St. Nicholas: Extraordinary Love in Houston’s Third Ward

November 13, 2018

Founded 131 years ago in 1887, St. Nicholas Catholic Church in East Dontown is known as Houston’s oldest Historical Black Catholic church. Led by pastor Father George Okeahialam, MSP, the parish is working to implement a parish pastoral plan to help evangelize and minister to the parish and wider communities. Photo by James Ramos/Herald.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on parishes that are adopting Pastoral Plans by responding to Galveston-Houston’s multiculturism with active mercy through initiatives of stewardship and service. These articles highlight parishes addressing demographic opportunities in their community and implementing spirituality of communion promoting the Archdiocese’s diverse cultural viewpoints, practices and contributions.

HOUSTON — St. Nicholas Catholic Church, known as Houston’s oldest historical Black Catholic church, is situated among old warehouses and new housing in the city’s Third Ward, east of the skyscrapers of downtown Houston.

Founded 131 years ago in 1887, and guided by the Holy Spirit and the idea that communities must learn to help themselves, the work of this church follows five pillars of faith:
• A duty to reach out to the less fortunate;
• An obligation to lead by example;
• An all-inclusive approach to help everyone regardless of religious beliefs;
• Acceptance of the fact that we, too, may someday require assistance in our time of need; and
• The path of salvation lies in volunteering.

Today, Father George Okeahialam, MSP, leads the flock at St. Nicholas. He is a member of the Missionary Society of St. Paul (MSP), a religious group of priests from Nigeria; Father Okeahialam is also the regional superior of the MSP in North America.

St. Nicholas has been tested several times on its first pillar of faith: helping the less fortunate. Approximately eight years ago, refugee families from East Africa needed a parish home. Father Desmond Ohankwere, pastor of St. Nicholas at that time, prayerfully discerned with his parishioners on how they could welcome the refugees into their small community and help them integrate into the many different ways in the United States. The parishioners responded with donations of clothing, furniture and showed their new parishioners the true love of God.

More recently, the church once again opened its arms to the community of Cameroonians who were renting St. Nicholas to have Masses twice a month. They were welcomed, and signed a two-year lease.

After the contract expired, it took two more years of conversations between the two communities to understand that if the Cameroonians joined St. Nicholas, together there would be more opportunities for the parish to grow as one community. Patience bore its fruits.

The original community needed a boost, also. “As an older church based near downtown Houston, you can imagine that our congregation has struggled. Many of our oldest members are dying, and our location hasn’t been convenient for others looking for a church home,” explained Myriam Marin, a St. Nicholas parishioner for the last 28 years. “Even though we question how we’ll continue to support ourselves, this hasn’t stopped us from joyfully reaching out to those who are in dire need of our mercy and love.”

With three very distinct groups, the original St. Nicholas parishioners, the East African community, and the Cameroonian community, the parish now looks for ways to integrate its diversity under one body, one heart and one soul. Father Okeahialam formed a new Pastoral Parish Council representing the integration of all three communities.
“The step-by-step guidance the Archdiocese provides to form a Pastoral Parish Council was incredibly helpful to St. Nicholas. We’ve seen how our parish benefits from the leadership of a Pastoral Parish Council for the vital functioning of our church and we encourage all parishioners to take an active role in the church,” Marin said.

The Pastoral Parish Council is also undertaking work on creating a master plan for capital improvements to the facilities as well as the possibility of new buildings.

“There is a great spirit and open hearts at St. Nicholas. Twenty-eight years ago I discovered this church by accident; but if it hadn’t been for the tremendous welcoming and hospitality I received, I might have never come back. To serve what God’s purpose is for us, we have to be one,” Marin said, inviting all Catholics around the Archdiocese to visit them in any of their three Sunday Masses where they celebrate their distinct cultures. The public is also welcome to accompany them the last Sunday of the month, when they worship as one body. Parishioners also gather in the parish hall for fellowship following the Masses.

For more information on Pastoral Plan tools and resources, contact Jim Barrette at the Office of the Secretariat Pastoral and Educational Ministries at 713-741-8785, or visit †