The Liberty County Historical Commission will honor St. Anne’s Catholic Church – Eastgate by dedicating an historical marker on Saturday, Oct. 24 at 10:30 a.m. on the church grounds. The dedication will be outdoors with safe practices honored. The public is invited to attend.
St. Anne’s Catholic Church originated with the Czech influence in this southwestern Liberty County community of Eastgate. Eastgate is known as the “easternmost Czech settlement in Texas.” However, before the influx of the Czechs, many Anglo settlers had come into Eastgate and established homes and farms. The 1910 census shows Eastgate having a store and a population of 10 people. The town plat was drawn up by J. C. Perry in 1911, but it was not filed until two years later.
In 1911, Moravian-born businessman, Ignac Gallia, bought lands in Eastgate that the railroad was selling. Gallia advertised in Czech language newspapers of the “beautiful country in Liberty County at Eastgate.” One couple who read Gallia’s advertisements about land in Eastgate was Adolf and Anna Janacek of Ammannsville in Fayette County. Adolf Janacek purchased 181 acres in Eastgate on Jan. 8, 1912. Other Czech settlers who came to Eastgate in 1912 were the Bartos Vyoral Family, the John Kovalcik Family, the Joseph P. Fisher Family, the Joe Hajovsky Family, the Rudolph Hajovsky Family, the Vinc Buchta Family, and the Charlie Jarma Family. In 1913, came the Joe Kolarik Family and Marcel F. Janacek. In 1915, came the families of Anton Smykal, Sr., Morris Beran, Joe Vyoral, Sr., and Joe Krajca. These families were to compose the charter members of St. Anne’s Catholic Church. These Czech families were farmers. They purchased land, built homes, and coped with the hardships experienced by farmers in virgin country.
Before Adolf Janacek could develop his property in Eastgate, he died in a flu epidemic at the age of 48 years on Oct. 7, 1913, at his home in Ammannsville. His widow, Anna (nee Fischer) Janacek, carried on her husband’s wishes in developing the Eastgate property by having a home and necessary farm buildings constructed on the land. Several of the children of Adolf and Anna Janacek would live in the Janacek home constructed in Eastgate. Mrs. Anna Janacek herself never formally resided in Eastgate, but maintained her home in Ammannsville.
By 1915, a big concern arose over the spiritual life of the Czech families in Eastgate. In a response to a request made by Marcel F. Janacek and his wife, Mary, Father Mosler made the 375-mile trip from Bomarton in Baylor County where he offered the first Mass in the Janacek home on June 1, 1915, with six families present. Father Mosler made the trip from Baylor County to Eastgate four times a year until the summer of 1918. After a while other priests came to Eastgate, and finally there was Mass once a month. Those priests who came occasionally during these years were: Rev. W. Lang, O.M.I., who established Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Crosby in 1913; Rev. P. Kaspar, Rev. Joe Kloubuck, Rev. Joe Valenta, Rev. A. W. Nesvadba, Rev. E. A. Holub, Rev. P. F. Nemec, Rev. Vincent M. Harris, who later became the first Bishop of the Beaumont Diocese; and from Rosenberg, came Rev. Frank Hudon. Rev. Ignac Valenta also came from Rosenberg to offer Mass on holy days and special occasions.
The principal means of transportation over long distances in those days was the railroad. In 1908, the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company had constructed a line which crossed the south-central portion of Liberty County, passing through Hull and Hardin on the east, and Eastgate on the west where there was a small train depot. Passenger trains stopped at the Eastgate depot only to unload passengers. A person wishing to board the train flagged the train down with a handkerchief during the day and with a lighted lantern at night. It was this method of transportation that brought the early Czech settlers and the early priests to Eastgate.
For a short period of time in 1915, nuns from the Sisters of Divine Providence came to Eastgate and taught catechism. This soon proved to be too difficult because of the distance involved so Marcel F. Janacek and his older sister, Stefanie, took over the job of teaching catechism in the Janacek home in Eastgate.
In 1917, Rev. Isidor Tresch became interested in building a church at Eastgate. Mrs. Anna Janacek agreed to donate land for the church. Rev. Tresch wrote a letter to the Catholic Church Extension Society requesting aid in the endeavor of getting a church started. In a letter dated November 26, 1917, the society sent $500.00 to build the church with instructions that the new church would be named in honor of St. Anne. The letter also stated that “we are placing, at the same time, with The Sievers Altar Mfg. Co. of San Antonio, Texas, an order for an altar, for that place, and we will send shortly, some vestments, linens, and some other accessories for the little church at East Gate.”
Before further action could be taken, Rev. Tresch, who is considered St. Anne’s first mission pastor, was transferred and he was replaced by Rev. C. H. Zoepfchen, O.M.I., who would serve Eastgate from his base at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, in Magnolia Park in Houston. Arriving by train, Rev. Zoepfchen was met at the Eastgate depot by Marcel Janacek. They rode the quarter of a mile by horseback to the Janacek home, where the Father stayed on his visits.
