The Toolen Years: History of Saint Columba Catholic Church 1938-1964

Posted: March 20, 2017 in World On The Edge

Since we’ve just received our beautiful parish directory, I though I might post this history of Saint Columba Catholic Church (1938-1964) that Barbara Liddon and I worked on for the church’s 100th anniversary. We have such a rich history filled with caring for the town of Dothan. Barbara did so much research and I’m not sure if it’s been read. So here it is:

History of St. Columba Catholic Church, Dothan, Alabama: 1938-1964

Any child or adult confirmed at St. Columba during the 1930’s through the 1960’s was taught that Confirmation into the Catholic Church meant that he or she was being sealed with the Holy Spirit and was now a “Soldier of Christ.” Only the Bishop of a diocese was allowed to confirm. He would strike the person on the cheek, generally with a gentle slap, and tell them that “You are a soldier of Christ”. This was symbolic of the fact that one might be required to suffer hardship, torture, and even death, in defense of the faith. Confirmations during 1938-1964 at St. Columba of Dothan, were performed by Archbishop Thomas Joseph Toolen.

In fact, these were The Toolen Years because under his leadership the Mobile Diocese experienced its most dramatic growth. Due to Bishop Toolen’s influence, an accounting of the years 1938-1964 in the history of St. Columba must begin with him.


Archbishop Thomas Joseph Toolen

Archbishop Toolen is the most significant figure in the development and role of the Roman Catholic Church along the Gulf Coast and in the state of Alabama during the twentieth century, including St. Columba of Dothan. As the sixth Bishop of the Diocese (now Archdiocese) of Mobile, a reign of 42 years, Toolen served in that office longer than any other person thus far. When he retired in 1969, Toolen was the oldest active bishop in the United States and logged more than one million miles on official trips to churches and missions throughout his diocese, which at one point encompassed 58,822 square miles.

Archbishop Toolen was ordained into the priesthood on September 27, 1910. In the years before his elevation to Bishop, he served in the Archdiocese of Baltimore first as assistant at St. Bernard Parish for 15 years and then as Diocesan Director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith for two years. The organization is concerned with spreading the Roman Catholic faith to places where it currently has few or no adherents. The society collects and distributes funds to support Catholic missions all over the world. This great responsibility helped prepare Toolen for his next assignment, through which he would try to spread Catholicism in areas of Alabama where the Church had no followers. When Bishop Edward L. Allen of Mobile died, Pope Pius XI chose Toolen to become the sixth Bishop of Mobile on February 28, 1927.

Bishop Toolen arrived in the Mobile diocese on May 18, 1927, when only about one percent of the population living within the diocese, which included all of Alabama as well as northwest Florida, was Roman Catholic. In 1954, Pope Pius XII elevated Toolen to the rank of Archbishop, and the Diocese of Mobile was renamed the Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham. In 1968, northwest Florida was reassigned to the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida.


St. Columba Part of a Missionary Diocese

The Diocese of Mobile underwent considerable changes as a result of Toolen’s evangelization efforts. Toolen viewed his new diocese as a “missionary diocese” meaning that the Catholic presence in the state was minimal and that it was his job to spread and strengthen the faith in the state of Alabama. To advance his missionary goal, Toolen built nearly 200 new churches—one of them, St. Columba of Dothan.

Despite his tireless effort toward evangelization, Toolen gained national attention during the height of the civil rights movement for critical comments regarding the role of Catholics in activism. Archbishop Toolen had forbidden priests to challenge publicly the state’s segregation laws or participate in demonstrations. They were instructed to work within the law and not force confrontations that would agitate the state’s white population. Toolen’s instruction affected St. Columba. During the 1950’s Father J. Jacobi was sent to Dothan to convert and then minister to African American families in a separate church located on the corner of West Powell St. Father Jacobi was a beloved priest and had many converts. Later, the church on West Powell closed and some of those converts attended St. Columba.

