| By Karl Kuykendall

Historic chapels are hidden gems in the diocese

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Washington and Fayette counties, in the southeastern corner of the Diocese of Austin, are home to two historic chapels. Sacred Heart in Latium and St. Martin in Warrenton are tucked away and off-the-beaten-path locations for most people. The chapels are maintained, but Masses and other services are infrequently held in them. Catholics of primarily Czech and German heritage built the chapels, and both congregations were aided in their establishment by Texas’ first Moravian Czech priest, Father Joseph Chromcik.

Constructed in 1918, Sacred Heart at Latium sits at FM 389 at the intersection of Saw Mill and Sacred Heart roads, 11 miles southwest of Brenham. In 1872 the congregation of approximately 30 Czech and German families began meeting for Mass in the home of Martin Supak. In 1880 Supak donated an acre of land for a cemetery, and shortly thereafter an adjoining one-acre tract was acquired for the site of a combination church and school.

Completed in the early 1880s, the church was configured such that the altar area could be closed off so that the school could use the remainder of the space. School benches served as pews. In 1885 when County Line School opened, the building was then used only for worship and religious education classes.

Sacred Heart later acquired a nearby two-acre site from George and Anna Baron, and in 1918 for $1,700 built the simple yet beautiful Gothic Revival church typified by narrow pointed arched windows that exists today. The remarkably unchanged chapel ceased to be an active church in 1995, and today Mass is held only on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and for weddings and funerals. From its inception, Sacred Heart was a mission church under nearby parishes. Today it is maintained by St. Mary Immaculate Conception Parish in Brenham.

The Catholic congregation in Warrenton, primarily composed of Czechs, Germans and Poles, was established in 1886 with some 65 families. The faithful met in private homes until St. Martin Church was constructed in 1888, with a cemetery dedicated the following year. The original church was a simple but adequate frame building.

By 1915 many of its original families had passed on or moved, and the church was razed to provide lumber for a parochial school in nearby Fayetteville. Leftover lumber from the school project was used to build the chapel, which is on Highway 237, one mile east of Warrenton, between La Grange and Brenham. The tiny, sparsely adorned church sits on cinder blocks and has the distinction of being the world’s smallest Catholic Church. Along with the altar, tabernacle and two statues, there are 12 wooden benches that comfortably seat about 20. There is no air conditioning, but there is a steeple, bell and a large oil painting of St. Martin of Tours. St. Martin has been and continues to be under the care of St. John the Baptist Parish in Fayetteville. Many from the congregation’s original families are buried in the adjacent cemetery.

Karl Kuykendall is a retired commercial bank executive and is a member of St. Mary Parish in Temple. He has lived in the Diocese of Austin for more than 50 years. He is the author of Faith & Perseverance: The History of the Catholic Church in Central Texas, which was recently published by Amazon.