Six Catholic families were among the ﬁrst settlers in the West End area of what is now Birmingham, Alabama. These families were Mr. and Mrs. Lee Cowart, Mr. and Mrs. D. E. Deasey, Mrs. Molly Dowd, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Murphy, Mr. and Mrs. C.E. Osment, and Mr. and Mrs. W.H. Warren. During the early years there was no Catholic Church within the community. Consequently these families were members of St. Paul’s Parish, which was about 4 miles to the east in downtown Birmingham. At that time transportation was very limited, so with the hardship of getting downtown for Mass, these six ladies formed a group. After much thought and discussion they decided to call on the Pastor of St. Paul’s, Reverend James E. Coyle, to ask if he would approach Most Reverend Edward P. Allen, Bishop of the Mobile Diocese, about the construction of a church in West End. In the meantime more families had moved into the area.
On January 17, 1910 eleven ladies met with the purpose of working toward the erection of a church. The vision of these ladies helped to break the ground for the ﬁrst Catholic Church to be built in the West End community of the Birmingham metropolitan area. In 1910 the community of West End was incorporated into the city of Birmingham and at that very time too, the “Catholic Ladies Club” was formed.
In August 1911 Bishop Allen honored the request for a Catholic Church to be erected in West End. He appointed Reverend Patrick Turner as the ﬁrst pastor of the Parish, which was to be known as Blessed Sacrament. Father Turner immediately started seeking a temporary place to offer Mass. He also began looking for a suitable property to build a church and a school.
The ﬁrst Mass was offered on August 7, 1911 in the rooms of the Odd Fellows Hall over the West End Drug Store, later to become known as Alley’s Drug. The building was located on the corner of Tuscaloosa Avenue and Elyton Street (now 13th Street S.W.).
The population had grown to a congregation of one hundred ﬁfty which ﬁlled the hall. The eleven charter members of the Catholic Ladies Club where instrumental in getting the Parish to this point. At this time the men decided to organize a chapter of the Holy Name Society.
Six acres of land, known as the Tate property, was purchased. The ante-bellum house already on the property would serve as the Blessed Sacrament Office and Rectory until 1959.
The ﬁrst Blessed Sacrament Church, which the parishioners fondly referred to it as the “Little White Frame Church,” was completed in October 1911. The church interior was very pretty with the statues, beautiful linens, candelabra, and a coal-burning stove that were purchased through the hard work of the Catholic Ladies Club and Holy Name Society’s many fundraising activities. The first High Mass was sung in the Church at midnight Christmas Eve of 1911.
By 1912 the Catholic Ladies Club changed their name to Catholic Women’s Club of West End and an Altar Society was organized. At this time, Father Turner began to focus on the foundation of a school. He had contacted the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (now known as the Sisters of the Most Holy Sacrament). They kindly consented to come and teach the children of the new Parish. In September 1911 the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration purchased land adjoining the church property. Bishop Allen laid the cornerstone of the new school and convent on Sunday, October 27th 1912. The school was completed and opened on September 2nd 1913. Father Turner was the ﬁrst principal as well as one of the teachers. The High School was afﬁliated with the Catholic University of America and accredited by the Alabama Department of Education, which gave the school the highest standard attainable.
Father Turner resigned in May 1918 to enter military service as a Chaplain during World War l. Reverend Germaine Taylor, O.S.B., was sent from St. Bernard Monastery in Cullman to substitute until another pastor could be assigned to the Parish. Reverend Lawrence J. Carroll was appointed in October 1918 as the second Pastor. Just like his predecessor, he was principal of the school and taught there during his nine years as Pastor.
For ﬁfteen years (1928-1944), the priests of North Alabama Missions resided at Blessed Sacrament and served the missions of Blockton, Jasper, Edgewater, Mulga, Leeds, and Montevallo. Reverend David Toomey was assigned by Bishop Toolen to be in charge of the Missions.
