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History of St. William

The Early Years (1901-1966)
The Changing Times - A Rebirth (1966-1968)
The Age of Social Action (1969 through the 70s)
The Age of Global Solidarity (the 80s)
The Age of Community Witness (the 90s)
A New Century Begins (2000 - Present)
St. William Litany of Saints

The Early Years (1901-1966)

1901 St. William Parish is organized at 13th and Wilson Streets to serve an industrialized neighborhood of railroad, construction, and factory workers of German and Irish ancestry.

  • Parish is named by Bishop William G. McCloskey.
  • Fr. Dennis Murphy is appointed the first pastor.
  • First baptism: June 30.
  • St. William School opens. Helen Clay Smith is the first teacher.

1902 Corner stone is laid July 27 at the permanent church at 13th and Oak streets. Church is Norman-Gothic design - the outstanding feature is a wood beam ceiling. The pews and altar come from the old St. Boniface Church. Regrettably, the last two pews are designated for African Americans. The church opens on December 14 with a Pontifical High Mass officiated by Bishop McCloskey; the sermon is preached by Rev. Dr. George Schuhmann of the Cathedral. Attached to the church is a day school with an enrollment of 200, an evening school for working boys, and a free kindergarten with 80 children.

1903 The Sisters of Mercy arrive to staff the parish school.

1905 The St. Vincent de Paul Society is formed in April. Tom Shanks, a now-deceased parishioner, recalled family members using their own money to purchase coal and groceries for needy families. Statue of Sacred Heart of Jesus acquired.

1906 Statue of St. Patrick is acquired.

1911 Fr. Murphy dies April 29. St. William hosts a garden party to pay off the debt of the church on July 25-26.

1915 After teaching for years at St. William, St. Mary Charles Filburn dies. St. William Dramatic Club presents a play, TThe Skaggs Boarders,T and tableaux where parishioners pose as Greek sculptures.

1917 Elizabeth Green of St. William receives the habit of the Sisters of Mercy and takes the name Sr. Mary Charles. A vested sanctuary choir of 25 boys makes its debut on the feast of St. George.

1918 St. William hosts a Red Cross unit during World War I.

1919 Pastor Rev. George M. Conner leaves for California for health reasons. A pre-Lenten social is held to pay off the parish debt and begin a building fund for the erection of a new school.

1923 The congregation presents its pastor, Fr. Francis Timoney, with a Ford sedan on his return from vacation.

1926 A teen club, "YEAO," is formed, and their Saturday dances become popular.

1927 The wood frame school is repainted and renovated. The Record notes: "The increased enrollment this year almost taxes the capacity of the school."

1928 Girls in St. William's 7th and 8th grades are required to wear uniforms.

1929 A Parent-Teachers Association is established.

1931 A parish Holy Name Society is organized. Mary Hyland graduates from the 8th grade.

1935 A new-type electrically operated organ is acquired and used at Christmas High Mass.

1937 A flood ravages the city, and flood waters damage St. William Church, school, and surrounding neighborhood. Water reaches the Communion rail in the church. The school closes in January and February of this year, then reopens in March. After the waters recede, the parish sponsors a festival to pay for repairs.

1938 Fr. Louis Nieters, then pastor, orders stained-glass windows for the church with "enough green to satisfy the Irish and enough red to satisfy the Dutch."

1941 Pastor Fr. Bernard Spoelker moves bingo to St. William, after it had operated for two years on the grounds of St. Cecilia Church. Bingo and summer picnics pay off many of St. William's debts, and by the late 1940s, bingo is bringing the parish an average of $1,000 a week.

1941 Fr. Matt Brennan, the only St. William boy actually ordained at the parish, celebrates his first solemn mass at St. William. Fr. Spoelker tears down two wooden school buildings, located where the playground is now (???), and replaces them with a single frame building boasting four classrooms and a basement. School lunches are 10 cents a day. Fr. Spoelker takes a leave of absence to enter service in World War II.

1944 St. William School is honored for its paper salvage drive to aid the World War effort.

1945 Mary Hyland is married.

1946 The school gym is finished.

1951 Fr. Francis Laemmle, pastor, tears down the frame school building and replaces it with the present concrete and brick school and cafeteria. The men of the parish help finish both buildings by carrying brick and mortar, and the buildings are paid for in less than seven years. Bill Reigel takes temporary vows as a Xaverian Brother.

