By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Our Lady of Perpetual Help congregation is celebrating its 90th year of existence. It is a good example of a group of people who held on to their beliefs and held on to their culture and traditions. Sts. Peter and Paul Church, the oldest Catholic Church in New Braunfels, sent a request to the Motherhouse of the Holy Family in Holland asking for priests to work among the Spanish-speaking people in New Braunfels. In 1926, the church became a reality and still serves the community at 138 W. Austin Street
The idea of serving the needs of the Spanish-speaking people in the area began much earlier at Las Calera or The Lime at Dittlinger, four miles west of New Braunfels. In 1907, Hippolyt Dittlinger founded the Dittlinger Lime Company four miles west of New Braunfels. It is said that Mr. Dittlinger recruited workers from Mexico. Immigrant workers brought their families and immediately a settlement began close to The Lime.
Mr. Dittlinger provided housing and a school for the children in the vicinity. He also built a house for the Sisters of Divine Providence who had come to teach the children in that school. In 1926 space was provided in the school for a chapel. Worship services were held in a room partitioned off in the building, the same year that the Sister’s House was built. The Lime was sold in 1934 to the United States Gypsum Company, but the school continued until 1936 when it became a public school of the New Braunfels Independent School District.
The year 1926 was a very important year for the congregation of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and that is the reason for the celebration. It was this same year that the late Henry Moeller bequeathed a house on Austin St. in Comaltown to Archbishop J.J. Droassarts for the purpose of establishing a church for Spanish-speaking people. Emily Moeller also gave property on Austin St. adjoining the house.
The Archbishop appealed to the Holy Family Fathers in the Netherlands for missionaries to help organize a church. Four missionaries accepted the call in March of 1926.
Reverend Anthony Elsing, M.S.F. headed the group. Since there was no church building, the house given by Henry Moeller at 158 W. Austin St. was used as a temporary chapel and a rectory. A small church was built and Our Lady of Perpetual Help became the official name on December 5, 1926 with 40 families in the parish. Two years later a fire partially destroyed the interior of the chapel. The church was rebuilt and enlarged to accommodate a larger congregation, which had grown to 509 parishioners, plus living quarters for the sisters. A home next to the one given by Mr. Moeller was purchased and used as a new rectory with the old house being remodeled into a school. In 1931 a parish hall was built on the back of the property. Also in that year the parish purchased land for its own cemetery on Peace Avenue, taking the place of the Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery and the Hidalgo Cemetery for its parishioners.
In 1948, it became necessary to enlarge the school so a larger more modern structure was built. In the 1960s the parochial school was closed and most children entered the public schools. Nuns from Indiana took over the Catholic religious instruction of the children going to public school. This lead to a strong program for youth that is still active as the Catholic Youth Organization.
A beautiful structure was built in 1969 on the corner of Austin and Union Sts. In the 1980s a new Parish Hall, CCD Center and bazaar booths were constructed on the premises.
Many Spanish-speaking people lived on the western edge of New Braunfels due to the influx of industry in that area. Growth was inevitable and so became the necessity for a church in the area. Out at Dittlinger, the Sister’s House that had remained on the property of Servtex Material, was purchased by Mrs. Amalie Dittlinger Mengden of Houston in 1944. She was the daughter of Hippolyt Dittlinger and she donated the building to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in New Braunfels. The building was dismantled and the materials from this house became the beginning of the Holy Family Church which is now at 245 S. Hidalgo Ave. This church, as well as another church in Hunter, St. Johns Church, were both mission churches of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
The church is very active socially, bringing people together. Some of the original organizations live on and some were abandoned. These activities exemplify the strong love of family and friends that the Mexican culture is known for.
The love of music has always been important in the Catholic Church. Going back to early Europe, all denominations honored the great classics like Hendel’s Messiah or the Vivalde Requiem. Different denominations adopt their church music to their beliefs and culture. An example of that took place in 1978 when the Lady of Perpetual Help formed the Mariache Choir and then later the First Conjunto Choir when the Latin Mass was eliminated.
The Bazaars or Jamaicas is a time for fellowship when parishioners pool their talents for the betterment of church funds. A dance with a D.J. raises a large part of funds for improvements on the campus. The dance takes place inside the hall and the Bazaar is not outside as it used to be.
Another important occasion is Las Mananitas which is a tribute to Our Lady of Guadalupe and her apparition to Juan Diego on the morning December 12th. The grotto called El Cerrito (the mountain) which was constructed on the grounds in 1940 is the site for the celebration of Las Mananitas. After singing Las Mananitas, the celebration is concluded with Mass. This practice has been conducted in many, many Catholic churches. Although this ceremony is no longer at church, many parishioners carry it out as a tradition in their family.
Las Posadas is the reenactment of Joseph’s and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem for the birth of Christ. This is concluded at midnight on December 24th. It is a tradition of “blessing of the home.”
In the early years, going back to Father Elsing’s time in New Braunfels, a tradition carried on for many years was Las Tamaladas. This tradition was made famous by the Guadalupanas preparing tamales from hand ground corn meal. Father Elsing would collect the corn from the farmers and the Guadalupanas would grind the corn into cornmeal and make tamales. From their sale of tamales, funds would be used to benefit children.
On the anniversary of its 90th year, Our Lady of Perpetual Help finds itself a congregation of diverse backgrounds. An early 7:30am Mass is still conducted for the Spanish-speaking parishioner but the two other morning services are in English. Winter Texans from all over have found the church to be a welcome home.