Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, Benton, Arkansas
The history of Catholicism in Saline County extends only a few decades into the past. Indeed, among the present members of the parish there are those who remember a time when there was no Catholic mission or parish in the county. In the earliest days, Catholics living in Saline County had to journey over rough country roads to Hot Springs or Little Rock for Sunday Mass. With few cars at that time, it was most difficult for the people to travel this distance for Sunday Mass. During the early 1900's the Holy Sacrifice was occasionally offered in homes. In 1940, a mission was established at Malvern. Father William E. Galvin and Father John M. Bann are two priests remembered by those who worshiped at Malvern during this period. The first recorded Mass in Benton was offered by Father N. Charles McGinnis at 8:30 AM on Sunday, October 4, 1942, in the Saline County Courtroom. About fifty persons attended. The Courtroom served as the place of worship for Saline County Catholics for the next nine years. Father McGinnis carried a mission kit back and forth to accomplish this worship. Later, he said a second Mass at the Bauxite Community Center. During this time, Father McGinnis was occupied full-time as teacher and coach at Little Rock Catholic High School. Planning for building a church began at 2:15 PM, June 6, 1943, at a meeting of the Ways and Means Committee in the home of a communicant in Bauxite. By 1949, contributions accumulated to allow construction to begin. Ground breaking ceremonies were held on August 21, 1950, and the church was dedicated on April 1, 1951. On April 8, 1951, the first baptism took place, followed by First Communion ceremonies on May 10, 1951. On May 11, 1952, the first Confirmation was administered, and the first marriage was performed here on July 1, 1952.
Our Lady of Fatima Mission was formally established as a Parish with territorial limits on September 21, 1953, by decree of the Most Reverend Albert L. Fletcher, D.D., Bishop of Little Rock. The decree stated that ““Effective September 21, 1953, territorial limits of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Benton, Arkansas, are established as follows: ‘‘All of Saline County in Arkansas’’.”” Father McGinnis was formally appointed Pastor of the newly established parish.
1955 Blessing of the new rectory
1958 Notre Dame School (now Our Lady of Fatima) established
1959 Olivetan Benedictine Sisters of Holy Angels Convent in Jonesboro, Arkansas are assigned to Notre Dame School
1961 The bell tower was dedicated on January 22. The angelus bell weighs 350 pounds and was imported from Holland. It is electrically operated to ring out the angelus three times a day. It can be manually operated. The tower is 60 feet tall.
1961 The Altar was consecrated on May 23, 1961. Relics of St. Olympias and other saints are present. It is made of Batesville Marble and is considered to be the largest marble altar in Arkansas.
1963 The convent was completed and three sisters were moved in by Christmas, 1962. It was blessed by Bishop Fletcher on February 17, 1963. The convent will accommodate six nuns.
1966 The Parish Hall and Gymnasium was completed in 1966 in time for the celebration of Father McGinnis’’ Silver Anniversary on June 12. For most of those years, he had expended great effort to bring our church from a remote mission outpost to the buildings and property that we know today.
1970 Angela Murdaugh, the daughter of George Earl and Mary Angela Murdaugh (founding members of Our Lady of Fatima) took final vows as a Sister of St. Mary (later our name was changed to what it is today, Franciscan Sisters of Mary). She was assigned to St. Joseph's Hospital in St. Charles, Missouri. After her first year, she entered Graduate School at Columbia Univ. in New York to become a nurse-midwife.
1971 Father McGinnis was reassigned to Holy Redeemer Parish in El Dorado. Father Henry J. Chinery became pastor at Our Lady of Fatima. He became ill but made some necessary policy changes in order to settle all debts and maintain the facilities with self-help with parish resources. He soon had to be placed on leave of absence due to his illness.
1972 Father William M. Beck took over as pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish on January 14,
1972. He expanded the size of the church building to accommodate the growth of the parish. He established a Parish Council and made the necessary changes in the sanctuary in order to conform to the new liturgy set forth by Vatican II.
1975 Rev. George Earl Murdaugh, son of George and Mary Angela Murdaugh of Bryant, Arkansas, was the first son of Our Lady of Fatima parish to be ordained to the priesthood in 1975.
1980 Father John A. Janesko came to us in an exchange between the two priest from Holy Rosary Parish in Stuttgart. He improved our facilities greatly with air conditioning, insulation, and landscaping, but the most significant accomplishment has been the development of the parish as a family, loving and caring for one another.
1985 Father James E. Mancini became the fifth pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish. Under Father Jim, more expansions and renovations of the church took place. Father Mancini was also instrumental in getting the parish involved in the Renew Movement.