The curtailing of activism by priests invited conflict between Toolen and those Catholics who feared that the Church was in danger of losing its moral authority on race. For example, in the early 1960s, Father Albert Foley, Jesuit professor of sociology at Spring Hill College worked with Mobile Mayor Joseph Langan (himself a Catholic) to broker an agreement that would desegregate Mobile’s downtown businesses. Langan eased Toolen’s mind about Foley’s involvement, but on more than one other occasion Toolen tried to have Foley re-assigned out of the diocese. In Selma, though, African American Catholics took encouragement from the white priests of the Edmundite Order, who treated them with fairness and dignity and assured them of their spiritual worth. These priests, by their refusal to condemn civil rights activism, encouraged African Americans to press for change.

The actions of these few Catholics signaled the direction that the Church in Alabama would take as the civil rights movement intensified. In 1958 the American Catholic bishops issued a statement condemning segregation and calling for racial justice. They declared segregation a moral wrong that was not to be tolerated. The bishops’ statement declared that “the heart of the race question is moral and religious” and that “segregation cannot be reconciled with the Christian view of our fellow man.”

The Catholic Church in Alabama was far quicker than other white southern denominations to make the goals of the mainstream civil rights movement official policy. Indeed, in 1970, Toolen’s successor, John L. May, claimed that the Diocese of Mobile’s record in race relations surpassed that of his native Chicago and saw great promise in the progress made in the diocese. Many people may have quarreled with May’s optimistic assessment, but there is no doubt that by 1969, the end of Toolen’s reign, the Catholic Church refused to condone discrimination.

In 1950, Bishop Toolen oversaw construction of the Martin de Porres Hospital in Mobile which was the first hospital in Alabama where African American doctors could work side-by-side with white doctors. He also ordered the integration of Mobile’s Spring Hill College, the first institution of higher learning to be integrated in Alabama.

In 1957, Toolen invited Mother Angelica and the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration to establish a religious community for African Americans in the Diocese of Mobile. He broke ground on Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Irondale on July 24, 1961, and dedicated the monastery on May 20, 1962. From this monastery would sprout an international broadcasting corporation known as  Eternal Word Television Network. And in 1964, Toolen announced that the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham would be integrated beginning with the 1964-65 school year, well before public education in Alabama made the same move. He also opened orphanages, hospitals, and other institutions.  (Encyclopedia of Alabama: Catholicism and the Civil Rights Movement)

During his 42-years in the Mobile Diocese, Toolen received many honors. Pope Pius XII gave Toolen the title “Assistant at the Papal Throne” in October 1949. Then, in July 1954, Pius XII raised Toolen to the rank of Archbishop and re-designated the Diocese of Mobile as the Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham. Archbishop Toolen also received international honors, including the Commander of Order of Merit, one of Italy’s highest civilian honors, in 1961. In 1962, Lebanon conferred on the archbishop its “Order of the Cedars” medal, awarded to individuals for acts of courage and devotion to moral values as well as for years of public service.

On October 8, 1969, Archbishop Toolen retired as Bishop of Mobile, and the Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham was split into two dioceses: the Diocese of Mobile, covering south Alabama, and the Diocese of Birmingham in northern Alabama. The division was made possible through Toolen’s successful effort to increase membership in the Church. Toolen died in his sleep on December 4, 1976. He was eulogized by the most famous American Roman Catholic orator of the twentieth century, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen of the Diocese of Rochester, New York. (Encyclopedia of Alabama)

St. Columba, 1938-1944

From 1931 until 1941, St. Columba is listed as a Mission of Eufaula. By 1938, about fifteen Catholics were attending Mass twice a month in a white frame church on the northwest corner of the intersection of Main and Oates Street in Dothan. Father George Royer, Pastor of Holy Redeemer in Eufaula, was the celebrant. (picture of this church included)

On January 14, 1938, a special thanksgiving Mass at St. Columba commemorated the tenth anniversary of Father Royer’s ordination to the priesthood. Father Royer completed his elementary and high school studies in Mobile, receiving his high school diploma from McGill Institute. He was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree from Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Maryland. After two years of study at the same college, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theology, then remained at the college four more years to complete his studies for ordination into the priesthood. In December of 1927, he was ordained at The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, his home parish in Mobile. After his ordination, Father Royer was stationed in Birmingham, Gadsden, Troy, Eufaula, and Dothan. The St. Columba Catholic Women’s Club of Dothan held a reception in honor of Father Royer’s Tenth Anniversary.

