MENARD, TX — Before the railroad arrived in Menard in 1911, the little town was called Menardville, established with Menard County between 1871 and 1872. The railroad asked the town’s fathers to drop the “ville’ to save on paint and longer lumber for the railroad signs. But before the railroad arrived, there was this small, one-room Catholic Church in the small town located 67 miles southeast of San Angelo.
When construction was completed by the Catholics of Menard in November 1899, it was christened Sacred Heart Church. It is located one block south of the business district on property donated by the late J.J. Callan in 1872.
Callan was the newspaperman, county commissioner, and justice of the peace in Menardville from the time of his arrival after the Civil War in 1868 until his death in 1917. Father Mark Woodruff who currently serves as the pastor of the parish chuckles when referring to Mr. Callan.
“We called the Menard Historical Society and the only photo they could find of Mr. Callan was taken in a bar in Menardville called The Legal Tender Saloon,” the Father said.
If anything good can come from being a devout Catholic memorialized in a saloon, at the very least, the photo proves he’s not a Baptist. Putting the saloon aside, however, in a biography of Callan written in 1911, we learned that he was a “servant of the people [and] his ministrations are always of the highest possible character.” He is buried in Menard’s Pioneer Rest Cemetery.
The congregation used the 1899 church building as its place of worship until a new church was constructed at 609 Ellis Street in Menard in 1955. The old church features gothic revival architecture that was popular at the turn of the last century. It featured native stone and lancet windows. The church was constructed under the direction of Rev. P. Baudrillard for the Sacred Heart Parish.
Between 1955 and today, the 1899 church was used for a variety of meetings and activities. Yet the old structure has fallen into disrepair. Termites have eaten most of the old wood flooring. When readying the old structure for renovation, the floor was deemed unrepairable and torn out. Underneath was another historical treasure. The parishioners learned that the original floor was concrete. But in 1899, knowledge of the use of rebar had not yet reached west Texas. So today, 124 years later, the concrete floor will need to be re-poured, Father Woodruff said. He promised the new concrete floor will have a shine.
A committee of parishioners have already started the renovation efforts and raising money is a big part of that. The church is the second oldest in the Diocese of San Angelo where the oldest church building is located in Fort Stockton, called St. Joseph’s and built in 1875. Woodruff said when the Texas Historical Commission inspected the old church building, they declared it “in remarkably good shape.”
The estimate is that restoring the old church to a usable condition will cost around $150,000. Through matching funds from generous benefactors, the parish can get within striking distance of its goal. To meet the goal, like good Catholics, the parish is having a raffle for a 2023 Polaris 4-passenger ATV with trailer that is worth $20,000.
“Due to the congregation’s small size, funds from outside the parish will be needed to complete the project,” Woodruff said. “The congregation wants to preserve its own religious history and the restoration of the old church is preserving our diocesan historical heritage as well.”
Woodruff said once the restoration is complete, mass will be celebrated there once per week. The church will also be available for weddings and funerals upon request. Destination weddings are popular today and the restored church serves more than just a quaint location. It will have a religious backdrop as well — after all it will be a functioning Catholic Church!
Every dollar raised in matched and you can purchase a raffle ticket for $20 each by mailing your donation to Sacred Heart, PO Box 788, Menard, Texas 76859.