Live Oak County Judge: Honorable Jim Huff
Live Oak County Historical Commission Chair: Ross Harris
LOCHC Marker Chair: Richard Hudson
Assistant Chair: Janis Hudson
St. George Marker Sponsor: St. George Catholic Church - George West, Texas
St. George Catholic Church - George West Texas Historic Subject Marker text:
ST. GEORGE CATHOLIC CHURCH, GEORGE WEST
TEXT TO BE ANNOUNCED AT THE UNVEILING ON THE GROUNDS OF ST. GEORGE CATHOLIC CHURCH, GEORGE WEST 3:30 PM SATURDAY AFTERNOON NOVEMBER 17.
APPLICATION NARRATIVE and BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR ST. GEORGE CATHOLIC CHURCH, GEORGE WEST OFFICIAL TEXAS HISTORICAL SUBJECT MARKER:
Saint George Catholic Church, George West, Texas
Saint George Catholic Church in George West, Texas and its missions are deeply rooted in European, Mexican, and other world immigration as revealed by history and current congregations. Their history began in Spanish Texas. Two Ramirez brothers obtained ranchland in the area now known as Live Oak County. They fled when attacked by bands of marauding Lipan Indians. Between the Ramirez experience [See 3rd par in link] and Irish colonization, neither Spanish nor Mexican grantees settled the area. Live Oak was simply an ox cart passageway to and from Mexico and destinations beyond. 
By 1821, the Mexican state of Coahuila and Texas opened for settlement. Mexico promoted settlement with land grants. From 1824 and 1830, all missions still existing in Texas were officially secularized, except for El Paso. No records attest to missions in Live Oak County area during this period.
In 1828, Coahuila and Texas granted a colonization contract to Empresarios John McMullen and James McGloin to settle 200 Irish Catholic immigrants. During the years from Mexico’s independence to South Texas’ colonization, still no Catholic churches or formal religious activities existed in the Live Oak County area. However, Irish Catholics left their native Ireland and came to Mexican Texas to escape the persecution of Catholics, poverty from Ireland’s potato famine, and British confiscation of Irish property. Irish Catholics came to a place where their religious beliefs and associated culture could be respected and where land ownership offered opportunity.
McMullen and McGloin sought Irish Catholic immigrants from New York and Ireland to establish the colony of San Patricio, named after Saint Patrick patron saint of Ireland. By 1831, Irish immigrants and a few families from Mexico applied for land grants in the colony. Communities such as Fox Nation (later Gussettville), Echo, and Barlow's Ferry (Later Dinero) grew in spite of hardships. Delayed by Mexican politics, property ownership was consummated circa 1835 though some were already living on land expected to become theirs. Live Oak County was separated from San Patricio by the Texas Legislature in 1856.
In 1829 Gussettville, the first Catholic Church in the area was built using materials from a small wooden building and converted into a chapel. It stood between two live oak trees. “Margaret Dolan Lewis baked Altar Bread between two flat irons.” A second building, formally established as Saint Joseph Church (Photo 1), was dedicated on July 28, 1878, a mission of San Patricio. St. Joseph's served the area until Saint George was built in George West. Saint Joseph’s was St. George's mission sponsor.
Polish immigrants journeyed from Poland to Karnes County, South Texas under direction of Father Leopold Moczygemba in 1854. “Their feasts and festivals were bound up in the Catholic Church.” Their descendants, in the next century, played a pivotal role in the need for and creation of Saint George Catholic Church in George West, Texas.
In 1880, George Washington West, well known cattleman and trail driver, and his wife, Kitty, purchased large tracts of land and moved to Live Oak County. Their cattle business went well for a while. By 1904, George and Kitty moved to San Antonio. Around 1910, George turned Live Oak County efforts toward colonization and town development He spared no expense in getting a railroad, waterworks, and business people to populate his namesake town.
In the 1830’s Irish, Polish, and German immigrants moved into San Patricio area where George West (Photo 2) would ranch and build his town. As kindred immigrants came, they formed small communities. To meet religious obligations, families traveled to Gussettville for Mass because it was the only Catholic Church in Live Oak County.
