History of St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, Chappell Hill, Texas

By Virginia Felchak Hill
Polish Footprints
July 1996

Roots: There is a Polish, melancholic song which describes the reason and origin of the emigration from Poland to the United States:

Goralu, czy ci nie zal odchodzic od sron ojczystych;
Swierkowych lasow i hal i tych potokow srebrzystych.
Goralu, czy nie zal...Goralu, wracaj do hal.

A goral no gory spoziera, i lzy rekawen ociera;
dla chleba, panie, dla chleba, i gor porzucic trzeba.

Loosely translated, it means:

Mountaineer, aren't you sad to leave your homeland; its spruce forest, mountain pastures and silver brooks?

Mountaineer gazes at the mountains and wipes the tears away with his sleeve; knowing that for "bread" (livelihood) he must leave his mountains.

Although this song talks about the emigrants from the southern part of poland (Galicia), in time it has become a song-symbol for Poles from all regions of Poland.

New Beginnings: The polish community of Chappell Hill is situated in Washington County, midway between Houston and Austin. Chappell Hill was a progressive, small town before the Civil War. The land was very fertile, and under normal conditions produced good cotton and corn crops.

Yield per acre of cotton was normally one to one and one-half bales, and corn was six to eight bushels per acre. The agricultural opportunity was one of the reasons Polish immigrants flocked to Washington County.

Among the first Pole to settle in the area was William Swiatkowski (phonetically spelled as Schontkowski), a businessman. He purchased two lots in the town of Chappell Hill in September of 1870 and another lot on March 17,1873.

For many years Catholics from Chappell Hill attended services at St Mary's in Brenham. In 1888, Rev. James Grabinger, announced at St. Mary's Church in Brenham, that a church would be built in Chappell Hill. After the announcement, William Swiatkowski, went to visit Bishop Nicolaus Gallagher in Galveston. He spoke to the Bishop about the erection of a church and was allowed to have an election for a committee of six men. This took place on Pentecost Sunday 1889.

The six committee men appointed were: Albert Czemnoczolowski, John Gutkowski, Piotr Jozwiak, Lorenz Kasprowicz, Albert Przybylski, and William Swiatkowski.

A month after the first meeting with the Bishop, three committee men submitted a plan to Bishop Gallagher. The plan was perfected and approved. The money was collected and a church was built. Mr. Swiatkowski even collected money from railroad workers in the area. The cost of the first church was $3,300. They collected $2,600 which left a balance of $700. The trustees signed notes for the balance bearing interest, for which they were personally responsible.

The land needed for the church was negotiated on October 12, 1889, with John W. Lockhart for 2 acres of land for $100.00. This transaction was recorded in Washington County (Book 28, page 242) and the copy of the deed was mailed to William Swiatkowski in Chappell Hill.

After Fr. Grabinger left Brenham, the newly assigned pastor of St. Mary's, Fr. Adam Laski continued to serve the mission in Chappell Hill.

Whenever one looks at the history of Polish immigration to the United States, one can see that Polish priests came either with their people or soon followed them to take care of their spiritual and other needs.

They understood that just as the home is the center of family life, so the church was the center of parish life.

Fr. Theodore Jaron, the first resident priest in Chappell Hill in 1894, served in Slawno, Poland from 1881-1886, the village from which many of the Chappell Hill residents emigrated.

Fr. Theodore Jaron, born 1856 in Galicia, Poland, was ordained 1879 in Galicia, Poland. He came to Chappell Hill in 1894, same year the first church, a wooden structure was built. The church was dedicated on November 25, 1894, by the Right Rev. N. A. Gallagher, Bishop Of Galveston.

The need for additional property was realized and on March 25, 1896, three-fourths of an acre was purchased for $150.00 from H. Hudgins. Since there is no record of when the first rectory was built. possibly it was during this time since Fr. Jaron was the first resident pastor. The property was part of the Lockhart track and was recorded in Washington County (Book 39, page 87) on April 17, 1896.

Fr. Jaron remained as pastor until 1898. Fr. Jaron died on Octorber 24, 1911, while serving the Polish community of Koscuisko, Texas and is buried at St. Ann's Cemetery.

The second pastor was Fr. Francis J. Nona, who was born in Poland. His family, however, settled in Chicago, Illinois. His major studies were done in the Polish Seminary of Detroit. His first appointment was St Stanislaus in 1898.

