History

Rev. Claude Thion, circa 1870
Rev. Claude Marie Thion, circa 1870.

St Joseph Catholic Church is one of the oldest parishes in North Texas. It was one of eight churches established in the region between 1872 and 1890. This flurry of church development in North Texas was part of a larger effort by the bishop of Galveston to serve the fast-growing Catholic population in the state. Between 1840 and 1880 the number of Catholics living in Texas increased from 40,000 to 150,000, an increase that mirrored general population growth in the area, particularly in the post-Civil War years. To serve a diverse population of Mexican, European, and Anglo-American Catholics, the bishop recruited heavily from Europe, bringing in Catholic congregations of men and women. Catholic immigrants arrived in Waxahachie in the 1860s and early 1870s to construct the courthouse and to work on the railroads that served the area. These Catholics, many of them Irish, practiced their faith at home in between visits from missionary priests who traveled through the area once or twice a year to say mass and to administer the sacraments. In 1874 the bishop assigned Father Claude Marie Thion to minister to Catholics in Ellis and Hill counties. Around this same time, Father Pierre Francois Chandy was assigned by the bishop to serve Catholics in Navarro and McClellan counties. The two priests shared living quarters in Corsicana where a Catholic church had been constructed two years earlier in 1872. From this base, the two men traveled hundreds of miles each month on horseback to serve their parishioners. Father Thion served Waxahachie Catholics through the late 1880s.

Along with Father Thion’s assignment to Ellis County in 1874, the diocese purchased three lots of land between College and Jackson Streets. John Solon, Peter Cogley, and Peter Laughlin, Irish stonemasons or plasterers who had moved to Waxahachie to work on the courthouse, constructed a small brick church, measuring 26 feet wide by 56 feet long. A small classroom for religious education and a cemetery were constructed behind the church, which was located just north of the courthouse. The church is one of eight identified sites on an 1876 map of Waxahachie. A second map of the city, produced ten years later, shows the addition of a small cross on the steeple.

By 1890 there were an estimated 15,000 Catholics living in North Texas. The area boasted twenty-five churches, seventeen priests, three hospitals, five academies for girls, three boarding schools for boys, one orphanage, and eight convents. This significant growth is all the more incredible when you consider that the first recorded mass in Dallas had been celebrated barely thirty years earlier in 1859 at the home of carriage maker Maxime Guillot. The tremendous population growth in North Texas, as well as the rest of Texas, led Bishop Gallagher of the Galveston diocese to propose that North Texas be separated from the diocese of Galveston. In March 1890, Bishop Gallagher presented his plan to a meeting of bishops in New Orleans. The request was then forwarded to Rome where it was approved in July of that same year.

The old wooden church on East Marvin Avenue.
The first church on East Marvin Avenue.

The Catholic population in Waxahachie had doubled in size by the time the Dallas diocese was established. The small brick church could no longer serve the needs of the parishioners. The church was also in poor condition. In 1892 the bishop of Dallas sold the church property to the Methodists for $1,500 and subsequently purchased four and one-half acres on Marvin Street. The old church was torn down, though the cornerstone and part of the foundation was saved for use in the new church. The bodies in the cemetery behind the original church were moved to the city cemetery. Father Thomas Coyne oversaw the construction of the new wood-frame church, which was dedicated in August 1892. Soon after the church was completed, parishioners constructed a small wood-frame rectory adjacent to the church. Parishioners hoped that in constructing a permanent structure to house clergy a resident pastor might be assigned to the church. In 1895 that hope was realized when the diocese appointed Father J. J. Dolje as the first resident pastor of the church. In addition to serving the Catholics of St Joseph, Father Dolje served missions in Hillsboro, Itasca, Mansfield, and Britton, visiting each of these missions once a month by rail.

In the first half of the twentieth century, the number of Catholics in Texas continued to increase as a result of a variety of economic, political, and religious influences that brought a steady flow of immigrants into Texas. Despite this steady growth, the Catholic Church also experienced setbacks, most notably the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, a nativist movement opposing Catholics, Jews, African Americans, and other “foreign” elements. In 1923 the Klan boasted 150,000 members in North Texas. Although the Catholic community suffered from the religious intolerance of the Klan, Catholic priests and laity, including the Knights of Columbus, were instrumental in defending the Catholic church against the Klan.

512 East Marvin
The second church on East Marvin Avenue.

The Catholic community of St Joseph also increased. By 1953, the parish had one hundred families. A parish committee was formed to make plans for a larger and more substantial church to serve the growing community. Using the cornerstone from the original church, the third church was completed in late 1954 under the direction of Father William Botick. The church was dedicated in May 1955. The wood-frame church and the rectory were relocated to the rear of the new church; the old church was used as a parish hall with a kitchen facility while the rectory was converted into four teaching areas and a nursery.

Father David Colello, some of the younger St Joseph School children and the school bus.

The church experienced steady growth in the second half of the twentieth century. In 1973 a new parish hall and education facility were dedicated. St Joseph Catholic School opened in 1992. In 1994 the church began to make plans to build a new church, the fourth in the history of the parish, as the parish community, which numbered nearly 2,000 people, had outgrown the existing church. Although efforts to construct the church stalled, the Parish Family Center was completed in the spring of 2001 and by that fall the PFC was used for the regular weekend mass schedule.

Since 2000 the parish community has increased to more than 2,100 families, totaling nearly 7,000 parishioners. Efforts to construct a new church were finally realized in 2015, when under the leadership of Father Martin Moreno, the parish community celebrated the groundbreaking for the new church.

Julie Holcomb