In July 1918, Marcel Janacek and Emil Hajovsky began calling on parishioners to raise funds for the church’s construction. By mid-October 1918, they had pledges made totaling $900. More affluent Catholic parishes also sent donations. St. Anne’s Catholic Church of Eastgate was formally organized on October 20, 1918. On January 13, 1919, Mrs. Anna Janacek, and her adult children: Stefanie, Marcel, Henry and Peregrin, as heirs of Adolf Janacek, sold 2 ¼ acres of land on which to build the church to Rev. Christopher E. Byrne for $10.00. The document states that this land would be used only for the purpose of a church and not for a cemetery.
With Eastgate resident Joe Krajca as head carpenter, construction began on the 58 by 28-foot building. The original St. Anne’s Catholic Church was constructed at a cost of $1,665.00. Pews and other furnishing were donated by parishioners. St. Anne’s Catholic Church was dedicated, debt-free, by the Bishop of Galveston, the Most Rev. C. E. Byrne, on July 26, 1921.
In 1923, Father Zoepfchen, having served Eastgate for five years, returned to his homeland of Germany, where he died. St. Anne’s was then served by Rev. J. M. Laurent until 1926; followed by Rev. A. J. Flanagan, S.S. J. from 1927 to 1930. In 1930, St. Anne’s became a mission of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Liberty. Rev. Michael I. Hurley served until 1937 when St. Anne’s became a mission of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Crosby. Rev. Charles Kunc then served as pastor of St. Anne’s.
On Oct. 16, 1919, Ignac Gallia sold to Rev. Christopher E. Byrne, Bishop of Galveston, two acres of land for $1.00 for the purpose of a Catholic Church Cemetery (Vol. 95, p. 344, Liberty County Deed Records). Two of the oldest marked graves in the St. Anne’s Cemetery are those of Miss Frances Vyoral and Mrs. Antonia Damek. Frances Vyoral died July 2, 1922, at the age of 22. She was the daughter of Joseph and Frantiska Buchta Vyoral. Mrs. Antonia Bohacik Damek was born July 1, 1901 and died Aug 30, 1924. She was the daughter of Andrew and Mary Bohacik, and the first wife of Paul Damek. However, in the far southwestern corner of St. Anne’s Cemetery are two graves marked with concrete crosses that have neither names nor dates on them, so do not know the ages of these graves. There are probably many of the early graves that are unmarked today as they may have been marked with wooden crosses or temporary markers that have deteriorated over time. Many of the older stones in St. Anne’s Cemetery are in the Czech language.
By 1948, it was decided that the parishioners of St. Anne’s needed a larger church, and the old church would be converted into a parish hall. On April 12, 1949, Marcel and Vlasta Janacek sold 2 ¼ acres of land to Bishop C. E. Byrne for $10.00 for the site of the new St. Anne’s Catholic Church. This land is located some two hundred yards south of the original St. Anne’s Catholic Church and just southwest across the road from the home Anna Janacek had constructed. Marcel Janacek and his brother, Henry Janacek, were the designers of the new St. Anne’s Catholic Church. With hard work and effort, the parishioners of St. Anne’s raised the funds necessary to build the new church. Under the supervision of head carpenter, Henry Janacek, the new St. Anne’s Catholic Church, with its 44-foot-high steeple, was constructed at a cost of approximately $20,000, and has a seating capacity of 300 people.
The new St. Anne’s Catholic Church was dedicated by Bishop C. E. Byrne on Sunday, Oct. 16, 1949, and two days later on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 1949, the first wedding in the new St. Anne’s occurred when Joe F. Smesny married Marveline Bode. Miss Christine Janacek had donated many flower arrangements for the dedication service of St. Anne’s, and gave permission to Joe F. and Marveline to use the flower arrangements in their wedding.
Rev. Charles Kunc, who had served both St. Anne’s in Eastgate and Sacred Heart in Crosby, was replaced in 1950 by Rev. E. D. Fowler; followed by Rev. Paul A. Michalka, who died in a car accident near Crosby on Dec. 30, 1952, at the age of 36 years. In 1953, Rev. Karl Kermiet came to serve St. Anne’s, but he died in a car accident at Runneburg & Bohemian Hall Roads near Crosby on Sept. 26, 1955, at the age of 39 years. Rev. Robert Gradel served St. Anne’s from 1956 to 1960; Rev. Joseph G. Robinson served St. Anne’s from 1961 until his untimely death of cancer at the age of 39 years on July 16, 1962, at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Houston. Following his death, Rev. A. J. Pavelka came to serve St. Anne’s in 1962. Father Pavelka was the fourth of the five vocations to the priesthood from Holy Trinity Parish of Jarrell (also known as Corn Hill), in Williamson County, Texas. The other three were the two Father Valentas and Father Paul F. Nemec.
