History of St. Paul

November, 1944

St. Thomas Church in south Memphis begins a missionary ministry to the Catholic residents of south Shelby County and north Mississippi. Rev. Paul Clunan takes charge of organizing the effort and finding a suitable location in Whitehaven.

December, 1944

Father Clunan celebrates the first Mass for the mission congregation at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Roy Gillia at Blanchard Road and Highway 51 South (later Elvis Presley Boulevard).

March 4, 1945

Rev. Angelo Lenzi is transferred from St. Mary’s in Nashville to the new Whitehaven parish. Sunday Mass continues in the Gillia home. The parish is named St. Paul the Apostle in honor of its founder, Father Paul Clunan.

April 16, 1945

Ground breaking at the site on Whitehaven-Capleville Road (later Shelby Drive) ½ mile east of Highway 51. The sanctuary of the hill-top red-brick church is designed to seat 320 worshipers with a residence apartment for the pastor at the rear of the building.

August 5, 1945

Father Lenzi celebrates the first Mass on the new property in the "crypt," the basement of the church still under construction above it.

December 25, 1946

The congregation of 72 families celebrates Christmas in the still unfinished "upper church" building.

September 29, 1947

Bishop William L. Adrian, Diocese of Nashville, dedicates the completed church.

June, 1949

Construction begins on a four room elementary school building. Nuns from the Sisters of Mercy order of Cincinnati arrive to begin teaching grades one through eight in the crypt beneath the church. They commute daily from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in mid-town Memphis until the former Foster family residence adjacent to the school is purchased and converted into a convent house in 1950.

June 15, 1953

Plans are approved and construction begins on a separate pastor’s residence. The new rectory site is located east of the church and is designed to accommodate visiting priests and parish organizational meetings.

October 29, 1953

Father Lenzi dies in an automobile accident. Rev. J. Harold Shea is assigned as interim administrator until the Bishop can appoint a permanent pastor.

February 4, 1954

Former U.S. Air Force chaplain, Rev. Major Edward J. Cleary assumes the duties of pastor, arriving while four more classrooms are being added to the elementary school building.

August 19, 1958

Architectural plans are prepared to add eight more school classrooms to accommodate the rapid growth of the Whitehaven community. Construction on the addition and for expansion of the rectory was approved by the Bishop and completed the following year.

April 1, 1961

A combination gymnasium and cafeteria building was added behind the school. Later in the same month, fifteen acres adjoining the property was purchased for construction of a new church and future high school.

December 31, 1962

Construction begins on a new church with seating for 1000 worshipers in the sanctuary and 100 in the choir loft.

June 1963

Six new classrooms are added to the school to begin a preschool program based on the Montessori educational methods. Nearly 100 children register for the first preschool classes.

June 25, 1964

Construction is completed on the new church building and worship services are moved from the old church. Eight Sunday Masses are consolidated into four, three in the morning and one in the evening. The Whitehaven community continues to grow and another Mass is added to the schedule during the following year. Construction begins on a 138,000 square foot building to serve 1,200 students who will attend Bishop Byrne High School.

November 20, 1964

The new church is blessed and dedicated by the Bishop.
Download PDF of the dedication booklet.

June 1965

A second Catholic parish in Whitehaven is founded when St. Joseph Church relocates from south Memphis. The Bishop defines geographical boundaries to apportion the community between the two parishes. 650 St. Paul School students are transferred to the new school at St. Joseph during the summer break. The St. Paul Sisters of Mercy also move to St. Joseph’s school to initiate classes at the start of the fall semester.

July 1965

As construction nears completion on Bishop Byrne High School, Rev. Thomas F. Cashin arrives to assume the start-up and organizational duties as the first Principal. Although "in residence" at the St. Paul rectory, and not officially assigned to the parish, Fr. Cashin shares celebrating the liturgy with the regular pastoral staff and assists in some of their other duties.

August 13, 1965

Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia arrive from Nashville to assume operation of St. Paul School. 900 students registered for classes in September. The sisters also augment the staffing of Bishop Byrne High School.