By the early 1920s, it was becoming clear that the Parish had outgrown the original small wood-framed church. Father Carroll began the planning for the construction a new church to accommodate the growing Parish. The pioneers who had worked so long and hard knew the “Little White Frame Church” would eventually need to be replaced. Therefore, the parishioners also started working diligently to raise funds for the construction of the new church.
Reverend Walter J. Tobin was appointed in October 1927 as the third Pastor. On October 10th 1928 he brought to the meeting of the Catholic Women’s Club an architect form Mobile, Mr. John J. Carey, who was working on the plans for the new church. The architectural design was to be a replica of the churches of the renaissance period – especially those of Ravenna, Italy – with an exterior of buff brick while the interior was to be of Romanesque style. Needless to say, the parishioners were elated to hear that their dream of a new church was coming true and excited to know that their many hours of hard work and sacriﬁces were not in vain.
Mr. Carey’s ﬁrm, consisting of himself and Paul Dowling, started the work on the new church in the fall of 1928. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 seriously hampered progress on the construction of the new church. Work continued despite the Depression, but due to the mounting debt the interior of the church had to be left essentially unadorned with frosted windows. To help out Blessed Sacrament, Bishop Thomas J. Toolen donated the high altar and two side altars, dating from 1850, which were originally installed in the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile. Unfortunately, the high altar was severely damaged in transit and only the mensa – the altar top – could be used. The two side altars, however, arrived intact and are precious relics of the Diocese of Mobile. These side altars were dedicated in honor the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph.
Father Tobin prayerfully celebrated the ﬁrst Mass in the new church on Monday, February 17th 1930. The dedication took place a week later on Sunday, February 23rd with Bishop Toolen laying the cornerstone and celebrating a Pontiﬁcal High Mass that was preached by Most Reverend Richard O. Gerow, Bishop of Natchez, Mississippi.
The large construction debt greatly worried Father Tobin during the depression years and only generous loans by the Diocese made it possible for the parish to survive. Debt was not his only worry. This was a period when bitterly anti-Catholic sentiments prevailed in Birmingham. During this time, as a precautionary measure, the men and boys of the Parish patrolled the school and church grounds during the night to preclude the buildings being burned or vandalized.
On October 31st 1935 the Feast of Christ the King was celebrated on the church grounds. Vast crowds assembled to hear the famed Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen, who later became Most Reverend Fulton J. Sheen. In 1939 Father Tobin was given the rank of Domestic Prelate by Pope Pius XII, with the title of Monsignor. In 1943 Reverend John Horgan was assigned as the ﬁrst curate of Blessed Sacrament Parish. Reverend John O’Brian succeeded him in 1945. Later the same year, Reverend John O’Brian was replaced by Reverend Cecil Gill who served Blessed Sacrament as an assistant priest until 1947.
In 1947 Reverend Patrick J. O’Sullivan was assigned as an assistant to Monsignor Tobin. For a goodly part of his tenure at Blessed Sacrament, Father O’Sullivan was called on to assume the administration of the Parish due to the illness of Monsignor Tobin. In 1952 Reverend Michael McGinness was also appointed to assist Monsignor Tobin. In October 1954 Monsignor Tobin became Pastor Emeritus and lived in residence when Reverend George William Keyes became the fourth Pastor. Reverend Michael J. White was assigned as an assistant in 1955 to replace Father McGuinness.
The repayment of all outstanding loans from the original construction of the new church allowed Father Keyes to begin the decoration of the church interior, which had remained largely unadorned since its completion in 1930. The New York ﬁrm of Rambusch and Company was engaged in 1955 for the decoration of the interior of the Church. The beautiful red marble high altar, the baldachin, the ceiling, and wall decorations are all attributed to this ﬁrm.
With the church interior work completed, Father Keyes realized that the days of the ante-bellum home used as a rectory since 1911 were numbered. In 1959 the ﬁrm of Harry Hestin Architects was contracted and plans were drawn up for a new two-story office and rectory building. The new rectory of brick and limestone, complimenting the architectural exterior of the church, was completed in April 1959.
