The History of Saint Helen Catholic Church
The beginning of St. Helen's Catholic Church dates back to the 1920s when a small group of predominantly Hispanic Catholics, having no place to attend Mass, asked Father O'Reilly, C.S.C., to celebrate Mass for them in Georgetown. Father O'Reilly, who had been a professor of Spanish at Notre Dame University in Indiana, came to Austin in 1904. Although in poor health, the priest used to visit neighboring parishes and was instrumental in building churches as far away as Temple and Waco.
Saying Mass in a Tent
At the time that Father O'Reilly was solicited to help in Georgetown, he was already offering Mass in Andice, Liberty Hill, and Bertram in addition to being Chaplain at Seton Hospital in Austin. He began saying Mass here in a tent and later in a freight boxcar which happened to be the home of the Mexican family of Lola Cruz.
With the growth in church membership, the need for a Catholic Church became more imperative. However, great difficulty lay in even finding property much less in actually acquiring it. Georgetown, being a Protestant town, had strong reservations about Catholics. Under these conditions, it was a formidable task to lay the foundations of a Catholic Church. Father O'Reilly believed, however, he should begin.
After initial disappointments in attempts to purchase a suitable site, he enlisted the aid of Mr. Leonard Schneider, an executive in an Austin bank. Mr. Schneider was able to purchase two lots on which the church was built. So secretive were the negotiations that no one in Georgetown knew that the property was bought for the church. It was not until Mr. Schneider transferred the title to Bishop C.E. Bryne that the people knew a Catholic Church was being built. Unofficial sources dating back to that time reveal that the initial purpose of purchasing the land stated it was to establish a "beauty parlor," to keep secret the real reason for its acquisition. Thus the "beauty parlor" became the "House of God."
Brand New Church Dedicated
On May 3, 1931, a beautiful dream unfolded for the Georgetown Catholics as a brand new Church was dedicated and blessed by Bishop Bryne, then Bishop of the Galveston Diocese. Father Patrick O'Reilly, the original founder of St. Helen's, had built a Church which was to serve as a source of spiritual enrichment for Catholics for years to come. Many Catholics from Taylor and Austin came for the dedication.
Many items were donated by people to the new church. One of which was the present of the Church bell given by the Clarence Jones family and a candlestick by Mrs. Marguerite Daniel.
However, times were very hard for St. Helen's in the early years. Many Sundays the collection would amount to $2.50 or $3.00. Even though the Extension Society paid a substantial amount of the debt on the newly built church, the remainder had to be paid by the congregation. The little group tried various fundraising projects, but very little could be accomplished by such a tiny parish in such a Protestant town. St. Helen's was not the only place having financial difficulties at this time. In fact, the whole nation was in the deep economic depression during the early 1930s. In 1931, St. Helen's foundation was finally laid. Following the establishment of St. Helen's, the small congregation was served by several Holy Cross Fathers. Aside from Father O'Reilly, the following priests from St. Edward's University in Austin came here to say Mass at one time or another, Father Angus MacDonald, Father Walter O'Donnell, and Father Peter Forrestal.
In 1934, St. Helen's received its first resident priest, in the person of Father Frank Drummey, who lived in the little room in the back of the church. Even though Father Drummey was in frail health, this didn't keep him from putting all his power into beautifying the church grounds. He leveled off the grounds, planted grass, and built a walk along the side of the church. However, the work proved too strenuous for his health and he was in Georgetown only one year before he became ill and passed away on June 17, 1935.
Although 1935 saw the loss of a very fine and able priest, the same year was to be of special significance to St. Helen's as this was the year that Father Thomas Culhane and Father Mendez were ordained to the priesthood. This inspirational team of God's messengers was to play a most important part in the role of St. Helen's of Georgetown.
A month after his ordination, Father Culhane was sent to work on the missions which included Andice, Bertram, and Georgetown. At that time, Georgetown was the only place with a church already built. In addition to his mission duties, Father Culhane was given a full schedule of classes to teach at St. Edward's University.
