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The 1940s: A decade of change

by Msgr. Michael Howell, Contributor
August 1, 2012


Liturgy celebrating the 1952 consecration of Corpus Christi Cathedral.

Archived Photo

The 1940s were years marked by great achievements and great sacrifices for the Diocese of Corpus Christi.  

Despite a world war, numerous new church structures were built to accommodate a growing population.  St. Theresa’s in Woodsboro, Sacred Heart in Three Rivers, Sacred Heart in Sinton, Santa Rosa de Lima in Benavides, St. Elizabeth in Alice and the parishes of Sacred Heart, St. Theresa and Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Corpus Christi represented some of those building projects.  

The decade began with a major celebration—the dedication of a new cathedral. The Corpus Christi Cathedral was the first church in Texas built specifically to serve as a cathedral. Like all the dioceses of Texas before it, Corpus Christi had initially used a local parish church as the diocesan cathedral when the diocese was erected in 1912.  The parish church of St. Patrick’s on the corner of Carancahua and Antelope Streets was designated to serve that purpose.  

A fire in November 1938 persuaded Bishop Emmanuel Ledvina to build a new cathedral rather than attempt to repair and enlarge the damaged church.  On March 1, 1939 Bishop Ledvina broke ground for a new sanctuary on the corner of North Upper Broadway and Lipan.  

The local Knights of Columbus Council 1202 showed off the impressive structure as it neared completion when they hosted the state convention of the Knights in May 1940.  Charles Lester Monnot Sr., who had completed what is now the Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Theresa in San Antonio, was chosen as the architect to design the cathedral.  Both Bishop Ledvina and Coadjutor Bishop Mariano Garriga, who had been a priest of San Antonio when the minor basilica was built in 1931, were impressed with Monnot’s work and wanted a similar church for their cathedral.  

In fact, the plans for the two churches are very similar. The front entry doors of both churches are exactly alike. 

Monnot later built a church in his home in Oklahoma City using the same plans as the Corpus Christi Cathedral, simply scaled down.  That parish church was named “Corpus Christi Church.”  

With a world war already ignited in Europe, money was tight and shipping was perilous as plans were made for the new cathedral and its furnishings.  The formal dedication of the $350,000 structure took place on July 17, 1940.  

Bishop Garriga led a procession of priests to the new cathedral to bless it outside and inside while hundreds of Catholics congregated in the adjacent streets to await the ceremonies. Bishop Ledvina entered the Cathedral, leading distinguished visitors.  Priests and sisters filled nine pews in the front on both sides and visiting monsignors, bishops and archbishops had places reserved in the sanctuary. 

Archbishop Joseph F. Rummel of New Orleans delivered the dedicatory sermon. “It has been appropriately converted to Corpus Christi Cathedral [and] stands as a monument to the faith of those who live here,” the archbishop said.

Roy J. Hebert directed the Cathedral choir. He was a native of Canada who had studied for the priesthood at Oblate Seminary in San Antonio before coming to Corpus Christi where he married Rachel Bluntzer.  


Our Lady of Sorrows, was focus of prayer for mothers that lost sons and daughters during World War II. It is located in the foyer of Corpus Christi Cathedral.  

Mary Cottingham, South Texas Catholic


The organist was Francis Blossman who had begun his career as the organist for St. Patrick’s Parish, the original cathedral, at the age of 13. On Easter Sunday 1904, the choirmaster of the parish discovered that the parish organist had left town. Young Francis, son of a leading grocer of Corpus Christi and a piano student under the tutelage of Sister Augustine at Incarnate Word Convent, was persuaded to play the old pipe organ for the first time on that Easter, even though his legs were still too short to reach the foot pedals. He played for Sunday Masses, funerals and weddings in both Catholic and non-Catholic churches for the next 49 years.  At the time of his death, on New Year’s Eve 1953, he lacked only three months of having served the parish 50 years.  

After the formal dedication, a luncheon was held at the Plaza Hotel Deck at Broadway and Leopard for dignitaries.  That evening, the Cathedral Women’s League hosted a reception for the general public in the new cathedral’s auditorium.  

Sadly, within months of the dedication, one of the principal benefactors of the diocese and the new cathedral was dead; Marie Stella Kenedy died in early September 1940. She had donated the site of her home on the northwest corner of Broadway and Lipan for the cathedral, as well as the old house, which was originally moved across the street to the southwest corner for the use as a hall and kindergarten and was later moved and used to make Nuestra Señora de Pilar Church in the Molina District of Corpus Christi. (Editor’s note: In the July 2012 edition of the South Texas Catholic we incorrectly reported that the old St. Patrick’s Cathedral was used to make Nuestra Señora de Pilar when in reality it was the old Kenedy home that was used for that purpose. The old St. Patrick’s was used to build Our Lady Star of the Sea church.)  

The following year, grief touched the entire United States as another world war reached America and south Texas. On the morning of Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941 families were shocked to learn of a surprise attack by Japanese forces on the American naval port of Pearl Harbor.  

  Marie Stella Kenedy, one of the principal benefactors of the diocese and the new cathedral.
Archived Photo

Many mothers lamented the death of their beloved children during the years of conflict that followed.  In the main entrance of the cathedral was placed the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows, most commonly referred to as the “pieta.”  This image of Our Lady and the Stations of the Sorrowful Mother on the walls of the cathedral were a focus of prayer for many mothers who sought consolation from the first sorrowful mother at the sacrifice made by her son.  

The Novena to the Sorrowful Mother was inaugurated in the cathedral on Jan. 24, 1941 with the church packed to hear Father Thomas A. Calkins, O.S.M. from the Shrine of Our Sorrowful Mother in Chicago who led the services in the presence of high ecclesiastics and laymen from the area.  During the war, and for many years subsequently, the novena of Our Lady of Sorrows was a popular devotion attended by many throughout the diocese while a nation mourned its sons and daughters who had paid the ultimate price for our freedoms.  

Over the next years, grieving families and friends carried many loved one for a final commendation by their church family; many of which had previously been carried into the Cathedral and parish churches throughout the Diocese of Corpus Christi for their baptism.

The end of the war precipitated an explosive growth for the community and Catholic Church in south Texas as young men returned to find jobs, marry and father the children who became known as the “baby boomers” because of their numbers.  It also meant the growth in the parochial school system in south Texas.

The end of the war also marked the end of Bishop Ledvina’s almost three decades of service as the Ordinary in Corpus Christi. The bishop announced his retirement on March 15, 1949.

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