A History of the Catholic Community of St. Joseph

Stoneham, Texas

St. Joseph Catholic Church was established in 1909 by a group of Polish-speaking immigrants from the Grimes Prairie, Stoneham and Plantersville areas. For many years, Stoneham’s Polish community worshipped either with the Polish community of St. Stanislaus in Anderson or with the Ukrainian-German community of St. Mary in Plantersville. In 1909, because of historical rivalries and antagonism rooted in the Old World and the arrival of a new pastor at St. Mary, the Polish community in the Stoneham area separated itself from the Plantersville community, joining itself with the Polish community of Anderson as a mission, and built its own sanctuary in the present location, under the spiritual leadership and jurisdiction of the Polish-speaking pastor of St. Stanislaus in Anderson. This arrangement would last until 1967 when jurisdiction would be transferred to St. Mary in Plantersville with St. Joseph as its Mission. This is the present status, uniting the communities of St. Mary and St. Joseph.

The land for the present location was purchased from Mrs. J.O. Stoneham. It was a ten acre tract just south of Stoneham, which was then a small, thriving community. The parishioners united and built a church of modified New England style prevalent and popular at the time, large enough to accommodate the growing Polish population migrating into the area. A small rectory was also built near the new church for a visiting priest to stay the night. Unfortunately, St. Joseph was never fortunate to have a resident pastor.

On July 19, 1909, the present property was, of course, deeded to the Right Rev. Nicholas Gallagher, Bishop of Galveston, which, at that time, comprised the entire State of Texas. Traveling to Stoneham, Bishop Gallagher dedicated the newly constructed church in 1910, with Fr. Markus Dombrowski of St. Stanislaus in Anderson as its first pastor and established it as a mission of Anderson. The cemetery was also established at this time. Records show that the first wedding celebrated was that of Tony Sechelski and Agnes Niscovits in 1910 and the first burial in the cemetery that of Michalena Filipak (Phillips) on May 13, 1910.

The responsibility of repaying the note, purchasing the present site, was assumed by thirty-one founding parishioners:

Stash Lebeck, Frank Phillips, W. Szymanski,

Mike Klavinski, Pete Yearek, Mike Phillips,

Stash Pavlick, S. J. Niszkiewicz, Jack Naskrent,

Frank Tomkievitz, Anton Smith, Lena Phillips,

Antoni Urbanoski, Charlie Wetooski, Mary Demney,

Wash Noak, Mike Grochett, Joe Shechinski,

W. T. Smith, Martin Niszkiewicz, Geo. Kuta,

S. H. Smith J. L. Yargo John Kleboski

Andrew Wietzkoie Frank Grochett Michael L. Pawlak

Teodor Pawlak Walter Demney Wash Piecznski

Cyril Winkler

During this period, Fr. Dombrowski [1910-1911] was succeeded by Fr. C.H. Wiesnerowski [1911-1912]. Fr. J.B. Gleissner [1912-1920], the pastor of St. Mary in Plantersville, also took time to take care of the spiritual needs of the faithful at St. Joseph. The celebration of Holy Mass was sporadic, with the congregation called together when the priest arrived. Baptisms and weddings were celebrated and recorded in the church of Anderson. Finally, in 1920, with the arrival of Fr. N.T. Domanski [1920-1955] as pastor of St. Stanislaus, a regular celebration of Holy Mass once a month was implemented. The sermon was given first in Polish and repeated in English, a common practice in many immigrant communities. Only after the children of these first arrivals started school and became fluent in English, did the parents begin to understand and speak the language of this country. The situation was the same in the community of St. Mary, with a German-speaking pastor and congregation. The language barrier and cultural differences would divide the two communities only six-and-a-half miles apart. The link between St. Stanislaus/Anderson and St. Joseph/Stoneham would last until 1962. Fr. T.W. Kappe [1955-1960] was the last pastor of St. Stanislaus assigned to care for the faithful of St. Joseph. When Fr. Kappe died on January 16, 1976, he requested that he be buried at St. Joseph under the large cross in the cemetery. He is at the present the only priest whose body lies at St. Joseph Cemetery awaiting the Resurrection on the Last Day.

In 1962, when Fr. Tom Wendland [1962-1967] was assigned as pastor of St. Mary in Plantersville, the Mission of St. Joseph was transferred to its care. This is an indication that the original language and cultural differences were healing, with both communities becoming truly American.