In 1936, Father Alfred Mendez came to Texas to take charge of the missions while residing at the University and also teaching classes there. Father Culhane and Father Mendez were to continue together for years to work among the missions and finally to bring each one to prosperity and a place of its own in the Diocese.
In the Fall of the first year as the two priests labored in their efforts to foster Christianity, it became evident that a church was needed for Andice. They had been using an old theatre, but it was razed without notice. During the good weather, Mass was said at the Mexican Cemetery and during the Winter and inclement days, Mass was said at the home of Juan Zavala. When a church became imperative, Father Mendez wrote to the Catholic Church Extension Society for funds. They promised to help if the Church would be named St. Rose of Lima. The priest agreed. In the midst of the church planning, Father Mendez was taken ill in January 1937. Meanwhile, Father Culhane was caring for the missions alone. The money from the Extension Society came as did Brother Jerome Steffes to help build the church.
Rectory was Brought to Georgetown
November 1937, proved to be a very important year for the local missions. Early in November, Bishop C. E. Bryne blessed the new St. Rose of Lima Church in Andice. Father Mendez returned to the missions and a rectory was bought in Georgetown so the priests could spend all their time working on the missions.
Father Mendez remained in Austin, but was still the nominal pastor in Georgetown. Father Culhane and Father Frederick Schmidt, C.S.C., moved into the new rectory and Father Culhane became the pastor soon after that. The Catholic Extension Society gave $500.00 towards the rectory and also $1,000.00 to St. Rose of Lima Church in Andice. The rectory cost was $2,700.00, so the priests had to come up with $2,200.00. There was also a debt of $500.00 on the church in Georgetown. Through friends and relatives, the two priests were able to pay off this sum. The Holy Cross Sisters were also very instrumental in establishing St. Helen's. Besides helping to furnish the rectory with furniture and drapes, they came to this area to teach religion during the summer. Each morning for two weeks the Sisters taught children at St. Helen's. In the early evening during the same two weeks, they taught the children at Andice.
In the Spring of 1940, Father Culhane fell ill and was ordered off the missions by a doctor to recuperate. He was succeeded by Father Joseph Houser, C.S.C
In 1943, Father Houser was succeeded at St. Helen's by Father Peter Mueller, C.S.C. Father Mueller was the grand nephew of Archbishop Peter Hurth, C.S.C, one of the pioneer Holy Cross priests in Texas. During Father Mueller's pastorate, a plot of land was purchased behind the church on the west side. It was quite a bit of real estate for future development.
In 1945, Father Culhane returned to the parish to continue the good works he begun before his illness forced him to leave. He continued as pastor until 1951 when he was named chaplain at a school for boys in Terre Haute, Indiana. As a result of his outstanding service to the people of St. Helen's and the surrounding missions, Father Culhane became known as one of the most loved and respected priests of all time. Through his patience, hard work, and strong religious dedication, he was looked up to by his entire congregation, and his ability to communicate with the townspeople of all denominations made him truly a most outstanding figure in Georgetown. Father Culhane captured may treasured memories and occasions on paper, which will always be a very special "Culhane Archives." Born in Williamsport, PA, in 1907, he was known throughout central Texas as a builder of parishes and as a servant of God. His 42 years of ministry included man assignments and in 1964 he took up residence at Donahue House in Austin where he resided until his death on August 19, 1977. Mrs. Anton Schwertner, who was in contact with Father Culhane, was able to write most of this history with the aid of his notes and articles.
Although changes were taking place in various aspects of people's lives around the country, a most important event was taking place in the Catholic Church in Austin. In April 1949, the Most Reverend Louis J. Reicher, D.D., was consecrated the first bishop for the newly created Diocese of Austin where he served 24 years. He is now retired after many years of religious service to the area. In 1948, another priest who would play a very important role in our local lives in years to come became Chancellor of the Diocese of Galveston. He was Vincent M. Harris, who received his early education in Conroe and in Houston. He began his studies for the priesthood at St. Mary's Seminary in La Porte, Texas. Later, he studied at the North American College in Rome and was ordained there on March 19, 1938. He taught canon law and dogmatic theology at St. Mary's Seminary for a number of years. In 1966, he became the first bishop of the newly created Diocese of Beaumont and in 1971 he was moved to the Diocese of Austin, replacing the retiring bishop, Louis J. Reicher.
