OUR PATRON SAINT, PHILIP NERI

Our Patron Saint, Philip Neri, was born in Florence, Italy on July 22, 1515.  He was also known as Philip Romolo Neri. Although he was related to Italian nobility, Philip came from a poor family. His father, Francisco Neri, worked as a notary. Philip's brother died in childhood, but his two sisters, Caterina and Elisabetta survived. In 1533, he moved to San Germano in 1533 to help a family with their business, and while there, he escaped to a local Dominican chapel in the mountains where he received word in a vision that he had an apostolate in Rome. He then cut himself off from his family and went there.  When Philip became tired of learning, he sold all his books and gave the money to the poor.  He later began to visit and care for the sick and impoverished pilgrims. Philip later began to preach, with many converts. In 1550, he considered retiring to the life of a solitary hermit, but he received further visions that told him his mission was in Rome. He later considered missionary work in India, but further visions convinced him to stay in Rome. Philip entered the priesthood in 1551 where he heard confessions by the hour.  He could tell penitents their sins before they confessed and he had the gift of conferring visions. He began working with youth, finding safe places for them to play, becoming involved in their lives.  Pope Gregory XIV tried to make him a cardinal, but Philip declined. In later years, Philip was beset by several illnesses, each of which was in turn cured through prayer.  Philip died May 27, 1595.

"Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life. Therefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits." - Saint Philip Neri

 

History of St. Philip Neri Parish

 

On July 1, 1961, Bishop Nold announced that Rev. Ernest Michalka, a Vincentian priest, would be pastor of the newly-formed parish of St. Philip Neri.  The parish was a cut-off from Mt. Carmel.  The split gave St. Philip Neri 750 families and allowed Mt. Carmel to keep 2,000 families.  Father Batiste was pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel at the time.  Father Michalka rented the auditorium of Mamie Sue Bastian School (located at Pershing and Calhoun Street) for church use until St. Philip Neri was built.  The new school-church building was opened in September 1962 at a cost of $255,000 at the time.  The new structure had an administrative office, clinic, 12 classrooms, teachers lounges, and an air-conditioned auditorium – used as a temporary church.

 

Sister Patricia Ann, principal of St. Philip Neri School during its first six years, said that Father Michalka planned to start with three grades, having two sisters and three lay teachers.  However, this was objected to by those families who would have to send their children to two different schools.  Father Michalka petitioned the School Sisters of Notre Dame for a third sister, if he would open all eight grades.  Father Earnest was successful.  The school opened immediately using a majority of lay teachers and deeply in debt ($540,000).  The rectory was located at 5503 Greylog Drive.  The convent was located at 5454 South Aces Blvd., and the convent opened in June 1963.  The church and school was located at 10950 South Park Blvd.  The church was blessed on January 27, 1963.  According to the census of April ’67, there were 3,338 parishioners:  90% white, 5% Hispanic, and 5% Black.

 

Following is some of the history of St. Philip Neri and how the church has evolved over the past 50 years:

 

St. Philip Neri Parish was erected in June 1961 and officially opened on July 23, 1961 with two masses at Bastian Elementary School.  As of January 15, 1962, Pastor Ernest Michalka noted that he was very proud of the parish’s progress with the now four masses on Sunday; bible school started in October 1961; 31 little boys and girls made their First Holy Communion; the Holy Name Society was organized; an assistant was assigned to help in the work of the parish; plans were in the making for other parish organizations, such as the Women’s Club, CYO, a choir and “those societies essential for the running of a good parish”.

 

A census list from Mt. Carmel Parish, taken some four years prior, yielded a census of 587 families.

 

Pastor Michalka was given the task by the Bishop to “get going and build a school and temporary church in early December 1961.  The architect’s work was delayed due to personal family issues of the architect; but work resumed by the middle of February-March 1962.

 

Father Michalka appealed to his parish family to “join me in prayer that our plans to have a place of worship and at least eight classrooms for a school will be fulfilled by the Fall of 1962.