In November 1960, Father Keyes was made a Domestic Prelate by Pope John XXIII with the title Monsignor. For the next several years many diocesan priests came to Blessed Sacrament as assistants to Monsignor Keyes. In 1961 Reverend Kevin Duignan was assigned as an assistant priest until 1964 when Reverend Patrick Murphy succeeded him. In 1965, Reverend Albert Rohling came and was replaced in 1966 by Reverend Michael Dyer.
In October 1976 Monsignor Keyes left to become Pastor of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Monsignor Edwin J. Bobe succeeded Monsignor Keyes in November 1967 as the ﬁfth Pastor. The scholarly and meticulous approach of Monsignor Bobe was clearly evident during his tenure at Blessed Sacrament. Monsignor Bobe left in January 1970. Reverend Michael J. White became the sixth Pastor in January 1970. Father White was no stranger to Blessed Sacrament, having been an assistant priest to Monsignor Keyes from March 1955 to June 1960.
In the early months of 1970, Priests and laity worked diligently to implement the suggestion of Vatican II to form a Parish Council. This important work was accomplished by an elective process in May 1970 with Mr. Thomas P. Lynch serving as the ﬁrst President. The Council had been instrumental in revitalizing and renewing the Parish both spiritually and materially.
In September 1970, Bishop Vath implemented an idea alluded to in the Vatican Council Decree on the ministry and life of priests. On September 18th 1970, Reverend Donald J. Grainger was appointed Co-Pastor with Father White, thus creating the ﬁrst Co-Pastorate in the Diocese. This innovation made it possible for Father White to be a part of the ﬁrst institute for Continuing Theological Education in Rome, Italy from September until Christmas of 1970. The experiment of co-pastors was short-lived, abandoned in most parishes within a few years of implementation.
In 1972 Reverend Peter T. MacCarthy was appointed as the seventh Pastor. Father MacCarthy published a monthly Parish newsletter titled Quidnunc. He choose the Latin word Quidnunc which means “what now”. Mrs. Mary Outlaw and Father MacCarthy researched and compiled an in-depth history of the ﬁrst ﬁfty years of the Parish. Portions of the history recorded here came from their documentation.
In 1973 Father MacCarthy began planning the new front altar to be used for the newly instituted English Mass of Pope Paul VI. To accommodate the new altar, the center section of the altar rail was removed. The new altar was dedicated in April 1974. Thankfully, the historical high altar and the two side altars were left untouched instead of being removed as sadly and unnecessarily happened in so many parishes at this time.
In 1975 Blessed Sacrament Church was designated the Holy Year Church for the Birmingham Western Deanery. Reverend Eugene Flynn, O.S.B., came as an associate this same year. Also in 1975 the Sisters of the Most Holy Sacrament withdrew from the school because of the shortage of the nuns in their community. The parish took over the operation and administration of the school at this time.
February 17th 1980 marked the 50th year anniversary of the ﬁrst Mass in the present church. On February 24th 1980 the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the present church was celebrated in the presence of Most Reverend Joseph G. Vath, the ﬁrst Bishop of the Diocese of Birmingham. Father MacCarthy was the main celebrant of the Mass with Father Flynn and Father White as concelebrants.
On June 1st 1980 Blessed Sacrament School/Academy closed due to declining enrollment after serving the community for 67 years. On November 28th 1980 the school was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in Alabama.
Reverend Donald J. Grainger returned to Blessed Sacrament in September 1980 as the eighth Pastor. He established Bible study groups on the Gospel of Luke. Father Grainger organized The Blessed Sacrament Tour Group, which took day-trips to St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman and Christmas on the River in Demopolis among other destinations.
Reverend L.J. Bauler was appointed as the ninth Pastor in 1982. He suffered a heart attack one month after he came and was only at Blessed Sacrament for eight months. Reverend Ray Keiser, who grew up at Blessed Sacrament, was sent as temporary administrator until a permanent pastor could be appointed.
