Sta. Julia Catholic ChurchFounded: 1957
Bishops: (to be updated)
Priests: (to be updated)
Associate Priests and Priests in Residence: (to be updated)
Religious: (to be updated)
St. Julia glows with half a century of faith
Catholic Spirit, November 2008, In Our Parish
By Alfredo Cardenas, Correspondent
St. Julia Parish in East Austin is now glowing, according to long-time parishioners who have seen the parish go through hard times in recent years. Though the last few years have been difficult, the congregation is grounded by a solid foundation of faith.
Bishop Gregory Aymond named Missionary of Faith Father Christopher Ferrer, who also serves as Judicial Vicar of the Austin Diocese, pastor of St. Julia in January 2008. The pastor and his team, associate pastor, Father Eliecer Patiño, Missionaries of the Divine Mercy Sisters Rosie Sanchez and Martha Carbajal, and Deacons Ralph Arevalo and Kevin Nissen, have quickly gained the trust of the community.
“People are beginning to build up trust amongst each other and with our leaders,” one parishioner said after Mass in October.
That trust in their church leaders began in 1955 when Bishop Louis Reicher used a donation from Julia A. Connor to buy three acres of land in East Austin at the intersection of Tillery Street and Lyons Road for the purpose of establishing a church among the poor, but hard-working, Spanish-speaking Catholics in East Austin. Bishop Reicher used the architect and contractor who were building the Chancery to start plans for the church.
The bishop appointed Father Peter Noble to take charge of the spiritual and sacramental needs of the people. Father Noble celebrated the first Mass at Govalle Elementary School on Dec. 1, 1956. At the urging of Father Noble, Reyes Olvera, a deputy sheriff and community leader, organized a men’s club to chart the building of the new faith community. From seven men, the club soon grew to 50, and proved instrumental in developing the parish.
At the beginning of 1957, the diocese broke ground on the sanctuary. The first Mass at the new church was held on July 19, 1957. When construction was complete, the church was dedicated and named for St. Julia, Noble Virgin of Carthage, on Nov. 24, 1957.
Five years later, sisters from St. Francis on the Brazos Parish in Waco moved to St. Julia to start a new school. The school, with grades from Kindergarten to eighth, had 10 classrooms and an enrollment of 65 when it closed in 1966 after the sisters could no longer run it.
During the turbulent political years of the 1960s and 1970s and the fight for civil rights and social justice, St. Julia, under the leadership of Father Noble and then Father Joe Znotas, became a focal point in the East Austin community. The parish was at the forefront of the historic Economy Furniture strike, led the community’s efforts to eliminate flooding from Boggy Creek and challenged the school system to improve education.
Politicians from every persuasion called on St. Julia for input on the community’s needs as well as for support. In August 1979, Father Znotas –– the man who most personified the spirit of St. Julia –– passed away. At least three Austin mayors, a county commissioner and the police chief served as pallbearers.
Four years ago, Msgr. Lonnie Reyes, a much-loved, long-time pastor of St. Julia Parish, was removed from the parish because of personal indiscretions. Though the events had occurred years before at another parish, the hurt to the St. Julia community was deep. Disclosure of financial irregularities further shocked the parish community. Many were alienated from each other and from the parish during this time of turmoil.
However, after a few years of healing and with the help of new parish leadership, people are coming back to the parish community. Parishioners credit Father Ferrer with infusing a new spirituality, and perhaps just as important, for introducing a transparency to church administration.
“When leaders in a church make a mistake it lasts a long time,” Father Ferrer told parishioners in a recent homily.
Parishioners are grateful to have Father Ferrer as their leader.
“He does not like separate groups; he makes everyone feel important,” said one long-time parishioner. “He was an answer to our prayers,” said another.
They point to Father Ferrer’s decision to limit the annual Jamaica to one day instead of two as an example of his innovation. “He did not want us to work too hard, but to enjoy the Jamaica. We ended up making twice as much in half the time,” commented one parishioner.
Also receiving accolades from the parish leaders is Father Patiño, whose constant presence has helped bring the community together. The missionary sisters, who often make forays into the neighborhood on home visits, have also lifted the congregation’s spirit. The deacons, too, are very active in parish activities, said parishioners.
In addition to the pastoral staff, St. Julia is a parish that places its trust in a number of saints. The church, both inside and outside, is rich with iconographic images of saints, from St. Jude to La Virgen de San Juan de los Lagos.
One of the most impressive features in the church is its windows, which tell the story of the Mexican people from pre-colonial times. The parish commissioned Ted and Jan Weiser to create the stained-glass windows to represent their faith experience, which was at times difficult as they struggled with those who often treated them as “second class” citizens. The windows are interlaced with the Stations of the Cross.
At the center of the parish’s worship life is La Virgen de San Juan whose image is a central focus both in the church and on the grounds. Before and after Mass, and at anytime during the week, parishioners visit the grotto that holds the image of the Virgen. They pray for loved ones, be it a sick child, a son or daughter at war or an elderly parent. The grotto is filled with candles, photos and notes of supplication.
Father Ferrer said signs of renewal are everywhere. Volunteers are coming forth to help staff the parish office and to run the religious education program, which is filled to capacity. People are working on getting adoration back in the church; others are organizing a youth group; and many parishioners now have rosaries back in their hands.
“We are coming together as a family. We are working to make our parish a success,” said one parishioner. “We are not doing this for a priest; we are doing it for God.”
HERE ARE SOME PHOTOS TO GET YOU STARTED,
MANY MORE WILL COME.