From 1942 to 1943, St. Columba is listed both as a parish, and also a mission, with Father John Stack of Eufaula as its Pastor.

In 1940, the old mission church and land were sold and Father John Stack, pastor at Eufaula, purchased land on Main Street from the Blumberg family, and the construction of a new church at 507 West Main was begun in December of that year. The contractor was the firm of H. H. Brown and Company.

First services at the new St. Columba were held in April of 1941. On April 18, 1941, The Dothan Eagle stated: “First services at the new St. Columba Catholic church on West Main Street will be held Sunday with ten o’clock mass launching the mission, or revival, it was announced today, by the Rev. John H. Stack, in inviting all parishioners and friends of the Church in Dothan to attend. The services will be conducted by the Rev. Anthony Maher, C.P. of St. Joseph’s Retreat House in Birmingham. Weekday schedule for masses, Rev. Stack said, will be at 6:30 and eight a.m., with a short instruction following each mass. Evening services, planned for 7:30, will consist of the recitation of the rosary, sermon, and Benediction of The Most Holy Sacrament. Children’s mission will be held Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons at four o’clock. The blessing of the new church, Rev. Stack said, will be held Monday, April 28, at 11 o’clock with the Most Rev. T.J. Toolen, Bishop of Mobile, officiating. The sermon for that occasion will be delivered by the Rev. James Howard of St. Michael’s church of Pensacola, FL.”

On April 28, 1941, with a plea to America “to bring God back to its people, its churches, its capital, its industry, its government, and into its schools,” Archbishop Thomas J. Toolen formally dedicated the new St. Columba Catholic Church. Rt. Rev. T.M. Cullen, Mobile Diocesan Director of Catholic Charities was the celebrant at a Low Mass after the Dedicatory Rites. Rev. James Howard, Assistant Pastor at St. Michael’s Church in Pensacola gave the sermon. A large gathering of more than 200 clergy and laity from around the diocese was present. In his dedicatory remarks, the Bishop declared that “another link has been forged in the chain that keeps God with the people in age when the effort is being made to keep God out of the world.”

The Bishop said that while America declares itself to be a religious country, two-thirds of the population profess no religion, and that “we are being subjected to strife and fail because God is being left out of our lives. Toward the end that we may have peace, we are building a great army, a great navy, and a great air force—but what good will these things do unless we also build great men? We cannot legislate morality into people. It must come through our churches and through teaching our children in our homes and schools.” Bishop Toolen concluded his remarks with a welcome to all those present, whether Catholic or non-Catholic. Included in diocesan officials present were also the Rt. Rev. Boniface Seng of St. Bernard Abbey, St. Bernard AL; the Rev. George C. Royer of Gadsden; and the Rt. Rev. James B. Rogers of Montgomery. The ladies of the church served dinner to the visiting clergy at the Houston Hotel after Mass. Father John Stack continued as pastor.

On December 24, 1941, services at St. Columba began at 11:45. The St. Columba Choir, under the direction of Mrs. J.L. Walling, presented a program of Christmas carols. The High Mass to be celebrated by the Rev. John H. Stack, began at 12 p.m. The Christ Carol Mass by James A. Korman, consisting of the Kyri, Gloria, Credo,, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei, along with traditional Christmas hymns, were sung by the choir, composed of Mrs. Press Thornton, Mrs. A.A. Winter, Mrs. Victor Mavity, Mrs. Robert Livingston, and Mrs. J.J. Couch, under the direction of Mrs. Walling. The hymns, “Adeste Fideles” and “Ave Verum” by Perosi, were sung at the Offertory and Communion. A second Mass, a Low Mass of Thanksgiving, was celebrated by the pastor at 7 a.m. Thursday morning.

By 1942, the United States entry into World War II was in full force. Soldiers and Army personnel came by bus from nearby Camp Rucker and Napier Field to join Dothan Catholics at Mass in the new church. There were about 90 parishioners then, and three Masses on Sunday. Residents from Columbia and Abbeville also traveled to Dothan for weekly Sunday Mass at St. Columba. During the war years nearly 200,000 soldiers and WACs attended Mass at St. Columba. Military chaplains often aided the pastor during that time.

