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Historic Refugio church celebrates rededication

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Nov. 20, 2011 at 5:20 a.m.

Diocese of Corpus Christi Bishop Michael Mulvey stands behind the altar and speaks to the Our Lady of Refuge congregation at the rededicating ceremony on Saturday.

DID YOU KNOW?

The current Our Lady of Refuge church was built in 1900 and blessed by Bishop Verdaguer on April 24, 1901.

The church derives its name from the original Spanish Mission, Nuestra Senora del Refugio (Our Lady of Refuge).

The Mission was established in 1795 and is the last of Texas missions established by the Spanish government.

The church stands on the site of the original mission.

There were two small chapels built after the Rock Church became unusable. Much of the original rock structure was used by original Refugio settlers to build homes and buildings.

The church was designed by Texas architect James Warhenberger.

Our Lady of Refuge is led by the Rev. Philip Panackal, of India.

More information may be found at 361-526-2083

REFUGIO - Donning a flowing, cream-colored ministerial robe, Bishop Michael Mulvey strolled through Our Lady of Refuge church, sprinkling holy water throughout the building.

Tucked away in the overhead balcony, choir voices echoed - harmonizing the Catholic hymn "Rain Down" - as the bishop walked up and down the aisles Saturday.

Mulvey of the Diocese of Corpus Christi meandered up and down the church aisles several more times as the evening progressed, anointing 100-year-old archways and stained glass windows with oil, incense, prayers and blessings.

After an eight-month, $780,000 renovation of the church's aged sanctuary, Mulvey, area priests, and a congregation of about 250 faithful Catholics, gathered to celebrate Our Lady of Refuge's rededication.

"It's really great to be here, to experience this, especially as the bishop," said Mulvey, following the service. "It's significant because it illustrates how many have gone before me. The church is a living stone of the stones that have been laid for many years."

And while Our Lady of Refuge's centennial-aged building is long-established, the church boasts a broader historical significance to both Catholicism and Refugio.

The Our Lady of Refuge parish derived from the Mission Nuestra Senora del Refugio, built in 1795. It was the last of the Texas Missions established by the Spanish government. It was also the beginning of the town and county of Refugio, according to church historical documents.

The church restoration project commenced in February, and included vast interior and exterior upgrades. Fresh paint, a new roof, new handrails, gutters, electrical wiring and lighting, refinished pews and re-leathered kneelers, were included in the renovation. The confessional was also repositioned to its original location at the southeast front corner of the church.

History continued to unveil itself throughout the restoration project, evidenced by the discovery of a tombstone beneath the floors of the church, as builders were replacing the carpet.

"We knew someone was buried in the church, but we didn't know who it was, or where exactly it was," church member Barry Beuershausen said.

The grave belonged to Sister Cecilia Flagherty, who died in 1876, a year after she arrived in Refugio.

Historical church records indicate Flagherty was an immigrant from Ireland, who entered the Sisters of Mercy of St. Patrick's Convent in New Orleans in 1874. She arrived in Refugio the following year, and made her first profession of vows on her deathbed Aug. 18, 1876. She died a day later at 21 years old.

A framed, marble tombstone now marks Flagherty's grave in the sanctuary floor, between two pews in the front of the church.

Following the rededication, the congregation filed into the auditorium for dinner.

"I thought it was a beautiful service. It's just so nice to be back in the sanctuary after eight months in the auditorium," church member Janice Carroll said. "I just felt really blessed."

Lifelong member of Our Lady of Refuge, Shelly Heard, said she knew about the completion of the restoration and decided to drive up from Corpus Christi to celebrate the reopening.

"I was born and raised here in this church. It was important for me to come back for this," Heard, 50, said. "I thought it was a lovely service. It demonstrated who we are, and how we live and our beliefs. It's a proper blessing for another stage in our church."

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