While driving down Lower Huntington near the heart of Waynedale you might have admired the stunning jewel-toned stained glass windows or the majestic bell tower of Saint Therese Church.
The origins of St. Therese, also known as Church of the Little Flower, can be traced back to 1937 when Bishop John F. Noll purchased a wooded plot of ground in the Liberty Gardens addition of Waynedale at Liberty Drive and Lower Huntington Road. At that time, Waynedale was an unincorporated community of about 3,000 people located six miles southwest of Fort Wayne.
Now St. Therese it is a bustling church with over 450 parish families and more than 200 students ranging from Pre K to 8th grade. Father Lawrence Teteh, CSsp, PhD leads the church and states “The mission as the Eucharistic Community of Saint Therese Catholic Church is to learn and share the gospel and serve all God’s children.” Masses are held six days a week. There are ample opportunities for their parishioners to provide outreach in the Waynedale Community and to become involved in groups within the parish.
The St. Therese Food Bank is open on Thursdays from 10 a.m. until noon. Serving an average of 135 families per month who live in the 46809, 46819, 46798, 46777, or 46783 zip codes, it is operated by St. Vincent de Paul Society of St. Therese. Manager of the day to day operations Sue Rockstroh joined the effort in 1996. “Back then,” Sue states “They had premade boxes of food for their clients. Now the Food Bank has evolved into a Choice Pantry where patrons can choose what they need. This also includes a government commodities program.” A group of 15 dedicated volunteers staff the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry at St. Therese.
The church participates in the Waynedale Picnic but is probably best known for hosting an Annual Fall Festival which for the past 71 years, has traditionally been held the Saturday after Labor Day. The fundraiser for the church and school features baked goods and fresh produce, carnival games and inflatables, raffles, silent auction items and a variety of delicious foods.
A full music program invites parishioners to participate in areas such as Canting, Chimes, Choirs, Instrumentals and the One Voice School Children’s Choir. Catholic men may join the Knights of Columbus #9460 group. Other groups include United for Life and a monthly senior lunch bunch.
St. Therese is also currently working with the City of Fort Wayne regarding the placement of a sidewalk that will connect the gap from the church to Arby’s. This is one of the first facets of the Waynedale Corridor Project.
Truly notable for St. Therese is their rich history. Our appreciation goes to Vince LaBarbera, church historian, who briefly summarizes decades of intriguing church history below.
On Nov. 13, 1946, the bishop appointed a discharged but highly decorated Army chaplain, Fr. Herman A. Schoudel, as pastor with instructions to begin founding a parish. When he learned that a post chapel building at Baer Field’s Army Air Base was to be declared government surplus, Fr. Schoudel submitted an application for its purchase. A basement was excavated on the parish site and a 40- x 103-foot concrete foundation was poured. The chapel was moved to its new home on Jan. 17, 1948. The first Mass was celebrated on March 7, 1948, and the new church was officially dedicated on Oct. 3, 1948.
Tragedy struck some 16 months later when a fire of “undetermined origin” gutted the interior of the church on Feb. 24, 1950.
Fr. Albert Q. Senn, O.F.M. (Order of Friars Minor), was named the first Franciscan pastor in 1956. The Fort Wayne City Council annexed 527 square miles into the city, to include Waynedale, on June 25, 1957. A groundbreaking ceremony was held June 22, 1958, for a new school planned for the fall of 1958.
Fire again struck the St. Therese community when a blaze broke out in the church on Dec. 6, 1970. Parishioners made the decision to redesign the school building into a church/school combination. The new worship space was dedicated on Oct. 17, 1971, with Bishop Leo A. Pursley presiding. The cherished “chapel” was raised in the summer of 1979 and a new community facility was completed that same summer. The new Parish Hall was dedicated on Aug. 19, 1979, with Bishop William E. McManus presiding.
Due to declining membership, The Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist in Cincinnati decided to withdraw from ministry at about 15 of their parishes, including St. Therese. After a farewell gathering on June 26, 1994, the Franciscan Friars left the parish leaving behind the Franciscan influence of nearly 38 years. That summer, Bishop John M. D’Arcy appointed a diocesan priest, Fr. Michael J. Rosswurm, as the new pastor, effective Jan. 4, 1995.
A Five-Year Plan for a new church and renovation of the worship space in the school for classroom use initiated in the spring of 1996. The new $3.6-million worship facility was dedicated on April 10, 2003. It was the first church actually built by the parish in its then 56-year history. Bishop D’Arcy presided at the dedication along with Fr. Joseph A. Rulli, pastor.