St. Louis Catholic Church

Both Castroville and St. Louis Catholic Parish were founded when Texas was a Republic.  Henri Castro crossed the Medina River with his first colonists to found the town on September 3, 1844.   Jean Marie Odin, a French priest who was the Vicar Apostolate in Texas and soon named the first Catholic Bishop of Texas, visited the new colony within a week.   On September 12, Odin celebrated a Mass on the banks of the Medina River, and proceeded to the designated property to lay the cornerstone for a future church, placing the community under the protection of St. Louis, King Louis IX of France.  St. Louis Catholic Church was one of the first ten parishes created in Texas.    

A small wood church was completed in the summer of 1846, and Bishop Odin returned to Castroville to dedicate the first Catholic Church November 9, 1846.  That first church restored, still stands on the grounds of the Moye Center.

In January 1847,  Rev. Claude Dubuis, a newly ordained French priest, was assigned as pastor.   Father Dubuis and his second assistant  Abbe Emmanual Domenech, with help from the men of the parish, built a larger second church on the block north of the first church.   It was completed Easter Sunday 1850, and served the parish almost twenty years.   Father Dubuis served the parish until 1852, and he is credited with developing Cross Hill and the cemetery.  He also taught the children of the parish, and nurtured the European religious customs and traditions.

From 1852 to 1859 the parish was staffed by European Franciscan priests.  In 1859 Bishop Odin procured several Benedictine priests from Latrobe Pennsylania, who served the German-speaking communities of South and Central Texas.  In 1868 a young French priest, Peter Richard was sent to Castroville.  He found the parish in the midst of building a third church. He deemed the structure not large enough and offered to help finance the new church if they accepted his design.  The parish accepted his offer and for the next two years construction continued until August 25, 1870, on the feast of St. Louis, the church was completed and dedicated.

Of the many customs brought to Texas from France and Germany, the celebration of St. Louis Day has been continuous.  The style and size of the feast day has changed throughout the years, from a strictly religious ceremony and family picnic, to a well-planned huge celebration, and is now one of the largest church celebrations in Texas.   Today the celebration is held on the Sunday nearest the feast day (August 25th) at Koenig Park, formerly known as Wernette’s Garden.  

During Fr. Richard’s tenure, two Alsatian nuns were brought to Castroville by Bishop Claude Dubuis, to found a teaching order for Catholic parish schools.  The Sisters of Divine Providence order grew rapidly, a convent was erected in 1873 and enlarged in 1886.   Due to transportation problems, the order relocated in western edge of San Antonio, where in addition to their growing order, they built a new convent and founded Our Lady of the Lake College (now Our Lady of the Lake University).  Today the original convent in Castroville is a retreat center, still owned and operated by the congregation.  The convent is revered as an ornament and treasure of the town.

During Father Richard's time in our parish, the St Louis Men's Society was chartered in 1875, and St. Ann's Altar Society was founded in 1879.  Both of these parish organizations are still active today.   Another group that has been active since it's founding is the Guadalupana Society, organized in 1953.

Between 1868 and 1870 a two-story parish school was built near the first little church, and it was used by the parish until the red-brick school was erected in 1925.  The Sisters of Divine Providence staffed St. Louis Parish School for 100 years.  This school, developed into a 12th grade school under Father Jacob Lenzen, serving the parish until it was closed in 1968.  In 1986 under the pastorship of Father Patrick Ragsdale, the school was reopened and rededicated to the education of young children.   The school grew from pre-kindergarten to include up to 5th grade.  Most students transfer to Medina Valley Middle School upon completion of 5th grade.

The only Alsatian priest to serve our parish was Father Alphonse Heckmann, (1909-1929) a native of  Duttlenheim, Bas-Rhin, Alsace.  Rev. Jacob Lenzen, a native of Ulman, Germany, became pastor following Fr. Heckmann.  Fr. Lenzen served the parish for tweny-four years and retired in 1953. He is the only pastor to buried in St. Louis Cemetery.

The parish cemetery has been expanded and improved in the past forty years.    Perpetual Care was developed, including a mausoleum, and the side walls were repaired and lowered.  In 2006, the original stone wall was completely rebuilt and restored. The cemetery was enlarged by additional purchase of an adjacent city block in 2009.

Texas Historical Markers have been awarded to the cemetery, the first church, Dubuis' home, the present church and St. Louis Day.