The Polish nation was a peace-loving nation, hard-working, religious and a nation of farmers. They were warred on by the Germans, Austrians, Russians, and the Scanddanavians, because there was always an abundance of food, livestock and fodder much needed by invading armies.
So, those who lived in Poland more than three centuries ago had seen their country partitioned twice in their life time, and had no hope left either for themselves or for their children. They heard of a new country, a free country struggling in its history, torn by its own troubles yet showing a promise of better things to come.
These early Polish immigrants to the New World were well aware that pioneers had to suffer privations, hunger, resentment of earlier settlers, hard work and despair, but with faith in God, new hopes sprung in their breasts, they helped in the financial, cultural and religious development of this country.
Polish workmen sailed the Atlantic Ocean long before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock, and a steady flow of Polish immigrants continued for more than three centuries.
When Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836, the "Lone Star State" opened up new horizons for Polish immigrants.
And they came. They brought with them the tools to till the soil. They brought with them folk songs from Poland. They brought with them the social and religious customs of the old country. They also brought with them their religion as their dearest treasure.
And they settled in and near Huntsville. Huntsville was the only known town. Thus everybody was "living" in Huntsville though he might have been dwelling at Waverly Station (New Waverly), or in Waverly on plantations owned by families that came here from Alabama, Virginia or Georgia and who settled in what is now San Jacinto County.
Some Polish immigrants moved to Grimes County, to Anderson, to Bremond in Robertson County, and still others to Washington County, Chapel Hill, Brenham, Marlin, Bellville, and Rosenberg.
This flood of Polish immigrants took place in the 1860s.
To administer to the spiritual needs of the new "Texans," Bishop Claude M. Dubuis of the Diocese of Galveston made an agreement with the Resurrectionist Fathers to take care of all Polish localities and other nationals in the diocese which embraced all of Texas and some parts of what is now New Mexico reaching into Oklahoma.
Father Orzechowski was sent to this part of the diocese stretching from Galveston to San Antonio, to the Red River. Father Orzechowski came to this section either riding on horseback, or walking or driving a wagon drawn sometimes by four mules. He found 42 families of Polish immigrants between Huntsville, New Waverly and Danville, and to the northeast on the plantations near Waverly where the first Mss was celebrated in a home. It is thought that the place of the first Mass was on the plantation of Captain H. W. Fisher, who owned many acres of land just north of New Waverly. Captain Fisher was so pleased with the getting together of the immigrants on his plantation that he offered a house and some land to Father Orzechowski to plant a garden and pea patch if he would stay and keep the people together. He could then teach them the way of farming and the new language, but the priest declined as he also had to attend to other not on this plantation.
At about the same time a few Polish Catholic families migrated to Old Waverly and learning that a few families of their nationality settled in Huntsville, where they enjoyed at times the consolation of the faith, they traveled by wagons and horseback, a distance of 28 miles, to attend Mass. Since there were more Catholics at Old Waverly Father Orzechowski would from time to time offer Mass for them on Powell Plantation.
Father Orzechowski labored among the scattered Polish immigrants and finally organized 42 families into a mission. Thus St. Joseph was born in 1870, but a church was not built until 1876. In the intervening years Masses were offered in private homes.
Joseph Hyman, son of Mr. And Mrs. Matthew Hyman was the first person to be baptized in the newly-formed mission. This sacrament was administered November 13, 1870 in a small hut on a plantation.
Two years later a number of Catholic families again migrated from Poland and settled near what is now called New Waverly and Danville. The former surrounded by woods and a few farms; the latter was a splendid farming community located about four miles from New Waverly.
Inasmuch as the majority of his people were settled near New Waverly and Danville, Father Orzechowski undertook the task of erecting a Catholic church at Danville. After a period of six years of untiring labor he retired.
Father Orzechowski was succeeded by Father Victor Linicki who witness the first marriage in the mission March 16, 1876, between John Dassen and Miss Francisca Schmitt.
Bishop Dubuis donated the land for the new church, buying lots number one and two in block number seven in the town of New Waverly as laid out in 1862. Lumber for the new church was cut at the William Schwontkoski's sawmill three miles southeast of New Waverly in the Jose Maria De La Garza grant.
