Motor chapel cars and trailers

1928-1967

The following comes from an April 29 posting on the website of the diocese of Fresno.

We have had such priests reaching out to the people of our Diocese of Fresno since its early association with the Diocese of Monterey, organized first in 1922, as the twelve county diocese of Monterey-Fresno. Some of these missionaries traveled by and ministered from a motor chapel car and a chapel trailer…. 

The Santa Teresita Chapel Car was blessed and consecrated by Bishop MacGinley on Washington’s Birthday February 22, 1929, just in time for the Lenten season. Reverend Leo Kulleck, C.Ss.R., newly assigned to Saint Alphonsus, eagerly accepted the assignment of driving the Chapel Car and ministering from or out of it. The Father’s fluency in Spanish and Portuguese would serve well in this new ministry, although the former was more essential than the latter.

His first recorded official Chapel Car act was administering Holy Communion to thirty-four children at the Tagus Ranch Camp (near Tulare) on Easter Sunday, March 31, 1929. Near the end of the first year, Father Kulleck noted that he had ministered not only from the car’s rear altar, but in private homes, shanties, tents, barns and abandoned churches, most often in the San Joaquin Valley.

He once commented that one of the challenges he and his ‘parishioners’ faced had to do with the absence of electricity in most all the sites he visited. Many candles were consumed shortly after sunset and all participants learned to function in near darkness, as small candles in large spaces did not give very adequate light.

He further stated that conducting Mass in the open during a rain storm also presented its own set of problems, as it was a rarity when anyone had an umbrella to shelter the priest and Host during Communion. Some of the locales visited by Father Kulleck that first year included Cortez in the Ballico Area (near Livingston), Avila, Morro Bay, New Monterey, Castroville, Hornitos, Merced Falls, El Tejon and DeGeorgio Farms (Delano area?)….

In the first eleven months of his ministry, [Franciscan] Father Liebrenz conducted forty-four one-week missions (Sunday night to Sunday morning) in as many disparate locations. A Central California Register article appearing in the October 10, 1948 issue reported the number of missions, all of which were arranged through the Chancery Office.

The paper also shared with readers a small taste of Father Liebrenz’ daily schedule: Mass between 4 and 5 A.M., followed by instruction for First Communion candidates and converts before they left for the fields. In the afternoons, Catechism classes for children returning to the camps from school. In the evenings, counseling and needed sacraments (baptisms and marriages).

Father reported 120 baptisms, 150 marriages, and 160 First Communions for the first eleven months. The Padre of the Trailer Chapel frequently had with him fellow Franciscan Associates and, when he had this help, they operated two chapel trailers, reaching twice the number, as when working alone.

The Fathers distributed blankets, medicines and food as their funds allowed. They further arranged medical care and provided transportation to clinics and hospitals. In the evenings, there was always time made to write letters home for illiterate and help them with the complexities of money-orders to send funds to families. Padre Arturo also once mentioned that evening counseling included discouraging drunkenness and the need to avoid gambling, especially to shun the professional gamblers, who often followed the migrants and preyed upon them.

The camps and outlying settlements visited were numerous, but a few of the regular and more unusual ones included in reports were in or near: Alisal (East today), California Orchard (Caliente or Delano?), Bear Creek (numerous areas with this name), Woodlake, Farmersville, Cutler, Dinuba, Reedley, Orange Cove, San Juan Bautista, McFarland, Livingston, Malaga, Coalinga, Huron, Salinas, Soledad, Gonzales, Figarden, Merced, Lindsay, Porterville, Fresno, Tagus Ranch, Bakersfield, Pinedale and many more.

The Padre of the Trailer Chapel conducted his last recorded sacrament in the Merced area, a baptism, on August 31, 1967, returning to the Los Angeles parish of Saint Joseph, administered by his Franciscan Order, where he continued his ministry to the poor for more than a decade….

For entire posting, Click here.

 

READER COMMENTS

Posted Thursday, May 17, 2012 6:29 AM By MacDonald
Rather reminds me of kindly Bishop Frank Quinn of Sacramento, who, upon retirement, moved into an RV and went to minister among the Native Americans in the southwest until his age and health forced him to stop. (In stark contrast to Cardinal Bernard Law, who allowed child molesters to run rampant in Boston, then moved to a posh assignment in Rome with gobs of money, and luxurious living…)


Posted Thursday, May 17, 2012 7:05 AM By Sursum Corda
I know that Fr. Liebrenz was one of many with “altar vans” or “chapel trailers” travelling the southwest in the 1920’s through about the 1960’s. Several Franciscans visited the Arizona Indian reservations and were always welcomed by both the residents and migrant Mexican-American workers. This was the basis of the famous story behind the 1962 film, “The Lilies of the Field”, where at the start of the film, the Franciscan priest laments his lack of a permanent chapel to conduct Mass. However, note also that the Franciscans mostly abandoned this effort after Vatican II, since the necessity of Mass and the sacraments mostly fell in value due to the “New Theology”. As a young man, I knew some of the pre-V2 Franciscans in this era openly told me how their “priestly order and life was destroyed” by this strange new brand of thought. It has made a life-long impression on me that something was wrong about that Council.