By 1913, Charles Tips, a fifth generation German from Seguin, Texas, began building Three Rivers ten miles north of where George West was building his town. The Seguin area was largely populated by German farmers. Many came to Three Rivers with Tips. Some Mexican families who worked for Tips also settled there. Catholics had to travel to find a place of worship.
Unimproved roads and extended travel time made churches closer to family homes important. As railroads came, early towns died. New towns sprang up. So, too, came the clergymen. Reverend Harold Purcell answered the call in 1915 to pastor a mission in George West, 1915. The only available meeting place was under construction and had no roof. Nevertheless, families brought their own chairs or benches. A renewed missionary spirit like the one in early “Fox Nation” ensued.
On May 17, 1915, West deeded to Right Reverend Paul J. Nussbaum, Bishop of Corpus Christi, Lot No. 7 and 8, Block No.16 located at the corner of Crockett and Guadalupe Street. Construction began in 1916. Chosen architect was William Stephenson from Beeville, Texas. His daughter, Winifred, would soon marry J.F. Goodwin, grandson of Irish immigrants to Fox Nation and Gussettville. They are ancestors of many now living in Live Oak County. Henry Kring was the contractor. A 1916 hurricane destroyed the unfinished walls requiring a rebuild from the foundation.
When completed, the new church (Photo 3) was 70 feet in length, 32 feet in width, made of cinder block, wood trim and composition roof. It had a rear two-room apartment upstairs above the sacristy where sacred vessels and vestments were kept, and clergy dressed. It was accessed by an outside stairway. When Reverend Purcell left in 1918, the debt was paid and the building complete.
An altar and organ were donated by the Catholic Church Extension Society, church bell by Mary Goodwin, and at the request of Emma Tullis, an altar rail was built and gifted by her. West donated folding chairs used until twenty pews were installed with nameplates denoting those who paid for them.
The George West church and Saint Joseph’s were designated mission churches in 1916, by the Most Reverend Paul J. Nussbaum, Bishop of the Diocese of Corpus Christi. A priest came monthly as weather permitted to celebrate Mass and attend spiritual needs of parishioners. By February 1924 all lots in Block 16 of the townsite were acquired by Saint George through donations.
Among other European immigrants West brought to his town were Moravian Czechs. “Perhaps as many as 90 percent of the Czech immigrants were Catholics in their homeland. The majority of these maintained an allegiance to the Catholic Church in Texas.” The Joseph Repka family immigrated to Wilson County, Texas from Moravia in 1913. West requested Joseph’s services as a blacksmith. Even though relatively new immigrants in 1925, the Repka’s had Czech relatives in Texas from its early days. Their surnames are easily confused with Polish, but like the Polish, German, Irish, and Mexicans, many would find a home in Saint George Catholic Church, or the new mission in Three Rivers.
Reverend Buckley received approval, to name the church Saint George in honor of the Italian Saint, and to recognize George West for his contribution. The neighboring Sacred Heart Church (Photo 4) in Three Rivers was completed in 1920 and on October 1, 1924, was designated a Saint George mission.
Before Sacred Heart, Catholics living in Three Rivers went to Tilden, Gussettville, or George West to worship. The Albert Byrnes and Olga Moreno were pioneers of the Three Rivers Church. Jesse LeGatte, an active member of Three Rivers’ Township Company and a director of the Three Rivers Bank donated cash and two lots as a Christmas gift on December 24, 1919. Other donors came forward to make Sacred Heart a reality. Reverend William Kinlough was later sent from George West to pastor Sacred Heart.
Religious instruction for Saint George parish children began upon completion of the Saint George building in 1918 and was held on Saturdays from 8:30 A.M. until 4:30 P.M. Thelma Lindholm (1898-1992), one of the first teachers, continued that schedule until 1930. Later instruction was held Sunday mornings after Mass. After 1930 Thelma held classes for Mexican-American children.
