About St. Mary's Catholic Church (Hallettsville)
This gallery contains images from St. Mary's Catholic Church in Hallettsville, one of the Painted Churches of Texas.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a wood-frame building in Gothic Revival style typical of religious structures, the church steeple provides a prominent visual landmark for the community of St. Mary's. Basically rectangular in plan, the building terminates in a polygonal apse, while a small, projecting, polygonal corner room houses the sacristy. Rising above the gable roof, a central bell tower is crowned by a steep octagonal spire with a Latin cross. The Gothic theme is further carried out by the tower's paired lancet windows and single wheel window. Throughout the church, acute arches form window and door openings with hood molds. Upon its completion in 1896, the church had double-hung windows with wood sashes, while the arched upper sashes contain branching mullions. The church roof was originally of wood shingles. In addition to the central double door with Gothic transom, entrances for two side aisle open on the front facade. At some undetermined date the front wall was moved outward to enlarge the structure, thus creating a vestibule and enclosing the base of the tower. Composition shingles are the present roofing material, except for the tower roof which is pressed metal. Historic photographs reveal the spire to have once been polychromatic and presumably of slate or wooden shingle, with small corner pinnacles. These were removed in the 1970s.
The interior space consists of a nave separated from side aisles by wooden columns resembling clustered masonry piers. Both the ceiling and wall surfaces are of beaded board, while a barrel vault spans the nave and smaller vaults cover the aisles, A choir loft is located at the rear. A particularly interesting element of the church interior is the ceiling of the apse area, which is painted by freehand technique to resemble a cloud bank in shades of light blue, white, and beige. The heads of winged cherubs are suspended among the clouds, their gaze directed toward a dove, the dove of the Immaculate Conception, in the center panel. This painted decoration was executed around 1945 by painter Arthur Fatjo, an American who received training in Hamburg, Germany, with the Bijoa Studios. Mr. Fatjo was employed for some time by the Drapato Statuary Company of Chicago, for whom he painted religious sculptures and church interiors.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception of Blessed Virgin Mary in St, Mary's community is important as a 19th-century survival of the Gothic Revival style which substantially retains its original appearance (1896). Decorative painting, carried out in the mid 1940s, embellishes the interior of the structure, and provides a late example of this craft.
The history of the parish itself extends well beyond that of the present religious edifice, for St. Mary's is considered the oldest rural Catholic parish in the state. Originally known as "Brown's settlement," the community was composed primarily of settlers form Kentucky and Missouri. Reverend John Mary Odin, who later became Bishop, visited it in 1840 and reported a wooden church under construction at that time. Father Edward Clark was then missionary, and the church was to be named St. Mary's after the parish church in Barrens, Missouri. Deed records reveal the sale of 44.5 acres at the site from Bernard Brown to Bishop Odin in November of 1841. Early in its life, the church was the principal parish serving numerous nearby communities. When Texas' first Catholic Diocese was established in Galveston in 1847, St. Mary's parish was one of ten parishes with completed churches.
Costing $4,000, the present church was constructed in 1896, while Reverend Louis P. Netardus (who was from St. Mary) served mainly at Hallettsville, the nearby seat of Lavaca County, Surprisingly, when the edifice was built the community had no resident priest, whereas a historic photograph taken on the day of dedication shows quite a large gathering of people.
Kennedy, C., Butler, L. F., & McCann, M. (1983). Churches in Texas with Decorative Interior Painting (National Register of Historic Places Thematic Nomination) (pp. 33-35) (United States, Texas Historical Commission).
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