During his stay in Chappell Hill, Fr. Nona also served as pastor for St. Mary's in Brenham (1901), after a void created by Fr. Francis Pridal (Brenham pastor 1895-1900), when St. Mary's was without a priest. Brenham had now become a mission to Chappell Hill during this time. Fr. Nona served St. Mary's until late 1901, when Fr. Machan came to Brenham.

The great hurricane of 1900 destroyed the first church. The church, which was a small frame building, was blown down on September 9, 1900. Services were held out in the open for some time, whth a temporarily erected altar.

The second church, a frame structure of 40' x 80', was built in 1901, facing west and was located where the old rectory stands today. A free financial help in constructing the new church came from contributions of the northern parts of our country for storm sufferers.

In preparation for the school, St. Stanislaus purchased an additional 1 1/3 acres of land on July 23, 1906 from W.D. Crockett and his wife Eva for $2,000 ($500 cash and promissory note, Book 48, page 353). The promissory note of $1,500 was to be paid by January 1, 1907 with no interest.

While plans were being formed for building the St. Stanislaus Parochial School, Fr. Nona was accumulating ready cash since no building would be done until everything could be paid for immediately.

A two story building was built in 1910, consisting of four well-equipped classrooms downstairs and a hall upstairs, extending throughout the building.

The first rectory was given to the Sisters of Divine Providence in 1918. A nearby residence was purchased and remodeled to become the second rectory.

Another land acquisition from the original Lockhart track took place during Fr. Nona's tenure on April 1, 1915. St. Stanislaus purchased 8/10 of an acre from Mary E. & H.A. Landes of Galveston and C.L. Wallis of Los Angeles, California for $1,000 with 8% interest ($500 cash and $500 promissory note, Book 67, page 467-468). The promissory note, signed by Albert Gutowski and Fr. F.F. Nona, was to be paid by November 1, 1918.

On June 7, 1915, St. Stanislaus sold 138/1000 of an acre of land to W.R. Ewing, Judge of Washington County (30' X 200') for $69, conveyed for road purposes, currently known as Jaron Road.

Fr. Nona remained in Chappell Hill until June 1915, relinquishing his duties as a result of illness. He returned to the Diocese of Chicago. where his family lived.

Fr. Nicodemus Thomas Domanski was the third pastor of St. Stanislaus. He was born in Poland on September 8, 1873. He studied philosophy and theology at St. Mary's Seminary in LaPorte, Texas. He was ordained December 25, 1914 by Bishop Nicholas A. Gallagher.

Fr. Domanski came to Chappell Hill on June 1, 1915. He spoke Polish, Russian, English and German. He left Chappell Hill in 1916 to become pastor of St. Stanislaus, Anderson, Texas. Without a resident pastor for about six months, Fr. Tabor, from Brenham took care of the parish.

The fourth pastor was Fr. Leonard F. Dykal who was born on April 30, 1889, in Albion, New York. He came to St. Stanislaus January 1917. Fr. Dykal left Chappell Hill when he and Fr. Tabor, Brenham traded parishes on July 1, 1917.

Fr. Michael Joseph Tabor, the fifth pastor was born on September 16, 1879 in Galicia, a part of Poland occupied by Austria. Fr. Tabor attended St. Francis' Seminary in St. Francis, Wisconsin and St. Mary's at LaPorte, Texas. He was ordained March 27, 1910 by the Bishop of Galveston, Right Rev. N.A. Gallagher at St. Mary's Cathedral. Fr. Tabor stayed for four years and he took a leave of absence and went to Detroit, Michigan in July 1921.

The sixth pastor of St. Stanislaus was Fr. Maximilian Edwin Budnik. He was born on August 3, 1891 at Round Top, Texas. He attended St. Mary's Seminary at LaPorte, Texas and was ordained on December 23,1917 by Bishop N.A. Gallagher. He spoke Polish, English and Bohemian. On September 9, 1923 Fr. Budnik became pastor of St. Stanislaus.

On December 4, 1921, another tragedy struck Chappell Hill. A fire that started after Mass on Sunday (12:15p.m.) destroyed the church, rectory and the parish office that was located on the ground level inside the bell tower.