To keep changing clergy aware of the connection between Saint George in George West, and missions, Saint Joseph at Gussettville and Sacred Heart in Three Rivers, Thelma became the church historian. She documented accomplishments of every priesthood at Saint George and the missions. Her records encompass beginning Catholic work in Live Oak until 1983. Since that, others maintain Saint George history through recorded oral histories and documentation. Thelma made significant contributions to the church until her final days.
Reverend William H. Oberste began in 1929 and was instrumental in suggesting the need for a parish cemetery. After Reverend Bernard G. Corbin came, a donation by Ignatz Chlebek and his wife resulted in Saint George Cemetery (Photo 5). Until then Catholics buried their loved ones at Saint Joseph’s or in family plots. The first person to be interred in Saint George Cemetery was Bernard Katzfey, grandfather of current parishioners of the church.
Reverend Albert H. Schmitt was assisted by Reverend Herbert Buckholt at Saint George from 1940 to 1944. They had the sorrowful position of officiating World War II burial services for many Live Oak County men who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Reverend William Kinlough, from Ireland, became Bukholt’s assistant. Both priests attended spiritual needs of missions, Saint Joseph at Gussettville and Sacred Heart in Three Rivers.
Reverend Kinlough immediately recognized minimal Hispanic participation in Sunday Mass and other church activities. He and his young acolytes began early evening prayer sessions and Rosary recitation in many Barrio homes of elderly Hispanics. This action welcomed the Hispanic community into full religious practice in a church home at Saint George. Public School desegregation helped greatly in mitigating church and community discrimination.
On March 9, 1945, J.H. and Lucy Elliott, conveyed to Bishop E.B. Ledvina all of Lot Numbers 7, 8, and 9, Block Number 13 of the townsite. During Reverend Bockholt’s tenure, Saint George’s population increased so that it was necessary to plan construction for a larger church.
In 1949, the old Bartlett home was moved across the street and continued as the rectory. Building began in 1949 under the guidance of Reverend Aloysius (Louis) J. Ordner with Reverend Kinlough still assistant. The new church was constructed at the former site of the rectory. The new rectory was to be between the new church and old one.
Gus Kaase (1915-1959), converted parishioner and rock mason, constructed beautiful white Austin stone walls. New structures were dedicated at Christmas Mass in 1950. Many adornments moved from the old church include beautiful statues re-painted by Louis Witt years ago. Upon completion of the new church, the old building became a church hall. Stellar architectural planning combined with Kaase’s dedication created a complex (Photo 6) with unity of design that continues in buildings today by Kaase’s son.
Reverend Anthony Goegele (1953-1966) was instrumental in raising funds for a parish school. Built in the northwest corner of Block 13, it contained five classrooms. At the onset, it was staffed by the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, a religious order originating in Germany. They provided two nuns from the Motherhouse in Old Saint Mary’s near Rockport. Thelma Lindholm (Photo 7), Verna Hardin, and many others assisted.
The old “Hall”, as it is called, became the gathering place after Sunday morning Mass for coffee, light breakfasts, visiting, and storytelling. Several groups of Altar Society ladies assigned each month oversaw and provided food and pastries. The greatest satisfaction was evident by smiles of ladies who took home empty containers. Cooking competition was fierce.
Damage when the eye of Hurricane Celia passed over the town on the night of August 3, 1970 truly showed the faith and grit of Saint George Parishioners. The old church was destroyed and had to be rebuilt (Photo 8). Reverend Matthew Lyng a native of Ireland (1969-1978) led as parishioners adjusted and raised money to complete the effort.
In 1972 under the leadership of Reverend Lyng, the Saint Vincent De Paul Society organized. Gonzalo Peña, trusted pastoral assistant, was elected President, Thelma Lindholm, secretary. The organization is still active and helps families in need.
Saint George joins in numerous community efforts. Churches in George West host a luncheon for senior adults every Wednesday. Seniors look forward to Wednesday’s at Saint George because they receive a warm welcome and great food.
