooklyn, New York, president of the International Catholic Truth Society. Around 650 people witnessed the dedication of the new church.
On December 14, 1947 the new convent was begun. It had 26 rooms including a chapel, community room, two parlors, kitchen, refractory, utility room and basement. It could accommodate 13 sisters, each with a private room. The building was ready for occupancy in August 1948.
On October 27, 1948 the sisters held open house following the blessing of the covent by Bishop McGuinness. At the open house the ladies of the parish gave a sisters a canned food shower: also linens and bedding for their private rooms. There were seven Sisters of Providence to staff the school with 260 pupils.
On December 28, 1948 Father John J. Walde was named a Domestic Prelate (a level of Monsignor).
On March 18,1952 Msgr. Walde moved into the new rectory. A spacious building erected on the south side of the church. It had a suit of rooms for Msgr. Walde and for two assistance, a guest room, housekeeper’s quarters, reception room, three offices, kitchen, and in the basement, a recreation room, storeroom, laundry and furnace room.
On April 15, 1952 Bishop McGuinness bless the new rectory followed by a house warming for the clergy. Five days later on April 20 the rectory was open for parishioners and friends of Msgr. Walde.
Perpetual Prayer, before the Blessed Sacrament, was started the first Sunday of July 1950 and lasted for years.
Corpus Christi church was a sponsor for the Nicola Park Mission and on November 1, 1949 Our Lady of Fatima Chapel was dedicated by Bishop McGuinness. Nicola Park was closed in 2010 and was combined with St. Robert Bellarmine Church, Jones.
In 1922 the Diocesan Vicar for Missions, Father Renier Sevens, had organized African-American Catholics on the east side of Oklahoma City in what became St. Peter Claver Parish.
In 1925 Bishop Kelley invited an Irish order, the Holy Ghost Fathers, to take charge of the community. For over 40 years the Holy Ghost Fathers operated a very active apostolate in the African-American community of Oklahoma City, but in 1967, facing reducing numbers, they were forced to withdraw from Oklahoma.
At the same time, Corpus Christi Church was experiencing growth of the African-American population on the east side. Bishop Reed, advised that it was time for a dramatic moves to help integrate the neighborhood, decided to close St. Peter Claver Parish and combine its membership with that of Corpus Christi.
With the closing of St. Peter Claver Parish, many of the St. Peter Claver parishioners depart from the Catholic faith.
Father Herman Foken, was the next pastor of Corpus Christi who began slowly rebuilding what had been disrupted and destroyed. He was followed by a succession of priest, each in his own way with the help of many faithful parish members of both races, contributed towards the healing.
Compiled from: The writings of Rev. Urban de Hasque, Three Ring in 50 Years: A Diocesan Golden Jubilee; Roman and Oklahoma: A Centennial History of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City by James D. White.
405-236-4301 † Fax: 405-235-2122
1616 North Kelley Avenue, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73117 † Mailing Address: 1005 NE 15th Street, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73117
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