A new marker from the Liberty County Historical Commission that recognizes the history and importance of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 3730 FM 160 N in Raywood, was unveiled during a ceremony on Saturday, Oct. 8, with dozens of church members and local historians in attendance.
The history of the church dates back to 1935 when Sacred Heart Catholic Church constructed its first building. Originally a mission of Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church in Ames, the church was built through a $3,000 gift from Mrs. Katherine Fitzpatrick of Philadelphia, who also asked that the church be named Sacred Heart.
The history of the church was read aloud at the marker dedication by church member Leo Sterling Jr.
“In the late 1880s, economic life in Louisiana held few opportunities for African Americans. Most were living and working in farms, working as tenants, laborers, or other unskilled service, and were not property owners. With the worsening social and economic conditions in Louisiana, many of these residents looked toward Texas and better opportunities. The first pioneers settled in Raywood area in the 1890s and began migration into the area of Liberty County. The settlers brought their unique creole heritage and deep-seeded affection for the catholic faith. These Creoles shared a strong commitment to family, church, and country. They took their faith seriously and it was a priority in their lives,” Sterling read.
Since there was not a church in Raywood, these families had to travel to Liberty to attend mass, many times over muddy roads and through inclement weather. In 1910, a church was built in Ames, administrated by the Josephite priests from Houston. Settlers in Raywood were determined to serve the Lord in their own community and dreamed of the day when they would have their own sanctuary, Sterling continued.
In 1934, Raywood was recognized as a growing community and 52 families attended the church. Fitzpatrick’s $3,000 donation, which equates to roughly $60,000 in today’s dollars, was the seed money that was needed for the first church. Expansion projects later added a cemetery, parish hall, family life center and a rectory that were made possible only through the generosity of many Catholic families.
By 1955, Sacred Heart Catholic Church had 505 congregants and the mission was raised to independent status, thereby removing it as a mission of Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church in Ames. In 1977, when a larger church building and parish hall were added, church members had raised enough money to cover the cost in full.
Since 1997, the missionaries of Saint Paul of Nigeria have pastored the church. Sacred Heart today is the center of culture and civic engagement in the Raywood area.
At the closing of the ceremony, Father Emanuel Mbam, a native of Nigeria, blessed the historical marker after its unveiling, then he took a moment to share his view of America as the country faces an important mid-term election this November.
“In every democracy there is always conflict and opposition, but always remember that outside this place, people don’t know Democrats and Republicans. What they know is the United States of America, so whatever you are going to do to maintain the greatness of this country, please transcend political affiliation and do your best. Outside of here, many people admire the United States. Of course, it is not perfect but I haven’t seen a perfect country either,” Mbam said.
“As the election is coming, we pray. In many places, election time is a violent time. Yes, you have your own conflicts here, but you don’t go killing one another. So no matter how you think it is bad, always remember you are very blessed,” he said.