At St. Helen's, Father Frederick Schmidt became pastor in 1951 where he remained until 1959 when Round Rock became a parish of its own and Father Schmidt was named the new pastor there.
Among the priests also serving at St. Helen's in years past were Father Vincent Delavy and Father Elmer Rupp. Father Delavy was here from 1944 to 1945 with Father Rupp coming here on his first assignment following his ordination in 1945. Father Rupp passed away May 23, 1978 following an extended illness. At the time of his death, he was pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Gatesville.
Also serving in Georgetown during the late 1940s was Father Thomas Curran and Father James Donnelly who was here in the early 1950's. Father John Driscoll was also at St. Helen's for a short time.
Father Joseph Pawlicki
In 1959, Father Joseph Pawlicki became pastor at St. Helen's. He was previously assistant to Father Schmidt. Father Pawlicki made many changes at St. Helen's, worked very hard for the people and emerged as a very strong character with great talents and ability.
Mrs. Dora Ramirez very fondly recalls various events and affairs in the church during Father Pawlicki's time. The first recreation building called "St. Joseph's Recreation Hall" was bought as an old Navy barrack from Southwestern University for $400.00. It was later moved to the present site of the CCD building. It is the first section of the present CCD building. In the mid 1960s Father Llorente extended the CCD building to its present site. Father Pawlicki enlarged the church and eventually added the stone.
Father Pawlicki brought the painting of "Our Lady of Guadalupe" from Mexico City. "Our Lady of Guadalupe's" feast day is December 12th and is held in high esteem at St. Helen's. Special Mass is said on that day and everyone brings a rose to the Blessed Mother. This tradition started a long time ago and is still carried out here.
During this time, anyone passing through the church yard could stop and meditate or say a prayer before the grotto of the Blessed Mother which stood in the church yard facing south. The grotto was later dismantled and the statue of the Blessed Mother is now in the church.
Father Pawlicki brought a lay Missionary from the North, named "Teresita," and later he brought two others, Marilyn Taylor and Susan Banta, to teach CCD, drive the school bus, and make parish visitations. They remained at St. Helen's about two years. Father Pawlicki built a small house for them, this was later moved and became a part of the church rectory. Later, Father Alfred Kallus remodeled the rectory. Father Kallus was an accomplished carpenter. The little garage of the old rectory, which was across the street from the church, was moved and became a storage building on the parking lot close to the CCD building.
To make for a more "togetherness" in the church proper during Mass, Father Pawlicki had the communion railing removed and the altar placed in the center of the church with the pews in a circular arrangement. The purpose of this was, according to Father Pawlicki, "That we should all look at each other.. To remind each other... That we should all love each other."
In 1964, Bishop Louis J. Reicher became Bishop of Austin and named Father Victor Llorente pastor of St. Helen's. He was the first diocesan priest here, ending the tradition of Holy Cross Fathers who had served the congregation so faithfully for so long.
Father Llorente had very definite ideas of his own and thus made some changes in the parish. He added another barrack, replaced the altar and the communion railing, and discontinued use of the bus. About this time a more permanent change was being made in the Catholic Church all over the world, priests now offered Mass while facing the congregation.
Father Alfred Kallus became the next pastor of St. Helen's. Father Kallus remodeled the interior of the church when he arrived and also renovated the inside of the rectory, doing much of the work himself. During his stay at St. Helen's, a church board was instituted. Father also reorganized the Ladies' Club which became a very strong working organization. He also tore down the old rectory across the street from the church.
