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Notes and Interviews From the Past About Holy Cross Church

Monday 09 October 2017 at 5:53 pm.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for October 5, 2017, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

             In the early 1990’s, I worked as a part-time news editor for the East Bernard Tribune, long before theExpress bought it out. Although this was a hectic job for someone who was also pastoring a church, it gave me the opportunity to interview many local people and learn a great deal about the history of our town. I have to confess that I have always been more interested in history than in the chores of news editing.

            Fortunately, as an amateur historian, I now have folders and folders full of notes I took during personal interviews, facts about old buildings, descriptions of outstanding citizens, observations at public functions, etc., etc. Many of the wonderful folks I interviewed during that era have since passed away. Some of the information I gathered made its way into news stories; some did not. These bits and pieces and conversations helped me to write the entry for “East Bernard” in the Handbook of Texas, and I still enjoy going through them.

            As a pastor (even though of a church in Wallis), I was especially interested in the churches in East Bernard, discovering through conversations and interviews that the old German Methodist church had an engrossing history, as did Holy Cross Catholic Church. In my early years in town, I even wrote a history of the old German Methodist Church.

            While the old-timers had some fascinating stories to tell about the early Methodists, the church that interested me the most, because of its arresting physical beauty, both inside and out, was the Holy Cross church. Once, when I was even motivated to paint a watercolor of the church and was photographing it (since I paint from photos), folks all over town were asking me why I was photographing their church. Well, it wasn’t for a news story, it was homework for my painting. If I remember correctly, I sold that little painting at the Country Rose for ten or fifteen dollars.

            From the first time I saw it, the beautiful Spanish colonial style exterior caught my eye, and when I was finally able to go inside, the interior was breathtaking, especially the altar and the stained-glass windows. Growing up Lutheran, I remember some old Lutheran churches, including the one my great grandparents attended, that had similar interiors, only with less statuary. Ecclesiastical art which glorifies God has always been uplifting to me.

            In that era of being a news editor, one of the most delightful people I interviewed was Mary Hlavinka, who was 94 years old in 1992. She called herself a “double Hlavinka,” because she was Hlavinka by birth and Hlavinka by marriage. She was one of many older citizens I interviewed at the time in my quest for primary source material on the history of East Bernard, and, as I did with the others, I asked her about the history of her church, -- which was Holy Cross.

            She told me that in 1905, through the efforts of John Vacek and others, Czech Catholics in East Bernard built a frame church which Vacek named, “Exaltation of the Holy Cross.” That same year, on December 6, Mary Hlavinka arrived in Galveston on her 7th birthday. She came with her father and mother and a number of other relatives from Nechvalin, Czechoslovakia, and they would soon come to worship at Holy Cross.

            Mary told me that she remembered they stayed in Galveston for two days, then took the train to Wallis, where her Uncle Martin met them at the Santa Fe depot. “Jerome’s grandfather and great grandfather were waiting for us at the depot that day with pitchers of coffee for the grownups and a pitcher of milk for the children,” and then she added with eyes sparkling from reminiscing, “Well, I remember, it was 4 a.m. in the morning, and not only did they have pitchers of coffee and milk, but they also had a huge dishpan of homemade doughnuts just for us!”

            Holy Cross Church, which was established in 1900 by Czech immigrants, had finished their modest frame building when Mary arrived. A couple decades later, in 1925, the current Spanish colonial style structure was erected. I learned that the angel mosaics inside were imported from Munich, Germany, and the Stations of the Cross, which were made of copper, were imported from Czechoslovakia. I also learned that those awesome stained-glassed windows came from Brno, Czechoslovakia, where artisans at the Otmar Vackar Company had worked the stained glass into roundel glass.

            I was blessed to have had the opportunity to meet and interview Mary Hlavinka and to receive first hand historical information about East Bernard and Mary’s church, and I still like to drive by Holy Cross Church to admire the beauty of its Spanish colonial architecture.

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Ray Spitzenberger is a free lance writer and artist who lives in East Bernard with his beautiful wife Peggy and spoiled cat Gatsby.

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