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Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Our Lady of Perpetual Help has been the patroness of our parish since 1912. The portrait of Our Lady that hangs in our church miraculously survived the devastating fire of our parish church in 1918.

There was a time when preachers confidently claimed that St. Luke himself painted the image from his remembrances of our lady. But written records of the painting extend back as far as the 1490's, when the painting was venerated on the island of Crete. The people called it the "Miraculous Picture of the Mother of God."

The style of painting goes back much farther. Like the many icons the Greeks venerated, it is Byzantine. The lettering on the painting is Greek: It says, "Mother of God" next to Mary; by Jesus is the abbreviation ICXC meaning "Jesus Christ." The angel on the left as we face the picture is designated as the Archangel Michael; the Archangel Gabriel is on the other side.

Mary's long slender nose, thin lips, and smoothly arched eyebrows also show that a Greek artist had painted her. The halo and the crown in the picture were added later. In those days, a halo was not commonly painted around the head. Instead, as in this painting of Mary, the veil and her face itself were rounded, practically circular, to indicate her holiness.

The size of the mother seems out of proportion to her son; this is deliberate. The artist wished to emphasize Mary in this story, so he painted her larger than life. A sandal dangles from one foot of the child; he is looking at one of the angels. Each angel carries instruments of the torture of Jesus. Michael has the spear and lance, and Gabriel the Cross.

This beautiful portrait of Our Lady, we know, was removed from public veneration in Crete and mysteriously turned up in the home of a private citizen of Rome in 1495. It remained there, one man's possession, for a few years until an equally mysterious event brought it to public view again.

A child claimed to have seen a vision of Mary while kneeling before the icon. The Lady in the vision was displeased that the picture was hidden away in private. She said she wished to be known as "Perpetual Help." Just as Jesus ran to His mother for consolation, she said so the other little children of Mary should run to her for help, a help which would know no conditions: Perpetual Help.

The picture was placed for public veneration in the Augustinian Church of St. Matthew's Church in Rome. It remained there from 1499 until 1798. One year short of its 300th anniversary at that spot, history intervened.

The troops of the French Revolution broke into Rome. As part of their "improvement" plan for the eternal city, they decided to tear down some 30 churches. St. Matthews was one of them. So the Augustinian Monks removed the picture to their private chapel for safekeeping.

As time went on, most of the people who knew the history of the painting died. The portrait was largely forgotten. Finally an old Augustinian Brother, who had been a sacristan in St. Matthew's as a young man, decided to pass on the heritage of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. He pulled aside one of the young altar boys and told him the story.

Michael Marchi was too young to appreciate entirely what was being told to him at the time. It was many years later before the phrase "Perpetual Help" came to mean anything to him. He was a Redemptorist priest when Pope Pius IX called the Redemptorists to Rome to set up their headquarters. They had bought land over the site of old St. Matthews and were building the church of St. Alphonsus.

A Jesuit priest was preaching a novena there in honor of Our Lady, and in one of the talks he mentioned the legend about the lost picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Suddenly Father Marchi began to remember the story the old Brother had told him 25 years before. Returning to the Augustinian chapel where he had been a server, he found the painting where it had been all along. He told the news to the Superior General of the Redemptorists.

In 1865 Pope Pius IX met with Father Mauron, Redemptorist Superior General, and with Father Marchi to discuss the Perpetual Help story. The Pope wished the picture to be brought back to the site where it had earlier enjoyed public veneration, now the church of St. Alphonsus, and he commissioned the Redemptorists to preach Our Lady of Perpetual Help to "the whole world." In 1866, on April 16, the feast of Our Lady of Good Council, Our Lady of Perpetual Help was restored to public veneration.

Many of our parishioners venerate Our Lady of Perpetual Help each Tuesday evening with a Novena and Mass.