Many parish records were destoryed. It is not known where the original sacramental records were housed. However, they survived.

The parishioners were grateful that the school building survived and now served the purpose of both church and school. The auditorium upstairs was converted into a chapel for the next two and one-half years. Fr. Budnik resided with the Gutowski family until a new rectory could be built.

The third rectory, a five-room frame home was built on the spot where the second church had been. Today it is the oldest standing structure in the parish.

The third and present church was started in January 1922, and completed in August 1924 at the cost of $40,000.

The large stone structure is Spanish mission style and was built facing south where the burned (second) rectory once stood. The Southern Messenger carried an article on the dedication.

"The new church for the Polish community of Chappell Hill, Texas, was dedicated on November 25, 1924, by the Rt. Rev. C.E. Byrne, D.D., Bishop of Galveston. The Members escorted the Bishop to the front of the church where a little boy dressed in cassock and surplice delivered an address of welcome. The little speech seemed to impress the Bishop for he tendered the young boy the honor of carring the crozier through the rest of the ceremony."

The article goes on to say that other clergy present were: Rev. S.A. Zientek of Marlin, Rev. L.F. Dykal of New Waverly, Rev. Wm. J. Skocek of Caldwell, with Rev. Max E Budnik, pastor and master of the ceremonies.

"The Rev. Charles Weisnerowski of Brenham delivered an impressive sermon in Polish in which he praised the good will of the people of Chappell Hill and their cooperation with their pastor in erecting such a beartiful edifice to the honor and glory of God."

After the Mass the Bishop spoke in English and confirmed 377 persons.

"These figures alone show the strength and development of this Catholic locality. A sumptuous dinner was spread in the parochial school in honor of the guests"

Fr. Budnik remained in Chappell Hill (15 years) until October 1938, when he became administrator of the parish at Mentz.

The seventh pastor of St. Stanislaus was Fr. Stanislaus Bona. He came to Chappell Hill in the fall of 1938 and left in 1939.

The eighth pastor of St. Stanislaus was Fr. John Wesolek, son of Nick and Elizabeth nee Antkowiak Wesolek. Fr. John attended parochial school at St. Mary's Brenham and studied for the priesthood at St. Mary's Seminary in LaPorte, Texas. He was ordained on May 18, 1939. He was "temporarily" assigned to St. Stanislaus in October 1939 and remained for forty six years, until his retirement of July 5, 1985.

One of Fr. John's first projects was the remodeling of the school in 1940. The school was built on the same foundation, however it was ground floor only. He also built the fourth rectory in 1957. It was built on the west side of the church and attached to the church with a covered walkway.

On November 28, 1956 Rosalie Kitowski, (wife of Mathew Kitowski and daughter of Albert Gutowski and Victoria nee Bednarek) deeded .96 acres to the Rt. Rev. Louis J. Reichers, Bishop of the Diocese of Austin.

This land is part of the same land deeded by Albert Gutowski to his daughter on November 16, 1951 where the community center is now located. In 1969 Fr. John broke ground for the community center. This center was constructed to accommodate the large crowds of people who attended the annual homecoming and bazaar each year on Labor Day weekend.

It would also serve as a meeting place for weddings receptions, reunions, as well as a place for entertainment for the youth and community.

St. Stanislaus Parish celebrated Fr. John's 40 anniversary of his ordination on October 5, 1979. Pope John Paul II, elevated Fr. John to monsignor on May 9, 1980, upon the recommendation of the Most Rev. Vincent M. Harris, Bishop of the Austin Diocese.

Upon his retirement, Fr. John moved to Brenham where he assisted St. Mary's parish as needed, and the mission at Latium. He continued to have weekly masses at St. Jude's Hospital chapel for the Sisters of St. Francis. Msgr. John Wesolek died August 29, 1995 and is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Brenham.

The ninth pastor of St. Stanislaus was Fr. Gregory Patejko S.T.M. Fr. Greg was born on November 17, 1930 in Warsaw, Poland; ordained on Holy Saturday, April 4, 1953. On July 12, 1985, Fr. Greg became pastor of St. Stanislaus. The first church bulletin in the history of the parish was published on July 19, 1985. It provided not only information about parish weekly activities, but taught religion as well.