Saint George Parishioners are visible in civic organizations and support other local churches and government. Their participation is reciprocated. On various occasions, the Parish Hall opens with delicious barbeques, chicken and dressing, and other meals prepared by parishioners. Men barbeque steak and chicken all day Saturday and Sunday morning preparing a $10.00 plate meal. Women work all week preparing side dishes, accoutrement, and desserts. People from all churches and neighboring towns head that way when their services are over.
Numerous priests moved into significant Catholic positions after leaving Saint George. Reverend Albert Schmitt (1936-1944) became the Chancellor of the Corpus Christi Diocese and Pastor of Corpus Christi Cathedral. Reverend Michael Howell (1990-1994) joined the teaching staff at Saint Thomas Seminary in Houston. Reverend Joseph Olikkara (2002-2009) was made Chaplain of Christus Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi. Reverends William Kinlough (1945-1950) and Louis Ordner (1949-1953) both became Monsignors.
For the last one hundred years, parishioners of Saint George Catholic Church of George West, Texas continue to preserve the heritage they find in the life of Christ. Descendants of foreign born immigrants from Europe, Mexico, and other world countries join in a diverse congregation. Forefathers of these descendants braved treacherous ocean waters to come to this land. Once on American or Mexican land, they overcame arduous overland obstacles to reach their destination.
Original Mexican land grants to the area required Catholic affiliation. However, the Mexican government was not able to support or enforce the requirement. Lack of support was overcome and strengthened with the advent of Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church in Gussettville.
Later generations relocated to the new town of George West, Texas. With roots from Ireland, Mexico, Poland, Czheckoslavakia, and Germany. Catholics in this new town also sought a place to share common religious beliefs and practices (Photo 9). Saint George Catholic Church of George West, with beginning donations from the town’s benefactor, George West, became the place. Other donations came and continue from members of the community and Catholic organizations.
Admonished to love others as one loves self, St. George takes perpetual care of their facility making it a church home for priests and parishioners. Youngsters through seniors in high school are taught religious foundation. Organizations for all age and gender groups are designed for religious growth. Loved ones can be buried in sanctified grounds at St. George Cemetery, managed by its own council. Numerous pastors recognized for strong leadership are given even more responsibility when they leave St. George. The strength of their leadership continues to bolster growth and stability in St. George Catholic Church.
A number of church leaders serve in responsible positions for city government such as Mayor, City Manager, Council members, and law enforcement. Various members own businesses and contribute to town events and needs. St. Vincent De Paul Society donates clothing, housing needs, and food to those in the community who need them. St. George joins churches of the community with senior adult activities.
Members of St. George also hold positions at different times in Live Oak County government from County Judge and Commissioners to Sheriff, Agriculture and other County appointed positions.
St. George continues to serve mission outreach at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and Cemetery near Old Gussettville. From 1920-1950, St. George was the mission affiliate for Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Three Rivers. After Sacred Heart became independent, Reverend William Kinlough from St. George moved into Sacred Heart’s resident pastor position.
The diverse oneness St. George parishioners experience in their church extends throughout the community of George West and Live Oak County.
The precepts of love and fellowship demonstrated by Jesus’ original apostles extend to community spirit in George West, Texas. From early roots of immigration, New Testament precepts guide Saint George Catholic Church in George West, Texas.
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The Honorable Jim Huff, County Judge for Live Oak County, welcomes you to the Live Oak County Historical Commission (LOCHC) Website. The Live Oak County Historical Commission is an arm of the Live Oak County Commissioners' Court; appointees are selected at the beginning of odd numbered years and serve two year terms. Judge Huff and the Live Oak County Commissioners support and approve actions of the LOCHC in coordination with the Texas Historical Commission (THC).
Live Oak County Commissioners:
Precinct 1: Richard Lee
Precinct 2: Donna Kopplin Mills
Precinct 3: Willie James
Precinct 4: Emilio Garza
The Commissioner's Court is committed to the preservation of our county's history. Judge Huff and your local commissioner welcome suggestions.