Day Trips

The world’s smallest catholic church is right here in Warrenton, Texas

Give me that small-time religion.
Give me that small-time religion. (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

The world's smallest active Catholic church looks like a tool shed or maybe a children's playhouse with a steeple outside of Warrenton on TX 237. If it weren't for the field of white headstones in the churchyard, the building could easily be mistaken for a farmer's well house.

"We get lots of people asking about the history of the church," says Mary Leitko with the Round Top Chamber of Commerce. "It's quite a local tourist attraction." St. Martin's Catholic Church began in 1888 as a mission of St. John the Baptist Church of Fayetteville, eight miles to the west.

By 1873, Warrenton had a post office, stores, a gin, and more than 100 people, most of them raising cotton, corn, and dairy products. Over the last century, the economy has gradually shifted to cattle, poultry, and the occasional antique fair along the highway between Warrenton and Round Top.

According to the history of the church written by Norman C. Krischke of Schulenburg, the original St. Martin's Church in Warrenton was used for about 27 years for weddings, funerals, and an occasional mass. The oldest known grave in the one-acre cemetery next to the church is of Jan Blaha, who was born in Moravia in 1826 and died in Texas in 1889.

As the roads improved and the small farms were consolidated, the population shifted to the cities. St. Martin's became less and less necessary. In 1915, the main church dismantled the Warrenton mission to build a school in Fayetteville. Using leftover lumber from the school project, parishioners built the 12-by-16-foot chapel where the original church once stood.

Due to declining enrollment, the school built of salvaged lumber in Fayetteville was finally demolished in 1968. Many of the fixtures from the original church were transferred to the Warrenton chapel, including the altar, the church bell, and many of the statues. A large oil painting of St. Martin, the patron saint of soldiers, looks down on the six rows of 12 wooden pews that will seat about 20 people.

Descendants of the 62 or so people buried in the cemetery still maintain the grounds and the church. In order to keep its active status, a memorial service is held annually in the church on All Soul's Day, Nov. 11. The building is often open to visitors, with a registration book and a donation box near the double doors.

Much of the history of St. Martin's Church and Fayette County would have been lost or at least unaccessible except to serious researchers if not for Krischke's diligence in preserving the stories. "I've done a little bit of research in the last 30 years," says the author of more than 160 books, pamphlets, and newspaper articles about Fayette County, many of which are available at www.rootsweb.com/~txfayett/footprints.htm. "Researching cemeteries was kind of my specialty," he says.

Born and raised in nearby Schulenburg, Krischke joined the Air Force at 18 years old and saw tours of duty around the world including Korea and Vietnam. After 26 years of military service, he returned home, where he was a county justice of the peace for 20 years.

One of the pivotal inspirations in his life was a book that his father wrote about the history of the community of High Hill, north of Schulenburg. Only about a decade older than Warrenton, the community attracted German and Austrian immigrants to its small farms. St. Mary's Catholic Church in High Hill is one of Central Texas' famous "painted churches," so called because of the elaborate murals painted on their ceilings.

"The history of Fayette County is very interesting," Krischke says. "It was a pretty wild place in the late 1800s." There was one guy who was murdered by his neighbors because he traded with the Indians. Another was killed by rustlers. "James Lyons was killed by Indians in 1837," Krischke says. "It was exciting when I found the foundation of the log cabin where the murder took place. I wrote down all the stories because I was afraid it would all be lost if I didn't do it."

674th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Warrenton, catholic church, Round Top Chamber of Commerce, St. Martin’s Catholic Church, St. John the Baptist Church of Fayetteville, St. Martin, St. Mary’s Catholic Church

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