When Father Kallus left St. Helen's, Father Charles Davis was named pastor. One of his projects was the building of St. Helen's Center which was dedicated by Bishop Louis J. Reicher on Sunday, February 7, 1971. An overflow crowd attended the dedication on the beautiful crisp Sunday afternoon as St. Helen's congregation showed off its newest building. The landscaping was done by the parishioners. Serving on the church board at that time were Sheriff Henry Matysek, Domingo Bracamontez, Marvin Williams, Fred Muhl, and Richard Zavala.
Father Davis had quite a way with children and much of his time was spent with the younger population of this parish even though the older ones were by no means left out. He started a Children's Mass with the liturgy read b the children of the church. The CCD classes showed a tremendous enrollment increase. In keeping with his love for children, Father Davis was instrumental in setting up a Christmas pageant. The children of the parish depicted the complete Christmas story right down to the "Little Drummer Boy." Father Davis also had very good communication with the local townspeople as he was a very strong supporting member of the Georgetown Ministerial Alliance. Each year, for several years, St. Helen's participated in the week-long Day Camp for the underprivileged in the area held at a ranch near Georgetown.
However, not all times were happy at St. Helen's during Father Davis' pastorate. Two outstanding parishioners and civic leaders met untimely deaths. Highway Patrolman Billy Howry died on March 18, 1972 when he was struck by a motorist while on duty. In memory of Patrolman Howry, the eight-foot sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi was dedicated. In 1974, St. Helen's lost Sheriff Henry Matysek to a heart attack. A statue was erected as a tribute to the Sheriff at the Williamson County Courthouse.
Father Davis remained at St. Helen's until the Fall of 1975 when he was transferred to San Saba. Upon Father Davis' departure, Father Al Palermo was assigned to St. Helen's. Under his intelligent guidance and his strong sense of organization, St. Helen's was to experience growth financially with efforts set toward the thoughts of building a new church in the future.
One of the greatest wishes of Father Palermo was to have an even closer harmony and togetherness among his congregation. This was accomplished through an all day church festival, Newcomers Dinners, and other functions where the people could work together and form a tighter sense of community.
In September 1977, Sister Ancille Furlong and Sister Marguerite Goonan, Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, came to St. Helen's to teach and coordinate the religious education program. They were joined the following year by Sister Lou Anne Willitte of the same order who became the Youth Director.
Father John Frizelle
On January 23, 1978 Father Palermo, along with other church officials, signed a contract to purchase 15 acres of land east of Georgetown along Highway 29 for the purpose of building a church. In August 1979, Father Palermo was transferred and Father John Frizelle became the new pastor taking on the task of building the new church. In October 1982, a groundbreaking ceremony was held on the new site. A Building Committee, headed by Don Collier, began the tremendous project of planning and constructing the new church. On Saturday, February 11, 1984, the first Mass was offered at St. Helen's new church at 5pm. The beautiful new structure of St. Helen's Church was formally blessed and dedicated on August 26, 1984 by Bishop Vincent Harris, the second Bishop of the Austin Diocese.
The first rectory was a rectory/office combination at the site of the present office location. Later a separate rectory was built for the priests' living quarters. A parish hall and a religious education center are also a part of the church complex today.
From January to June of 1987, Father Frizelle went on a six-month sabbatical to California. During Father Frizelle's absence, Father James O'Conner served as administrator. The month following his return, Father Frizelle was installed as Monsignor on July 15, 1987. For all his hard work and dedication to the building of the church complex, St. Helen's parish honored him by naming the parish hall, "Frizelle Hall."
Also assisting St. Helen's during Father Frizelle's pastorate, was Father John Herledan, who became the acting administrator at the Santa Rosa Catholic Church in Andice. Father Herledan arrived in 1981 and retired in 1990.
Monsignor Louis J. Wozniak
In January 1988, Father George Tzanakas came to St. Helen's. He was assisted for a short time by Father Victor Matthias, S.J. During this time, Father Tzanakas was transferred from St. Helen's and Monsignor Louis J. Wozniak arrived in June of that same year.
