One hundred years ago, the tiny town of Miami was bustling with new growth – its population, economy and spirituality. Not only was a J.C. Penney’s store, a YMCA, the hospital, the sewer system and Miami High School built, but the church known then as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel was busting out of the walls of its Church Hill location. It is now called Our Lady of Blessed Sacrament.
This growth prompted the visiting priest, Fr. Joseph O. Barrette, to ask his bishop to allow him to work a smaller area so he could concentrate on the boom town of Miami. The father served the parish from 1911 to 1923 during a time that priests generally only served four or five years in one area.
Linda Pierce, a retired teacher and member of today’s church who volunteered to sponsor the 100-year anniversary book, wrote there were times when a priest was involved in a long-term project and the bishop would allow them to stay for longer times. This applied to Fr. Barrette, Fr. James T. Weber, who was the pastor from 1945 to 1949 and then again from 1950 to 1961, and to Fr. Jay Luczak, who served for 19 years until 2016.
The church building, with its poured concrete outer walls and plaster inner walls, was built 100 years ago by a professional construction company from Tucson that was recommended by the Diocese of Tucson. The church received a loan from the Diocese for the architectural design and construction, but church members had already begun raising funds through bazaars, festivals and raffles starting as early as 1915.
The building has undergone several superficial renovations and stabilizing projects through the years, but none as extensive as the work done in the 1990s. Fred Barcon’s construction company put in stabilizing rods at the juncture of the walls and the curved ceilings to prevent the walls from tilting out any further. The rods can be seen above the pews in the sanctuary as one enters the front door of the church.
John Stemm, who has been a member of the church since he married there in 1971, was involved in the projects in the ‘90s and the 2000s. More than 20 years ago, the floors under the sanctuary and platform were stabilized and recovered with tiling and wood flooring. In 2008, paneling that had been installed during the 1950s was removed to reveal tall arches on each side of the platform, according to Stemm. Columns were erected on each side of the platform, and vividly colored paintings were installed within the arches, on the ceiling, above the platform and at the back high above the entrance door. These paintings, which have a three-dimensional appearance, were commissioned by the church and created by Episcopalian Priest Fr. Jim Obermeyer. They are not painted directly on the wall but on canvass and then adhered to the wall with glue. The round painting of Christ ringed by angels on the ceiling is made up of 18 pieces of painted canvass. Fr. Luczak also oversaw the installation of several monuments in front of the Parish Hall, one of which is the 10 commandments.
Annie Madrid has been a member of Our Lady of Blessed Sacrament since her baptism at 5 years old. Her place of worship also became her workplace 32 years ago, and she serves as church office manager to this day. Although she is not the oldest parishioner – Geno Bocardo, 100, holds that distinction – she has been around as the church grew and prospered. She has also served through several pastors, including Fr. Weber, who established the convent in St. Joseph Chapel in Claypool and arranged for nuns to teach catechism and take a census of the area. Pierce wrote that in the ‘50s, the four sisters, who wore full, black habits, would park their car and walk for blocks.
“These four sisters walked all over the parish and found many Catholics to add to the rolls,” Pierce wrote. Today’s membership stands at about 500, although only 300 of those are active members, according to Madrid.
The Jubilee book will include stories and photos of the church’s 18 pastors and many of its more recognizable people, including Trinidad (Junior) Hernandez, who was the sacristan for many years. The history will be traced from those early days of the church through its 33 priests to today’s congregation and pastor, Fr. Madhu George.
The Book of Jubilee
Pierce is compiling the 100th anniversary book that is comprised of 32 pages of historical pictures, stories and advertisements about the church’s 18 pastors and its people. Much of her research has come from archived articles from the Arizona Silver Belt with the help of Lee Ann Power, who digitizes articles at Bullion Plaza from microfiche to disc and forwards relevant information to Pierce. Information has also been gleaned from parish documents and Diocese records.
“What I would really like are pictures from earliest days, including weddings, quinceaneras, baptism, etc.,” Pierce said. She asks that no originals be dropped off (copies only) at the Parish Office at 844 Sullivan St. and that names, dates and any other pertinent information be included with each picture. Call 928-425-8477 for more information.
July 1 is beginning of year-long celebration
The book will be printed and available May 13.