The Catholic Church has been established in the city of Huntsville ever since 1824. Rev. Jeremiah Tracy, the founder of St. Mary of the Visitation Church, rode a horse back circuit from Chattanooga to Memphis as a missionary.
On September 8, 1958, 12.38 acres of land were sold by Mrs. Antha Mae Grizzard to Archbishop Thomas J. Toolen. This land had formerly belonged to Susie Glenn Baxer before it was sold in 1928 to Mrs. Grizzard, wife of Hugh E. Grizzard, who was once a bookkeeper at the First National Bank of Huntsville.
By 1965 the problem of the acute shortage of space at Visitation parish caused by the city’s every increasing population was believed to have been solved when its pastor, Monsignor John A. McGonegle, became pastor of the newly formed church, Holy Spirit.
In 1965, Father James Wathan became the new spiritual head of Visitation. Within two years of Father Wathan’s transfer to Huntsville, he was chosen by the Archbishop to become the first pastor of the new church that would be located on the former Grizzard property. Under his direction, the church and adjoining school were constructed.
By the summer of 1967, the building was completed. Father Wathan and his assistant, Father Joseph McDevitt, both of whom were still at Visitation said Mass there at that time.
The new church was formally established in November 1967, and was called ‘Our Lady, Queen of the Universe’ with the idea of Huntsville, the ‘Space City,’ in mind. Father Wathan was officially named pastor. An assistant Father James Touhy who had served Father Wathan in the same capacity in Gadsden came to the parish the following year. By 1968 a parish council was established to assist the pastor with the spiritual and temporal concerns of the church community.
Opening in 1967, the school continued to grow with all of the elementary grades being included by 1970. In spite of the attempts by several pastors, the parish was not able to maintain the solvency of the school, and it was closed by Bishop Vath in the late Spring of 1980.
Father Patrick Tierney became the pastor of our church on September 1, 1981. The elimination of the remaining debt was formally celebrated by the public burning of the mortgage on Sunday, July 11, 1982. The renovation of the present Sanctuary was done and Our Lady, Queen of the Universe was officially dedicated as a Church on April 16, 1983.
In 1986, renovations were made to the church facilities. [Prior to this, the only renovation done was refurbishing the school dining room area into a beautiful place of worship]. The carpeting was laid, the stonework behind the altar was completed, and all the sanctuary furnishings were built. In undertaking this work, the parish was changed from a temporary newborn community to a Catholic Christian Community moving into adulthood.
Changes were also made to the classrooms to create a parish hall, a central area for social and business meetings. The walls were knocked out and parquet floorings were laid so that there could be more room to meet together. Other old classrooms were repainted and re-carpeted.
Stained glass windows were installed in the church. The sixteen panels reflect different events in both the Old and New Testaments and have been carefully and lovingly prepared by a small band of enthusiasts. By their own admission, they knew very little about stained glass techniques. When the sun catches the stained glass panels late in the afternoon or early in the morning, the glory of God splashed in beautiful colors all over the church can be seen. The new roof is also an example of a church enhancement.
Father Tim Burns was the pastor at Queen for 12 years, from July 1987 until July 1999. The parish experienced immense growth both physically and spiritually during that time. He was transferred to St. Francis of Assisi Church in Talladega as pastor; and priest for St. Jude in Sylacauga and Holy Name of Jesus in Childersberg. A few months after Father Tim’s transfer, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. On December 1, 1999, he left this world for his eternal reward. This was too much for the parishioners of Our Lady, Queen of the Universe, and a vigil service was held on December 3, 1999. The Funeral Mass followed on the next day, December 4, at the Cathedral of Saint Paul, in Birmingham, Alabama.
Father Albert Fisher became pastor on July 1, 1999 and remained until July 1, 2002. He said good-bye to the parish to go to Savannah, Georgia, as a chaplain at the hospital. He did this so that he could take care of his ailing mother. It was during Father Albert’s time that Pastoral Council was formed.
On July 1, 2002, Father Joy Chalissery became pastor. He arrived from St. Francis of Assisi in Talladega, St. Jude in Sylacauga, and Holy Name of Jesus in Childersburg. He guided the parish to development and spiritual wellbeing. The parish functions as an active and vibrant family of faith through more than 240 volunteers in 37 ministries. He served the parish the longest tenure as the pastor. In his 13 years: the Church was remodeled, new parish hall with a professional kitchen was built, and a new office complex was built. A pavilion for picnics and gatherings was added. Fr. Joy Chalissery left OLQU to St. John’s in Madison to begin a new parish community.
On July 1st, 2015 Fr. Joy Thomas Nellissery was assigned as the new pastor. With the active involvement of the various ministries, both the spiritual and social life of the Parish continue to improve day by day, binding all the members together in the spirit of a true Family of God. The powerful guidance of Blessed Mother our Patroness is felt in the development of the parish.
On January 2, 2017, Fr. Davis Koottala will carry on where Fr. Joy Thomas Nellissery leaves off as Fr. Nellissery returns home to service his home diocese.
Fr. Joy Chalissery, Fr. Joy Thomas Nellissery, and Fr. Davis Koottala are originally from the diocese of Irinjalakuda, India, serving the diocese of Birmingham on a contract set up between the two dioceses. The contract was established as a solution to the shortage of priests in the diocese of Birmingham.
The parish is very generous in their ministries dealing with the physical and spiritual needs of the community in Northwest Huntsville. Financial support has extended to Catholic Charities and Catholic Family services. Through the dedicated volunteers of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, material goods are provided.
The volunteers visit the sick, shut-ins and the hospitalized, bringing them companionship and the Body of Christ. Through the Prayer Line, prayers and offerings of Hope are provided for those in time of Crisis.
With the active involvement of the Pastoral Council, Finance Committee and various other ministries, both the spiritual and social life of the parish are enhanced day by day binding all the members together in the spirit of a True Family of God. The powerful guidance of a Loving God is felt in the growth of the parish.