A Brief History of Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church of Nederland
By W. T. Block
(With Special Gratitude to Frs. James Vanderholt, Joseph Daleo, August Pucar, Mike Jamail, James Dempsey, Messrs. Lloyd Derouen, Joe Minaldi, Tom Lee, Jr., Mrs. Sharlyn Spell, Jimmy Gard, Mrs. Gladys Thorp, and Mrs. Beckie Cousins.)
PART A: THE PRE-HISTORY OF ST. CHARLES CHURCH
It is indeed interesting that even when Nederland, Texas, was still a vast cow pasture, filled with windswept prairie grasses, its confines were crisscrossed at intervals by Roman Catholic missionaries known as "saddlebag priests." The first Catholic sanctuaries in extreme Southeast Texas were built at Terry Station on Cow Bayou in Orange County in 1877,1 at Orange in 1880,2 and in Beaumont in 1881.3 Long before that, however, itinerant missionary priests celebrated Mass in the log cabins of parishioners whenever and wherever the opportunity was present.
The first saddlebag priest, Fr. P. F. Parisot, found no Catholics living in Beaumont in 1853, but he celebrated Mass at the residence of Maguire Chiasson, a few miles south of town.4 By 1860, the Taylor's Bayou area around Fannett, Texas, had a number of Acadian Catholic families, including residents named Broussard, Blanchette, East, Guidry, Dugat, Gallier, Hargraves, Hamshire, and many others.5 In 1860, the four Catholic families living nearest to the future site of Nederland were Joseph M. Hebert, whose ranch house stood where the Beauxart Gardens Road intersects West Port Arthur Road, and three siblings of Port Neches, Levi Hillebrandt, Lastie Hillebrandt, and Caroline Hillebrandt Brewer, whose Acadian Catholic mother was Eurasie Blanchette of Abbeville, Louisiana. These four families were among the wealthiest in Jefferson County in 1860, each of them owning several slaves and horse and cattle herds numbering between 1,000 and 3,000 heads.6
The itinerant saddlebag priests and circuit riders of that era nicknamed the region the "Alligator Circuit" because of the ever-present danger of death from alligator bites while swimming their horses across Taylor's and Hillebrandt Bayous and the Neches, Sabine, and Trinity Rivers. The huge crocodilian creatures sometimes measured eighteen feet in length. In Civil War days, Frs. P. M. Lacour and J. C. Neraz are believed to have been the first priests to celebrate Mass at the Hebert and Hillebrandt homes while en route from Fannett to the large Acadian Catholic settlement at Cow Bayou in Orange County. Later Father Neraz became the second bishop of San Antonio, serving from 1881 until 1894.7
Although not pertinent to the history of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, it should be stated that Rev. Fr. Vitalus Quinon (pronounced 'keen-yon') was the father of the Catholic faith and its principal propagator in frontier Southeast Texas, as well as the first priest assigned exclusively to the "Alligator Circuit," his parish extending from the Sabine River on the east to the San Jacinto River on the west. Certainly a person of great missionary zeal, inexhaustable energy, and ability, Father Quinon built St. Vital's, now St. Mary's Church in Orange in 1880, St. Louis', now St. Anthony's Cathedral in Beaumont in 1881, as well as Catholic churches at Liberty (rebuilt a burned-out church), Denison, and Dallas, Texas. He spent so much time in the saddle on his evangelical missions that, during one week, he celebrated Mass one Thursday at Cow Bayou, Orange County, swam the Neches River at Port Neches and celebrated Mass on Friday at Moise Broussard's house in Sabine Pass, then swam Taylor's Bayou and celebrated Mass on Saturday at Lovan Hamshire's house at Fannett, and was back in Beaumont at St. Louis' Church on Sunday. Father Quinon died exactly as he had lived. In 1894, while on a sabbatical in his native France, he caught cholera at Marseilles, but he continued to administer the last rites of the Church to the dying until he was too weak to move and near death himself.8
