Anticipation, rejuvenation, treasures, and mysteries mark Our Lady of the Holy Rosary anniversary
CISCO — That COVID-19 precautions caused rescheduling Cisco’s Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish’s 100th anniversary celebration stirred disappointment, yes, but also anticipation and renewed purpose on the parts of Father Vijaya “VJ” Mareedu, SAC, and his parishioners.
“We were planning to distribute small bags with a rosary and things like that, but we’ve now completely postponed our anniversary celebration until next year,” Fr. Mareedu said.
Which, parishioner Chrystal Jaimes said, engenders excitement for 2021.
“I look forward to having everybody together next year,” Jaimes said. “All our youth and maybe all four area parishes getting together and really doing a wonderful celebration.”
Originally named Red Gap and founded about 1878, a mix of railroads, farming, oil drilling, and industry fueled Cisco’s subsequent growth and name change, courtesy of New York banker John Cisco who helped finance the railroad’s arrival. The town is also known for a 1927 bank robbery in which the robbers dressed as Santa Claus, and it was once reportedly home to the world’s largest concrete swimming pool. Conrad Hilton paid a visit in 1919 intending to buy a bank, but bought a hotel instead, the beginning of what became the Hilton Hotel chain.
“He was Catholic,” parishioner Susan Horton said. “His rosary is in the museum of that hotel, which is now the Conrad Hilton Center.”
Father Rudolph A. Gerken, who established St. Rita Church in Ranger the same year, first held Mass in the Union Labor Hall of Cisco in 1919. Land purchased in 1920 for $2,500 led to the construction of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in summer that same year at a cost of $10,000. Twenty used solid oak pews were purchased for $1,500. The original church remains, albeit remodeled several times through the decades.
Fr. Gerken later served as bishop of the Diocese of Amarillo and as archbishop of the Diocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“There’s a great history to the parish because it’s been the main center for many area Catholics then and now,” Fr. Mareedu said. “For them, having a church close by and access to the sacraments remains very important and has led to a very vibrant parish.”
That vibrant past inspired Horton and fellow parishioner Ann Geasland to create a booklet detailing the parish’s history.
“It’s something we’ll hand out when we have our anniversary celebration next year,” Geasland said. “I’ve taken information from various sources to put together a chronological history of the priests who served here, info about different iterations of the physical building, how it started, and changes made over the past 100 years. We’re going to add information on our Altar Society and Friendship Meal too.”
Horton is investigating the donors of the church’s 23 stained glass windows.
“I’m looking into who are these people?” Horton said. “For one donor, I found a picture of him and his wife-to-be coming over on a boat from France after World War I. When I look at that window now, I see the person, not just a name on the donor plate.”
Other aspects of church history remain a mystery.
“It was dedicated by [former Diocese of Dallas Bishop Joseph P. Lynch] on April 17, 1921 as Queen of the Holy Rosary,” Horton said. “We haven’t been able to figure out when it changed from that to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.”
The name inscribed on the base of the parish’s chalice traces back to a priest in 1944 in the Archdiocese of New York who appears to have had no connection to Cisco.
“So why do we have his chalice that we still use every Mass?” Horton said. “We found his gravesite in the Bronx, and we’ve contacted the archdiocese and are waiting to hear back to see if we can find out more about him.”
Fr. Mareedu and Deacon Ed Ferguson credit parishioners for raising funds and helping out with last year’s major renovation of the church.
“I wish you could see the before and after,” Dcn. Ferguson said. “They did a fantastic job renovating the church. It is beautiful.”
“The parishioners had wanted to do some work on the church for some time,” Horton said. “With the 100-year anniversary coming up, it just seemed like the perfect time. So last year in July and August basically we were going to Mass at other parishes. Holy Rosary was shut down. We completely emptied the church and put everything in our parish hall.
“We had a lot of help from parishioners and also a lot of patience from parishioners,” she said.
The church’s pews, more than 100 years old, were refinished and now look brand new, Horton and Geasland said, as do the kneelers.
Renovation uncovered treasures.
“We had paneling from the ‘60s or ‘70s,” Horton said. “Removing that paneling uncovered two stained-glass windows on either side of the main altar.”
Removal of carpet and linoleum from the sacristy uncovered the original pine wood flooring, which has since been restored and refinished, Geasland added.
Community of faith
In the end, it’s more about spiritual sustenance than an anniversary celebration, parishioners said of the centennial milestone.
“We’ve only lived in Cisco seven years, and, of course, this is where we get spiritually fed,” Geasland said. “But also, the parishioners have been incredibly kind and friendly to us. They’ve made us feel very welcome from the first day we walked in the door.”
“Our parish is tight knit, but always open to new people,” Jaimes said. “We’re very blessed to have Father VJ who is so vivacious and full of life. Sometimes we get down in the midst of COVID and everything going on, but he keeps us up. I feel like he’s in the right place at the right time.”