The new church was of the boxhouse type being about 20 feet by 32 feet. A rectory was also constructed after which Father Linicki was assigned to a parish in Bryan.
Father Adama Laski came in 1880 and knitted closely the various communities from the plantations of Waverly, in and near New Waverly and Danville. He taught catechism to the few children. In 1884 he was succeeded by Father Victor Bielamowicz who had offered Mass and administered the first baptism in the Danville community. He encouraged those living in the Danville community to build a church. They found land and bought 14 acres of land from J. W. Westmoreland and with the leadership of Albert Belinoski a church was built. On June 29, 1880. Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the church was dedicated, named after the princes of the apostles, Sts. Peter and Paul.
Meanwhile, some of the faithful in the Danville community contended that the first Mass for the Polish immigrants was celebrated in the home of Hans Schmitt about seven miles north of Danville, before the first church of St. Joseph, in 1870. Bishop Dubuis wrote that he left it up to Father J. Grabinger, who succeeded Father Bielamowitz.
Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Danville was closed and services were conducted at St. Joseph's in New Waverly. After a long wet spell the black land roads were impassable and the people either walked through the woods or along the railroad track to the church.
Father Grabinger was transferred to Panna Maria in the Archdioces of San Antonio in 1885, and he was succeeded by Father J. Litwora. After him it was Father Jacob Halcarz in 1886, who labored in poor health until Father Theodore Jaron came in 1892. That was the year of the mission of St. Joseph was established as the parish of St. Joseph. Under his administration he built the second church in New Waverly, making a school out of the old church. He was also a teacher. The designer and builder of the church was Tom Lavandoski. The Lumber, cut from shares of the logs given at the new sawmill, for this church was contributed by the Ripkowski family. That locale is no the St. Joseph's Cemetery, or Elmina, with the land having been donated by Mrs Catherine Ripkowski. The Sills were hand-hewed with a foot adze and joined with two-inch oak pins; whole trees were cut and hewn and moved to the building site. The size of the church was about 40 by 68 feet with 12 foot high walls. The main alter was given to the new St.Joseph's Church by a Chicago publishing firm, the parish paying the freight. There were also two small side alters. The benches seated six persons; a 14 foot wide board for the seat and 16 foot wide board for the back using cast iron ends and center supports. The church could accommodate about 200, and for the next year only about one-half of the church had pews, and the other half was just standing room.
The dedication of the church took place on the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1897. Also, in the same year Father B. Walter became pastor. He enlarged the rectory, painted the church and installed a new communion rail. After five years Father Walter went back home to Pennsylvania. Father Francis Nona succeeded Father Walter and was pastor only one year due to poor health.
Father Thomas A. Bily was appointed pastor of St. Joseph's Church in 1902 and remained in that post 19 years. He was soon convinced that a new larger church was needed and he purchased two lots to provide a space both for the church and a rectory. In planning the new church, with architect L. S. Green, Father Bily indicated that the new church was to be built in "thanksgiving" to God for having brought the people together into a successful community; for having given them a parish, and for allowing them to live as free people in a great country.
Although it was a small parish, none too rich, people wished to sacrifice so that the name of God could be honored by this new church. The building cost $13,000 with out the art glass windows and altars. When completed, this church was judged as the finest and best in the South. Bishop Nicholas A. Gallagher expressed such an opinion at the time of dedication , March 19, 1906, Feast of St. Joseph.
The old church was moved and made into a school with four class rooms and living quarters for the Sisters. Very soon more rooms were added. In the fall of 1908 the school was opened with 160 children attending. Many children were unable to read, although they were overage in their grades. The Sisters took special care of these students and before Christmas all could read.
