Saint Christopher Parish was found in 1922 to serve the Catholic population in the growing Park Place area. At its founding, there were ten families. Today, the parish has grown to more than 3,500 families. Over the past seventy-nine years, the church, its school, and religious education programs, its social and service organization, have worked to strengthen the faith and to serve the needs of the people of southeast Houston. In these years, the population of the parish has become increasingly diverse, reflecting the rich ethnic heritage of the city. Parishioners can be proud of the church’s rich history and can look forward to continued growth, both spiritually and material.
The First World War, which devastated Europe, brought development, and prosperity to much of the United States, including Houston. The rapid growth in the city’s population let to new residential areas like the Park Place Addition, designed to provide housing for all the new Houstonians. When the Addition was established, it was outside the city limits, but many chose to live there and commute into the city. With extensive lots, spacious houses, gardens and orchards, Park Place offered a feeling of country living that residents found appealing.
Catholics living in the new development also commuted into Houston to attend Mass. To save them this trip, Fr. Peter Tonson, an Oblate priest from Immaculate Conception Church in Houston, offered to celebrate Mass in the homes of local Catholics. Because of his busy schedule, however, he offered Mass only on the First Fridays of each month. While the Catholic residents of Park Place appreciated Fr. Tonson’s efforts, they began to hope for a parish of their own, with a regular Mass schedule, and with Catholic education for their children.
On January 17, 1922, several Catholic families met to discuss building a church and school. The group immediately formed the “Park Place Catholic Association.” One of their first projects was a census to identify all the Catholics living in the area. The Association also established several committees, including a Land Committee, which bean looking for a suitable church site. The committee soon found five home sites which could be combined for a church plant. The committee members traveled to Galveston to meet with Bishop Christopher Byrne and Fr. Louis Reicher, the Chancellor of the Diocese. Bishop Byrne gave his approval for the land purchase, and at the suggestion of the committee, he agreed to name the new church in honor of his patron saint, Saint Christopher.
On January 17, 1923, the first anniversary of the establishment of the Association, the deeds were signed and the Association acquired the land sites. The members immediately began raising funds to build a church. They organized bazaars, sold home-made chili, raffled off a quilt, and sponsored a play. The Catholics and non-Catholics in the area were very generous in their support.
The Knights of Columbus in Houston raised $300, and the Catholic Church Extension Society contributed $1000 to the building fund. In the meantime, Fr. Tonson began offering a Sunday Mass at Park Place School, and the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament began teaching religious education classes for the local children.
Bishop Byrne dedicated the new church, a small one-story brick building, at 10 AM on August 31, 1924. He named Fr. Reicher, the diocesan Chancellor, as the first pastor. For the next seventeen years, Fr. Reicher worked during the week at the Chancery in Galveston but drove up each Sunday and holy days to offer Mass at St. Christopher. Though his time at the church was limited, he took an active part in guiding and developing the new parish. He helped to establish organizations and groups like the Women’s Club, the Holy Name Society, and the Third Order Franciscans. He also began training a group of altar boys to serve at his Masses. One of his altar boys, Vincent Harris, entered St. Mary’s Seminary in La Porte and was ordained in Rome in 1938, the first priestly vocation from St. Christopher.
Soon after the dedication of the new church, the Dominican Sisters took change of religious education at St. Christopher. The parish remained committed to Catholic education and in 1939 a school wing was added to the church building. The three room school opened under the Sisters in September of that year, and there were soon fifty-six students enrolled. Within a year, the enrollment more than doubled, and it continued to increase.
By 1941, the parish had grown to 173 families. This growth, and the demands
on Fr. Reicher as diocesan Chancellor, made it difficult for Fr. Reicher to
continue the parish. Bishop Byrne therefore appointed Fr. E.K. Fulkerson as
the first resident pastor of St. Christopher, an important event in the history
of the parish.
The growth would continue over the next few years, as World War II brought people flooding into Houston either to serve in the armed forces or to work in the new defense industries. In January of 1946, Fr. Fulkerson reported that the parish now included 506 families, a diverse mix of English, German, Italian, Polish, Mexican, and Czech families. Though there were now three Sunday Masses, the church itself was growing too small to accommodate everyone.
1948 would be a year of change and also of celebration for St. Christopher. As Houston continued to expand, the city began planning for a new freeway running south to Galveston. In 1948, Fr. Fulkerson learned that the construction would take a large section of the church’s land and would actually split the parish plant in two. While the city would provide an equal tract of land in exchange, it would be necessary to move the parish. Bishop Byrne approved the choice of a new site on Park Place Boulevard, near the original church, on land belonging to George Harris, the father of Fr. Vincent Harris. The Bishop broke ground for the new church on July 25, 1948, the feast of St. Christopher.
