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History of St. Mary Catholic Church – Brenham, Texas

It is with his advent that our parish sacramental records begin, with an entry for a baptism on January 7, 1881 for Sophie Mary Zientek, daughter of John Zientek and Rozalia Nee Szach.

Fr. James Grabinger came to Brenham in 1885 and became a naturalized citizen in the county on October 11,. 1889.
It was he who established St. Stanislaus in Chappell Hill as a mission of Brenham. A large number of Polish Immigrants had settled in the fertile Brazos River bottom in Chappell Hill, warranting a parish.

Fr. Adam Laski followed Fr. Grabinger in 1890 and served the parish until 1895. He was followed by Fr. Francis Pridal, who in 1896 constructed the second church for St. Mary's parish. The wooden Gothic edifice was designed by the noted Texas-Catholic architect, Nicholas Clayton. After Fr. Pridal left Brenham, the parish was tended to by Fr. Francis Machan.

Fr. Ignatius Joseph Szymanski arrived in Brenham in 1902 and established the first parish school. Prior to that time, local oral history states that the parish provided teachers who traveled from farm to farm providing lessons in catechism and the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. The school was housed in the first church building and employed laymen as teachers. In 1908, Fr. William John Skocek came to Brenham and stayed for a year or so. He was followed by Fr. Marcus Dombrowski.

Fr. Dombrowski was greeted with a bit of a problem. In 1909, the non-Polish Catholics established their own school and chapel, refusing to worship or attend school with the immigrants. Led by Mary Dwyer Ross, the group engaged the Dominican Sisters to teach in their school, St. Agnes-Sacred Heart Academy, which ultimately closed due to low attendance and financial difficulties. It is interesting to note that the school was housed in the same building which had housed the first public high school in the State of Texas. It is furthermore interesting to note that oral history states that when attendance levels began falling, Mrs. Dwyer-Ross began recruiting Polish children to augment the school's census.

In 1910, Fr. Michael Joseph Tabor arrived. During his pastorate, he began planning the expansion of St. Mary's facility. He purchased property for the establishment of a wagon-yard for families to park their buggies, wagons and horses during church attendance. On January 17,1915, he requested the Sisters of Divine Providence in San Antonio to take charge of the parish school. In October of 1915, Sr. Mary Conrad and Sr. Mary Edward arrived in Brenham and began teaching 42 pupils. By the end of the first school term, enrollment has reached 104 students. Sr. Mary Edward was replaced by Sr. Mary Laurentia, and, in August of 1916, St. Mary Annette arrived in Brenham, raising the total number of teaching sister to three. The school was, at that time, expanded to seven grades.

On July 1, 1917, Fr. Leonard Dykal became pastor. His 1920 Annual Report to the diocese states that there were 138 Polish families in the parish, as well as one Mexican family and one Bohemian family. There were 8 boys and 17 girls making their First Holy Communion; 33 boys, 52 girls and 1 gentleman received the sacrament of Confirmation, five children and three adults were buried, 12 couples were married and none of them were "mixed" …meaning that no Poles had married non-Poles, not that Catholics had married non-Catholics.

In June of 1924, St. Mary's met it's most dynamic, most colorful pastor to date, the Rev. Charles Weisnerowski. His first order of business was the construction of a new school…built for $50,000 and blessed on November 24, 1925. By 1928, plans were being made for the construction of a new church. Land was purchased, funds were raised, and the ground was broken on May 7, 1935. Another noted Texas Catholic architect, Leo M.J. Dielmann of San Antonio, was chosen to design the edifice.

The church was consecrated on May 3, 1936 The entire project cost in the neighborhood of $100,000.

The building we today commonly call "the old rectory" was built in 1942.

St. Mary's first assistant pastor arrived in 1949. Fr. Clyde Holtman, who was followed by a Brenham native, Fr. Harry Mazurkiewicz. Fr. Marion Atomanczyk followed him and a third priest was added to St Mary's staff, Fr. Fred Nachtigall.In 1950, Fr. Charles built a new home for the sisters. In 1953, Fr. Charles became Monsignor Charles when he was raised to the dignity of Domestic Prelate. Following a trip to visit his family in Poland, Msgr. Charles returned to Brenham very ill.

Msgr. Charles died on September 10, 1964. Following funeral rites in Brenham, he was returned to Starogard, Poland for burial.

Fr. Fred Nachtigall became pastor of St. Mary's and began to usher in the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. He remained here until 1966.

