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

In order to understand the early history of this North Texas church, it is important to consider that before Wise County had even been established in 1855, the Catholic Church already existed in Texas. The Diocese of Galveston basically covered all of Texas in the 1840’s; and as the population increased, the Catholic population also grew. The town of Fort Worth was established in 1849, but it was not until 1870 that the first systematic Catholic services were held in the community. In 1876 a parish was established there. Pope Leo XIII established a new Diocese in 1890, The Diocese of Dallas. It was not until 1953 that Pope Pius XII changed the name to the Diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth.

In the 1890’s, large Catholic communities were being established in North Texas. Denton, Weatherford, Muenster, Gainesville, and Pilot Point were a few of these, and some even had schools. By 1969 the North Texas Catholic population would cause Pope Paul VI to separate 28 counties to form the Diocese of Fort Worth. This new Diocese would include Wise County and the two Catholic churches: St. John the Baptizer in Bridgeport and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin in Decatur.

By the 1850’s, many new towns were being established as the Indians were moving North and West. In 1855 William Hunt came to the area, and in 1860 a toll bridge was built over the West Fork of the Trinity River. This allowed the Butterfield Overland Mail route to cross the river, and the settlement at Bridgeport was established. While digging a water well in 1860, Charles Cates discovered coal, and the town began to grow. As Bridgeport became important to the development of North Texas commerce, the town was incorporated in 1873.

Coal was being mined by 1882. As a result of the workers in the mines, the Catholic community was increasing. By 1889, Father O’Riordan from Henrietta, Texas, came once a month by train to hold Mass; so a Mission was established. The Mission of St. John the Baptizer was the first Catholic Church established in Wise County. Assumption in Decatur was established in1938, and St. Mary’s in Jacksboro was established in 1899. These were the only three Catholic churches in two counties.

Mass was held in different Catholic homes until money could be raised to build a church building. The first Mass held in the Bridgeport area was in the home of Mrs. Catherine Connor near the East Mound Community. (Catherine Connor was the Great Grandmother of Margret Smith, a current member of St. John’s parish). Several missionaries were known to assist Rev. J. J. O’ Riordan. A few of them included Reverend Fathers Crowley, Blakeney, O’Sullivan, Burnes, Leonort, and Murphy. According to Mrs. Mary Miller, the former Mary Fury, her family came to the area in 1876. At that time masses were being held in the homes of Clement Fury, Sarah Burnes, and Joseph Roth of Willow Point. These home Masses were performed using dressers for the altar, Irish linen for the altar cloth, and pewter candleholders. St. John’s still has one of the original communion cloths on display today.

It was not until 1908 that the church community had raised enough money to build a mission church. It is known that the Fury, Boaz, Bordner, Connor, Burnes, Grill, Koeninger, Roth, and Cunningham families were parishioners in 1908. Church records indicate that several collections were made not only from Catholics, but also non-Catholics, and that 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 $1200 to begin building a small wooden frame church. To view photo of original church click on ORIGINAL CHURCH.

Father Goessens was the pastor at the time that the church was dedicated in 1908. The first church was built on a small lot 75 feet by 140 feet, located on Greathouse Street on the west side of the railroad. This wood frame church was 25 feet by 50 feet, just a shell of a building. The church had a wooden floor, no inside wall covering, no ceiling, no water, no toilets, and only one entrance.

In 1926 the church was first remodeled, and the inside walls were covered. Other improvements continued, and the first peddle-type organ was donated by the Boaz family. It was during the 1940’s that siding was added to the building. In 1956 the church received a seal-a-tex covering on the walls and ceiling, and carpet was added down the center aisle. Mass was moved back to the Boaz home until the work was finished. The church could now hold 85 people with no room to expand. Alice Boaz painted the windows to resemble stained glass to help beautify the building’s interior. By this time, the church attendance was around 54 members.

As the church attendance continued to grow, the building would soon be too small for the membership. In 1957 a new church was going to be needed since it had become necessary to use folding chairs. A building fund was then established by Father Glogowski at the Chancery office. It was not until Father Albert Tyl was appointed pastor of Decatur, Bridgeport, and Jacksboro that formal plans began for a new church. In 1967 a building committee was formed, and plans were made to build a new church to seat 220 people along with an all-purpose hall and an adjoining kitchen. The new church was also to have an office as well as one classroom. After the design was approved, very little was changed. However, the size of the kitchen was increased at the request of the parish women.