In 1944, St. Columba was named a parish, with Father Stack its first resident pastor, and Father M.J. Finneran as assistant pastor. In 1945 to 1946, Father Stack had a new assistant pastor, Father Gerlad P. Cawley. In 1947, Father Stack’s assistant was Father Edward O’Connell.

1947-1954: A Time of Expansion for Saint Columba

Succeeding Father Stack in 1948, Father James Walther was listed as pastor of St. Columba, but in May of that year he was reassigned to Gadsden. Father Thomas Kennedy was assigned to St. Columba. In 1948 Fr. Kennedy became pastor, and Father Joseph C. Gill became assistant pastor. The June 24, 1948 issue of The Dothan Eagle published a long and interesting article about Father Kennedy. (article included)

Unfortunately, Father Kennedy soon became ill and priests from Holy Trinity, Fort Mitchell, AL, came to say Mass. During his recovery, Father Kennedy lived for a while at the residence of parishioners Ethel and Kenneth Shealy until he returned to Ireland. Father Kennedy returned to St. Columba in the fall of 1949, and was named as pastor through 1953, but he was often too ill to assume all the duties of the parish, so he was assisted by interim priests.

In late 1948 Father Norbert Sharon, a recently ordained priest at Holy Trinity, was sent to Dothan to fill in as interim pastor for almost a year during Father Kennedy’s illness. Father Norbert brought the energy of a young priest to the parish instituting the first vacation bible school which lasted for three weeks. Attendants remember it as a new experience. They did crafts and sung fun songs and recalled playing baseball with the sisters on the grounds of Young Junior High. He also started parish picnics at places like Porter’s Fairy Land and started an annual fall festival. People remember him mowing the grounds and working or praying outside in the afternoons and visiting with all the people who walked along the sidewalks in front of the church. Through these things he not only promoted fellowship at St Columba but also with the Protestant community.

From a mission of Eufaula to a parish in its own right, St Columba moved forward by the late 40’s to mission to the counties of Houston, Dale, Geneva. Coffee, and the lower half of Henry. Priests from St Columba said mass each week in Enterprise at the courthouse and in Ozark at the community center.

The 1950’s was a period of growth for the Catholic Church in Alabama. New industrial developments in Dothan brought more Catholics. Catholic families assigned to Fort Rucker also came to Dothan as there was no church in Ozark or Enterprise.

In 1950, Father Joseph Gill served as Administrator for St. Columba and the five county mission area of Houston, Henry, Dale, Coffee, and Geneva. On January 1, 1951, an article about Father Gill was published in the Dothan Eagle. (article included)

In 1952, Father Jules Keating was named Administrator and Father Charles Aucoin was his assistant. Father Keating was formerly at John Carroll High School in Birmingham. From 1952 to 1953, the Diocese still listed Father Kennedy as “pastor, absent/sick.”

On April 29, 1952, the National Council of Catholic Women of the Mobile Diocese held a Twenty Fifth Anniversary Celebration for Bishop Toolen as head of the diocese. The event was held at the Houston Hotel in Dothan. Mrs. C.H. Seeba, president of the Dothan Catholic Women’s Club, welcomed all delegates. Father Frank Wade of St. Augustine Catholic Church in Birmingham and editor of The Catholic Week, delivered the principal address. Approximately 200 Catholic women representing all sections of Alabama were present. (Two Dothan Eagle articles included: Catholic Women Plan Conference, and Bishop Toolen Guest at Conference.)

In October of 1952, St. Columba’s first Fall Festival was held. Father Jules Keating initiated the festival to raise funds for a parish hall. In November of 1952, Fr. Aloysius Hayden conducted the first week-long Mission at St. Columba. Father Hayden was a professor of Latin and member of the faculty of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Holy Trinity, AL. His topic was “The Sacraments and Their Relationship to Life.” A question box was placed at the door of the church for answers by Fr. Hayden during the mission.

