The choir leads the music for Rosary Chapel’s 75th anniversary Mass on Oct. 16, 2022. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC
Seventy-five years of Rosary Chapel celebrated for its ‘tremendous impact’ on community
BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it,” said Frances Pullen, speaking to the crowd that had gathered for a meal following the 75th anniversary Mass of Rosary Chapel in Paducah on Oct. 16, 2022.
Pullen, the chairperson of the anniversary committee, said she had accepted the position after reflecting on all Rosary Chapel had done for her.
“I love this parish; I love the love,” said Pullen.
Earlier that day, Bishop William F. Medley had presided at the Mass, which was concelebrated by their pastor, Fr. Emmanuel Udoh; Fr. Frank Roof; and Fr. John C. McVoy II, a priest of the Diocese of Wilmington, Del., who grew up at Rosary Chapel.
In his homily, Bishop Medley spoke of the bittersweet history of the parish.
“We cannot celebrate the establishment of Rosary Chapel without acknowledging the reasons were touched by sin, human failure, and prejudice,” said Bishop Medley.
The bishop explained that Rosary Chapel was founded in 1947 by Black Catholics who originally attended nearby St. Francis de Sales Parish in Paducah – but who at that time were considered second-class citizens. These parishioners were restricted to the last three pews at the back of the church.
“To be a part of St. Francis de Sales in those days was to accept segregation,” said Bishop Medley. “Racial segregation was real, and it was sinful – even in the Church.”
But, “God’s grace abounds even when we are sinners,” he said.
St. Francis de Sales’ pastor at the time, Fr. Albert Thompson, felt the need for the Black parishioners to have a place of their own to truly express themselves in worship. Rosary Chapel’s pioneer parishioners came together to build a church, and its first Mass was celebrated in 1947. A school opened that same year.
Bishop Medley said that in those first years, 87 adult converts entered the Catholic Church at Rosary Chapel.
“Our God has been able to bring good things out of bad things,” he said.
At the meal afterward, one of Rosary Chapel’s pioneer members, Shirley Bunch, reflected on her memories of the parish.
“I was baptized here, made my First Communion and Confirmation here, and graduated from the school in 1958,” she said, adding that she was the only graduate that first year.
“I was also the valedictorian!” she joked.
From the onset, “Rosary Chapel was open to all, regardless of race or color,” said Bunch. “As our parish continues to grow – look at what we have now – we have a community, a unity. We are a church with rich members and I want to thank you for continuing.”
The Rev. Raynarldo Henderson, a representative from the Paducah City Office, attended the celebration on behalf of Mayor George Bray. A few days prior, Bray had proclaimed Oct. 16 to be a day of celebration in honor of Rosary Chapel.
That Sunday during the anniversary meal, the Rev. Henderson presented the proclamation once again to Fr. Udoh before all the people.
“You have made a tremendous impact on our community,” said the Rev. Henderson.
Fr. Udoh thanked all for attending the anniversary and invited visitors and newcomers to return any time.
“We are the fun church!” he said.
Originally printed in the November 2022 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.