August 27, 1965 was the 51st birthday of Rev. Floyd Biel (Bielamowicz), and was also the day he arrived in Brenham to assume his duties as pastor. Much like Msgr. Charles, Fr. Biel began a renovation program in the parish. Air conditioning and restrooms were added to the church. More land was purchased and employed as a parking lot. He saw to the placing of carpet in the church and the padding of pews, along with painting its interior. Fr. Thomas Hanus came to serve as assistant pastor in June of 1966 and after three years, was followed by Fr. Patrick Murphy whose tenure lasted some 9 months. Fr. Biel organized St. Mary's first Confraternity of Christian Doctrine program in 1967. On May 25, 1970, St. Mary's school was closed and Sr. Mary Paul Valdez of the Missionary Catechists of Divine Providence was engaged to supervise the C.C.D. program. Fr. Marion Atomanczyk returned to Brenham as assistant in 1970 and was followed by Fr. Roman (Ray) Widacki.. May 9, 1980 saw Fr. Biel become Monsignor Biel, as he was raised to the dignity of Domestic Prelate. In 1981, Msgr. Biel purchased the land south of St. Mary's, where the Alamo School was located. The building was razed and plans were under way for the construction of a parish center. Msgr. Biel never saw that dream realized…he died of September 16, 1982.

Back for the third time, Fr. Marion Atomanczyk arrives as pastor of St. Mary's on October 19, 1982. He appointed a Building and Improvement Committee to begin planning the building which Msgr. Biel had envisioned. The edifice would be completed during the next pastorate. However, Fr. Marion established our first "folk" choir. During his tenure here, he was aided by seminarians Pete Negrette, Richard Tijerina, and Jim Chamberlain. Shortly after he moved to his next assignment, Fr. Marion was made Monsignor Marion.

Fr. Ralph Brennan arrived in Brenham to assume the office of pastor on June 20, 1985. Shortly after his arrival, Richard Tijerina was ordained to the priesthood and returned to Brenham as Fr. Richard, Fr. Ralph's first assistant in Brenham. Other assistants included seminarians John Boiko (now Fr. Boiko), Thomas Nitschke (later Fr. Nitschke), Fr. Ryszard Golch, Fr. Timothy Vaverek and David Williams. Rev. Mr. William (Bill) Januszewski, who is our first permanent deacon, assists Fr. Ralph on a regular basis. Just like his predecessors. Fr Ralph began improving the buildings in the parish. He saw to the repair of the church, enlargement of the rectory, renovation of the school building, renovation of the former convent (now "Providence Hall"), and the construction of the parish Activity Center. The annual Polish Heritage Festival began at Fr. Brennan's suggestion. He has begun the restoration of the church's sanctuary, has installed a pipe organ, is planning the addition of a Marian Shrine and prayer garden. Plans also include the renovation of the "old rectory" and a new playground. Also, like his predecessors, Fr. Ralph is Monsignor Ralph.

Religious Vocations

The Training in the parochial school, the church and the home resulted in many religious vocations. Thirteen young ladies entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Divine Providence. Eleven young men became priests. Two young men became Brothers: Valerian Kloginski, O.F.M. became a Franciscan Brother and Albin Golla became Bro. Christopher Golla with the Montfort Missionaries. Native son Bill Januszewski was ordained as a permanent deacon in the Salt Lake City Diocese and is currently serving St. Mary's In Brenham.


Sister M. Ladislas Konieczny
Sister Pius Kowalski
Sister Barbara Bielski
Sister Laura Bielski
Sister Rosina Lewandowsky
Sister Magdaline Bartniski
Sister Charles Bielski
Sister Emily Bolcerek
Sister Florentine Mazurkiewicz
Sister Mathew Twardowski
Sister Jan Maria Wozniak
Sister Barbara Clara Bednar
Sister Chrysostom Zientek
  Msgr. Stanley Zientek
Fr. Edward Murski
Fr. Bruno Skweres
Msgr. John Wesolek
Msgr. Louis Wozniak
Msgr. Harry Mazurkiewicz
Msgr. Benedict Zientek
Fr. Benedict Wientek
Msgr. Boleslaus Zientek
Fr. Harry Bilski
Fr. David Leibham

Sisters Matthew Twardowski, Jan Maria Wozniak, and Barbara Clara Bednar withdrew.

The Parish Cemeteries

St. Mary's has two parish cemeteries: St. Mary's and Calvary. Although they adjoin one another, they are separate and are located just west of Blinn College. The original cemetery, St. Mary's, was established in the 1880s with land (246 ft. by 240 ft.) donated by Frank Evansich. Mr Evansich was buried in the parish cemetery November 1888.

Per the death records the first person buried in the parish cemetery was Magdalena Zientek on September 7, 1882.

There two priest buried at St. Mary's: Fr. Bruno Skweres in 1977 and Fr. John Taranowicz in 1938.

In 1948, Tony Kopycinski donated the land (486 ft, by 375 ft) for Calvary Cemetery which is located on the west side of St. Mary's Cemetery. Mr. Kopycinski chose to pay for his family plots like everyone else. In the late 1970s, Father Biel purchased additional land which adjoins Calvary on the north (246 ft. by 384 ft.).

There are four priests buried at Calvary Cemetery: Msgr. Stanley Zientek, Fr. Edward Murski, Msgr. Floyd Biel, and Msgr. John Wesolek. Prior to 1888, Catholics were buried in the Prairie Lea Cemetery.

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