Monsignor Wozniak beautifully landscaped the church grounds, reconditioned the parking lot and transformed the car garage of the office building into the "Office Meeting Room." He also set up a new sound system in the church and had the new storage building constructed. Monsignor Wozniak was assisted for about a year by Father Alberto Tijerina who was also serving in the campus ministry at Southwestern University. In July 1990, Monsignor William Kinlough arrived to assist Monsignor Wozniak and remained until February 1991.
On March 1, 1991, Father Greg McLaughlin came to St. Helen's as Parochial Vicar. An accomplished musician, Father McLaughlin played the piano, sang, and directed the choir. However, his specialty was Religious Education in which he held a Masters Degree. He became Catholic University Chaplain at Southwestern University in 1991. Also serving at St. Helen's during this time was Deacon Roger Collins who was instrumental in helping put the registration on the computer and organizing the Crop Walk, a Ministerial Alliance of Georgetown event that provides relief for the poor. Monsignor Wozniak was also assisted by Father William F. Carr and Father Louis Droll. Father Carr was transferred to Santa Rosa in 1990 and broke ground on the new Church building in 1999. Father Droll continues to hold services at both St. Helen's and Santa Rosa. St. Helen's also benefited from the dynamic energies of seminary student, Brian McMaster who concentrated on preparations for the Jubilee, assisting with RCIA, and working with the Catholic Ministry at Southwestern University.
Father William Michael Mulvey
Monsignor Wozniak was beloved by the parish. Upon his retirement in 1999, the office building was dedicated in his name. Succeeding Monsignor Wozniak as pastor, is Father William Michael Mulvey. Assisted by Father Albert Ruiz and Deacon Joe Ruiz, Father Michael met the challenge of the new Millennium by instituting more mass services to accommodate the burgeoning growth of the parish, computerizing the entire office, restructuring the Religious Education program, enhancing the scope of the church ministries, establishing a website, and making St. Helen's a more welcoming community.
Msgr. Louis (Alois) Pavlicek
Monsignor Pavlicek was named pastor of St. Helen Church effective June 1, 2004. Ordained May 22, 1971, Msgr. Pavlicek had been previously assigned at St. Luke Church in Temple. Msgr. Pavlicek oversaw the remodeling of the current church, expanding the seating capacity and adding larger restrooms and a new, larger Sacristy. Father Brian McMaster remained as associate pastor for one additional year in order to ensure a smooth transition. Fr. Efrain Villanueva, a newly ordained priest, joined the pastoral team later in 2004 and his presence and ministry increased the involvement of the Hispanic community. During the summer of 2006, Father Efrain was transferred to Santa Cruz in Buda and another newly ordained priest, Father John Guzaldo, was assigned to serve the community of St. Helen. His priestly ministry also extended to Southwestern University. St. Helen Catholic School experienced a change of leadership when the Principal Mike Miller accepted a position at a Catholic High School in Ohio. Sister Mary Jean Olsovsky, OP, became the Principal and under her leadership and guidance the school enrollment increased and now includes the eighth grade. Youth Ministry was strengthened through the efforts of Gwen Bartlett, her associates and team volunteers. Debbie White joined the pastoral team as Music and Liturgy Coordinator. St. Helen now offered seven weekend Masses. Two of the Masses are in the Spanish Language and there is also a Liturgy with Children in the parish hall at 9:30 AM every Sunday. In July of 2009 Fr. Guzaldo was transferred to St. Dominic Savio High School where he currently teaches theology and provides spiritual guidance for the students. Fr. Will Straten was ordained on June 6, 2009 and was assigned to St. Helen Parish as Associate Pastor, joining the St. Helen staff in September.
St. Helen Parish continues to grow with 2200 registered families. To accomodate the growing community, the Parish is in the process of building a Parish Activity Center. This facility will bring a much needed recreational, classroom, office, kitchen and meeting space to the St. Helen Campus. The Parish Activity Center is scheduled for completion July 1, 2010.