1801 Irvin, Bridgeport, Texas 76426
(940) 683-2743

History of St. John's Catholic Church

St. John's Catholic Church in Bridgeport , Texas , has a history that goes beyond the actual construction of the church. The mission of Bridgeport was first established by Rev. J. J. O’Reordan, the pastor of St. Mary's Church in Henrietta, in 1889. (1) The coal miners brought the first missionaries to the Bridgeport area and offered the Mass once a month in different Catholic homes. The priest arrived by train each month and spent the night with one of the families, returning to Henrietta after the service. The first Mass held in the Bridgeport area was in the home of Mrs. Catherine Connor, near the East Mound Community. Masses were also held in the homes of Clement Fury, Sarah Byrnes, and Joseph Roth of Willow Point, until the first mission church was built in 1908. These home Masses were performed using dressers for the altar, Irish linen for the altar cloth, and pewter candleholders. (l)

The Fury family came to Bridgeport around 1876 and, with the help of the Boaz, Bordner, Connor, Byrnes, Grill, Koeninger, Hvezdos, Roth and Cunningham families, helped build the first church in Bridgeport. Descendants from the Boaz, Bordner and Connor families still attend services today.

Church records indicate that Mr. Edward Cunningham took up the first collection for the church with other collections followed by Mary (Grill) Byrnes and Mary (Fury) Miller. (6) Catholics, non-Catholics, and local business people donated to the building fund. Without the entire community effort, the construction of the original church would have been delayed. They were able to collect approximately $1,200.00, to begin building a small frame church. Father Goessens was the pastor at the time the church was dedicated in 1908. (6)

The first church was built on a lot which was 75 feet by 140 feet, located on Greathousc Street, on the west side of the railroad. This wood-frame church was 25 feet by 50 feet. It was a shell, with a wooden floor, no inside wall coverings, no ceiling, no water, no toilets, and only one entrance. The first organ was a pedal-type, donated by the Boaz family. In 1926, the church was first remodeled, and the walls were covered.

Priests who followed Father John Goessens included Rev. Fathers Philip J. Kline, Christian A. Drieling, Ferninand J. Schiessel, Thomas J. O’Friel, Ernest F. Kcrshaw, Michael Munor, Herman Redder (1930-1933), and James A. Schauf (1933-1938).

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In 1938, the Bishop of Dallas, the Most Reverend Joseph Lynch, appointed Rev. Edward J. Deavers (August 1938-May 1950) pastor of Decatur , with Bridgeport and Jacksboro as his missions. It was during the 1940's that siding was added to the church and a second remodeling was completed to accommodate the growing membership. After Father Deavers, several priests followed a growing county mission. Rev. Fathers James Tucek (July 1950-May 1952), Walter Silk (May 1952-February 1954), Casimer Glogowski (February 1954-1961), and Francis Gabryl (1961-1965), all made contributions to the church. Since they all lived in Decatur, the Bridgeport Catholic community received Mass each week, and the church seemed more like a family. It was not until 1956, at a cost estimated at $2,000.00, (5) that seal-a-tex was put on the walls and ceilings, and carpet was placed down the center aisle. While the remodeling was going on, Mass was held at the Boaz home. The remodeled church could now seat 85, with little room to expand. Alice Boaz painted the windows like stained glass to help beautify the building's interior. The average attendance was fifty-four.(5)

In 1957, Father Glogowski began a saving account at the Chancery Office for the new church building, but it was not until Father Albert Tyl was appointed pastor of Decatur , Bridgeport , and Jacksboro, that formal plans began. In 1967, the church set up a building committee which included all members of the parish. Martin Hoefle was the committee chairman. They contacted Paul Deeley, from Fort Worth , as the church architect, and plans began.

