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.
-Originally published in 1972 in Changing Times, The Story of the Diocese of Galveston Houston in Commemoration of its Founding