Father John Frawley looked the part of a respected clergyman, big, broad shoulders and a white shock of hair. He was a man of great pastoral experience, a true leader. Shortly after he arrived he saw needs and began to respond to them immediately.
One of his first tasks was to ask for permission to celebrate Mass for the children in the church hall. The first Children’s Mass in the parish basement was celebrated on Sunday September 11, 1904. There were 1,100 children present. The “Children’s Mass” became a big part of parish life until probably the mid 1960s. The “little church on the hill,” that had a capacity for 500, was already too small for the growing congregation. Another Mass was added for adults in the church basement at 10 AM.
Father Frawley announced on October 2nd 1904 that there was a need to build a much bigger church to serve the needs of the growing community. He said he expected every wage earner to give one day’s wages a month to the church!!! They would build, he said, a magnificent church worthy of the God of the Universe in honor of his beautiful Mother.
The parish that had just been in existence for 13 years was seeing what parents of teenage boys see, “a growth spurt.” The teens grow out of all of their clothes in a few months. Their appetite is ravenous. Our beloved parish was having this same kind of growth spurt, this burst of energy. Father Frawley was the right kind of leader for this rambunctious young parish.
Ken Follett is a novelist who wrote a series of books called the Pillars of the Earth. It was inspired by a visit to the Salisbury Cathedral in England. He was taken away by its beauty, its majesty, its architecture, and what it said about the people who built it. His novels go into the lives of the bishops, the bankers, the architects, the stone masons, the construction workers, the merchants, and residents of the town. He tells stories about how their lives were impacted by building the cathedral. The construction from the first idea to completion took many decades. The cathedral became the center of people’s lives.
The story of the building of our beloved church (now a Basilica) would have many, many stories and many people involved in its construction. Father Frawley did not have what is sometimes humorously called, “The Edifice Complex”. He did not want to build this church as a monument to himself but both for the glory of God, and the use of a neighborhood parish that at that showed every sign of continued growth for the future.
No one person could do this alone. Hundreds and hundreds of people were part of the dreaming/planning/financing, and building of the church. The building of our beloved parish speaks about the faith of those who have gone before us, and given us this treasure as an inheritance entrusted to us, to care for and pass on to future generations.