1962 St. William School closes, still staffed by the Sisters of Mercy, as it has been through most of its history. Fewer than 40 pupils remain, and they are sent to schools in neighboring parishes.

1966 Encroachment of industry into the parish neighborhood continues, and the growth of other Catholic parishes and schools lure more parishioners away from St. William. By 1966, only 85 parishioners remain. The Archdiocese considers closure.

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The Changing Times - A Rebirth (1966-1968)

Rev. Ben O'Connor, from St. George, is named pastor. He envisions the small parish as the beginning of Vatican II renewal in Louisville.

The school is leased to provide space for the Parkhill Community Planning Council to serve the needs of the neighborhood. This effort is accomplished with the help from Catalyst Chemicals, Inc. Co. (Medical clinic, Legal Aid office, Youth Opportunity office are housed there.)

One of the first parishes to respond to the spirit of Vatican II changes, St. William undergoes a transformation. The pews are replaced with chairs, the altar is brought forward, the communion rail is removed. The ornate stained glass windows are covered to emphasize simplicity.

During the first two years of parish renewal these changes become the catalyst for excellent liturgy, hospitality, and lay participation. No longer hampered by boundaries, St. William draws people from the entire Louisville metropolitan area to three Masses on Sunday.

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The Age of Social Action (1969 through the 70s)

New Directions Housing Corporation is founded to develop low-cost housing for the poor and needy. Since then, it has become the largest non-profit housing corporation in the state of Kentucky.

St. William Neighborhood Center is started as a social service agency to care for the poor and needy of the neighborhood. Activities of the center in the early days include:

  • Dare to Care (food distribution center)
  • Happy Times (planned recreation for neighborhood children)
  • Singer Swingers (neighborhood sewing club)
  • Food Purchasing Club (Parkhill Planning Council)
  • Clothing Store
  • Serves as payee for people unable to handle their finances, thus enabling them to stay in their own homes
  • Currently, St. William Adult Day Health Center offers activities and attention to low-income, frail, elderly people (about 30 daily)

Camp Shenandoah in Washington County in Southern Indiana is made available for camping and day outings for inner city youth.

Bible school is conducted for the neighborhood children.

Parishioners support the Vietnam Peace Movement. Activities include:

  • Forming Vietnam War study groups
  • Issuing a public statement against the war that is published in the local newspaper
  • Sending a letter to Bishops to condemn the war
  • Petitioning Archbishop McDonough to consider replacing the Corpus Christi procession with a "peace march"
  • Taking other unpopular positions to oppose the war.

St. William seeks the spirit of Vatican II in liturgical celebrations with the following activities:

  • Holding Seder Meals led by a rabbi;
  • Sharing the Sunday pulpit with ministers of other denominations;
  • Encouraging full liturgical participation of all members.

An Outreach Community Organizer is hired. Accomplishments include:

  • Lobbying for legislation in support for the poor
  • Organizing and sponsoring Community Planning Day with 350 local participants
  • Organizing and sponsoring Planning Day for the local community on crime (Block Watch for neighborhood is conceived at the Planning Day)
  • Organized community meeting with police and local community around racial issues
  • Supporting local community on busing issues
  • Providing public statement on busing
  • Organizing a local chapter for Bread for the World.

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The Age of Global Solidarity (the 80s)

St. William rents the school building to Dismas Charities. It is now called The Diersen Center and is a minimum security prison for about 80 non-violent offenders.

The Peace and Justice Committee is organized. Accomplishments include:

  • Initiating conversations around becoming a Peace Community, which leads to the development of the current Peace Covenant;
  • Gaining citywide reputation as a leader in Peace and Justice issues;
  • Hiring part-time Peace and Justice coordinator;
  • Sending parishioners to participate in various marches in Washington and New York that will affect world peace and social justice issues;
  • Educating the community on Nuclear Arms danger;
  • Helping to organize Ground Zero meetings;
  • Declaring the church grounds a Nuclear Free Zone;
  • Sending at least seven people to Nevada to attend Desert Watch of Nuclear Test Sites.