 

In a December 10, 1962 letter from Father Ernie Michalka, he eluded to “a matter of vital importance for the future of St. Philip Neri”.  In his letter, he stated that he “was fortunate that we had the promise of Sisters that we could use the facilities of Mt. Carmel Convent until such time as circumstances would warrant our obtaining our own convent.”  At the time, there were three Sisters teaching at St. Philip Neri School.  Father Michalka began his search for a convent and soon learned of a model home near the church property.  The house was located at the corner of South Acres and South Park.  Father Michalka remained in constant contact with the builder with hopes of purchasing the property that might be used as a convent for the Sisters.  Father Michalka was informed by the builder that it would be September of 1963 until the 95 homes would be completed.  During his wait, he learned of other interested buyers.  In an effort to influence the Chancery Office of an imminent need to aggressively pursue purchase of the property, Father Michalka submitted a nearly $17,000 check to cover the interest, taxes and a payment on the principal of the property cost.  He emphasized that this property was a “once in a lifetime chance to get something so convenient for a convent and he stated that the corner home would give “some semblance of privacy which would not be had if the house were in the middle of the block.”

 

Hand drawn sketch of property which Father Ernie Michalka sought for the Sisters Convent during 1962/1963

 

By June 19, 1964, the Very Rev. Maurice J. Hymel, C.M., Vice-Provincial wrote in a letter to Bishop Morkovsky that the Vencentian Fathers of the New Orleans Vice-Province were willing to take over the administration of St. Philip Neri Parish.  The plan was to supply a priest to be pastor where he would obtain weekday help from the nearby Carmelite Monastery, and two men from the seminary would assist him with the Saturday confessions and Sunday masses.  This arrangement would go on until such time as our community could supply a full-time assistant priest, which was desired within a year.  “It is our policy to have at least two men in a house, knowing that this is better for community life, and the work can be done more efficiently.  This matter is being presented to our Superior General for his approval.  As soon as we hear from him, I will let you know.  If the Superior General’s assent is obtained, our man should be able to take over his duties at St. Philip Neri around August 1, 1964…we are confident that the spiritual needs of the parishioners will be adequately supplied and we hope and pray that a representative number of vocations will be forthcoming from the families of the parish.”

 

Most Rev. John L. Morkovsky, S.T.T., Apostolic Administrator wrote in his June 25, 1964 letter to Very Rev. Maurice J. Hymel, C.M., Vice Provincial – Vincentian Fathers that he had his June 19, 1964 letter wherein he expressed the willingness of the Vice-Province to accept the administration of St. Philip Neri parish.  Morkovsky went on to say that “it will be a secular parish entrusted to the Congregation.  He stated that “St. Philip is not a one priest parish.  The arrangement which you propose for the time being can be tolerated for a very limited time.  I am confident, however, that you are as anxious to supply a second priest as the parish would be to have him.  I would hope, therefore, that a second priest would be assigned within a year, and I would certainly not want it to be more than a year.”

 

In Maurice J. Hymel’s July 17, 1964 letter to Morkovsky, he stated that “we are ready to send Father Robert H. Miget, C.M. to be pastor of SPN.  He has plenty of parochial experience.  If you can allow him to have the help of the present assistant in the parish for a while, it will be a tremendous aid towards his getting situated in the position….we can fully intend to give Father Miget an assistant as soon as we can…right now, due to personnel shortages, we will have to depend on other arrangements for help.  It has been thoroughly explained to Father Stamm that two men from the seminary will help with confessions, masses, etc. every Saturday and Sunday, and also at other times when such assistance is needed.  Father Miget has been told to get ready to report for duty at St. Philip Neri on Saturday, August 1, 1964.  Since his ordination, June 15, 1935, Father Miget has worked as an assistant in Assumption Parish, Perryville, Missouri; Chaplain at Charity Hospital, New Orleans; City Hospital, St. Louis; Econome at St. John’s and Assumption Seminaries, San Antonio; and since 1954, he has been an assistant priest at St. Joseph’s Parish, New Orleans.  He is a native of Perryville, Missouri.

 

In Morkovsky’s July 20, 1964 letter to the Very Rev. Maurice J. Hymel. C.M., he stated that “it will be satisfactory for Father Joseph G. Leduc to remain at SPN as assistant until it is possible for the Vincentian Fathers to send one of their priests.  …I would not like this situation to continue for any longer than one year, and I would much prefer that it be for a shorter period….Father Miget should report to the Chancellor, Monsignor Vincent M. Harris, at the Chancery to make his profession of faith. He will be dispensed from the requirement of formal installation.

 

In Rev. Miget’s Aprl 11, 1966 letter to Rt. Rev. Msgr. Vincent M. Harris, Chancellor, “a summary or perspective of our indebtedness” and financial status was reviewed wherein a “present balance…is $10,458.64.”

