Parishioners carefully restore historic church building
Garet Nenninger feels a strong connection to the old St. Mary Catholic Church in League City after spending quite a bit of time restoring a few of the stained-glass windows.
It was a labor of love on his part, but he’s quick to point out it took a village to complete the restoration of the circa 1910 Gothic Revival-style building. The restoration began in 1994 and was completed in 1999.
Nenninger credits Ed Linck and Jerry Dornak for doing most of the work, with so many others donating their time to restore the historical building, which was the second Catholic church to be dedicated on the mainland of Galveston County.
The simplicity of the exterior and interior is appealing to the eye and reflective of the era. Before the church was built, most families were gathering at various homes on Sundays with the Rev. Jerome Rapp, who traveled from La Porte to celebrate Mass. They eventually approached J. C. League, who generously donated the land in 1908 for the church to be built.
All was well until a newer, more modern and bigger church was erected on Walker Street in 1966. When the newer church was built, the old St. Mary building was seldom used and mostly empty.
“The Knights of Columbus had it for a while,” Nenninger said. “They put in a kitchen toward the back of the church, made a few improvements, and all the pews were removed. After they moved out, rummage sales took place here and different organizations leased the building.”
Basically, the church building was neglected over the next 30 years.
In 1991, Monsignor Eugene Cargill was motivated to begin restoration. By 1994, the League City Historical Society included the church on its first historic homes tour, which proved to be successful. So, a group of parishioners, under the guidance of Linck and Dornak, began the work.
Crews moved the church 25 feet back and 30 feet sideways onto new concrete piers embossed with the names of the previous pastors and the years they served. Restoration included a new roof, electrical wiring, heating and air conditioning, refinished floors and restored walls. Restorers also painted window frames and sugar-sandblasted ceiling surfaces.
The belfry, housing the original bell, which was returned during restoration, is accessible through the choir loft, but climbing the rickety stairs is most precarious. The circular stained-glass window in this area is one of four in the church that Nenninger restored.
“The stations of the cross are original,” he said. “Yet, they were not always here. Several parishioners had been keeping them safe and returned them to the church after it was restored.”
Parishioner Mike Hemmie, a carpenter, built and donated the new pews, Nenninger said.
A small piece of the original canvas mural on the back wall of the sacristy was salvaged and framed, and rests above the organ.
“The wood-burning potbelly stove on the left side of the church is original,” Nenninger said. “It was the only element of heat back in the day, and many times it didn’t get comfortable until Mass was just about over.”