Serves as an umbrella group for the Sanctuary Movement and Central American issues. Beginning in Advent, 1983, as a conscientious act of civil disobedience, the community offers sanctuary to Central American refugees. Regardless of the severe penalties that could have been imposed, parishioners offer help to people fleeing persecution from repressive governments supported by the covert actions of the United States. Refugees are housed in the rectory.

Organizes a local chapter of Pastors for Peace which sends truckloads of clothing, school and medical supplies, and building materials to Central America in spite of the fact that the U.S. government has an embargo against such actions.

Establishes a local chapter of Witness for Peace, which sends delegations to Central American countries to witness firsthand the plight of the people there.

Organizes a Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) during the last two weeks of Lent. This is a march from the Tennessee border to the Cathedral of the Assumption calling witness and educating people along the way to the injustice of the role of the U.S. government in support of the Contras in Nicaragua.

Continues to maintain a growing relationship with a sister parish, Our Lord of Esquipulas, in Esquipulas Nicaragua.

Many members of the parish are honored recipients of the Archdiocese Peace and Justice Award.

Begins Just Creations, a craft store on Frankfort Avenue whose aim is to support artisans and craftspeople throughout the world in developing countries.

Initiates lay-led "bread services" in the absence of the priest, in solidarity with the congregations in many parts of the world who are often without a priest.


St. William Parish now covenants with its membership to be a peace-making community. As we understand it, peace-making involves both an inward and an outward journey, a journey that is both personal and collective. We undertake the journey with this understanding.

Our inward and collective journeying begins with serious visioning of our own futures and that of our larger environment: Where are we now? Where can (must) we be going? Our vision is born out of the mysteries of Easter/Resurrection; it is from this standpoint that we gauge our present peace-making efforts. Our vision is and will be nourished by continuing study, particularly of the Holy Scriptures, and by our efforts in celebrating the liturgies of our faith, especially the Eucharist each Sunday.

Our outward and collective journeying will unfold for our membership in many diverse ways. Our community peace and justice committee will help us to reach outside of ourselves, suggesting along the journey various ways to achieve this outreach. We will support and respect those of our peace-making parish who choose to witness to peace and justice in many and varied ways, even to the point of advocacy witnessing in dramatic ways on the part of some.

At the heart of our own journey must be a deep sense of fellowship for and solidarity with one another, as well as a hospitality toward each other and toward visitors to our peace-making gatherings. We remember that our peace-making is nothing other than our openness and diligence to affirm the dignity of our neighbors, both near and distant.

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The Age of Community Witness (the 90s)

Votes passage of Inclusive Language.

Begins meetings on Middle East issues; and supports coalition on the Middle East.

Invites and welcomes gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons to membership in the community.

Speaks out publicly in support of the city's Fairness Ordinance which guarantees equal employment rights for gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons.

Has the unique distinction of having the first lay Pastoral Administrator appointed in the Archdiocese of Louisville by Archbishop Kelly. The Pastoral Administrator is he or she who is entrusted with the pastoral care of a parish in which there is no priest who has been appointed pastor. This care includes these areas: worship, education/formation, pastoral service, and administrative services.

Supports the Hunger Walk that raises awareness of the hunger needs of our city and state through a five kilometer walk in downtown Louisville.

Supports the AIDS Walk that arises awareness about the needs of those living with HIV and AIDS while raising money to support programs that serve these people.

Begins our relationship with Casa Materna in Matagulpa, a clinic for high-risk pregnancies, by funding a health care worker.

Funds a doctor and a nurse in a health care clinic at our sister parish.

Supports STARS (St. Ann Reading Scholars) Program at St. Ann's, which is a reading assistance program conducted by volunteers for children aged 5-11 years living in the Parkhill neighborhood.

Helps sponsor, in conjunction with St. Francis of Goshen and Centennial Olivet Baptist Church, the Centennial Olivet/St. William Reading Program, which is a reading enrichment academic tutorial program offering tutoring to children of the neighborhood.

Supports St. Ann;s Life Skills Center which is a ministry that teaches and reinforces life skills to women in the West End of Louisville.

