About

According to the most reliable historical records, the first Czech family was Jacob Sebesta who came to Ennis in 1873 from Netolice Ceske Budejovice in Czechoslovakia. Two years later in 1875, several Catholic families came from England and France.

These pioneer Catholics met together in private homes without benefit of even an occasional missionary priest. The only diocese in Texas, located 300 miles away in Galveston, supplied priests for the entire state. These missionary priests from France, Germany and Ireland made their way to distant Catholic settlements once or twice each year on horseback. One of these priests was Father Buissant, who ministered to these Catholics as early as 1873. This small group purchased a home on the southwest corner of Preston and Baylor Streets, which they remodeled for their first church. It was dedicated as St. Joseph’s – its name for many years. Father Tioune from Corsicana came every two weeks to celebrate Mass. At this time, Ennis had no roads and was mostly prairie and forest. A prominent family donated two acres of land for a Catholic Cemetery, also named St. Joseph’s. Father Tioune purchased a lot across the street (future site of Holy Redeemer Church) for the convenience of parishioners who drove in from the country in their wagons. This became the first parking lot in Ennis.

In 1887, a tornado destroyed the Church, but miraculously the main altar remained untouched. By this time there were some forty Czech families and twenty of other nationalities. Within the next few years, most of the Czech families came from Vyzovice, Moravia in Europe, especially from the village of Provodov. Some thirty-one families arrived in 1889. These Catholics, Czech and non-Czech together, rebuilt the tornado-destroyed church at a cost of $ 1,000 across the street on the parking lot. The parish priest was Father Martinelli who was later succeeded by Fr. Horton A. Brickley. Once a year Father Chromcik from Fayetteville, Texas visited the Catholic Czechs saying Mass and administering the sacraments to those who could not speak English. In 1890, Father Joseph Pelnar came from West Texas, occasionally to help out and formed a Rosary Society. On August 15, 1900 the St. Joseph’s Society of KJT (Catholic Union of Texas) was formed. In 1901, misfortune struck the budding parish when the church was destroyed by fire. At this time the Czech people requested and received permission from the Bishop to build their own church. They were given part of the insurance money ($1,000) and the English-speaking members received the lot on which the church had stood. Father Bohumil Framolis became the first pastor for the Czech parish. When his health failed, Father Vaclav Koerner came and, after consultation with the parishioners, the decision was made to purchase a block of land on the East Side of town for the sum of $1,650. The home situated on this site was remodeled into a small church. During this time there was a great influx of people from the old country, creating a need for a larger church. This was approved by Bishop Edward Dunne of Dallas. Father Koerner was reassigned elsewhere and Father Josef Ptasinski was sent to Ennis to serve the parish and oversee the construction of the new church. This was accomplished at a cost of $4,850. It was consecrated to St. John Nepomuk (Nepomucene), a much-venerated saint of the Czechs, on his feast day May 16, 1904.

In 1936, a committee of twenty parishioners began visiting people regarding donations for the construction of a larger church. Families were assigned a contribution ranging from $10 to $250, a great deal of money since these were the Depression years. After meeting with the Bishop, Fathers Kowalski and Micola were informed of his set rule of having 80% of funds in cash before beginning the construction of a country church. As the church was estimated to cost $50,000, the parish had to have $40,000. By 1937 the funds totaled $37,000 and many signed notes to bring the total amount pledged to $41,000. Each able-bodied man of the parish volunteered six days of labor. Those who could not do so, paid others to meet their commitment. Many made their pledges in bales of cotton ginned-free by the local gin.
The newly-completed St. John Nepomucene Church was consecrated on November 15, 1938. Thousands attended the solemn blessing of the new church. Father Kowaiski offered Holy Mass. Father Vaclav Linck of St. Louis gave the Czech sermon and Bishop Lynch the English sermon. Both praised the Pastor, the parishioners and especially Father Micola for this great accomplishment. Bishop Lynch described the startling beauty of the edifice as that of a basilica. Later the parish hosted a banquet at the KJT Auditorium for the Bishop, five Monsignori and forty priests who attended the celebration.