A century of faith: Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Breckenridge serves faithful 100 years
BRECKENRIDGE — Nearly 50 years before Saint Pope Paul VI established the Diocese of Fort Worth in 1969, Masses were being celebrated in the oil-boom town of Breckenridge, 100 miles west of Cowtown.
It was in rural towns, such as Breckenridge, where the future diocese was taking shape as North Texas communities grew rapidly after the turn of the century and the Church strove to establish places of worship for the faithful in these new settlements.
In the case of Breckenridge, the Catholic Church was established in 1920 to serve thousands of oil workers who set up tent cities throughout the town. The sleepy town had woken up overnight after the McCleskey No. 1 oil well blew in Ranger about 30 miles to the southeast three years earlier.
Drilling soon began in Breckenridge, with thousands of oil workers flocking into the town. From 1920 to 1921, the population grew from 1,500 residents to about 30,000 people. The growth was phenomenal and so was the need to serve the faithful in Breckenridge.
Diocese of Dallas Bishop Joseph P. Lynch sent an energetic priest named Father Rudolph A. Gerken to celebrate the first Masses there. The area was then part of the ecclesiastical territory of the Diocese of Dallas.
The bishop and the zealous priest were no strangers to spreading the Word of God in remote areas of North Texas. During his 43 years as shepherd, Bishop Lynch established more than 100 parishes.
Fr. Gerken, while serving as pastor in Ranger, established churches in Eastland, Cisco, Breckenridge, and Pioneer.
Fr. Gerken celebrated Mass for Breckenridge-area Catholics at a warehouse and the local courthouse. Through the pastor’s guidance, local Catholics purchased property for a church in 1920 at a cost of $4,500.
According to the pastor’s detailed written records, in the summer and fall of 1922, construction on the church was underway. It was completed at a cost of $10,000, plus $2,500 for furnishings.
On June 3, 1923, Bishop Lynch, assisted by Fr. Gerken, dedicated the new church. In 1925 a rectory was completed and furnished by the church’s Altar Society.
Fr. Gerken went on to become bishop of the Diocese of Amarillo in 1927. The pioneering cleric’s experience in North Texas served him well. During his administration of the new Diocese of Amarillo, he built 20 churches, six schools, three hospitals, and a convent. In 1933 he was appointed archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Fr. Gerken literally built up the faith in Breckenridge and throughout North Texas, where many dedicated priests have followed in his footsteps.
The present brick structure of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Breckenridge was completed in October 1961. The former church was then converted into a parish hall. It served for 20 years, until a new parish hall was constructed in 1989.
While the parish had planned to celebrate its 100th anniversary in the fall of this year, it is being postponed until next year because of concerns related to COVID-19.
An optimistic Father Prakash Dias, SAC, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Breckenridge and Jesus of Nazareth in Albany, said of the celebration postponement, “Maybe it’s an opportunity to celebrate it with more spiritual vigor and grandeur next year.”
Fr. Dias said the 100-year recognition represents a time to express gratitude for the clergy and laity who have served Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish over the past century.
“The people always kept their faith and kept this church going,” Fr. Dias said. “It is a huge responsibility for me now to carry on this legacy in collaboration with our parishioners.”
As a missionary Pallottine priest with the Society of Catholic Apostolate, Fr. Dias has taken a practical approach to involving laity, which is at the heart of his religious order’s charism.
Fr. Dias recruits carpenters, welders, plumbers, computer technicians, teachers, and many others with special talents from among the faithful to serve Christ and the local Church.
“This was precisely the desire of our founder, St. Vincent Pallotti, to have a participatory Church,” Fr. Dias said.
Robert Alvarez has been a Sacred Heart of Jesus parishioner for 31 years. He has served in many roles from Marriage Encounter facilitator to religious education teacher, and from acolyte to maintenance worker, to name only a few.
Alvarez said he has taken on many jobs with the church that he never dreamed he would perform, “but priests really helped me look at myself and what I am capable of doing when trusting in God.”
William Davidson, a parishioner for 15 years, has served Sacred Heart of Jesus in many ways as well, including his work with the finance committee, parish council, and numerous fundraisers.
Davidson said the word “resilience” best characterizes Sacred Heart of Jesus over the past 100 years.
Fr. Dias said he is thankful for those who have come before him to build the Church and those who continue the work.
“Our 100th anniversary logo states, ‘Community of Love: One Heart, One Body, In Christ,’” the priest said. “We will continue to live out this commitment with Mother Mary as our model.”