THE FORTIES: RE-EMERGENCE
Despite the promising outlook at the end of 1939, the new decade began inauspiciously for St. Mary of Redford. The new high school was still unfinished as the parish's cash supply dwindled. Students helped raise funds by saving box tops from soap packages and redeeming these for five cents each.
Only $50,000 remained on hand to complete construction of the school. Weekly reminders were published in the St. Mary's Tractor for parishioners to pay off their pledges made earlier. During one week in mid-February 1940, only $195.00 in pledges were paid. A front-page editorial in the Tractor chided parishioners for the meager sum. "The amount of pledges redeemed during the past week amounted to $195.00 No comment to make." The following week showed a slight improvement - $317.00 - which garnered a similar admorllshment in the Tractor. "Still no comment to make. Make your own." In late March, work ceased until $20,000 could be raised.
Another cruel blow to St. Mary's came in the summer of 1940. On July 2, Father Cook wrote an angry letter to Detroit Mayor Edward Jeffries describing an incident that occurred at the parish on June 27. Two uniformed police officers from the nearby Schaefer precinct arrived unannounced at St. Mary's, spoke with men working on parish grounds and departed without ever stating to Cook the nature of their visit.
The following evening, just prior to the start of the annual parish Circus fundraiser, an Inspector McNally of the same precinct arrived and declared the various gaming and amusement devices used by the parish to be in violation of local ordinances and ordered them to removed immediately. Not wishing to create a disturbance, Cook complied. Shortly afterward, a bitter pastor and Circus Committee members requested and explanation from Mayor Jeffries for this action but none came. Once again, Cook wrote a letter in which he declared that "we of St. Mary's are not criminals or Fifth Columnists upon whom strong-arm methods must be used" and demanded to know the Mayor's motives behind this incident but again no official response ever came.
The return on the Circus for that year was $13,000, far less than originally anticipated, leaving a debt of more than $8,000 on the new school. Nevertheless the necessary funds trickled in over the next several months and in October 1940 the new high school was at long last dedicated by Archbishop Mooney. The triumph was bittersweet. The new convent, scheduled for construction at about the same time, was postponed once more as the potential financial strain on the parish was deemed too heavy. Cook proposed the start of a convent building fund. "It will be only when the convent is erected that the true, pure beauty of St. Mary's will be brought out. Then and only then will you really see the ideal that Mr. Cram has brought into being, a masterpiece of harmonious design, wonderfully beautiful in its unity."
America's entry into the second World War prompted a shift in national priorities from consumer to military production. Locally, a civilian defense program gave technical training to 110,000 Detroit men and women including 55,000 air raid workers, 13,000 medical service volunteers and 7,500 auxiliary foremen. St. Mary of Redford also joined in the war effort.
Beginning in January 1942, a Defense Bond Bingo Party was held with proceeds going to the convent fund. In that same month, the Tractor began publishing weekly reminders to parishioners to drive carefully and use rationed items sparingly. Numerous Red Cross activities were initiated such as the Mobile Blood Bank, Home Nursing, Canteen Class and First Aid. In April 1942, "owing to the unsettled conditions of the country at large," Father Cook cancelled the annual Circus but ticket sales proceeded with cash prizes awarded instead of goods.
In June 1942, Fathers Eppenbrock and DePlaunty departed St. Mary's and were replaced by Fathers Chateau and Rozman. In October of that year, a poll was taken of parishioners (1,321 questionaires returned) that indicated a belief held by some that the convent be built now. Cook reiterated his original plan of building up cash reserves to have ready when the time came to commence construction.
By mid-year 1943, over 400 young men from St. Mary of Redford served in the United States armed forces, with the fIrst fatality from the parish being William V. Veal, killed in action in North Africa on May 2,1943. In January 1944, a condensed version of the weekly Sunday bulletin began publication and was mailed to all St. Mary's servicemen. Dubbed the St. Mary's Service News, the newspaper, supported solely by parishioners' contributions, contained articles about church activities, school notes, a sports page as well as a section where soldiers could contribute their own stories of their lives in the service. By September 1945 over 900 men from St. Mary's contributed to the American victory and of these, 25 made the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty.
During the war years, St. Mary of Redford's parish population climbed to record highs. In 1940 the number of registered families reached 1900. Less than a year later that number increased to an estimated 2500. The student population at both parish schools grew as well. In September 1940 the combined enrollment was1485. The following school year that figure was 1520. In the fall of 1942, the school faculty consisted of 25 Sisters and seven lay teachers and school tuition was raised to 25 dollars per year. June 1942 saw the largest high school graduating class to date, 142 pupils. The 1943-44 school year had combined enrollment of 1631, with 1055 students at the elementary school and 576 at the high school.
In late 1944 the church could no longer accommodate the overflow crowds on Sundays, particularly for the 9:15, 11:30 and 12:30 Masses. Cook, elevated earlier to the rank of Monsignor, sought permission from Archbishop Mooney to hold additional Sunday services in the parish auditorium. Though reluctant initially, Mooney conceded to the pastor's wishes.
Two trial Masses were scheduled in the auditorium at 9:30 and 11:45. Parishioners however, continued to pack the main church. The solution was to allow the church to reach its normal capacity for the most popular services. Any late comers to Mass would be turned away at the door by ushers and directed to the auditorium, which was equipped with kneeling benches, a portable altar and temporary Communion rail. Owing to a falling attendance, these auxiliary Masses were discontinued in mid-1945.
With the war's end, St. Mary's could tum its full attention to constructing the oft-delayed new convent. In January 1946 the convent building fund totalled $21,000. Billy Rogell, Detroit Tiger ballplayer and St. Mary's parishioner, was named Chairman of the Convent and Community Center Drive. In January 1947, 200 persons attended a meeting of the Building and Finance Committees to discuss possible fund-raising strategies for the convent and a new community center. A goal was set of $200,000 and the official campaign drive began in February.
