| By Fred Afflerbach | Correspondent

Santa Rosa celebrates 85 years of growing faith

From humble beginnings in rural Central Texas, Santa Rosa de Lima Parish in Andice, 40 miles north of Austin, has blossomed into a vibrant and thriving faith community that is proudly celebrating 85 years of faith.

During the Great Depression, when milk was 14 cents a gallon and bread a nickel a loaf, migrant farm workers and local laborers celebrated Mass in Spanish at an abandoned movie theater in tiny Andice — population 50. After the theater was razed, the small but devout group held services outdoors at a nearby cemetery. In 1938, on a lot that cost $50, and with $1,000 from the Catholic Church Extension Society, the nascent parish built their first church, a 1,200 square-foot building that would serve them for another 62 years.

Santa Rosa de Lima remained a mission church until 1998. In 2000, a larger, new church building was completed and now sits on a modern 40-acre compound complete with parish hall, landscaped grottos, religious education building, and rectory.

Father Larry Stehling, pastor, and Father Cesar Guzman-Diaz, associate pastor, serve the parish.

Building community

It was those early, trying times that bond the newcomers, many from Sun City, a nearby retirement community, with longtime parishioners.

Steve Kliman, parish services coordinator, calls Santa Rosa de Lima “a community brought together by God. This is a family church, and the family has kids, and those kids come here and they all kind of know each other.”

Elsie Parrish and her husband, Lynn, joined Santa Rosa de Lima in 1976. She remembers when the small church building was overflowing one Easter, and Father Walter Carr had to think fast to prevent a traffic jam at the altar during communion. He devised an unusual plan. After receiving the Eucharist, parishioners would exit through a side door, circle around to the front and reenter there.

It was the “most wonderful place ever. A humble little church,” Elsie Parrish said. “The families that attended there, we had such a special bond. It was a very loving little congregation. After Mass, we’d all gather together under the big oak trees and we’d talk for hours. We knew everybody’s kids. It was like one big, happy family. Now, when you go to the new church, I guess you could say you feel a sense of pride, reward that we were instrumental in helping it grow to where it is today.”

Parrish credits Father Carr, a retired insurance agent who entered the priesthood later in life and served the parish from 1992 to 2006, with helping the parish blossom. A dynamic figure with a rich baritone voice and known for ending each service with a joke, he faithfully led the parish, but on a tight budget.

“He would contact other churches, different denominations,” Parrish said. “He’d get pews from the other churches. A lot of things were donated, like stations of the cross, missalettes and songbooks. Just kind of piecemealing things together. But we got it going.”

Changing and growing

Jane Mick and her husband, Richard, first heard Father Carr celebrate Mass as a visiting priest at another parish in 1999. They were captivated with his enthusiasm and love for the Gospel. So they followed him to Santa Rosa de Lima and have been members since. Jane Mick published a church history in 2002. She says what attracted her to Santa Rosa de Lima was the feeling of “unconditional love and acceptance. The people were welcoming. So we volunteered at all the festivals and I got to hang out in the kitchen with the ladies and make tamales. They were kind.”

Today, 1,500 families call Santa Rosa de Lima their faith home. But with this growth comes challenges. To accommodate new members, the parish has added on to the church building, and now celebrates more weekend Masses and offers more religious education classes. Volunteers operate a food pantry, open twice a month, in the parish hall. All who need food are welcome.

Father Diaz joined the fold in 2022, so for the first time in its history, the parish is served by two priests. Father Diaz celebrates Mass in Spanish, just as the founding parishioners did long ago.

As the growth in Williamson County continues, Santa Rosa Parish will continue to warmly welcome all to the community of faith.

For more information about Santa Rosa Parish, visit srdl-cc.org or call (254) 793-0273.

Fred Afflerbach is a freelance writer living in Cedar Park. He is a 26-year member of the Knights of Columbus Council at St. Margaret Mary Parish. His work has been published in several daily Texas newspapers and he has published two novels.