St. Stanislaus had an active Altar Rosary Society. The Finance Council and C.C.D. Committee were in place when Fr. Greg came to St. Stanislaus. To broaden the people's involvement in the parish life, Fr Greg organized a Parish Council, Ushers' Committee, Cemetery Committee and Building and Grounds Committee.

Many changes occurred after Fr. Greg's arrival. C.C.D. classes, held in the old parochial school. were moved to the Sisters' home, after some renovation. A chapel was set up in this home where daily masses were celebrated. In late 1986 an office and work room with all necessary equipment, were added to the rectory. That same year the parking lot, between the rectory and community center was paved.

In 1987/88, a complete renovation of the church, including restoration of the altars, stations of the cross and statues was undertaken and completed. The Altar Rosary Sciety deserves special recognition for their hard work in raising $7,400 over a period of six months, to pay for the renovation of the Blessed Mother's altar and statue.

A Reconciliation Room, bathroom, new lighting system and sound system were installed. Among many new items purchased for the church were vestments and an organ. A vast majority of the parishioners were actively involved in the material and spiritual renovation of their parish.

They have given not only of their time and talents but their "treasures." All these things were done in preparation for the centennial celebration to be held on November 12, 1989.

Fr. Greg returned to his homeland, Warsaw, Poland in May 1993 and was replaced by a Jesuit, Fr. O'Shea, who remained in the parish until December 1994.

Fr. Richard Goluch, came to Chappell Hill on a temporary assignment on January 1, 1995 and returned to Poland on April 15, 1995. Although he was here a short time, he helped the parish in transition during a very difficult time.

Fr. Eugene Shepard, the twelfth pastor came to Chappell Hill in april 1995. Fr. Shepard was raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and entered the Dominican Order of Religious men as a brother in 1950. After assignments of Chicago, Madison and Minneapolis, he was sent to Dallas, where he learned that he loved Texas and couldn't be paid to leave.

Fr. Shepard earned a bachelor's degree at St. Edward's University in Austin. He had a desire to become a prison chaplain. He worked at the Travis County Jail and the Wall's and Fergusio's units of the Texas Department of Corrections in Huntsville. Dealing with the violence and abuses of man against man and against the system, Fr. Shepard realized that he was not made for that type of work.

Fr. Shepard served as pastor for St. Anne's Catholic Church in Somervillle, Texas for nine years prior to arriving in Chappell Hill. The old rectory has been restored and is now used for CCD classes and meetings. It has been renamed, Family Center.

There is a feeling of togetherness since Fr. Shepard arrived. He enjoys serving the elderly and brags o the choir as being the best choir in the Catholic Church. All of the members are over 70 years of age and the oldest is 96.

Some Statistics: When St. Stanislaus was still a mission, the first child baptized was John Kmiec, sone of Peter and Anns nee Brandt Kmiec, born June 18, 1889 and baptized June 23, 1889 (recorded at St. Mary's, Brenham by Fr. James Grabinger).

Records at St. Mary's Breham indicate that the first confirmation for Chappell Hill, totaling 86 members of St. Stanislaus was dated October 19, 1891. Walenty Gutowski and Petronela Rosinski were the sponsors.

The first baptism in the newly built church of St. Stanislaus was that of Theodore Kotyras, son of Valentin and Francisca nee Hoffman Kotryas on November 11, 1894, by Fr. Theodore Jaron.

The first marriage was that of Albertus Gutowski, son of Walenty and Katherine nee Cieslewicz Gutowski and Victoria Bednarek, daughter of Andrzej and Maria Bednarek on November 12, 1984, by Fr. Jaron.

The first baptism in the present church was that of Edmond Nowak, son of Stanley and Martha nee Cegielski Nowak, on October 26, 1924.

The first couple to exchange wedding vows in the present church was Stanley and Martha Springer Lewandowski, on November 5, 1924. They are still members of the parish.

It is interesting to note that between 1895 and 1934, 74% to 84% of all marriages occurred in October and November. The area was an aguicultural community, and crops were harvested by this time of the year.

Bue to the strong Polish influence on the community, by the early 1890s other people, including blacks and hispanics, learned to speak broken Polish.

Thirteen baby girls were adopted by Polish families through the efforts of St. Stanislaus Church and a New York orphanage in early 1900.

