The courageous and dedicated priests who traveled long distances under great difficulty bringing the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to Catholic families living in scattered places- by train to areas reached by railroad, by horse and buggy when a good Catholic would drive him from one station to the next, or by horseback as the Fathers so often had to go; the spirit of those few and early settlers who made every effort to preserve the faith and whose influence is still felt among us today- to these our hearts turn in gratitude as we realize the fulfillment of our hopes and aspirations of our beautiful church today.
The early history is told by the few old-time settlers who depend on their memory for the story. Each has something to add and some will probably recall further happenings. Inevitably, we found it was in a woman's heart that the love of God reined so strongly, who made the effort to keep the faith alive; for it was in the home of Mrs. Jess Bruner that the earliest Mass anyone can recall was offered. Mrs. Bruner was Miss Frances Hill before her marriage and she lived in Galveston. After Miss Frances' mother lost her husband in the Civil War, the two moved to Liverpool where Miss Frances taught school. Later she traded some Galveston property for the large house in Alvin. There Miss Frances lived with her mother and brother until she married Jess Bruner. A newspaper item states that Jess brought his bride to Alvin in 1879 and lived in the old home place. At that time this home was the only other house in Alvin, the first being the home of Alvin Morgan, the founder of Alvin. Mrs. Bruner and her mother attended church in Galveston. Upon her mother's death, Mrs. Bruner worried about having no one to go to church with her, since Jess was not Catholic. It was then that Jess said he would go to church with her and later he became a member of the Catholic Church. So, from Mrs. Bruner, we have the first Catholic activity in Alvin.
The first priest that the old timers remember was Father George Montreuil. There are many stories about this remarkable priest and in searching the official records we were able to determine the great area on the Gulf Coast that Father Montreuil visited. Alvin became a station of Bay City in 1911 with Father Montreuil in charge. We found baptismal records in Bay City from 1911. The places he visited were Bay City, Wadsworth, Matagorda, Surfside, Sargent, Francisville, Rosenberg, East Bernard, Danbury, Liverpool, Chocolate Bayou, Alvin, Boling, Angleton, Glen Flora, Wharton, Brazoria, and Eagle Lake. They say Father Montreuil would offer Mass wherever he found a Catholic family. If there was no bed for him to sleep on, he would spread a pallet and sleep on the floor. Father Montreuil traveled any way he could; horseback, horse and buggy or train. He would walk on the railroad tracks and the engineers on the freight trains had permission to pick him up anywhere they saw him and let him ride the train to his destination. Father Montreuil had come south for his health and the rigors of his early missions and travels made him so ill he was sent to South America. It was thought the trip on the water would help him, but he never recovered and died in South America. The last record of a baptism in Alvin by Father Montreuil was in 1914. An altar stone in the Alvin church is signed by Father Montreuil and is dated February 7, 1912. Some of the ladies of the parish remember that Mrs. Bruner kept the altar stone in a basket with other necessaries for Mass, which was said in her home. Mrs. Bruner was an active member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and permission was obtained to say Mass in the U.D.C. Hall. Around 1910 Alvin enjoyed an orange boom and many people from the North settled in Alvin; among them were several Catholic families. The children of these early Catholics still live in the parish today.
First Catholic Church in Alvin
In 1917 Alvin became a station of Rosenberg with Father I.J. Valenta, pastor. Mass was still said in the U.D.C. Hall but there were plans for building a church. On September 27, 1917, Father I.B, Ledvina, Vice-President and General Secretary for the Catholic Extension Society, Chicago, wrote to Bishop Gallagher in Galveston giving $500 for the Alvin church. On November 17, 1917, Father Valenta wrote to Bishop Gallagher that after several trips to Alvin he had collected $500 cash and $400 subscribed for the new church. He had two lots donated. The church was started and Mass first said in May 1918. A used pump organ was put in the church. There were no pews for some time after the church was built; people sat on long planks put across boxes set on ends. Mass was said here the fifth Sunday when there were five Sundays in the month. It was about time for the ladies to gather around the altar to form an Altar Society. In September 1918, the Altar Society of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church was organized.
Oblates Come to Alvin
In 1920 the Oblates of Mary Immaculate at Immaculate Conception Church, in Houston, were asked by Bishop Byrne to take charge of Alvin. Father Theodore Tresh, O.M.I., was visiting Alvin and he continued to attend the Alvin mission until his health would not permit him to carry on. Father P. Tonson, O.M.I., then took charge of Alvin. Father Tonson served Alvin until October, 1925, when Father F.W. Caldwell, O.M.I., succeeded him. Father Joseph Dwan, O.M.I., served Alvin in 1928 and 1929. Mass was said the fourth Sunday of the month, giving Alvin a Sunday Mass once a month. Father Dwan brought a missionary, Father William Collins, O.M.I., to conduct a mission in Alvin in 1929. Father Hugh Finnegan, O.M.I., came to Alvin at different periods -- once in 1927 and again in 1930. In addition to Alvin Father Finnegan had charge of the penitentiary system in Texas, and the mission at Sugarland. He became the well-known priest who walked 150 men at the Last Mile.
Father Finnegan brought an eloquent young missionary to Alvin to conduct a mission. This young priest, who spoke with his heart, made a lasting impression on the people in the Alvin church; he was Father Nicholas Tanaskovic, O.M.I. Fathers Joseph Laux, O.M.I., George Sexton, O.M.I., and Jim Cassidy, O.M.I., served Alvin for a time. In 1936 Father Joseph Ryan, O.M.I., came to Alvin. In his reports to the Bishop, Father Ryan stated he had Mass every week and catechism twice a week. After Father Ryan, Father Thomas Gody, O.M.I., served for a while in 1939.
Alvin a Mission of Galveston
On October 3, 1939, Bishop Byrne wrote to Father Kennedy, O.M.I., Oblate Provencal, that beginning November 12, 1939 he was attaching Alvin as a mission to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Galveston with Father James Conway in charge.
Father Conway carried out several improvements in the church. Money was raised for new Stations of the Cross and a new electric organ. Father Conway taught the children catechism on Mondays after school and he started a confraternity class for the young people of the parish. On April 24, 1941, Bishop Byrne came to Alvin to confirm a large group of children and adults. Alvin was growing into a city and more Catholic families came here; also there were many more Hispanics living in Alvin. They began to think of a new church. In the spring of 1941, the Altar Society put aside $200.00 from their treasury toward a new church, money they had raised from chicken dinners, food sales, and other benefits. In July, 1948, Father James Delaney, O.M.I., came to Alvin. He was sent as assistant of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Galveston, in charge of missions at Texas City, Alvin and Pearland. St. John's, in Alvin, was still a mission with Mass being said every Sunday and usually on Mondays.
With the arrival of Father Delaney the tempo of the parish stepped up. A new site of five acres was purchased at the location known as Five Point for a future church of St. John's. The cost was $8651.50 and was paid from the building fund which at this time amounted to $21,000.00. On December 9, 1948, Bishop Byrne visited Alvin to bless the new ground for a future church. On August 29,1949 the church was moved from its location in town to the new location at Five Point. On January 7, 1950, ten extra lots were bought making 8.5 acres in the whole site. In July, 1952, a much needed rectory was started and was completed in September the same year.
Mission Becomes a Parish
On September 17, 1952, St. John's mission church was canonically erected as a parish church with territorial limits established by Bishop Wendelin J. Nold, S.T.D. Father Delaney had extended the work of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine so that it encompassed the greatest number of parishioners. On April 12, 1954, Msgr. Daniel P. O'Connell, P.A. of Galveston, officiated at the ground-breaking ceremonies for the new church.