Nederland, Texas, was founded as a colonization experiment of the Kansas City Southern Railroad in 1897. Its first 250 or more settlers were Dutch immigrants who came direct from Holland and who erected a Dutch Reformed Church, which failed to survive. A like number of settlers were native-born Americans, whose church affiliations appear to have been evenly divided between two other Protestant faiths. No record survives about how many of the early settlers were of the Catholic faith, but it seems that their numbers were too small for any effort to materialize toward establishing a local parish. Certainly one of the earliest Catholics to settle in Nederland was Mrs. Kathrena Wagner, a German immigrant, who came to Nederland, via Illinois, in 1902. Mrs. Wagner waited 21 years for St. Charles Church to organize, but lived only three years afterward to enjoy it, dying at age 79 in 1926.9
The combined censuses of Port Neches and Nederland of 1900 do not reveal a single person with an Acadian French surname. Nederland's 1910 census was not greatly different, with only three Louisiana families named Benoit, Falgout, and Farque. There was one Bohemian family and other German and Austrian families who may have been Catholic, but the large French Acadian migration to Southeast Texas did not begin until 1911.10 In 1911-1912, there were enough Catholics living in Nederland and Port Neches who needed wagon transportation to St. Anthony's Church that a Mr. Phillips ran a covered wagon to Beaumont each Sunday to accommodate them. His large rice wagon, covered with wooden benches, left Freeman's Saloon in Nederland at 7 o'clock each Sunday morning and arrived at St. Anthony's two and one-half hours later. The return trip arrived back in Nederland at 5:30 o'clock P. M. In those days, the only shell road to Beaumont was West Port Arthur Road, west of the county airport. What is now Twin City Highway was only a dirt trail bordering the railroad in 1911, which traveled through privately-owned cow pastures of the Mashed-O Ranch, requiring the opening and closing of five barbed-wire gates. Although only an infant in arms, Lloyd Derouen, who as of 1991 is still a member of St. Charles' Parish, made that trip every Sunday in 1911 with his parents.11
Phillips' wagon trips were discontinued in 1912 when the Beaumont-Port Arthur "Interurban," a two-car electric trolley, was established. Thereafter, Nederland's Catholic worshippers could attend Mass at either St. Anthony's Church in Beaumont or St. Mary's Church in Port Arthur with much greater ease, comfort, and loss of time while traveling.
Very little accurate information is available about when the earliest Catholic families arrived in Nederland, but what is available will be listed. Ferdinand and Eloise Derouen arrived in 1911.12 Fred Champagne arrived from Abbeville, Louisiana, in 1912.13 The George Yentzen family arrived to found Nederland's first bakery in 1915, and the Jens H. Peterson family came in 1916.14 By 1918, the French Acadian population of the town was increasing rapidly, but not nearly as much as in Port Neches. The Nederland city directory of 1918 listed one person named Arceneaux, one named Badon, two named Broussard, six named Champagne, five named Clotiaux, two named Derouen, three named Duhon, three named Gallier, one named Herriard, one named Hebert, one named LeBlanc, three named Menard, two named Premeaux, one named Sonnier, two named Theriot, one named Thibodeaux, and one Trahan family. The F. M. Thorp family was also in Nederland in 1918.15 Miss Eunice Bourg, who is probably the oldest surviving charter member of St. Charles' Church (1991), came to Nederland in 1919, and in 1922, was the first organist and choirmaster of St. Elizabeth's Church in Port Neches when that congregation first organized and was meeting in the old Liberty Theater.16
Indirectly, it was the large Acadian Catholic population of Port Neches who, through the organization of their own parish and because of the missionary zeal of Father Fred B. Hardy, were to spur on the organization of the mission which preceded St. Charles Borromeo Parish. By 1918, Port Neches Acadians numbered half of the population of that town. In 1919, an unidentified Port Neches lady wrote a letter to Bishop C. E. Byrne in Galveston, which read in part: "Please send us a priest. We have 400 or 500 people of the Catholic faith here, and all the people are willing to build a church."17 Since in 1918 the Acadian population of Nederland was only about one-quarter of the number of Acadians in the Port Neches city directory of 1918 (there were 13 adult Broussards and 14 Heberts living there then), the writer estimates the Catholic population of Nederland at less than one hundred persons in 1920. In 1918 there were only 694 people living in Nederland and about 800 in 1920.