Posted Thursday, May 17, 2012 7:17 AM By Rosemary
Awesome! A missionary in our own state of California! Many fruits must have come from his apostolate.


Posted Thursday, May 17, 2012 8:49 AM By Father Karl
Beisides chapel cars and trailers, there were some railroad passenger cars that were used as chapels. The railroad would place the railroad car on a siding, and the priest would offer Mass with all the items necessary to celebrate Mass. There was enough room in the passenger cars for around 50 or more people to attend Mass.


Posted Thursday, May 17, 2012 9:11 AM By Kenneth M. Fisher
Sursum Corda, 7:05 AM, Sadly, you are not the only one who knows true Franciscans who tell that to those who will listen. I saw one saying the Tridentine Mass this morning. God bless, yours in Their Hearts, Kenneth M. Fisher


Posted Thursday, May 17, 2012 10:36 AM By Mark from PA
MacDonald, I think it is an outrage that Cardinal Law was promoted to a cushy job in Rome after the damage he presided over in Boston. In my opinion, they should have given Cardinal Law an old car and had him minister to the poorest of the poor in Appalachia. But I suppose rank has its privileges. I do notice that Bishop Lahey of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, has been de-frocked and is not allowed to present himself as a priest. So it seems that they are starting to get tougher on the bishops too. It is tragic that these men cared so little about the welfare of children.


Posted Thursday, May 17, 2012 1:27 PM By Angelo
In the Fresno Diocese, when I was a boy, a group of us went to the parish after school to attend our Cathecism class. I remember a truck and a priest standing next to it. He told us, “I have the most beautiful Altar in the world.” He then opened up the back of the truck and behold beautiful it was. But an Altar? I could not understand how it could possibly be an Altar. How would he say Mass? It was years later that I learned that Mass was said at one time with priest and people facing the same direction. Then I understood why he called it an Altar. You see, I was one of the victims of the freak change storm that befell the Church.


Posted Thursday, May 17, 2012 3:10 PM By cecilia
Now, we have priest even does not like less than 5 minuts drive, to the Redwood Retirement Community to celebrate the Sunday Mass.


Posted Thursday, May 17, 2012 3:40 PM By Catherine
Mark from PA, Stop your passive aggressive display of phony hypocritical whining. I think it is even more of an absolute outrage that you have the nerve to criticize Cardinal Law when you, yourself voted a prolific baby killer into the cushy presidential seat of the White House. Don’t just worry about God getting tough on bishops who did not protect children. Start worrying about your own hot seat that you are sitting on and God getting tough on you and on others who ignored the fifth Commandment when they voted for Obama.


Posted Thursday, May 17, 2012 5:05 PM By Kenneth M. Fisher
In the military, Jeep fenders have served as beautiful Altars, complete with now forgotten Altar Stones that the Chaplain supplied. God bless, yours in Their Hearts, Kenneth M. Fisher


Posted Thursday, May 17, 2012 6:57 PM By JLS
Kenneth, they call those vintage jeeps “flat fenders”.


Posted Thursday, May 17, 2012 8:08 PM By Thomas
Mark from PA is ABSOLUTELY CORRECT about Cardinal Bernard Law and the disgusting way he was whisked away to Rome, instead of being prosecuted for the harm he did to countless children. THANK GOD the Catholic Church is making some changes now, like the Canadian Bishop Mark mentions, and others in the U.S. who have been REMOVED from their positions for wrongful conduct. They throw their priests on the dung heap, but expect to be safe from all prosecurition themselves.


Posted Friday, May 18, 2012 1:50 AM By Angelo
Sursum Corda mentions the movie “The Lilies of the field”. In the early 70’s When I saw the part he mentions of the priest saying Mass from the back of a truck. I thought it was an awsesome sight. but at that time I had yet to know the priest was saying Mass, it was’nt until 1977 at age 18 that I learned it was the Holy Mass. It came to my mind that those trucks with the Altar for Mass could be revived for groups who desire the Ancient use. Since the Old Mass is only available in a few places, it would be a great pastoral service for many.


Posted Friday, May 18, 2012 10:44 AM By max
“Posted Thursday, May 17, 2012 3:10 PM By CECILIA: Now, we have priest even does not like less than 5 minuts drive, to the Redwood Retirement Community to celebrate the Sunday Mass.” dear cecilia, i’m curious about what you ar3e referring to. could you fill us in?

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