 

In his October 3, 1968 letter to Morkovsky, Rev. James V. Connors, C.M., pastor – SPN, wrote that “the diocese will be better able to cope with the tremendous problems faced by SPN parish as the area steadily moves towards become a predominantly Negro area….no white families are buying homes in the parish; the majority of the white people are looking forward to selling their homes as soon as possible…only the country area around Almeda-Genoa seems stable….our school once had a peak enrollment of 450 children; now we have only 276 children from 133 families; to care for the 276 children we have Sister Principal, her secretary, two nuns and eight degreed lay teachers.  From an educational viewpoint, the small teaching load is wonderful; but the school deficit will be $19,726.00….our people are scattering in all directions, but Pearland, St. Frances Cabrini, St. Thomas More, and Holy Spirit seem to be getting the majority of them…meanwhile, I will try to make our colored Catholics welcome to St. Philip Nri, and try to keep our budget balanced.”

 

In Rev. James V. Connors, C.M.’s May 27, 1971 letter to Most Rev. John L. Morkovsky, S.T.D. (on letterhead of SPN 5503 Greylog Drive, Houston, TX 77048), he stated that “the School Sisters of Notre Dame informed us that they were withdrawing from our parochial school, but would permit two of their Sisters to remain as coordinators for our religious education program on a year-to-year basis (as long as they could spare Sisters who wished to engaged in this work.)  …the Notre Dame Sisters’ decision resulted in a bitter reaction on the part of some of the parents of parochial school children:  some of them let it be known that they would withhold parish support and move from the parish as soon as possible.  But the Mr. Quinlen let it be known that Holy Family Sisters would be available; at a parish meeting, he asked for the parents reaction to this opportunity.  When there was enthusiastic public support and no expressed opposition, it was decided to invite the Holy Family Sisters to take over our school…However, we have a problem:  we must find adequate housing for five Holy Family Sisters:  a principal, a cook and three teachers.  Fortunately, the house across the street from our present rectory is available:  it has been empty since last September 1970.  I am enclosing the information provided by Albert W. Westerhaus, professional appraisers.  The owner is Robert E. Lytle, who lives at 16814 County Road 831 in Brazoria County between Alvin and Manvel. I am guessing that it will cost a total of $25,000 to purchase the house, renovate and furnish it, and provide the Sisters with an automobile.  The building at 5502 Greylog is better than our rectory, since it has three distinct bedrooms with closets on the second floor, and the house is on a much bigger lot…our finance committee raised the possibility of building a new and adequate rectory on our present church property, and giving the Sisters the rectory.  This would force the Sisters to commute from St. Nicholas Convent for a while, and we don’t know what an adequate parish rectory would cost.  The Holy Family Sisters would like to see their new convent (should we buy the house at 5502 Greylog) before they all leave the city on June 10, 1971, Sr. Zita would like to make up a list of the things that they will need before they come back to the city around August 15, 1971, just in time for school.  The new Notre Dame Sisters wish to continue living at 5454 South Acres in their convent (too small to accommodate 5 Holy Family Sisters).  And the Mother General of the Holy Family Sisters wishes her sisters live near the school in a residence that would have a chapel.  Our parish, while solvent, does not have the liquidity to purchase, remodel, and furnish a new convent; it would need a loan (like $25,000 at low interest) to make this possible.  As of today, our parish debt is $252,500 ($177,000 to the Bank of the Southwest and $65,000 to the Chancery)….our area is now 96% black…we want to keep the school open…it could happen that “financial deterioration could set in and force us to close our school”, but I like to think that with our intensified religious education program and with the coming of Negro nuns that we can make progress with the thousands of unchurched Negroes we have in the area…I think that with the devoted service of the nuns that we can succeed where Protestant churches are failing and leaving the area….I would hope that funds from the Indian and Negro collection or from some other source would be given to us to help pay for the new convent.

 

In Lous J. Francz, C.M., Provincial’s September 27, 1979 letter to Morkovsky, he thanked him for his September 19, 1979 letter concerning the availability of the Benedictines to staff St. Philip Neri Parish.  (In his letter, Louis Francz stated that he had received permission from the Superior General to “withdraw from the parish”.)  An announcement was to be made of Morkovsky and Francz’s mutual agreement to “inform the people of the parish of the coming of the Benedictines and our departure” on October 7, 1979.  November 1, 1979 was set as the date for “our leaving the parish”.  This plan was brought about “to provide more effective black leadership for the people of St. Philip Neri parish”, as stated by Louis J. Franz to Morkovsky.