In 1967, Fr. Leroy Braden succeeded Fr. Wendland and initiated a complete renovation of the interior of St. Joseph. This was typical of the times following Vatican Council II [1960-1965] when many traditional church sanctuaries were renovated to accommodate the new Liturgy. Renovation was welcomed by the parishioners because the church was in great need of repair and strongly advocated by the pastor. Unfortunately, as in many cases of such renovation, little care was taken of the history of the church and linking the old with the new. As a result, the Main Altar, which in the old photographs seems to be a hand-made, Texas primitive Altar, was removed and burned. The side altars were also placed on the burn pile. Thanks to the heroic action of Mrs. Helen Mock, one side altar was saved and is now seen on the right side of the sanctuary near the Baptismal font. The Statue of St. Joseph was retained in the newly renovated church and placed on a high pedestal where the Main Altar once stood. The other statues were in storage, with plans to eventually bury them, which is the practice for unused/unwanted religious items. Again, thanks to the heroic thoughtfulness of two parishioners, Mrs. Laura Sechelski and Mrs. Sechelski Nowak, the statues were rescued from such a fate and respectfully and devotedly kept in their homes until they graciously returned them when the restoration of the church was undertaken in 2001. Mrs. Sechelski and her family enjoyed the presence of the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Mother. Mrs. Nowak and her family awakened to the image of the Risen Christ. A promise has been made to the families that should any future renovation of the church be considered, the statues would be returned. In the 1968 renovation, the windows in the Sanctuary, the choir loft and those on either side of the front doors were eliminated and covered over. The ceilings were lowered with acoustical tiles, with the air-conditioning/heating system running the length of the side aisles and fluorescent lighting added. A walnut-color paneling was installed over the beaded board throughout the church, giving it a rather dark character. Contemporary furnishings replaced the old. The Stations of the Cross were replaced with a very contemporary design. The Paschal Candle stand is now the only article of liturgical use that remains of the 1968 renovation, being in memory of the Busa Family.

The original windows of the church were clear glass. In time, an amber class was installed, which can still be seen in the side sacristies. In the early 1990’s, Fr. Eugene J. Gillece [1987-1993], working with the parishioners, contracted for the present leaded windows. They depict the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries of the Holy Rosary, beginning with the left window of the front door and following the left side of the church to the right. The 16 th window in the right front door is in honor of St. Joseph. They are made by a Texas firm and are of a simple, contemporary, yet traditional flavor that blends with the restoration of the church.

The Altar of Sacrifice [the altar on which the priest celebrates Mass today] was made by Mr. Steve Buryzynski and his sons. It is a simple design and has been in continuous use since 1968. The vesting cabinets in the priest’s sacristy [on the right of the sanctuary] are original to the 1909 church and are of a Texas primitive design. The large chest in the foot of the stairs is also original to the 1909 church and in its original place. It stored candles and other items. It was saved and returned during the restoration by Mr. Charlie Buryzynski. The Holy Water font at in the foyer is also original to the 1909 church and was found in the field behind the church. It was saved and mounted in its present location by the Joe Imhoff family in memory of his parents. The pews in the nave of the church were probably donated or purchased at a later date, though two, hand-made pews in the choir loft are thought to be original to the 1909 church. The Victorious Lamb over the side altar to the right is also original, as is the box containing the Holy Oils. The Infant of Prague is of a newer date, the original statue unfortunately lost. The Holy Water stand at the side entrance is also original. The candlesticks on the Back Altar are typical of the period and thought to be original to the 1909 church.

The restoration of St. Joseph was begun in October 2001 by Fr. Edward C. Kucera, Jr. [1999-present]. He was contacted by an antique dealer with whom he was acquainted, having bought a pulpit for his previous church in Hempstead. He was asked to come and look at an altar the dealer had brought from Iowa to sell at the popular antique show in Round Top, Texas. The altar was from a church in Buffalo, New York. It was complete and in need of little restoration. Initially, Fr. Ed. Expressed little interest in the altar. The restoration of St. Joseph was not even on the horizon. However, after looking at the dissembled altar [all 50+ pieces] and doing some quick measurements, he agreed to bring it to St. Joseph’s hall for the members of the congregation to see. He was also informed that should it not be purchased by a church, it was being considered for use as a bar-back.

