First Catholic Church established to serve Houston’s African-American Community Celebrates its 125th Anniversary

November 29, 2012

St. Nicholas Catholic Church Celebrates its 125th Anniversary
Parish established in 1887 to serve newly freed slaves and their families in Houston area
BY: Catherine Rogan, Media Relations Specialist, Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

Since 1887, St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Houston’s Third Ward has been a place of acceptance and sanctity for thousands of people. On Sunday, December 2, 2012, the parish will celebrate its 125th anniversary with a Mass and reception.

It was only 22 years after Emancipation, but there were already a number of former slaves and their children in Houston. The pastor at downtown Houston’s Annunciation Catholic Church saw an ever-increasing number of black Catholic children and recognized their need for a religious-based education. He found land nearby, raised some money, and soon a small wood-framed school house was completed and dedicated to St. Nicholas by Bishop C.D. Dubois. The school site was quickly expanded to include a parish church.

“This parish has a lot of heritage,” said Father Desmond Ohankwere M.S.P., pastor at St. Nicholas. “This is the place where parishioners’ ancestors were truly accepted, they felt a sense of belonging and were allowed to be free. Today, parishioners remember that. Many come to the church from miles away because of the sense of community and their passion for this parish.”

Still a predominately African-American church, St. Nicholas has seen many changes throughout its history. Once in a thriving residential neighborhood, the area is now primarily industrial. It’s a small parish, but parishioners keep traveling every Sunday because of the community it embodies.

Lucy Jackson has been a member at St. Nicholas since her baptism 84 years ago. She grew up only 10 blocks from the church, but even though she’s moved around Houston several times and now lives in an assisted living facility in Missouri City, she travels to St. Nicholas each week for Mass.

“I keep going back there because that is where my roots are,” said Ms. Jackson. “The parish has a great sense of community and fellowship. We laugh and talk for hours after Mass. We look out for each other too – we do whatever we can to help each other.”

“A sense of community, heritage and history is very much the theme heard repeatedly with community members,” concluded Father Ohankwere. “It’s why people keep coming back.”

About St. Nicholas Catholic Church
In 1887, Houston was seeing a growing number of former slaves and their children. The Catholics among them would sit in the back of church for Mass at various parishes, however, a large number worshiped at Annunciation Catholic Church in downtown Houston. Annunciation’s pastor saw the need for a faith-based education for the children and worked tirelessly to establish a Catholic School. The school site was soon expanded to include a parish church. At the time, and for many years later, St. Nicholas was the only place parishioners could worship without regards to where they could sit or when they could go to receive Holy Communion. Today, St. Nicholas Catholic Church still embodies the sense of freedom, hope and faith.

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston serves 1.2 million Catholics in 10 counties. It is the largest Roman Catholic diocese in Texas and the 12th largest in the United States.