In March of 1953, St. Columba was listed in The Dothan Eagle as one of three churches offering Good Friday Services. The other two Dothan churches were the Episcopal Church and First Methodist Church. Also, in 1953, Father Jules Keating, previously listed as Administrator, was made pastor, and Father Roland Inkel, previously listed as Assistant Administrator, was now Assistant Pastor. Father Inkel had been Assistant Pastor of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Montgomery. (Fr. Inkel article included)

In August 1953, a steering committee made plans for a second Fall Festival with the entire parish enthusiastically involved. The workings of that meeting can be found in “The Parish News Bulletin” which was available to St. Columba and Wiregrass Missions. The Wiregrass missions, for which the priests of St. Columba were responsible, embraced the counties of Houston, Coffee, Geneva, Dale, and half of Henry. (The August 16, 1953 bulletin is included)

In the bulletin mentioned above, is a very interesting and special announcement entitled, “We Have a Saint in the Parish Now.” In the announcement, a beloved Dothan doctor, a Protestant, baptizes a Catholic baby. It reads:

Stephen Anthony Hornsby, son of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Hornsby, was called home by God a few hours after his birth Thursday morning. During the previous night, Dr. Paul Flowers, who is not a Catholic and who was not unduly concerned about the baby’s condition, took it upon himself to baptize the child. He checked the little one about 6:30 in the morning and found him to be all right. Within the hour, another physician came for an examination only to find that the angels had already taken Stephen Anthony’s soul to heaven. What made Dr. Flowers baptize him? He saw Mrs. Hornsby’s rosary on the bedside table. That told him she was a Catholic, but Our Lady herself must have prompted his action since he did not think the child’s condition very serious. We offer the Hornsbys our condolences but we also rejoice with them in their little saint. He has joined the others from this parish who are in heaven. May they intercede for us who are left to work out our salvation!”

A duplex on South Bell Street adjacent to the church was purchased as a Parish Hall. Religion classes and social gatherings were held there, as well as Vacation Bible School. Headed by nuns from Sacred Heart Convent in Cullman, AL., the Bible school was begun by Father Norbert Sharon, head of the Seminary at Holy Trinity. For over a year, Father Norbert filled in as needed for Father Keating, and kept in close contact with the parishioners.

In 1953, Father Keating oversaw the purchase of a ten acre tract on West Main Street near the present Ross Clark Circle for new expansion, and on June 6, 1953, a parish picnic was held on the new property.

In December of 1953 meeting of The Catholic Men’s Club, Joe Joseph, current president announced that Bob Hedstrom had been elected as the new president for 1954. Chris Seeba was elected Vice President; Bill Trantor, Secretary; and Al Winter, Treasurer. Elected to the Board of Directors were Telfair Ghioto, Jerome Sullivan, and Ray Boucher. Board members who automatically remained on the board for another year were Jack Gregory and Joe Lavalier, along with Joe Joseph as retiring president. Other discussions during the meeting were plans for a new building to be constructed on church property on West Main, and a Christmas dinner party planned for the holiday season.

The Diocese of Mobile was combined with Birmingham on April 30, 1954. The new Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham was under the Metropolitan Archdiocese of New Orleans. 


St. Columba, 1954-1964

On April 12, 1954, Bishop Toole came to Dothan to confirm a class of 46 candidates at St. Columba. Included in the class were eleven servicemen from Camp Rucker.

On Palm Sunday, 1954, St. Columba began Holy Week with the blessing and distribution of the palms. A Dothan Eagle article stated that Father Keating would say an 8 am Mass on Holy Thursday, then the women of the church would attend daytime adoration of The Blessed Sacrament, with the men taking over at night. In the article, Father Keating announced that, with the closing of Camp Rucker, the regular 11 am Sunday Mass would be discontinued and that Masses would be celebrated only at 7 and 10 am.

In 1954, Father Jules Keating was assigned to a new parish in Pensacola FL, and Father William Jones became pastor of St. Columba. He began a tithing program with expansion in mind. Father Jones also initiated CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) classes for grade school children on Saturday mornings at 10 am. Father Jones was first assisted by Father Cresencio DeFazio.