Father Bily and the Sisters not only taught the three R's, but also instructed the girls in cooking, proper diet, sewing, tatting, crocheting and fancy work and how to be ladies at all times. The boys were taught how to take care of animals, farming, blacksmithing, better ways of living, and proper manners. Father Bily always presented the report cards indicating to students their scholastic plus or minus. If good, he heartily congratulated them and if poor he would ask why and advise how to do better. At this the end of the first school year very good work was accomplished by the students, showing that proper method and care formed response in all of them. Communal recreation, folk games and singing were taught to all; also they were taught to be proud of their school. Father Bily knew the people and how to bring out the best in them. He not only preached and taught but he also helped anyone who cared to do so to by land, to do better farming, and to select better livestock. Father Bily was all things to all men. He was kind to all regardless of religion or nationality.
On March 15, 1921 Father Bily died. Death came when eh entered the school to visit the children.
Every member of the parish, about 600, attended the Requiem Mass celebrated by Bishop Christopher E. Byrne in the parish church. Clergymen from throughout the diocese also attended the last rites for Father Bily. He was buried in front of the church he built and loved so much.
Father Henry Rops was assigned to St. Joseph's after the death of Father Bily. He did not speak the Polish language; therefore, he had complications in communicating with his parishioners. Beginning in 1923 Father L. F. Dykal, a Polish priest, stayed with the parish five years. He decided to return to his native New York and was succeeded by Father Henry Parmentier in 1928. During the eight years he was pastor-the Depression years-he helped the sick and the poor.
Father Parmentier was succeeded by Father Fabian Stindle in 1936 and under his pastorate of four years the present school was built according to plans drawn by the Texas Department of Education in Austin.
Father Stindle was succeeded by Gather Maximilian Budnik, who served as pastor 10 years.
Father George Rhein came to the parish as pastor in 1951 from Conroe where he was assistant. He also administered the sacraments at St. Thomas in Huntsville. Under his administration many improvements in the parish were made: Redecoration of the church, a cyclone fence was installed around the church block and the present rectory was built. At the urging and sermons of Father Rhein frequent Communions and better attendance at Mass came into practice, and a well organized parish was much in evidence both in New Waverly and Huntsville. In 1956 Father Rhein was assigned to Blessed Sacrament Church, Houston.
Father Jack B. Jones succeeded Father Rhein as pastor. As a zealous priest he brought the Sunday Mass attendance to nearly 100 percent and revitalized the Rosary Society. This society has been now over 77 years in the parish. The Rosary is recited daily for the parish by several groups of the society. Also the Holy Name Society was founded at the insistence of Father Jones. He also initiated CCD classes, the CYO and study clubs in the homes of parishioners. Catechism summer classes were also introduced by Father Jones.
Father H. Y. Schroeder served as pastor from June 1963 until January 31, 1964. He retired to the St. Francis Regis Home, Waco, where he died November 4, 1967.
The present pastor of St. Joseph's, Father Francis Klinkacek, assumed his duties February 1, 1964, after retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps. He served in the military more than 20 years.
During his tenure clock-operated electronic bells were installed, all parish buildings painted, church and house were air-conditioned, and the church-parish hall area was paved. After many meetings of the Parish Council, and with parishioners' approval, a new parish hall was started in May 1969. The building, 85 feet by 125 feet, is air-conditioned, all steel and brick walls and was occupied on the parish centennial, August 31, 1969.
Three sons of the parish entered the priesthood and of the three one is living. He is Father Joseph Kmiecik, C.S.C. He was ordained in June 1934 and sfter serving 20 years as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force, he was discharged as a Lieutenant Colonel. He is presently an assistant at St. Ignatius Church, Austin. Deceased priest are Father Stash Kmiecik and Father Ignatius Kopcinski.
Four daughters of the parish in religious service are: Miss Veronica Bednarski as Sister Henrietta; Miss Lucy Kniecik as Sister Helen; Miss Cecilia Novak as Sister Theresa, all of the Incarnate Word Convent, Victoria; and Miss Beatrice Bednarski as Sister Laurentia is in Fort Worth.
Now, on the threshold of its second century of existence, St. Joseph's Church, New Waverly is known in the annals of the Church in Texas as the "mother" of all Polish settlements in Texas. It is also the mother church of two new parishes, both county seats: Sacred Heart Church, Conroe and St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Huntsville.
-Published in 1972 in Changing Times, The Story of the Diocese of Galveston Houston in Commemoration of its Founding