At the same time, the parish rejoiced to learn the Msgr. Reicher, their first pastor, had been named Bishop of the newly created Diocese of Austin. His consecration took place in Galveston on April 14, 1948. Parishioners collected money to present him with the espiscopal crosier, and the parish held a reception in his honor before he left for Austin. Fr. Vincent Harris, whose family still lived in the parish, became the new Chancellor.
The new church and rectory were completed a year later, during the celebration of the parish’s Silver Jubilee. The new auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Galveston, Most Rev. Wendelin Nold, formally blessed the building on August 28. 1949. As the parish continued to grow, a larger physical plant became necessary. By 1950, the parish school had outgrown its classrooms, and classes were held in the parish hall. Fr. Fulkerson received permission to build a combination hall and gymnasium. Six years later, the parishioners held a successful fund drive to raise money for a new school wing, and a convent for the Dominican Sisters who still staffed the school. A separate parish school was finally completed in 1963. It was expanded two years later when another story was added on to the building. The funding for the expansion came from the sale of the church property now located across the Gulf Freeway.
In addition to the parish school and an active CCD program, the parish sponsored a variety of social and service groups of its members. The Men’s Club and the Women’s Club dated back to the founding of the parish in the 1920’s. Over the years, the Knights of Columbus, the Legion of Mary, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and the Catholic scouting groups were established. An active Right to Life Committee was founded in 1971, two years before abortion was legalized in the United States.
St. Christopher Parish found special cause to rejoice in 1966, when Fr. Vincent Harris the Chancellor of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, was named to first Bishop of the Diocese of Beaumont. The new bishop, a former altar server at St. Christopher, was the son of long-time parishioners George and Margaret Harris. The parish held a special reception in his honor and presented Bishop Harris with a $1,000 purse.
In 1972 Msgr. Fulkerson, having reached the age of seventy-five, retired as the pastor of St. Christopher. The parish hosted a farewell reception for him that drew past and present parishioners alike. During the forty-one years of is administration, Msgr. Fulkerson built up the parish in the physical sense, completing a physical plant that included a church, rectory, parish hall, and school. At the same time his priestly leadership shaped the spiritual life of the parish and left a lasting impact on its members. Following his retirement, Bishop Morkovsky appointed Fr. Leroy Braden as the third pastor of St. Christopher.
As the parish prepared to mark its 50 anniversary in 1974, there was much
to celebrate. Parishioners could look back on fifty years of worship and service,
years of growth and development, and change in the parish. The official celebration
took place on Sunday, September 15th. It began with the procession from the
school to the church, where the Vicar General of the Diocese, Msgr. John Davis,
representing Bishop John Morkovsky who was in Rome at the time, celebrated
a special Mass. Msgr. Fulkerson was the homilist at the Mass. Afterwards,
there was a dinner for Msgr. Davis and other guest. The opening of the annual
parish bazaar continued with festivities into the evening.
In the 1970’s, the population of the parish began to change, becoming more ethnically diverse. This change mirrored changes in the population of Houston itself, as the area began attracting immigrants from around the world. For St. Christopher, this meant an increasing number of Hispanic families, and the growth of a sizable Vietnamese community. Under the leadership of Msgr. Braden and later Fr. Terry Brinkman, the fourth pastor, the parish worked to address their needs, including Masses and other services in their own languages. For several years the parish also offered a home to a community of Vietnamese nuns while their motherhouse was being built. In addition, special observances like the annual St. Joseph’s Altar helped to bring the different groups together and to create a strong parish community.
During these years, Parishioners from St. Christopher continued their work in parish petition drive to get a new branch of the Houston Public Library for the Park Place area. The new library, which occupies land formally owned by parishioners, was designed to complement the design and color of St. Christopher, in recognition of the parish’s place in the heart of the area.
Through the efforts of Sr. Maria Murray, CVI, and Thad Parsons, the St. Christopher
Heritage Society was established. Its members began to collect and preserve
the history of the parish, as well as to publicize it. The society produced
several calendar featuring historic photos and facts about the parish, which
drew attention to its rich history. This history was celebrated again in 1994,
the 70th anniversary of the parish. The celebration included the groundbreaking
for a “Memorial Plaza,” where former parishioners and family members
can be honored with a granite memorial block.