On an October morning after the 7:30am Mass, the congregation reassembled in the hall to view an altar in pieces. With faith and trust in their pastor, the gathered parishioners agreed to purchase the altar at the cost of $5,000. Immediately, Mr. Joe Magna announced that he was donating it in memory of his recently deceased wife, Dorothy Magna. [The altar has been appraised for $100,000]. The altar originated from the Church of the Assumption in Buffalo, New York. It was from their original church of 1855 and moved into their new church as one of a pair of side altars in 1917. The Main Altar was of the same design, but twice or more the size. The Buffalo parishioners are aware of their altar’s present location and are extremely glad that it has found a proper home and considered a treasure. Minimum restoration was undertaken by Mrs. Donnel Hill, who was also the guiding artist in the restoration of St. Mary/Plantersville. It is a wooden, painted altar with faux marbled columns and inserts. It was designed to display three statues, as was St. Joseph’s original altar. The statues are now displayed and reverenced on the altar in the same manner as when first installed in the church in 1909. St. Joseph’s original Altar Stone was found and reinstated in the altar. The statue of the Blessed Mother is on a stand to match the Back Altar, again in its original location. The first phase of the restoration began with the sanctuary and the placement of the altar. The windows in the sanctuary were reinstalled, though located a little higher. It seems that the thought behind the removal of the windows was to eliminate the intense glare of the rising sun. The annoying glare is now mitigated by sun screens outside and cloth hangings inside. The restoration of the sanctuary was donated by Jennifer Dodson and Family in memory of Ramona Langley, her sister.

In 2003 the restoration of the nave of the church was undertaken, with Mass celebrated in the church hall. The entire interior was gutted, revealing the original beaded-board and the front windows. A new air-conditioning/heating system was installed, now in the attic area of the church. Because of the poor condition of the original beaded-board, insulation was added and new beaded-board placed over the old. The decision was made not to paint the interior its original white color, but to merely seal it, giving the interior now its warm, golden color.

The pulpit is not original to the church. It dates to about 1860 and is from the East Coast. It was purchased from St. Katharine Drexel [originally Mary, Mother of God] in Hempstead. It was purchased by Fr. Ed. for that church in 1995. The community in Hempstead no longer had a use for it. It was restored to match the Back Altar by Mrs. Donnel Hill and donated by Barbara and Leland Fougeron in memory of their parents.

The Stations of the Cross are also not original. They were found in the John Holt antique shop in Houston in 2003 and are French, dated to the mid-1700’s. They are painted on copper with a simple wooden frame without inscription. They are hung in the old style, leaning from the wall. Many of the old timers at St. Joseph comment that they closely resemble the original stations.

The presider’s [priest’s] chair is early Texas from LaGrange and has an inscription on the back which reads: ‘for the lodge’. It was purchased at the Warrenton Antique show in 2006 and donated by Sylvia Corolla in memory of her aunt.

The confessional area is an interpretation of the confessional of Sacred Heart Mission in Latium, Texas, a church of the period. The matching music board on the right front pillar was made my Bob Armstrong, a parishioner of St. Mary, and is a symbol and indication of the cooperation between the two communities.

The Baptismal font is not original to the church but is of the period. It was purchased on Ebay and comes from a church on the East Coast. It original church is being researched. It was restored by Mrs. Donnel Hill and dedicated to the memory of Hilda Noski by her family.

The Sanctuary Lamp is original to the church, though hanging to the right of the Back Altar, not in its original location in the center of the Sanctuary. The hand bells which are rung at Mass are also original, as is the bell in the bell tower. The lighting fixtures in the nave are not original. They were purchased at the Warrenton Antique show and are of the period. They were installed in May 2008, in time for the annual church festival. The carpeting of the main and side aisles is custom made and is of a Victorian design of the period. The Sanctuary carpet is a Persian design.

The restoration of St. Joseph is now complete. Though not able to be restored to its original 1909 appearance, it is now seen as a church of the period, with a living and loving community of Faith united with their Pastor and Bishop in serving our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Each year on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend, the parishioners welcome home those who live elsewhere but have strong bonds of family and friends at St. Joseph and embrace the visitors who come to celebrate a home-cooked meal with fun and games for all. The church building of 1909 is, of course, the focal point and purpose of all that is done for the honor and glory of God. The Roman Catholic Community of St. Joseph is proud of its long history but, at the same time, is excited about the present and future opportunities to give undivided witness to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith handed down to us from the Apostles and our ancestors who settled and built this church.

We hope you enjoy this holy place.

The Parishioners of St. Joseph/Stoneham & Fr. Edward C. Kucera, Jr., Pastor.

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