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Miss Rosie Boaz donated a four-acre tract of land from the Pete Boaz Estate located on Irvin Street on which to build the church. On April 10, 1967, the Bridgeport City Council approved the zoning on the Irvin Street location and the Bishop approved construction. The new church was designed to seat 220 people and to have an all-purpose hall adjoining the kitchen. The new church was also to have an office and one classroom. After the design was approved, very little was changed, except for the size of the kitchen, which was increased at the request of the parish women. On October 1, 1967, Bridgeport Mayor George Harwood turned the soil to begin construction. Sixty to seventy people attended the ground breaking ceremony.

Sketch of New Church

The Union of Czech Catholic Women of Texas furnished 33% of the financing of the new church, with over 50% raised by the parishioners, and the remaining $10,000.00 coming from an Extension Society Grant. After general architectural changes, the total cost of construction was $68,750.00. (4)

The changes included a new design with tilt-up wall construction. This was the first time this type of construction was used in a church in this area. The six-inch exposed aggregate of native limestone serves as exterior and interior for the building. The interior was painted a light olive green. Native rock and concrete were used in the interior of the church. The altar and pulpit were built of limestone from the area. Behind the pulpit is a wall of seemingly draped material, but closer examination shows the material to be cement, which has been lightly brushed, giving it a velvet look. (3)

When the original design of the bell tower, which was to be made of stone, proved to be too expensive, the new tower was redesigned, and constructed by James Brogan, owner of the Brogan Construction Company. He donated the materials and built the tower out of oil well piping. The bell was brought from the old mission church to keep the tradition of ringing a bell before Mass.

St. Monica's Parish in Dallas donated 36 pews, but only 24 were needed; therefore, the remaining 12 pews were sent to another church in need. (4) Frank Bordner, Herbert Neu, Julius Pennartz, and others, refinished the wood, and Manuel Herrar doing the upholstering on the kneelers. The new vestments were produced by Mrs. Mamie McKeon. The altar linens were hand stitched by Mrs. Pete Bordner.(4)

The first Mass in the new 5,500 square foot church was on Mother's Day, May 12, 1968. The church was not dedicated until Sunday, June 9, 1968. The dedication was performed by Bishop Thomas K. Gorman of Dallas . (1) Average attendance was now over 150 people. Many other members of the parish donated items needed to make the church complete. Mary Tackel and her sister carried the matched chalice and ciborium, donated in the memory of their parents, at the first Mass in the church.

The final payment on the church's mortgage was made on February 1, 1979, and the church had a note-burning ceremony. This marked a new beginning for plans for future expansion.

Soon after the new church was built, the old church was sold for $3,000.00 to the Bridgeport Assembly of God Church to be used as a day nursery.

On November 15, 1976, Bishop Cassata of the newly-formed Diocese of Fort Worth established the mission of St. John's as a parish, with a priest to live in Bridgeport and serve the mission at Jacksboro. The boundaries were established as "... all of that western portion of Wise county, Texas, bordered by the Montague County line on the North, Jack County in the West, and Parker and Tarrant Counties on the South". The eastern boundary was defined as ". . . the Big Sandy Creek from its juncture with the Montague-Wise County line, Southeast to the West Fork of the Trinity River, thence along the river, excluding all of the territory of Boyd, Texas, to Eagle Mountain Lake at the Wise-Tarrant County line".

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Since Father Tyl, the priests have been Father D. J. Sullivan, 1969; Richard Judge, 1969-1970 Michael Irwin, 1970-1972; Edward Richard, 1972-1973; and Phillip Johnson, 1973-1975. Father James Miller became the first pastor in the newly established church 1975-1977, followed by Father Albert Nienart, 1977-1981;  Father Bill Winaski, 1981-1983; Rev. Robert Wilson, 1983-93; Rev. Raul Garza, 1993-94; Rev. Gonzalo Morales, 1994-2002; Rev. GilbertoPansza, 2002-06; Rev. Sojan George, 2006 to the present.