PART H:: THE PASTORATE OF FATHER JOSEPH DALEO
Father Joseph Daleo arrived at Saint Charles Church to replace the interim administrator, Father James Vanderholt, in 1983, and as of the date of this writing (Feb., 1992), he has served almost nine years as the Parish's current resident priest. A native of Beaumont, Father Daleo completed four years at Lamar University, with a major in Businss Administration, before entering Saint Mary's Seminary at Houston. He also earned a Bachelor's degree in Philosophy and a Master's degree in Theology at Saint Thomas University in Houston, before completing his seminary training at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. He was ordained by the Very Rev. Vincent Harris, the first Bishop of Beaumont, on May 30, 1971. Father Daleo's previous assignments included four years at Monsignor Kelly High School (1971-1975); Lamar University Cmpus Minister at the Newman Center (1975-1978); Saint Catherine's Parish, Port Arthur (1978-1979); Pastor of Infant Jesus Parish, Lumberton (1979-1981); and Pastor of Saint James Parish, Port Arthur (1981-1983). In 1975, he was named Diocesan Director of Campus Ministry, and he also received the Diocesan Padre of Youth Award for his work with young people.117 Since the arrival of Father Daleo, there have been numerous staff changes and appointments in Saint Charles Parish. Up until 1985, the Religious Education Program was directed by Sisters Justin Farinella and Rita Marie Owens. In that year, the nuns were reassigned elsewhere, and since that year, there have been no Dominican Sisters assigned to Saint Charles Parish. In 1987, the Religious Education Program was placed under the leadership of two lay direcors, Mrs. Sharlyn Spell and Mrs. Judy Adams, and it remains so to the present date.
Since 1983, five assistant or associate pastors have served at Saint Charles Church, as follows in chronological order: Fathers Delphyn Meeks, Jeff Wood, Steven Leger, James McClintock, and James Begnaud, the latter being the current associate pastor. As of 1982, Rev. Mr. Dow Wynn was assigned to Saint Charles Parish as Deacon, and in 1988, Augustinian Brother Frank Paduch was assigned to replace him. Father Paduch was later ordained for the Diocese of Beaumont in July, 1989. As of 1992, Rev. Mr. Vernon Drummond is Deacon of the Parish and also serves as Director of the Hospitality Center. As of 1992, over 600 persons are participating in the Parish lay ministries, of whom 135 are in the Religious Education Program.118
By 1986, Father Daleo was already faced with the need for another major building program, in fact the largest ever in terms of cost. After a year of planning, construction actually began in 1987, with the completion date in may, 1988. The architect for the parish Center and improvements was the firm of Architectural and Engineering Design Group of Beaumont, and the contractor was Pelco Construction Company of Dayton, Texas. The new construction was slated to cost around $900,000.
The focus of the new construction was on the new Parish Center, which contained two large gathering rooms with a stage, conference room, choir room, kitcen facilities, as well as five additional class rooms for the education program.
In addition, the parish parking facilities were doubled, with each parking lot paved and spaces outlined in yellow. The new bell tower was built, one of the most impressive structures in the parish. The covered drive-through area and the expanded northex were finished. One article noted that the "unusual aspect of the construction" was "the Baptismal pool, the only one of its kind in the Diocese...."
"The Baptismal pool allows for immersion for those who wish this form of Baptism and serves also as the holy water font at the entrance of the church," Father Daleo noted.119
On May 28, 1988, the Very Rev. Bernard Ganter, Bishop of Beaumont, blessed the new Parish Hall and delivered the dedication homily. Other liturgical participants included Fathers Daleo and Steven Leger as con-celebrants, Rev. Mr. Dow Wynn as deacon, and Brother Frank Paduch as master of ceremonies. On that date, Father Daleo wrote, "The dedication of the new Saint Charles Parish Center marks another milestone in the history of the Catholic Church in Nederland. The two years of planning and constructing the new center have truly been eventful ones, and I wish to thank those who have assisted me so faithfully throughout this endeavor."120
Father Daleo onced remarked that "Saint Charles Church is a caring community, concerned with the total needs of its members from the cradle to old age."121 And indeed, his statements reflects the truth of that statement in so many ways--care for both the body and the soul from Baptism to CCD, to CYO, to dozens of adult auxiliary functions, and finally the parish's Keenagers Club.
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