June 17 marks a historic occasion for Galveston’s Holy Rosary Church

July 10, 2018

Holy Rosary Church of the Holy Family Parish Community in Galveston unveils a historical marker on June 17. Father Jude Ekenedilichukwu Ezuma, Holy Family pastor, is photographed with members of the planning committee — all lifelong members of Holy Rosary Church — for the unveiling ceremony. Pictured are (left to right) Roberta “Cookie” Taylor, David Dumas, Irenaeus Jordan, Father Ezuma, Deacon Douglas Matthews and Stephen Marsh. Photo by Jonah Dycus/Herald.

GALVESTON — Holy Rosary Church has seen its “share of sunshine and shadows” since it was founded almost 130 years ago. “Yet, by God’s grace and mercy, she remains ... thanks to the prayers of many,” Deacon Douglas Matthews of the Holy Family Parish community said.

Despite threatening forecasts of rain, June 17 proved to be a day of sunshine as a Texas Historical Commission marker was unveiled near the front entrance of Holy Rosary Church.

Long-time parishioners and supporters of the church, as well as friends of the parish visiting the island, were present for the Mass and celebration — including members of the Knights and Ladies Auxiliary of Peter Claver.

“As pastor of Holy Family Parish, it gives me great joy to celebrate with the community and the blessings of the Catholic faith that is a vital part of the history of Galveston,” Father Jude Ekenedilichukwu Ezuma said. “The historical significance and relevance of this faith community, which proudly celebrates its African-American Catholic heritage, is evident in the music and atmosphere of conviviality that is characteristic of the liturgical celebrations at Holy Rosary Church.”

The history of Holy Rosary is monumental in both span and impact. As noted on the marker, Bishop Nicholas Gallagher opened an elementary school for African-American children in 1886 in a cottage on 12th St. and Avenue K. The bishop frequently celebrated Mass at the school on Sundays, essentially establishing the foundation of the new parish. 

More than 200 people found safe refuge at Holy Rosary during the Great Storm of 1900. In 1913, the Josephite Fathers took over the administration of the parish and one year later, the parish moved to its current site on 31st Street and Avenue N.

Father Ezuma said the process for getting the historical marker began long before he became pastor of the parish community last summer. He credits David Dumas, a lifetime parishioner who also attended Holy Rosary School, for spearheading the process with the aid of other long-time parishioners. 

Dumas traces the process back to his cousin, Roberta “Cookie” Taylor, who contacted him in 2014 about getting the historical marker for Holy Rosary.

“I told her all the information was located in the Texas Historical Commission website and that I would look into what had to be done,” Dumas said. “I decided to follow up on this as a tribute to my mother, who was a lifelong member of Holy Rosary. The rest is history.”

Dumas said the religious sisters at Holy Rosary school left a “lifelong impression” on him and his fellow students. The Dominican Sisters were the first to staff the school; the Sisters of the Holy Family took over that role in 1898.

“Many of my relatives attended Holy Rosary School and attended Holy Rosary Church and were married there, including my parents,” he said. Holy Rosary Church may be “one of the first African American Catholic parishes in Texas” but Dumas said the church was not only a beacon for the African-American Catholic community but the African-American community in general.

“Several of my classmates at Holy Rosary were non-Catholics,” Dumas said.

Carolyn Sunseri, former Galveston City Council member, was present for the recent Mass and celebration to proclaim June 17 as “Holy Rosary Day in Galveston.”

The proclamation recognized Holy Rosary for serving “as a beacon of faith, hope and love throughout the years” and continuing to “thrive as a diverse community of faith while still upholding its African-American heritage.”

Prior to the marker unveiling, Irenaeus Jordan offered remembrances to the many who built up Holy Rosary Church. The lifelong parishioner closed her remarks by acknowledging “all of our faithful ancestors who have walked with us and guided us along this journey of faith. It is on their shoulders that we stand here today.”

In his remarks, Deacon Matthews said “it is our prayer that God will continue to shower His blessings upon this church. May this church continue to be a beacon of hope and love with its inspiring music of the faithful on Galveston Island for many years to come.”