Fr. Cleary retires following a heart attack. Rev. Walter Bush assumes the pastoral duties for the next two years. A new convent house is built adjacent to Bishop Byrne High School.


Bishop Durrick, Diocese of Nashville, appoints Rev. Msgr. Theron J. Walker to be the new pastor. Msgr. Walker guides the parish during the transition into the newly created Diocese of Memphis the following year.


Construction is completed adding an office wing, additional residence area, and garage to the existing rectory.


Construction is completed on the Knights of Columbus "K C Hall" adjacent to the church.

February 1981

Rev. J. Leonard Oglesby comes to St. Paul parish to assist Msgr. Walker, whose health is progressively deteriorating.

April 1981

After six years on hemodialysis, Msgr. Walker is the first clergyman of the Diocese of Memphis to die while an active pastor. Fr. Oglesby serves as temporary pastor.

June 1981

Fr. Oglesby accepts the position of St. Paul pastor for the six years of duty he has remaining until his retirement.

July 8, 1987

Fr. Oglesby retires.

Rev. John B. McArthur (photo at left) is transferred from Paris, Tennessee, to be the new pastor.

August 16, 1993

The first Mass in memory of Elvis Presley is celebrated, beginning an annual tradition that has become very popular with both parishioners and tourists visiting Memphis for other "Elvis Week" activities. In more recent years, this memorial mass has been moved to August 15, and is now called the "Mass for the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, in Memory of Elvis Presley," and the mass intention for that day is for Elvis.

November 1994

St. Paul clergy and congregation celebrate the parish’s fiftieth anniversary.

February 2000

Fr. McArthur and the members of the Parish Council break ground for a Parish Family Center addition to the church, the first major construction project on the grounds since 1980.

February 20, 2000

Former parishioner, St. Paul School student, and Bishop Byrne alumnus, Rev. Peter Sartain is chosen to be the new Bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas.

July 5, 2000

Fr. McArthur bids St. Paul parishioners farewell as he leaves to assume the pastorship of St. Louis Church, the former parish of Bishop Peter Sartain.

Rev. Richard M. Gantert (photo at left) arrives from Our Lady of Sorrows in North Memphis to be the new pastor of St. Paul parish.

September 24, 2000

Bishop J. Terry Steib celebrates the noon mass with Father Rick and Father Murray, then dedicates and blesses our newly completed Parish Family Center. A barbecue "picnic" follows in the St. Paul School gymnasium.

November 2000

Father Jim Murray, our "retired in residence" Associate Pastor for the past several years, says goodbye to an appreciative and well-wishing congregation as he begins his real retirement at the Abbey in Cullman, Alabama.

June 12, 2002

Associate Pastor Father Jun Villaneuva gets a warm welcome from the St. Paul community on his arrival from the Philippine Islands.

August 2003

We bid farewell and best wishes to Father Greg as he takes a leave of absence. In his own words, "part of St. Paul goes with me," and part of him remains with St. Paul parish.

July 2004

Father Jun returns to the Philippines after two years of service as Associate Pastor. Father Jim Murray returns temporarily (out of retirement again!) to help the Parish while Father Rick is in Baltimore.

October 2004

The Parish welcomes Father Dennis Manzano from the Philippine Islands as our new Associate Pastor.

November 2005

Associate Pastor Father Richard Cortese arrives from St. Louis Parish when Father Rick must again travel to Baltimore for medical treatment.

April 19, 2006

All St. Paul Parish mourns as Father Rick Gantert loses his long battle with leukemia at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. His brother, sisters, and other family members share their loss with the parishioners in a memorial Mass celebrated by Bishop J. Terry Steib. Father John McArthur delivers a moving homily remembering his long-time friend.

July 2006

St. Paul welcomes Fr. Michael Werkhoven as Pastor and Fr. Benjamin Bradshaw as Associate Pastor.


Download a PDF document on our history.