(The story of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was reprinted from Catholic Digest, 1980)

THE HISTORY OF OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL HELP PARISH SELMA, TEXAS

The village of Selma, Texas was established in 1847 by German immigrants. Historical documents reflect that by 1863 the village was already known as Selma. The people in the area were mostly Catholic families and their parish church was St. Peter and St. Paul in New Braunfels. In 1895, a group of 21 local families sought permission to erect a church of their own in order to avoid traveling from 11 to 20 miles by oxcart and buggies to New Braunfels. Leaders of the group included Peter Hubertus, Philip Fey, Jacob Friesenhahn, Charles Lux, William Gleitz, and others who were willing to make sacrifices to erect a new church. They met with considerable opposition from some parishioners, and even from their pastor, the Rev. Joseph M.J. Wack, who considered such plans too ambitious at the time. However, their petition was favorably received by Bishop John A. Forest, and permission was granted to erect a wood frame structure to serve as a mission church of the New Braunfels parish.

The property on which the church was to be built came out of the Jacob Friesenhahn farm. Construction began on December 20, 1896, and was completed in February 1897. The formal dedication of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church took place in July 1897 with Bishop Forest officiating. The Dedication Mass was celebrated by the Rev. Joseph Weckesser, S.M., Chaplain of the old St. Louis College in San Antonio. Philip Fey, Jacob Friesenhahn, Peter Hubertus, and Adam Hubertus constituted the original Board of Trustees.

Additional property was acquired from Jacob Friesenhahn in 1900 and from Conrad Friesenhahn in 1904. In November 1909, the mission church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help became a parish of its own with Rev. John Kirch as pastor. The Rev. Nicholas Bauer succeeded him in May 1910. A new red brick church with its tall bell tower overlooking the Cibolo Valley was dedicated in 1912. The old wooden church building was moved and converted into a two-room school.

On Sunday, November 3, 1918, tragedy struck when the beautiful red brick church was destroyed by fire. Following his normal routine, Fr. Bauer had traveled with his driver and organist, Mr. Martin Friesenhahn, to celebrate the late Mass at Santa Clara, which was then a mission of Selma. Upon returning from dinner with a family in the Santa Clara area, Father poured glasses of wine for the two of them when they heard a loud noise and the breaking of glass. They then saw fire coming out of the sacristy door. While one ran to the local general store for help, the other started fighting the fire. A number of men, who had gathered at the general store after their monthly shooting match, came and fought the fire until they thought it was extinguished. Suddenly, they noticed the fire had climbed a column into the attic. Fighting it was impossible, so they started carrying out the furnishings, benches, statues, etc., which were saved along with the tabernacle door.

While cleaning out the burned church, a picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was found in the ashes. The frame had burned off and the picture was scarred and blistered, but not burned. Considering this a miracle, this picture has been highly honored by the parishioners throughout the years and hangs in the church today.

The parishioners immediately began rebuilding the church with the good heavy brick walls that remained. The Selma dance hall was used for Sunday Mass while the church was being rebuilt. On the high altar in the new church, a special place was made for the miraculous picture of our parish patroness, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Those furnishings that were saved from the fire were used in the rebuilt church. A rounded steeple with a large statue of the Blessed Mother on top was used instead of a pointed steeple with a cross on top. The rebuilt church was dedicated On October 7, 1919.

The 1920’s and 30’s were difficult years because of the Great Depression. Construction was minimal except for a 60 foot by 40 foot dining hall that was built in 1923 and later enlarged in 1939. Into the 1930’s German was the predominant language of the parish. Sermons were preached in German and also in Spanish.

In 1941, a hurricane damaged the roof and destroyed the beautiful pipe organ. Insurance money was received, but it was used to pay church debts. The pipe organ was never replaced. In June 1943, Rev. Joseph H. Hildebrand was appointed pastor. His immediate goal was to pay off the debt still owed on the rebuilding of the church. In 1944 four acres were purchased from William Riedel for use as a playground and parking lot for parish festivals. In 1946, Fr. Hildebrand led the building of the current red brick school. By the late 1940’s the parish was changing from a farming and rural parish to a metropolitan one. Parish life and activities reflected a more urban approach.