After World War II more and more young adults sold their farms and moved to houston and other cities searching for better economic opportities. Many of these people, now retired, have moved back to Chappell Hill. Some of the younger generations return to Chappell Hill for weddings, baptism and reunions.

Registers of the parish show that as of May 1996 there were 3,168 baptisms, 903 marriages, and 1,182 funerals. In 1989, there were 150 families registered in the parish and 185 families in 1996. Some families living elsewhere, still cultivate their ties with the "home parish".

"Come, Follow Me..." St. Stanislaus parish was blessed with several priestly and religious vocations. Nine young ladies entered the convent of the Sisters of Divine Providence in San Antonio, Texas and Sophia Bartkowiak entered the Sisters of St. Joseph in Cleveland, Ohio.

Baptism Name Order Name
Petronella Tomcza Sister Mary
Janie Bilski Sister Eustella
Hedwig Tomczak Sister Lillian

Deceased Sisters Baptism Name Order Name
Anna Zientek Sister Chrysostom
Apolinia Tomcxzk Sister Simplicius
Bernice Bilsk Sister Concordia
Martha Pawlak Sister Jeanett
Annie Gutowski Sister Walter
Sophia Bartkowiak Sister Mary Nicephora

Sister Stanislaus Kmiec withdrew from the convent.

Three young men who received their early years of education at St. Stanislaus parochial School became priests. Vincent Gurka withdrew after several years.

Fr. Benjamin J. Kaminski
Msgr. John C. Malinowski
Vincent Gurka

Parochial School: Fr. Francis Nona built the first school in 1910. It was staffed by lay teachers who taught in Polish and in English from 1910 until 1918, under the direction of Mr. Ossowski.

Fr. Tabor submitted a request in 1917 and the Sisters of Divine Providence Arrived in October 1918. They taught 220 students that year. From 1911 to 1962 a total of 55 Sisters taught at the school.

With the shortage of nuns in other cities with large enrollments, Mother A. Amata, Superior General, requested the removal of the nuns. There were only 80 students in eight grades being taught by three sisters of Divine Providence. The parish school closed in May 1962. The children then attended public schools in Chappell Hill and Brenham.

Since the time of closing, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine classes are held weekly from September through May. Lay teachers have taught religion since the Sisters left in 1962.

Dedicated Service: Among many parishioners who have served the church in an exemplary way for many years, is one who deserves special recognition and gratitude.

Mrs. Lucille Dekowski Pawlak who served as organist at St. Stanislaus for 62 years. She was a substitute organist from 1923-1930. In 1930 she started playing full-time and served until her retirement in 1985.

She also taught choir and assisted with musical programs for St. Stanislaus Parochial School and the C.C.D. "Miss Lucy," as she is affectionately called, is a deepy dedicated person who would close the door of her business for a few hours to assist at funerals, weddings or just daily mass.

Grotto: In 1957 a grotto was constructed on the foundation of the bell tower that burned in 1921. The grotto was donated by Mrs. Mike Pawlowski and Mrs John Dekowski, in memory of the Pawlowski and Dekowski families.

The Immaculate Conception Grotto is constructed of honeycomb rock from Georgetown, Texas and was built by R. A. Watson of Houston. Louis Kronenburger of Houston donated the cross inside the grotto, while the statue in the grotto was a gift of Louis Pawlowski in memory of the Pawlowski family. The cross and the statue were imported form Italy. The late Bishop Harris was present for the dedication on August 11, 1957.

Cemetery: The Parish Cemetery is located 1-3/4 miles west southwest of Chappell Hill. Over the years land for the present cemetery was donatedby several families: William H. Langhorne Jr., Jacob and Konstancya nee Nowak Cegielski, and Mike and Sophie nee Derkowski Jezierski.

The first interment in the cemetery was that of John Kmieczyszewski on December 1, 1894. Shaded by old cedars and crepe myrtles, many of the early grave markers are in Polish with the inscription "Tu Spoczya Swietej Pamieci...", meaning "Here rest in sacred memory..."

In 1934 John Kmiec donated an imported Italian Marble cross as a religious centerpiece in the cemetery. In 1985 a mausoleum was built and the cross was placed on this structure. Burial rites are conducted at the mausoleum site now rather than the gravesite.

This article originally appeared in the July 1996 Wahington County special edition issue of Polish Footprints, published by the Polish Genealogical Society of Texas .


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.