In July 1967, the new St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church was formed in Dayton, and since then, St. Anne’s has been a mission of St. Joseph’s. Rev. Paul Fee was assigned as the first priest of St. Joseph the Worker, and Father Fee joined the line of priests who have served St. Anne’s. After his arrival, Father Fee made many improvements to St. Anne’s such as adding central air conditioning and heat, rubber foam kneelers, a new water well, and he replaced and carpeted the Sanctuary floor.
St. Anne’s Catholic Church celebrated its Golden Anniversary on Oct. 6, 1968. Several descendants of Adolf and Anna Janacek attended the special services, including their oldest daughter, Stefanie Janacek Volny, who was by then 78 years old and had come from her home in California. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated with the Most Reverend John L. Morkovsky, S.T.D., Co-Adjutor Bishop of Galveston-Houston Diocese, as main celebrant, and Rev. Paul Fee and Msgr. Balthasar Janacek, St. John’s Seminary of San Antonio, as co-celebrants. Lunch was served at the Eastgate Parish Hall following the special mass. Mrs. Vlasta Janacek wrote A History of St. Anne’s Catholic Church to commemorate the Church’s 50th Anniversary Celebration.
After the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of St. Anne’s, a new project developed with the construction of a new parish hall for St. Anne’s in 1970. The new 40-by-90-foot hall was dedicated by Bishop John Morkovsky in February 1972. Mr. Louis Hohn, Sr., and Mr. John S. Hanel prepared the bar-be-que for the dedication ceremony. With the construction and completion of the new parish hall, the original St. Anne’s Catholic Church, which had served as the parish hall after 1949, was torn down later in 1972. With the removal of the old church, an important Eastgate landmark was lost forever. Years later, a pavilion was constructed on the site where the first St. Anne’s Catholic Church once stood.
The St. Anne Bazaars (also known as the Eastgate Bazaars) were popular events that always attracted large crowds well into the 1980s until they were dissolved for a time. A new bar-be-que pit and meat-cutting room were added to the parish grounds where the meat was prepared for the bazaars. The bar-be-que pit project was overseen by Leonard Vyoral who traveled to the Cleveland and Crosby parishes to see how their pits were constructed. Charlie Vyoral, Jr., constructed the covering over the bar-be-que pit. The St. Anne’s Bazaar is making a comeback although now the bazaars are known as a spring or fall festival—depending on what time of the year they are held. The Shepherd Staff is a benevolent society that raises funds for St. Anne’s, especially with its popular annual kolache bake sales.
Having served St. Anne’s since June 17, 1967, Father Paul Fee retired on June 27, 1991. He was followed by Father Nolan Gouthier, who served from June 28, 1991 to July 16, 1996. After Father Nolan came Father Tom Phelan, who served from Jan. 1, 1997, to Sept. 30, 2003; Father Joseph Malayampuram, CMI, served from Oct. 1, 2003, to Aug. 12, 2004; Father Andy Moore, Parochial Administrator, served from Aug. 13, 2004, to June 12, 2005; Father Thuc Nguyen, Parochial Administrator, served from June 13, 2005, to July 31, 2008; Msgr. Michael A. Jamail, Parochial Administrator, served Sept. 1, 2008, to Dec. 10, 2008; Father Jim McClintock, Parochial Administrator, served from Dec. 11, 2008, to Sept. 30, 2010; Father Michael Long Vu, SVD, served from Oct. 1, 2010, to June 30, 2014; and Father Richard Zawadzki, SVD, came to serve the St. Anne’s Catholic Community on July 1, 2014.
Because the Eastgate community lies west of the Trinity River in Liberty County, it was not within the original boundaries of the Diocese of Beaumont. The boundaries between the dioceses of Galveston-Houston and Beaumont were redrawn in 1990 to include all of Liberty and Chambers Counties; thus St. Anne’s Catholic Church officially became a part of the Beaumont diocese.
During the time of Father Nolan Gouthier, St. Anne’s celebrated its 75th anniversary on June 6, 1993, with a special mass followed by a barbecue dinner that followed at the parish hall. A group of Czech singers, based in Houston, entertained during the afternoon and games were also available.
St. Anne’s Catholic Church observed its 100th anniversary on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, with a Mass at 11 a.m., with The Most Rev. Curtis J. Guillory, S.V.D., Bishop, Diocese of Beaumont, Father Paul Kahan, SVD, & Father Richard Zawadzki, S.V.D., as celebrants commemorating St. Anne’s Centennial. A reception and dinner followed at the St. Anne’s Parish Hall in Eastgate. Mr. Felix Skarpa was the chairman of St. Anne’s Centennial Committee.
Father Richard Zawadzki served St. Anne’s Catholic Church until Aug. 31, 2020, and on Sept. 1, 2020, Father Peter Phong Nguyen came to serve the communities of St. Anne’s and St. Joseph’s Catholic Churches.
Church history compiled by Daniel R. Bode of Eastgate, Texas. Bibliography upon request.
For more information concerning the marker dedication, please contact Linda Jamison, County Chair, at 936-334-5813 or email@example.com.