In 1956, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Novena devotions were started while Rev. N.B. Galle was pastor. These devotions are still held every Tuesday evening at 7:00 PM.

A rectory was built in 1960 while Rev. Anthony Costantino was the pastor. In 1961, plans were announced to build a new church. The statues, Stations of the Cross, and the Crucifix were moved from the old church to the new one. The Statue of the Blessed Mother from the top of the steeple of the old church was placed over the front entrance of the new church. The dedication was May 20, 1962. This building and the rectory were demolished in 2006 as part of the latest building project.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help continued to grow in membership and in acreage of parish grounds. Because of the tremendous suburban growth, a decision was made to build a larger church—our present church. Archbishop Patrick Flores, along with Rev. Patrick Cronin, under whose visionary leadership the new church took shape, presided over the groundbreaking on May 25, 1986. The new church was dedicated on March 29, 1987.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help has been blessed throughout the years. Today the parish has 4,500 registered families. The parish strives to be a caring community, welcoming all into its spirit and life and responding to the unique spiritual needs of its members. In 2000, the Pastoral Council, through prayer and discernment, implemented a parish-wide spiritual needs survey for the purpose of determining the future direction of OLPH. A major development that emerged from the survey was the parishioners’ call that a building plan be developed to provide facilities for the growing community. A building board was called forth to work with the pastor to implement this vision. Thanks to the generosity and commitment of our parishioners, a Pastoral Center with offices and meeting rooms, a Child Development Center, new playgrounds, new parking areas, and a new school gym were dedicated in 2006. We continue to look to the future needs of our OLPH community, the vision of our long range Master Plan include a new Rectory on the church property, a Parish Community Center with additional meeting rooms, and expansion and enhancement of Cemetery #2. Our current membership is 4,448 registered families, and growing.

Priests and Pastors who have served OLPH are:

Rev. Nicholas Bauer......................................................... 1910-1922
Rev. J.F. Zimmer, CSSR................................................... 1922
Rev. J. Garrmann.............................................................. 1922
Rev. H.M.J. Wirz............................................................... 1922-1928
Rev. P.P. Kolvenbach, MSF............................................. 1929-1938
Rev. Frederick Drees......................................................... 1929-1938
Rev. George Kreutler........................................................ 1938-1943
Rev. Joseph Schrynen...................................................... 1938-1943
Rev. Joseph Hildebrand.................................................... 1943-1951
Rev. N.B. Galle................................................................. 1951-1959
Rev. Anthony Costantino.................................................. 1959-1962
Rev. Albert Hubertus......................................................... 1962-1964
Rev. Alex Kraus................................................................ 1964-1970
Rev. Thomas Collins......................................................... 1970-1971
Msgr. Harold Ehlinger....................................................... 1971-1973
Rev. Julius Dworaczyk....................................................... 1973-1974
Rev. John Flynn................................................................ 1974-1980
Rev. Patrick Cronin........................................................... 1981-1993
Rev. Robert Johnson......................................................... 1993-1994
Rev. Conor J. McGrath..................................................... 1995-2007
Msgr. Patrick L. Marron..................................................... 2007-2009
Rev. Jose De la Rosa........................................................ 2009-2013
Rev. Eric J. Ritter.............................................................. 2013-Present

There have been a number of Parochial Vicars, including: Rev. Maurice Breen; Rev. Joseph Nowak; Rev. George Steubben; Rev. Eugene Connolly; Rev. John Muggivan; Rev. James Harnan; Rev. Bede Silk; Rev. Harry Martin; Rev. Eugene Janson; Msgr. Raymond Garcia; Rev. Pat Marron; Rev. Greg Nevlud, Rev. Patrick O’Shea; Rev. Edward Kelly; Rev. Philip Kim; Rev. James Seiwert; Rev. Martin Garcia-Avila; and, Rev. Gonzalo Meza.