St. Mary’s Catholic Church celebrates 125 years
St. Mary’s will celebrate its 125th anniversary this weekend with special programs on Saturday and Sunday. The church’s choir will sing at 5 p.m. Saturday, with rosary scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Mass will be celebrated at 6 p.m., and a dance will begin afterward.
On Sunday, Mass -- with Msgr. Mike Sis, vicar general of the Diocese of Austin, presiding -- will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Parishioners of The Church of the Good Shepherd in Lometa will join St. Mary’s members for the Mass. Invitations also have been extended to past priests of St. Mary’s Catholic Church. A meal will begin after conclusion of the Mass.
“Of course, the community as a whole is invited,” St. Mary’s priest Fr. Pedro Castillo said.
The first place of Catholic worship in Lampasas County was built in 1880 by William Mack Wittenburg on a ranch about seven miles west of Lometa. Five years later, Lampasas’ first Catholic church -- a frame building at South Broad and West Fifth streets -- was dedicated under the name of St. Mary’s.
For many years, Mass was celebrated monthly in Lampasas by visiting priests from Temple. Fr. P.A. Heckman served at St. Mary’s in Lampasas from 1892-1906. He rode in on horseback and frequently stayed overnight in a sacristy about six feet long and three feet wide, according to a church history document.
A rectory was built in 1927, when Fr. Thomas A. Ryan became St. Mary’s first resident pastor.
From 1939 to 1945, under Fr. William F. Roach, St. Mary’s and its missions began significant expansion. Along with churches in Burnet, Killeen and Gatesville, a native stone St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Lampasas was built for English-speaking parishioners. St. Christopher’s in Lampasas was constructed as a place of worship for Spanish-speaking Catholics.
A fire attributed to a defective heating system destroyed the mission-style St. Mary’s church on Jan. 8, 1970. Construction of a new facility began the next year, and on March 2, 1972 the first Mass was celebrated in the new building, which features a brick interior and exterior, and a cathedral-style ceiling.
A more complete history of the Lampasas church is available at www.stmaryslampasas.org/hist_ sm.html.
“The Catholic community here in Lampasas has been present now for 125 years,” Castillo said. “The legacy of the Catholic faith in Lampasas County has brought good things for people.”
Those blessings, Castillo said, include Catholic teachings and sacraments, along with a commitment to serving the needy. St. Mary’s food pantry, open Wednesdays and Fridays, and Shared Blessings thrift store -- open Thursday through Saturday -- serve both Catholics and non-Catholics, providing food and clothing at a low cost. The food pantry served nearly 7,000 people last year, Castillo noted.
Through changes in church buildings and liturgy -- including the introduction of English and Spanish Masses after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s -- the teachings and sacraments offered at St. Mary’s have emphasized the need for an ongoing commitment to Christ, Castillo said.
“We are continually converting to Christ,” the priest said. “It is a dynamic process. You need to accept Christ every day. It’s not enough to say you accepted Christ once, and you are OK.”
The parish’s pastoral plan, Castillo said, focuses on, among other things, conversions -- including those of adults who decide to join the Catholic Church; family holiness, specifically family prayer, and participation in the liturgical year; and the development of faithfulness among youth. Marisa Ybarra, a married mother of five, leads the parish’s youth ministry, which offers religious education and confirmation for youth ages 14 and older.
As many as nine to 10 youth, Castillo said, are preparing for an August trip to the 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain. During the triennial event, youth will meet with Pope Benedict XVI in the country Castillo noted was the first to evangelize the Americas.
“The hope is when they come back they will share their faith and that experience,” the priest said.
A native of a rural town in Colombia, Castillo came to Lampasas about four years ago from the Diocese of Malaga-Soata. In the coming years, the priest hopes to see greater involvement of parishioners in the Catholic Church’s mission.
“If people get the message here in the pews and they go back home and teach it, we expect to see more committed families,” he said.
In response to what he called an ongoing “marriage crisis,” Castillo said the parish offers preparation classes that teach the sacramental nature of Christian marriage.
“Without the sacrament of marriage, it is a lot harder to live out your faith and your vocation before God and before others,” he said.
Castillo also said he looks to the future with hope that youth will worship and serve faithfully through St. Mary’s.
“You see this age with hope in your heart that one day this age will accept what it means to be Catholic and that one day they will pass on the legacy they received from their elders,” the priest said. “If we help people live out the values of their Catholic faith, they will influence in a positive way the community.”