By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Prince Carl, on behalf of the Adelsverein, was given the responsibility of establishing two churches in the new settlement of New Braunfels, one Protestant and one Catholic. They were to be established at the same time, but that didn’t happen. Prince Carl engaged Rev. Louis Ervendberg as the Protestant pastor on the coast even before the group moved inland, but could not find a Catholic priest. Meanwhile to satisfy the religious needs of the early settlers, the Protestants and Catholics met together under the leadership of Rev. Ervendberg.
Finding a Catholic priest was difficult. When the prince arrived in the United States in 1844, he visited the archdiocese of Boston and Baltimore, the only organization in America at that time, looking for a priest. When he arrived in Galveston he became acquainted with Catholic Bishop Odin, the Catholic Prelate of Texas, who told him that there were no priests available for the settlement .The two traveled extensively together and became good friends. According to Ferdinand Roemer, “Odin travels continually about the country, visiting the Catholics living scattered in the various parts of the country. Fearlessly and tirelessly he traverses the lonesome prairies on horseback”…
The eventual location of the Catholic Church on Castell and Bridge Sts. has deep historic roots in New Braunfels. From a translation of Prince Carl’s report to the Adelsverein on the 27th of March, 1845, he says this: “Thirty-one wagons have arrived, and I am expecting the last half of the immigrants within a few days. I had an encampment erected on a bluff overlooking Comal Creek. For its protection I think it urgent that three sides be enclosed by palisades, whereas the fourth side is amply protected against attack by the high steep bluff of Comal Creek.”
Nicholas Zink, an educated engineer and surveyor, was given the job of laying out the streets and lots of New Braunfels. He helped set up this first camp of the immigrants. It became known as the Zinkenburg. “Burg” in English means “castle, fortress, stronghold” just like in Sophienburg the “burg” means castle.
After the settlers moved out to their own lots, the Zinkenburg became the site of the first Catholic Church. In 1847, the congregation built a temporary hut of wood and it served for two years as the first church building. This little building was on the site of the present parking lot abutting Bridge Street. It became a Catholic school when a permanent church building was constructed.
After two years, in 1849, Bishop Odin arranged for the first permanent church building. He stated that it was his intention to build the church with his own funds and he asked the Adelsverein to give him the necessary ground for the erection of a building in the city. There were only two other Catholic churches in Texas at this time, Galveston and San Antonio.
This church known as the Walnut Church was closer to the back of the property above the Comal Creek. The building was built by Heinrich Meine and built of black walnut, a hard wood that was known to be prevalent on the Guadalupe River. The building was 35 feet by 25 feet. Newly arrived, Father Gottfried Wenzel, was assigned to New Braunfels. Church archivist Everett Fey states that the Walnut Church served the congregation from 1849 through the Civil War. At that time the church was called St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles. Now the congregation had outgrown the Walnut Church.
Once again, Bishop Odin, seeing a need for expansion, dedicated the cornerstone in 1871 for a new stone church. According to Fey, the stone used to build this church was purchased from the County from the newly torn down Jail.
Now here’s an interesting story. What happened to the Walnut Church? In order to allow services of Mass, Baptism, Confirmation, Weddings and Burials to continue uninterrupted, the stone church was built around and over the Walnut Church. There was room enough inside for the smaller church to be free standing.
When the stone church was complete in 1874, there was no longer need for the Walnut Church. A notice in the Neu Braunfelser Zeitung announced that wood from the Walnut Church would be auctioned off in the church parking lot. The church would literally be pulled out the front door one log at a time. At this point, the church changed its name to the present one, Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church.
The space left by the removal of the Walnut Church greatly increased the size of the church and over the next three decades new altars and stained glass windows, now numbering 22, were added. In 1963 the size of the church was doubled. The final addition took place in 2000.
Many long-time members of Sts. Peter and Paul can claim family relationships going back generations. Everett Fey, who has worked on the church’s extensive archives for years, can stand where the Walnut Church once stood and think back to his g-g grandparents, Stephan and Margarethe Klein who worshipped there. A few steps further into the church, his grandfather, Theodore Wenzel, was the Sacristan in the first stone church. He moves up closer to the altar where his brother, Fredric Fey, was ordained a Deacon, and then finally to the most recent altar where his daughter, Janice, recently married.
A church rededication took place five years ago in 2009 on the site of where the Walnut Church once stood.