1994 On May 21 – the Feast of Pentecost - parishioner Phillip Reaves, son Boise and the late Gordon Reaves was ordained, at the Cathedral, to the priesthood for service in the Diocese of Little Rock. One of first sacraments celebrate by Fr. Reaves was the baptism of Ashley Christine White, daughter of Alexander and Billie Jo White, on May 22. Father Reaves was assigned to Christ the King Parish in Little Rock.
1994 Father John Marconi became Our Lady of Fatima’s sixth pastor. While he was here, Father John celebrated his 10th anniversary to the priesthood. Under Father John’s leadership, a parish-wide pledge campaign was begun to begin construction on the new educational facility.
1996 In the fall of 1996, classes were held for the first time in the new Our Lady of Fatima School building. A Mass and dedication service and blessing of the new facility was held by Bishop Andrew J. McDonald (Diocese of Little Rock.)
1998 Due to a shortage of teaching sisters in Jonesboro, Our Lady of Fatima School said good-bye to the Olivetan Benedictine Sisters at a reception honoring them which was held on Sunday, May 17, 1998.
1998 In June of 1998 Father Michael E. Bass came to Benton to serve as Our Lady of Fatima’s seventh pastor. Under Father Michael’s leadership, the education building’s debt was paid off and much additional property surrounding the church/school has been purchased to increase the campus. In the summer of 1998, Father Michael converted the rectory into church offices, and the former-convent is now the parish rectory.
1998 Parishioner Jennifer Humphries, daughter of Roy Humphries and Rita Brown, entered the Dominican Order of St. Cecilia Convent in Nashville, Tennessee, on August 8, 1998 followed with her Perpetual Vows on August 8, 2005.
2000 In the spring of 2000, the Diocese of Little Rock ordained a new Bishop, J. Peter Sartain. One of Bishop Sartains first acts as Bishop of Little Rock was to bless the new Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel that was started at Our Lady of Fatima Parish.
2002 In May 2002, seminarian Salvador Marquez-Munos, son of Salvador Marquez-Marquez and Leticia Munoz-Sanchez, was ordained to the transitional diaconate at Our Lady of Fatima Church.
2002 In the winter of 2002, renovations began by Bartlett Architecture on the existing McGinnis Hall. The newly renovated facility now houses a 20-station IBM computer lab, the school library, a meeting/conference room, a modern kitchen and cafeteria, a remodeled gymnasium, as well as much needed storage spaces.
2002 In December 2002, Gilbert Morgan was ordained as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Little Rock at Christ the King Church in West Little Rock.
2003 On June 7, 2003, Father Salvador Marquez-Munos, son of Salvador Marquez-Marquez and Leticia Munoz-Sanchez, was ordained as a diocesan priest at Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock by Bishop J. Peter Sartain. His celebrated his first Mass at Our Lady of Fatima on June 8, 2003. Father Salvador was assigned to serve St. Edwards Parish in Little Rock.
2003 On September 13, 2003, Bishop J. Peter Sartain celebrated Mass and joined the Parish as we celebrated her 50th anniversary as a Parish. At this time, he also blessed and rededicated McGinnis Hall.
2003 On October 4, 2003, parishioner Matthew Garrison was ordained as a transitional deacon at St. Edwards’ Church in Texarkana, Arkansas.
2004 On May 29, Parishioner G. Matthew Garrison, son of Gary and Betty Garrison, was ordained to the priesthood at Christ the King for service in the Diocese of Little Rock. Fr. Garrison said his first Mass of Thanksgiving at Our Lady of Fatima on May 30, 2004.
2005 Our Lady of Fatima’s Hispanic population continued to grow, leading to the addition of a Saturday evening Spanish Mass or Spanish Word and Communion service.
2008 In the fall of 2008, Father Michael Bass left Our Lady of Fatima to serve the parish of Christ the King in Little Rock.
2008 In October of 2008, Father William Elser was appointed Pastor at Our Lady of Fatima. For the first time in the history of Our Lady of Fatima parish, we were appointed an Associate Pastor – Father Joseph Ejimofor.
2009 In October of 2009, Father William Elser left for an extended sabbatical due to health issues.
2009 In October of 2009, Our Lady of Fatima School celebrated its 50th anniversary with a Mass and dinner celebration in McGinnis Hall. Visitors from the early parish and school were on hand to speak, as well as the founding Sisters from Holy Angels Convent.
2009 On March 11, 2009, Father Joseph Ejimofor was named Pastor of Our Lady of Fatima.
2010 Our Lady of Fatima Parish’s Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration celebrates her 10th anniversary with a special celebratory Mass offered by Bishop Anthony B. Taylor. Special events were also held throughout the week as we prayed for the priests of our diocese during the Year for the Priest.