 

In Morkovsky’s September 11, 1979 letter to Very Reverend Louis J. Franz, C.M. – St. Mary’s Seminary, he stated that “after consultation with you and as Provincial and Father Miller as pastor of SPN, I understand that the Vincentian Fathers are ready within a very short time to accept the invitation to take a parish in another diocese, and to writhdraw from SPN parish in Houston.  This will give me the opportunity to place the parish under the care of two black Benedictine priests who have offered their services.  I have reason to believe that the presence of black priests in that almost totally black parish may result in more black conversions as well as vocations.  It is for these positive reasons that I plan to make this change.  The Vincentian Fathers have given good service in the parish for 14 years for which I am most grateful.  I would be very happy to have them continue to serve in the diocese, perhaps in one of the new parishes which are ready to be founded. …Since the Sisters’ convent (located at 5507 Selinsky?) at St. Philip Neri has been vacated recently and is available, I will ask the Benedictines Fathers Joseph C. Bell and Alvin Fong Ben, to come as soon as they are ready.  My previous intention was to have them serve as available supply priests until the fulfillment of the time of notification according to our contract with your Province….Father Miller was most cordial in agreeing to help them get acquainted with the parish.  He even offered to have the new men live in the rectory.  I would rather have them stay in the convent until they assume the ministry of the parish, which can be within a few weeks, or after six months, depending upon the readiness of a new assignment for your priest, whether in this or another diocese.

 

The following news was included in the St. Philip Neri Church Benedictine Monks’ April 22, 1980 “Parish News” report:

 

Ø  Collection has risen about 30% from about $750 to $1,100 weekly

Ø  The Bingo income is rising steadily and can afford to give the church about $4,000 monthly to support the school.

Ø  The response to the DSF Fund has been overwhelming and oversubscribed by over $3,000

Ø  Regular collection and special appeal for maintenance netted the church over $4,000

Ø  Mass attendance has tripled since September 1979 with an average of five new parishioners each monthly.

Ø  The number of communicants has doubled.

Ø  Youth groups are being organized to play an important role in the Parish activities.

Ø  The Perpetual Novena was started in honor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

Ø  A Parish Council was set up.

Ø  The school’s PTA purchased a van through Association’s activities at a cost of $11,000.

Ø  One additional nun would serve as housekeeper while attending a few classes.  The Parish will not be financially responsible for her and she will be making it possible for four other Sisters to give more time to school activities.

Ø  A School Day Car Center is slated to open in September 1980.

Ø  Other financial fundraisers were slated e.g. Annual Bazaar; yearly raffle; extension of Bingo to one extra night weekly; parish and school candy sale; monthly fish fry and other food sales.

Ø  During this time, there were two priests, one Brother staffing the Parish.

Ø  There was a mass for Sisters daily in the Convent, and twice weekly for school students and Parish daily.

Ø  There was a Houston Benedictine newsletter/brochure.

Ø  The Benedictine Center for Minority Ministries was founded in March 1980 with Director, Father Joseph Bell, O.S.B.

Ø  There was a projection to acquire land for Monastery adjacent to St. Philip Neri Church.

Ø  Plans were in the making to help staff Grade School by 1981 to build school up a first class preparatory school for minority students which would be staffed by Monks and Sisters of the Holy Family; eventually, a high school would be added and this “will become the primary apostolate of the Benedictine community.”

 

Other noteworthy news:

Ø  Started Perpetual Novena in honor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in 1980

Ø  The PTA bought a van through Association’s activities on or around 1980.  The cost of the van was $11,000.

 

 

History of the St. Philip Neri Marian Shrine

 

Luke 1:8:  “All generations shall call me blessed.”

 

The design and building of the Marian Shrine started when Father Anthony Afangide was pastor, in January 2003.  The brick and concrete structure was completed in May 2004 by our present pastor, Father Emmanuel Agbor.  The name, Marian Shrine, was originally the idea of Father Tom Byrne, a former pastor, when the committee was planning our 40th Anniversary Celebration.  The design of the shrine was by Demetrius Joseph and the construction was by Joseph Thibodeaux and Lawrence Arceneaux.  The shrine was donated by the seventy-two parish families with honorary or memorial plaques on the north wall.  The shrine is a place dedicated for all people to come and meditate.

 

 

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