THE THIRTIES: RETRENCHMENT
The same workers who benefited so greatly from the automobile industry in the 1920's were the first to suffer the consequences of the Great Depression. Many purchased homes during the prosperous years but now the typical worker was not only unemployed, but also faced the ruinous dimunition of his accumulated savings. The shock of a lowered living standard previously taken for granted created a general feeling of insecurity. The ripple effects of nationwide economic catastrophe eventually reached St. Mary of Redford.
In January 1930, a Parish Finance Committee composed of laypersons was organized to relieve the pastor of the burden of raising funds. The parish was appointed into street districts and house-to-house solicitations were conducted by 36 committee members to encourage parishioners to use their weekly contributions envelopes. Less than half of the 1500 registered families used the envelopes regularly.
The IHM Sisters who taught at the schools were in desperate need of a new convent. Ralph Adams Cram's original plans called for an attached convent similar to the priest's rectory but prevailing economic conditions prevented such an undertaking. Instead Father Cook asked Bishop Gallagher in June 1931 for permission to purchase a lot on the west side of St. Mary's Avenue directly across from the school and construct a simple residential dwelling for the nun's use. Together with the original convent, these quarters would have to suffice until such time as they could be replaced by a new, permanent home.
In the October 18,1931 issue of the St. Mary's Tractor, Cook, in an open letter to his parishioners, asked them to be generous in helping the parish meet its fuel expenses as donations had "fallen off to an alarming extent." In his fIrst public reference to the Great Depression, Cook pleaded ...
If the children of our parish are undernourished and not sufficiently clothed, they need heat and comfort while in school than ever before. If our parishioners are out of work and without sufficient comforts in their homes, all the more reason they should be warm and dry when they come to Mass.
To bloster sagging morale, the Ushers' Society sponsored a "Hard Times Party" while the Altar Society hosted a "Depression Party." Though wellintentioned, these events could not disguise a harsh reality. The popular St. Patrick's Day banquet was cancelled due to "uncertain financial conditions." Ironically as Cook was compelled to postpone or cancel a number of planned projects for lack of funds, the need for spiritual labors was greater than ever.
The number of parishioners continued to grow, In January of 1933, Father Harry Paul arrived at St. Mary's as a second assistant to Cook, to be followed in November by Father Charles Holton, bringing the total complement of assigned priests to four. In April 1933, the Young Men's Club was formed to help keep unemployed youths out of trouble and engaged in constructive activities. Club members participated in a door-to-door collection drive, requesting old jewelry, silver and gold articles that could be exchanged for much-needed cash. The first administrative change at St. Mary's in nearly a decade occurred in 1934. After ten years of service as Cook's assistant, Joseph Rochford left St. Mary's in July to become pastor of St. Patrick's in Portland, Michigan. He was replaced by Matthew Blake in September of the year.
Enrollment increases at both parish schools continued unabated. At the beginning of the decade, total enrollment was 1100 with fifteen Sisters and five lay teachers. By 1937 the numbers climbed to over 1300 with 22 Sisters on the faculty staff. The first, third and fifth grades of the elementary school, which had been on half-day sessions since 1935, were now joined by the ninth, eleventh and twelfth grades of the high school. Two of the three projected school wings had already been erected and the final annex was now necessary.
In April 1937 Cook announced that proceeds from the tenth annual Parish Circus would be applied toward the construction of the final school wing. In December, Detroit's new Archbishop, Edward Mooney, paid his first visit to St. Mary of Redford. He was impressed with the management of the parish but left "without giving Father Cook much hope of permission to build in the near future."
As 1938 dawned, the total value of parish property and buildings was appraised at $1,000,000, of which the parish still owed $30,000. Father Harry Paul was reassigned to Washington, D.C. and replaced by Leo 1. DePlaunty in January 1938. The Sunday schedule was expanded to an astonishing seven Masses to accommodate excess worshippers.
In April 1939, the news that Father Cook had long awaited to hear finally came. Approval was granted by the Archdiocese Building Committee for a twelve room school addition to be integrated into the present auditorium at a cost of $250,000. In July Father John Eppenbrock arrived to replace the departing Charles Holton. Eppenbrock was followed in December by Michael J. Crowley, increasing the number of priests at St. Mary's to five.
On August 22,1939, the groundbreaking for the new high school took place. One IHM Sister described her excitement over the project.
No one present will forget that moment when, after Holy Mass in honor of Our Lady, accompanied by the ringing of the church bell and the shrilling tones of the whistle, the "Charlie Rogers" steam engine turned the first shovel of dirt for the new St. Mary of Redford High School. At last the dream was to be a reality!
Unfortunately the school would not be finished until June 1940. Half-day sessions would remain the norm until June 1941 when all grades except the first resumed full-day sessions. The completed annex would increase St. Mary's classrooms to 35 for 1400 students. Shortly after the school groundbreaking, Cook assured his parishioners that construction of the new convent would begin in six weeks.
As the decade drew to a close, it appeared that Cook and his congregation could breathe a sigh of relief. St. Mary's somehow weathered the economic storm and its future looked brighter. Nevertheless the parish did not escape entirely unscathed. Father Cook suffered a stroke in September 1939 that would partially incapacitate him for the remainder of his life.