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A New Century Begins (2000 - Present)

Launches CrossRoads Ministry (Spring 2000) - housed in the Butler Center - a retreat center offering justice-based retreats for high school and college-aged young people. This ministry grows exponentially, supported in part by generous parishioners and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, and helping foster young peacemakers and justice-seekers for the future.

Reinstates the St. William/St. Vincent de Paul Conference (Fall 2000) which responds to requests for rent, utility and medicine cost assistance from people in the parish's 40210 zip code area. Members make home visits in pairs, then help in whatever or material fashion they are able.

Takes complete leadership of the Good Friday Walk for Justice (begun in 1996 as a two-parish effort), creating an annual prayerful, justice-oriented outdoor (downtown) "Stations of the Cross" focusing on the suffering of Jesus as reflected in situations of oppression and suffering today.

Initiates "stand for peace" beginning with a 24-hour silent vigil downtown on the first anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy (2002), continuing with weekly candlelight services for peace at the Douglass Loop to protest the possible, then actual, war in Iraq, with other collaborative peace efforts since then.

Supports the Esquipulas Organic Farming Initiative (begun Summer 2005), a new project of the St. William Sister Parish in Nicaragua, that initially organized 12 farming families to learn and implement organic farming practices for the health of their land, their community, and for greater economic security.

Begins the Mississippi Partnership (November, 2005) with three Gulf Coast Catholic parishes (St. Ann, St. Stephen, and St. William) to respond to the human tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. Many delegations of parishioners travel to the region to help with the rebuilding of homes and lives.

Begins - with the people of our Sister Parish - the Esquipulas Nutrition Project (Summer 2006) which engages the women of 40 households to bolster family nutrition through education and the establishment of family gardens.

Begins Diersen Outreach, which responds to the needs of the men incarcerated at the Dismas Charities prison housed in the old St. William School building. Currently, each month a group of parishioners host a birthday dinner with homemade food and gifts for any inmate celebrating a birthday that month. Parishioners also help with Diersen party efforts for major holidays.

Responds to the challenge of global warming by establishing an Environmental Concerns Committee that strives to make our property more green, offering suggestions for change to parishioners, and putting solar panels on our classroom building.

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St. William's Litany of the Saints

In Memoriam

In its 100 years, many people have ministered in numerous ways to the life of the St. William community. During special liturgical celebrations we commemorate those who have broken bread and remain with us in spirit. As we chant the ancient refrain we recall those who have gone before us whose names we know. We also honor all the others who have served our community whose names are unspoken.

All you holy men and women, pray for us!

Ben O'Connor, who made us believe that whatever we dreamed was possible, and that we could be the ones to do it.

Lucille Wright, who always seemed to know what needed to be done, and that we should be the ones to do it.

All you holy men and women, pray for us!

Tom Shanks
Don Heavrin
Alan Todd
Billie Bronson
Freida Mozee
Jeff Johnson
Robin Garr
Loretta Grumblatt
Louise Savage
Michael Monroe
Mark Schneider
Mary Jane Reinhardt
Thea Bowman
Christine Ridge
Mildred Ropke
Laura Hollenkamp
Jim Reigel
Louis Reigel
Maime Speaks
King Thomas
Lucille Wright
Ray Ishmael
Thelma Thomas
John Kelty
Bob Cash
Hazel Newton
William Butler
Jacquie Cress
Tom Hildebrand
Laura Franklin
Emma Stolz
Bob Kolb
Art Grumblatt
Mary Whiting
Marge Farley
Irvin Decker
Claudia Wirtz
Sheila Pendergast
Mary Wilson
Lillian Cotton
Adelaide Barber
Myrtle Reigel
Willis Ewing
Mary Hyland
Ben O'Connor
Jack Savage
Elizabeth Wade
Louise Leachman
Marydel Watkins
Thomas Merton
Dorothy Day
Martin Luther King
Oscar Romero
Mahatma Gandhi
Mother Theresa
St. Francis of Assisi
Frederick Ozanam

All you holy men and women, pray for us!

"St. William's is a young but thriving parish in a heavily settled district, and will soon become, with God's help, a great power for good."
From The Record, Thursday, July 24, 1902

These words, printed in 1902, have proven to be prophetic. Let us continue to have the courage to be open to listen and follow the Spirit as we are led into the new century.

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