Monday, October 9, 2023
Marcy Knight - Florida Catholic
FORT LAUDERDALE | Muriel Conroy, a devout Catholic, celebrated her 100th birthday July 18. Her life journey is inextricably linked with the history of St. Pius X Church, where she has been a dedicated parishioner since its inception. She even had a hand in designing one of its stained-glass windows.
Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll established St. Pius X as a parish in 1959, just a few months after the Archdiocese of Miami came into existence. The permanent church was completed in December 1960, and Muriel was one of its original parishioners. She and her husband had relocated from Teaneck, New Jersey, in 1958, and their friends introduced them to the burgeoning faith community.
Muriel’s own spiritual journey was influenced by her family's diverse religious backgrounds. Her mother was Catholic, her father a Mason. Growing up, she witnessed her parents' mutual respect for each other's faith, a lesson she believes the world needs more of today. In her heart, Muriel said, she longed to embrace Catholicism, a decision driven by her deep-seated faith and the unity it brought to her family.
St. Pius X’s first pastor was Father Joseph Cronin, a man remembered fondly by Muriel as a wonderful pastor with a gracious demeanor and a great sense of Irish humor. His charm endeared him to everyone he met. Her husband, who shared Irish heritage with Father Cronin, felt a deep connection to the church as well.
During the construction of St. Pius X Church, Sunday Masses were held in unconventional venues. The initial gatherings took place at the Marie Antoinette Dinner Club on A1A, a French restaurant adorned with nude statues. To maintain a sense of reverence, the dedicated women of the parish would discreetly cover the statues before each Mass. Eventually, the Masses relocated to the second floor of the Beach Club, located at Oakland Park Blvd. and A1A, a spot now occupied by condominiums. Despite the makeshift settings, the turnout for these Masses was always heartwarming.
When the church building was finally completed, a special memorial celebration marked its consecration. Each attendee received a silver coin bearing the date of the first Mass, a cherished memento that still elicits nostalgia in Muriel, even if she couldn't find her own coin. The church quickly became a hub of spiritual activity, often filled to capacity. To secure a seat, one had to arrive early.
Muriel recalled a humorous anecdote from those early days when the parish was without a safe. The Sunday collection was stowed away in the freezer until it could be securely deposited in the bank the following morning.
In the spirit of community building, Father Cronin established the Women's Club in October 1959. Muriel remembers attending the inaugural meeting held at the rectory across from the church. During this meeting, Father Cronin announced a unique method for selecting the club's president — the last woman to arrive would be given the honor. Sue Brennan graciously accepted the honor.
Thursday nights held a special significance for the Women's Club, as they gathered in various homes to plan their activities. One of their primary focuses was the annual holiday bazaar, an event that required year-round preparation. Muriel remembers how club members diligently crafted items to sell at the bazaar, and their collective efforts generated substantial funds for parish.
In 1978, the Women’s Club president, Helen Mahla, appointed Muriel, along with two other members, Gertrude Arthur and Eleanor Gallagher, to design a stained-glass window for the church. Their design, depicting St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena, was approved, and a company in South Carolina was commissioned to create the stained glass. However, upon its arrival, a minor mishap was discovered — the letter "e" was missing from St. Catherine's name.
Muriel humorously speculated, "Maybe the stained-glass company needed the 'e' for a different glass they were making."
For a quarter of a century, Muriel has been a dedicated extraordinary minister of Communion at St. Pius X. Her unwavering commitment to the church has been a constant throughout her life. She said it provides her with a profound sense of comfort and a feeling of being spiritually embraced.
On July 16, 2023, the parish celebrated a special Mass in honor of Muriel's 100th birthday, acknowledging her enduring dedication to the faith community that has been her spiritual home for so long.
As she reflects on her century of life, Muriel imparts a simple yet profound message to everyone: Embrace your religion and look back on it with gratitude.