Dothan was then, as it is now, primarily Protestant. There were many misconceptions about the Catholic Church, so Catholics became more involved in explaining the truth about their church. On December 17, 1954, a letter was published in The Dothan Eagle from “The Columbans Catholic Men’s Club, Dothan, AL.” The letter concerned a movie entitled, “Martin Luther,” that had just completed its run in Dothan. The men attempted to show a difference in what the film showed and what was actually true about the Catholic Church. (article included)

By 1956, St. Columba’s mission parish of Ozark had a small church, and by 1958 a church was built in Enterprise. These continued to be serviced by priests from St. Columba.

In 1956, Father J. Jacobi, a Ressurrectionist priest from the City of St Jude in Montgomery, was assigned to Dothan to minister to the black community. Father Jacobi made a big impact in Dothan.  The Sunday, September 9, 1956 Dothan Eagle had an article (included) about Father Jacobi opening “a kindergarten and day nursery located at the intersection of N. Cherry and Burdeshaw Sts. for Dothan’s Negro children. The school to be known as the Resurrection Catholic Center, will be directed by the Rev. J. Jacobi, who has been substituting as priest at St. Columba Catholic Church here this summer.

Father Jacobi lived in a rented building on the corner of Cherry and Burdeshaw Streets, and  started a day nursery and preschool at that location.The day nursery was for children 18 months to two years old, and the kindergarten was to enroll children from two until school age. The center was equipped with a kitchen, office, classrooms, sleeping cots, and a large playground at the building’s rear. There were, according to the Dothan Eagle article and Fr. Jacobi, competent instructors and assistants working there full time. Later, he had Mass there regularly. He also assisted at St Columba on a regular basis especially filling in for the other priest’s vacations. For example, Father Jacobi presided at the July 2, 1956 First Communion at St. Columba. (picture included) He is remembered by all who knew him as a saint especially by the black community. After he left due to health problems in the early 1960’s the black Catholics in Dothan became regular participants at St Columba. Many parents were also forever grateful to Fr. Jacobi for working to locate any retarded babies and children in southeast Alabama to make sure they were baptized.

In 1958, Father Patrick Maher came to St. Columba as Assistant Pastor to Father Jones. Besides his other priestly duties at St. Columba and its mission churches, he taught CCD to St. Columba teenagers grades 8 -12 on Wednesday nights. Even during those years, he was telling the teens that God was madly in love with them! Father Maher often took teenagers along with him when he visited needy families in the parish and nearby counties, an action that broadened the teenagers’ acceptance of all people, letting them know that all people were God’s people and loved by Him. Due to his strong comraderies with many of the teenagers, and their families, at St. Columba, Father Maher’s influence has had lifelong effects. Children in the lower grades attended CCD at 10 am on Saturday mornings, taught by parishioners, such as Ernie and Peggy Hornsby, and Harry Sands.

In 1961, the construction of a new church, rectory and parish hall was begun on the ten acre tract on West Main. The old church and parish hall were sold. The new church (now the Chapel), was a $210,000 contemporary Gothic brick building. Allen Waid was the architect and Betts Slingluff the general contractor. It was dedicated on April 1, 1963 by Archbishop Thomas J. Toolen, who termed the dedication as a sign of the Church’s growth in the diocese. Monsignor George Royer, former pastor of the church, gave the homily. (picture of interior included)

The Ground breaking of the new church (now the Chapel) was on December 1, 1961. The parish move was in July 31, 1962, and Dedication was on Palm Sunday, April 1, 1963.

By 1963, St. Columba had two mission churches: St. John the Evangelist in Ozark and St. John in Enterprise. Due to the ill health of Father William Jones, Father Andrew Stauter also became St. Columba’s Assistant Pastor. In late 1963, Father Maher moved from Dothan to become pastor at St John’s in Ozark.

By 1964, St. Columba of Dothan was a vibrant and growing parish of committed Catholics who served and benefitted not only their church, but also the city of Dothan.

Priests During Our Time Period of 1936-1964:

Father John Stack of Eufaula from 1939 until he became pastor in late 1941-1947.

Reverend M J Finneran 1943-1944 assistant; also Reverend Paul Cuddy is listed in 1943.

Other assistants under Reverend Stack were Reverend Gerald Cawley from Fall of 1944 to 1945, and Reverend John J Fitzpatrick, chaplain at Fort Rucker also assisted during this very busy time

Reverend Thomas Kennedy followed Reverend James Walther’s brief stint as pastor in 1948, coming by June of 1948, and leaving due to illness in late 1948.

