St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, located in Rockdale, Texas is a new, modern brick structure adjoined by a two-story rectory which also serves, on the first floor, as an office, religious education area and for parish social activities. The parishioners, approximately 180 registered families, are proud of the structures, the fellowship and heritage and are deeply grateful to all those who have given of themselves throughout the years to make this possible.
Early history of St. Joseph’s is rather obscure; however, early pioneer work was begun in the 1870’s as Catholic families began settling in the Rockdale area and surrounding communities. Mr. Leo Strelsky and Mr. Anton Wolf were primarily responsible for early progress and Father John Lauth, C.S.C., served as missionary at the time. Through the efforts and sacrifices of these settlers, a wooden, frame church was built in 1880, dedicated to St. Joseph the Worker, on land purchased and donated by the Strelsky brothers. It was located at the corner of East Bell and San Gabriel Streets in Rockdale which has continued to remain the church site.
Father John Lauth remained until 1887 when his brother Father Jacob Lauth took over the work and continued until 1893. Both served out of the Taylor parish. They were succeeded by Father J. B. Gleisner from Hearne.
In the late 1890’s or early 1900’s, Rockdale became a mission to Cameron. During the early 1900’s a Catholic school was built on the site of the present rectory. Administration and education were under the direction of the Sisters of Divine Providence from San Antonio, Sisters St. Claire, Rodriguez and Valentine. They welcomed both Catholic and Protestant students. Because of insufficient students and lack of funds, the school was discontinued after about three years. Later the building was sold and moved from the church premises.
In 1912 the original church was torn down and a new building erected. This new church, wooden, of Spanish architecture and again a work of dedication and sacrifices, was blessed and dedicated on the feast of its patron, St. Joseph, on March 19, 1912. The church continued to remain a mission to Cameron, being served by Fathers Peter Binemann, Simon Spinneweber, George Apel and George Duda.
It is interesting to note that through these years, with priest visitations only once a month, the feast of St. Joseph was always a celebrated event with members attending High Mass and a family picnic. Religious education was not neglected. Parents assumed this responsibility. Often bad weather prevented the priest’s routine visit. Parents, anxious to have their babies baptized, frequently took them to surrounding churches which then required considerable travel time.
In the late 1930’s the chief industries, mining and farming, began to diminish as did the number of parishioners. Only a few families remained to maintain and keep the church active on a limited basis.
In 1940 Rockdale was transferred to the parish of Guadalupe, Taylor. Serving as missionaries were Fathers E. Bastian, Francis Decker, Lewis and Frank Ecimovich. On May 18, 1940 Reverend William H. Brooks of this parish was ordained into the priesthood. Religion classes were taught by the Cathechist Sisters from Taylor with assistance given by the parents.
In 1952 and aluminum industry located a smelting plant in this area, creating community and parish growth until there were sufficient members to support the church without diocesan assistance. So, for the first time, approximately seventy-two years after the fist church was built, St. Joseph’s became a self-sustaining parish. Father Robert Fuchs became the first pastor. Improvements were made to the church and a new rectory built. In 1955 Father Clyde Holtman became the next pastor and in turn was succeeded by Father Steve Montenegro in 1957.
St. Joseph’s membership continued to grow and it became necessary to replace the much-too-small church with a larger structure. This new St. Joseph’s was dedicated on March 19, 1967. The building is of simple lines, built of brick and includes facilities for a baptistery, vestry, educational and recreational facilities. On May 27, 1967 Father Alonzo (Lonnie) Urban, son of Dr. and Mrs. A. A. Urban of this parish, was ordained into the priesthood.
In 1967 Father Paul McCallum was transferred to this parish and presently remains the pastor. Through his efforts, religion classes were expanded under the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, with classes being taught by lay people, the pastor and two nuns from Taylor. Approximately 125 students regularly attended religion classes. Parish membership at the beginning of 1974 was numbered at approximately 180 registered families.
We must say a special thank you to Norine Daniel Katich of Jacksonville, FL, for re-typing the above church history for use on the Milam County TXGenWeb site.
Created on 15 June 2004 and last revised on _________ 2004