In 1984 a building committee was established to develop an expansion program for the existing parish hall (which was doubled in size), six classrooms, an office/work-room, new restrooms, as well as a three bedroom rectory. A three year pledge program was developed to pay off nearly $200,000.00. Monies came from many sources. The "Sharing in Ministry" program granted $37,000, the Catholic Extension Society gave $35,000, Holy Family Parish $13,000; Father James Balent $3,000, St. Mary Parish of Windthorst $2,000, St. Maria Goretti Parish of Arlington $1,000, and Msgr. James Reilly $1,000 for a total of $92,000. (7) The saving account had over $27,000 in the building fund and the parishioners pledged $51,928.76 which included two $10,000 pledges from the Boaz and Vaught families.

Ground breaking for the addition was conducted by Monsignor Joseph Schumacher, the Vicar General of the Diocese, on December 2,1984.(2) The blessing of the new rectory, the parish hall addition and classrooms was held on June 9, 1985, by Bishop Joseph Delaney.

In 1987, following the success of the building program, the parish council decided, with the help of memorial gifts, to replace the six windows with stained glass. The life of St. John was used for the theme of the windows. Bishop Delaney blessed the windows in 1988 and in April 1989, the large window next to the altar was blessed. Over $18,000 was raised in a two-year period to pay for this new look to the church.

  In 2006 the church discovered that the road to the church was owned by the Kennedy Family of Bridgeport . Marie Kennedy felt that the road should belong to the church and she donated the rest of the property that was needed to complete the road to the church. In 2007 the church was able to pave the road and add parking using donations and pledges. This was a major change to the church.

From 1976 to the present, there has been a growing church membership. At the present time 250 different families are registered. In 2007 over 400 people are attending mass each Saturday and Sunday.  The largest attendance was recorded at 650 people.

The current parishioners are working to maintain the family atmosphere that is a tradition at St. John's , with several Sunday luncheons, parish picnics, and general social activities. For a small church in Wise County , St. John's is making its mark in the Christian community.

-          Complied by Donald Majka

Bibliography

BOOKS:

  1. Gregg. Rosalie, Editor, History of Wise County . A Link With the Past. Vol. 1, 1975, Nortex Press, p. 37
NEWSPAPER:

2.  "Groundbreaking". The Bridgeport Index. Dec. 6, 1984

3.  " Mission Church Dedicated", The Texas Catholic. June 8,1968

4.  "St. John Church of Bridgeport Uses Architectural Innovations", The Texas Catholic. June 8, 1968

   5.   'The Bridgeport Catholic Church", The Wise County Messenger. Vol. 76. No. 40, Oct. 4,1956.
  INTERVIEW:

    6.  Miller, Mary, Nov. 14, 1953 to Alice Boaz

7. St John's Catholic Church Bulletin, Jan. 13, 1983

OTHER SOURCES: NEWSPAPERS:

"New Catholic Church to be Constructed", The Bridgeport Index. Vol. 70,  No. 4. Aug. 18.1967

"One Man's Opinion", The Texas Catholic. Vol. 3.  No. 29. April 2. 1955.

"New Catholic Church to Begin Construction", The Bridgeport Index. Vol. 70, No. 10, Oct 6, 1967

" St. John's Catholic Church to be Dedicated Sunday", The Bridgeport Index. No. 40, Oct. 4. 1956. INTERVIEW:

Boaz, Rosie, Personal Interview, Aug. 1, 1989, Bridgeport , Texas

Bordner, Frank, Personal Interview, Aug. 18, 1989, Bridgeport , Texas

Smith, Margaret, Personal Interview, August. 14, 1989, Bridgeport , Texas LETTERS:

Catholic Extension Society, Aug. 31,1938 to Mary Miller

Cassata, John, Nov. 15, 1976 to Church

Fort Worth Teachers Association, Memo, July 27, 1910 to Church

Gorman. Thomas, Dec. 28, 1966 to Father Albert Tyl

Flusche. Delia. Aug. 16.1956 to Alice Boaz

Woodman, C. W., Jan. 20, 1909 to Church

BULLETIN: St. John's Catholic Church, Dec. 2.1984; June 2, 1985

The address of The St. John's Catholic Church

Web Site is:

http://www.jackandwisecatholics.org/stjohn.htm

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