Miss Rosie Boaz sold the parish a four acre track for one dollar from the Pete Boaz Estate located on Irvin Street. On October 1, 1967 construction began with sixty to seventy people attending the ground breaking ceremony. Bridgeport’s mayor, George Harwood, turned the soil to begin construction. The first Mass in the new 5,500 square foot church was held on Mother’s Day, May 12, 1968. The dedication was performed by Bishop Thomas Gorman of Dallas on Sunday June 9, 1968. The average attendance was now over 150 people. The old church was sold for $3000 to the Bridgeport Assembly of God Church to be used as a day nursery. In 1969 St. John’s became part of the new Diocese of Fort Worth.

The new church was the first tilt-wall construction in Wise County. The six inch exposed aggregate of native limestone serves as exterior and interior for the building. The altar and pulpit were built of limestone from the area. Behind the choir area the concrete wall was designed to resemble a velvet curtain. It was felt that the bell tower was too expensive to build until a member of the church, John Brogan, donated the material and constructed the bell tower. This allowed the old bell from the original church to be rung before Mass at the new site. Recently, the following inscription was found cast on the bell: “Our Lady of Guadalupe 1929 Bridgeport, Texas.” St. Monica Parish of Dallas donated 36 pews for the new church. Since only 24 were needed, the rest were given to another church. Members of the church, Frank Border, Herbert Neu, Julius Pennartz, Vernon Vidal and others, refinished the wooden pews. The pews had to be dismantled and rebuilt before they could be used. The kneelers were upholstered by Manuel Heredia. The new vestments were produced by Mrs. Mamie McKeon, and the altar linens were hand stitched by Mrs. Frank Bordner. The Stations of the Cross from the original church have been saved but are not currently in use. On February 1, 1979, the loan for

the new church was paid off. The entire cost of the new church had totaled $68,750 with 50% coming from the parishioners and the remainder from an Extension Society grant and from the Union of Czech Catholic Women of Texas.

When St. John’s became a parish on November 15, 1979, Bishop Cassata of the Diocese of Fort Worth established the boundaries with the understanding that the priest would live in Bridgeport and serve the mission at Jacksboro as well. The boundaries were established as “…all of the western portion of Wise County, Texas bordered by Montague County line on the North, Jack County on the West, and Parker and Tarrant Counties on the South.” The Eastern boundary was defined as “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 Tarrant and Wise County line.”

Since the original construction in 1969, St. John’s has undergone several renovations and additions. In 1984, a building committee was established to develop an expansion program for the existing parish hall as well as additional classrooms, an office work-room and new restrooms. A new three bed room rectory was also planned to be placed next to the church. The priest had stayed in a rented trailer home and later in an older home away from the parish. This would be the first time a priest would have a home on the church property. Over $200,000 was raised from many sources, including parishioners’ pledges, “Sharing in Ministry,” and The Catholic Extension Society. Ground breaking for the addition was conducted by Monsignor Joseph Schumacher, the Vicar General of the Diocese on December 2, 1984. On June 9, 1985, Bishop Joseph Delaney blessed the new parish hall addition, classrooms, and the new rectory. The six existing windows and the window by the altar were replaced with stained glass in 1987, using the life of St. John the Baptizer as the theme. Six new additional classrooms were built in 2009. The gravel road leading to the church was donated by the adjoining property owners, and after over 40 years of being dusty or muddy, the road was finally paved. In 2014 an additional 4.8 acres were purchased thus making approximately 10 acres of property for St. John’s Catholic Church. In 2014 the front doors were replaced in memory of Linda Dill by the Ladies of St. John’s, and through the generous donations of the parishioners, the adjacent windows were also replaced to match the doors in honor of the 125 years as a Catholic community in Bridgeport.

From 1984 to the present the church as grown. At present over 650 different families are registered with two Masses being held on weekends as well as daily Masses. The current parishioners are working to maintain the family atmosphere that is a tradition at St. John’s with frequent Sunday luncheons, parish picnics, and general social activities. To view photo of present church click on PRESENT CHURCH.

Pope John Paul II recognized St. John the Baptizer Church on October 1, 1989 for its 100 years of existence and sent his Apostolic Blessing to the people of the parish. St. John’s Catholic Church has played an important role in the religious heritage of the area and ontinues to make its mark in the Christian community by growing and sharing the love of Christ to all.

          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

Return to Churches home page