Original plans called for the convent to house 32 nuns but spurred by rising school enrollments, that figure was upgraded to 50. Unlike the old auditorium, the proposed community center would be a multi-purpose structure accommodating not only athletic activities but providing ample meeting rooms for various parish organizations.
To encourage donations, Cook attempted to dramatize the overcrowded conditions at the parish convent and auditorium with a series of photographs that appeared in some February and March issues of the St. Mary's Tractor. The February 16,1947 edition showed the IBM Sisters living and laboring in cramped quarters in their present home. A caption read, "Did the Sisters have to live like this before they came to St. Mary of Redford Parish? Emphatically NO! Do any of us want them to have to continue living like this? That question will be answered by your support of the Convent and Community Center Fund Drive." The March 9 edition of the Tractor depicted St. Mary's school boys struggling to remove heavy cafeteria tables and chairs from the auditorium at the conclusion of their lunch hour. Underneath the photograph was written, "These action on their part does not constitute a part of the physical health program of the schooL .. Yes, this is a daily routine."
Due to the nationwide scarcity of building materials at that time, any building projects had to be approved by the Development and Reutilization of the Priorities and Materials Survey Division of the Federal Public Housing Authority in Washington, D.C. Good news arrived for Cook in early May 1947. Permission was granted to commence the building of the St. Mary's convent. Mooney, now a Cardinal, likewise granted his permission for the project to proceed, along with an alteration to the original floor plan that would call for some extra rooms on third floor. Cook also asked for authority to acquire and additional lot adjacent to the school playground for parish use for the sum of $6,7000. Permission for this purchase was also granted.
According to a long-standing tradition, all construction projects were begun in May, the month dedicated to the veneration of the Virgin Mary and in whose honor the parish was named. Ground was broken for the new convent on May 22,1947. Plans called for the structure to be built in two halves. The first half would be built at the southern portion of parish property immediately adjacent to the church. In this way, the original convent could still be utilized as a dwelling and a music conservatory until the first half was completed. Then the nuns could move into the first half, the original convent would be razed and work could then proceed on the second half.
The Ashlar granite selected for the convent's exterior was available only in the state of Massachusetts. Care was taken to select the appropriate color to match the church and rectory. When the IHM Sisters left St. Mary's in June at the close of the school year to return to their Monroe motherhouse, their future home took shape as the roof was installed. "The little old convent in the center of the new structure was so completely hedged in that it looked as if no work could be done until it was torn down. Yet news seemed to point that it was not to be abandoned until late fall."
The convent construction seemed to symbolize the end of a long, often ardous trek since 1920 when the first dwelling was built for three IHM Sisters who comprised the teaching staff of the parish school with 189 students. By the fall of 1947, 48 nuns were needed to instruct a student body of approximately 1700. The eighth grade graduating class was so large the previous year (150) that no one outside St. Mary's parish was accepted into the high school except those already enrolled in the tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades. Despite the parish's need for the Sisters' services, it would be a disappointingly long time before they could move into their new residence.
The first sign of difficulty appeared in January 1948 when revised cost estimates for the convent's completion went as high as $750,000. By May over $178,000 had already been paid out. The parish had $100,000 on deposit with the Archdiocese while the balance of $472,000 would have to come from the parishioners. Fearing the discouraging effects of placing such a heavy burden on the shoulders of his congregation, Monsignor Cook wrote to the Cardinal on August 17 with a request for a loan of $400,000. The request was granted ten days later.
Further evidence of St. Mary of Redford's continued growth came in June. The graduating class from high school was the largest ever, 158 students. In that same month, two new assistants were assigned to St. Mary's, raising the total number of priests at the parish to six. Monsignor Cook, for the first time ever, had five assistants, Father Collins, McHugh, Shields, Koenig and Crowley. In the fall, parish registration tolls showed 3500 families regularly attending St. Mary's. On December 20, 1948, the Sisters were allowed to move into the complete first half of the convent only to find themselves competing for space with workmen, inspectors and stacks of building materials.
Nineteen forty-nine was a landmark year in St. Mary of Redford's history as the parish prepared to commemorate its Centennial. In June a questionnaire was sent to parishioners asking them to write down their personal recollections from their years at St. Mary's. A week-long series of festivities were planned for October including dances sponsored by the various parish organizations, topped by a solemn High Mass on October 30 and a Centennial Program prepared by the school children. A Centennial Book was also published highlighting the parish's history over the previous century, penned by assistant pastor Father Thomas Collins and three IHM Sisters.
The best news of 1949 was the completion of the second half of the convent in October. It could not have been more opportune as the combined school enrollment stood at 1760 pupils requiring yet more instructors. Like a puzzle with its last piece in place, the convent, at the intersection of Grand River and St. Mary's Avenue, made Ralph Adams Cram's vision of 25 years earlier a reality. The trio of gray granite buildings possessed a massive, fortress-like appearance, a fitting tribute to the parish's 4,000 families.
The triumph of the parish Centennial was marred by the falling health of St. Mary's spiritual architect. Since his stroke in 1939 and a broken hip suffered in 1944, Monsignor Cook's strength and mobility ebbed steadily, forcing Cardinal Mooney to act. With the parish's best interests in mind and with Cook's full knowledge, Mooney turned over the administrative responsibilities of St. Mary's to Father Thomas Collins in September 1949. Though the move was not made public at first, Cook's prolonged absences raised more than a few eyebrows and those who understood the situation knew that their pastor's many years of devoted service were coming to an end.