Father Norbert Sharon, MSMBT, took over for a year and continued to help out after Father Joseph Gill came as assistant pastor in 1950-1951.

Reverend Jules Keating came as administrator in 1951, becoming pastor in 1953-1954.

Under Fr. Keating as assistants were Reverend Charles Aucoin from summer 1951- 1953 and Reverend Roland Inkel who served from summer of 1953- 1954

Reverend William Jones became pastor in fall of 1954 through 1965 though illness made it difficult for him to fulfill his duties after 1961.

Assistants under Reverend Jones were Reverend Crescencio DeFazio from fall of 1957-1958.

Reverend Patrick Maher arrived in October of 1958 and stayed until November 14, 1963.

Because of Reverend Jones health, Reverend Andrew Stauter was sent to assist in the fall of 1961 and stayed through 1969.

Organizations 1936-1964

St. Columba Catholic Women’s Club

From information gathered through old membership books and The Dothan Eagle:

The St. Columba Catholic Women’s Club was organized in November of 1936. Mrs. Kenneth Shealy was its first president. The object of the club as stated in their Constitution and By-Laws was: “To promote better understanding between Catholics and non-Catholics of this city by taking part in civic and social affairs of this city, while at the same time functioning as an Altar Society.” (Picture included)

The women not only took care of the altar for Masses, but also planned and carried out parish suppers, bake sales, white elephant sales, and other events that produced monies to keep up the sanctuary, purchase wine, altar breads, and candles for Mass, items for the kitchen and other needs in the parish hall, and later, Vacation Bible School necessities. In addition, the Catholic women joined with the women of other Dothan churches to stuff Easter seal envelopes.

Subsequent presidents during our time frame of 1938-1964, with some of the women serving more than one term, were: Mrs. T. Ghioto, Mrs. James Dees, Mrs. Marietta Seeba, Mrs. George H. Malone, Mrs. Joe Joseph, Mrs. K.L. Malone, Mrs. Charles Merritt, Mrs. Al Emblem, Mrs. Roy T. Jones, and Mrs. Press Thornton, Jr.

The Women’s Council Prayer

O God, my Father, there is purpose and design in everything you do, and no effort is wasted. You brought me here to this meeting from some purpose also.

Let me remember that, like your Son, I am not here to be waited on but to serve, not to have others decide for me but to make decisions myself, not to be a silent spectator but to use whatever talents you may have given me.

Teach me then, to have courage to speak up now instead of talking about it later, to say what I mean without fearing what others might think, and also, remind me when I have said enough.


The Columbans Mens Club

The President of the Columbans Mens Club in 1953 was Joe Joseph. Other officers are can be found in the narrative above, pg. 7, along with the Dec. 1954 article in The Dothan Eagle about the movie “Martin Luther,” but this is all we have found on the men’s club.

We have memory of The Holy Name Society, but found nothing about St. Columba’s men group being referred to as The Holy Name Society, only “The Columbans Mens Club.” Maybe Press Thornton would have personal information about when The Columbans Men’s Club” became The Holy Name Society, or if it did.

If so—here’s a little history:

The Holy Name Society was formed in 1274 by Pope Gregory X who commissioned Blessed John of Vercelli, Master General of the Dominican Order, to preach devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus.

The objectives of the Holy Name Society have been established as:

  • To honor the Names of God and of Jesus Christ by the example of a strictly Catholic life.
  • To spread devotion and increase love for the Sacred Name of Jesus.
  • To suppress blasphemy, profane and indecent language.
  • To prevent false oaths, in and out of court.
  • To impart to Catholic men courage in the profession of their faith.






    So enjoyed reading this Kaye, the first priest I remember was Father Keating and his Irish Setter. And what a joy it was to us when Father Maher came! I have been fortunate to know him as an adult. in fact he married both my children . I printed this so I can read again! thanks


    • kph52013 says:

      I’m so happy you read it! I remember Father Keating, too, and his Irish Setter. And Father Maher married George and I. It’s very special to have him back at St. Columba.


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