Reverend Matthew F. Brennan was appointed in 1983 as the tenth Pastor. Father Brennan’s prayerful leadership brought a renewed spirit to the Parish. During his tenure the Parish participated in Renew with small discussion groups and special emphasis on liturgy. Father Brennan reestablished the tradition of the Corpus Christi procession, as this is the feast day of Blessed Sacrament Parish. During Father Brennan’s tenure the following activities were established; Parish picnics, the St. Joseph’s Altar celebrations, Living Lenten Projects, Youth Day Workshops, the Children’s Christmas Eve Mass, and the creation of the 5:30 Saturday choir.
In 1990 Father Brennan spearheaded the restoration and renewal of both the exterior and interior of the church. The original design elements of the church remained the same. All this was accomplished through Father Brennan’s leadership, the generosity of the Parishioners, and without any loans being needed. After the renovation was completed, the annual Spaghetti Dinner was established as the Homecoming Sunday to invite former members to return for a visit. The annual Thanksgiving Dinner also gained popularity.
About 1992, Father Brennan began a morning class on “Know Your Catholic Faith”. The class was open to all Catholics and any non-Catholics who may want to learn about Catholicism. Workdays were established to keep the grounds manicured and to maintain the inside of the church. Throughout Father Brennan’s tenure, Blessed Sacrament ﬂourished in all aspects of Parish life, especially in terms of spiritually, ﬁnances, and leadership.
In 1998 Reverend Gregory T. Bittner was appointed as the eleventh Pastor. Father Bittner is remembered for establishing the Angel Tree, beginning the Twelve Days of Christmas theme at the Children’s Mass, overseeing the last season of Renew, and hosting ecumenical services with surrounding churches. Deacon Sam Anzalone was assigned to assist Father Bittner. Reverend Brian Lowe was appointed in 2003 as associate pastor with the primary responsibility for St. Stephen’s University Parish.
The Parish celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the building of the present church on February 20th 2005. Mass was celebrated by Most Reverend David E. Foley, the fourth Bishop of Birmingham, and concelebrated by Father Bittner and Father Lowe. A dinner reception was held in Brennan Hall and was attended by approximately 250 people.
In 2007 Reverend Jose Manjaly was appointed the twelfth Pastor. His warm personality and his gift for remembering Parishioners names were greatly appreciated by all. He reinstated regular visits to the sick and shut-ins. Father Jose’s economic background and encouragement helped Blessed Sacrament to prosper through tough economic times. His willingness to lead by example helped the Parish to continue the traditions for which it is known.
In October 2009 Father Jose approached Most Reverend Robert J. Baker, the ﬁfth Bishop of Birmingham, for approval to place the Church on the Jefferson County Historical Register. The hard work of Jim Wathen and Janice Mabee-Ransom accomplished this in February 2010 with Father Jose’s guidance. He was inﬂuential in the initial planning of the 100th Anniversary Celebration.
Father Jose was instrumental in providing a home for both the occasional celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass and the Mass in the Syro-Malabar Rite at Blessed Sacrament. Father Jose was recalled to his home diocese in India and left January 18th, 2010. His care for the Parishioners and his stewardship of the Parish resources left a very deep impact on our Parish. Reverend Emmanuel lsi was appointed temporary Administrator in January 2010 to replace Father Jose.
In July 2010 Reverend Jim Booth was appointed as permanent administrator and was made the thirteenth Pastor in 2015. Father Booth arrived in time to help ﬁnalize the preparations for the 100th Anniversary of the Parish. With Father Booth’s appointment, the Latin Mass found a permanent home in Birmingham with Masses offered every week and on holy days of obligation. The Latin mass has brought a significant revitalization of the parish.
Thanks to the dedication and tireless work of James Wathen and Janice Mabee-Ransom, the church was placed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage Property Listing on December 16th 2010. Their efforts also resulted in Blessed Sacrament Church being listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 21st 2015
Over the years, Blessed Sacrament Parish has had a profound impact not only on the community of West End, but also in the lives of many people who have been a part of its rich tradition. The parishioners are dedicated to preserving this most beautiful church while maintaining a dynamic presence in the community.