On Solid Ground: Early North Texas communities build on Catholic foundations

by Jerry Circelli

North Texas Catholic

Catholics from Muenster and Lindsay packed St. Peter Parish in Lindsay on Divine Mercy Sunday April 28. (NTC/Ben Torres)


To understand how the earliest Catholic churches and communities were formed in today’s Diocese of Fort Worth, it is helpful to take a step back and read the words of the prophet Isaiah in his exhortation to trust in the Lord: “Listen to me, you who pursue justice, who seek the LORD; Look to the rock from which you were hewn, to the quarry from which you were taken...” (51:1)

Editor's Note: This is Part II of our series on historical features during the 50th anniversary of the Diocese of Fort Worth.

In the late 1800s, nearly 100 years before the Diocese of Fort Worth was even formed in 1969, Catholic churches in this area were beginning to take shape. God was the rock from which these churches were hewn, the quarry from which they were taken.

Resolute in their faith, Catholic pioneers in North Texas were determined to build their communities on solid Christian foundations. The best examples of this can still be found at several North Texas cities and parishes settled by German Catholics in the late 19th century.

Today, we might think about the start-up and dedication of a new city or town being a secular affair marked by ribbon cuttings and speeches by public officials. This was not the case, however, during the founding of the German community of Muenster on Dec. 8, 1889.

The Cooke County town was made “official” only after a visiting priest from St. Mary in Gainesville celebrated a Catholic Mass in a two-room land office just north of Muenster’s new railroad tracks. The day of the Mass, coinciding with the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, is still considered the date of the town’s founding.

Additionally, it was not a town hall or a municipal court that was the first item on the building agenda for the new community back in 1889, but a Catholic church and school.

This was the Catholic vision carried out adeptly at several settlements inside today’s diocese by German immigrant Emil Flusche, with help from his brothers Anton, August, Carl, Joseph, and Wilhelm.

After arriving in America, Emil wanted to create colonies that were, as he described, “carefree, peaceful, Catholic, and attractive — just like home.” Following success in doing just that in Kansas and Iowa in the 1870s and 1880s, the Flusche brothers turned their attention to Texas.

Here, the brothers forged real estate partnerships with North Texas ranchers and advertised local land to fellow Germans in the Midwest. In addition to the promise of productive farmland in the area, the brothers emphasized that Germans would find a better quality of life here for their families, with a Catholic church and school central to each community.

Within four months of Muenster’s 1889 founding, a building was constructed to serve as the community’s church and school until permanent structures were completed.

Muenster churches in the early 1890s were destroyed and rebuilt after a fire and a tornado. Droughts ruined crops and typhoid fever took the lives of some of the faithful during that time, but Catholic settlers persevered.

Before the turn of the century, residents in Muenster named their parish Sacred Heart and built a red brick house of worship that served the faithful for the next 51 years, when construction began on the present church.

Today, people can visit a modified replica of the worship space from the late 1800s. It was reconstructed during the 125th anniversary of Sacred Heart Parish and today serves as a place for daily Mass and an Adoration chapel. It also includes the original baptismal font from 1892.

About 1,100 people now attend Sacred Heart, which is home to multiple parish ministries and Sacred Heart Catholic School.

Parishioners attend a Good Friday service at Sacred Heart Parish in Muenster. (NTC/Ben Torres)Parishioners attend a Good Friday service at Sacred Heart Parish in Muenster. (NTC/Ben Torres)
Parishioners attend a Good Friday service at Sacred Heart Parish in Muenster. (NTC/Ben Torres)


German culture and strong Catholic faith are still prevalent in the city of Muenster, which proudly hosts an annual Germanfest celebration every April.

About 50 miles east of Muenster, the Flusches brought prosperity and a population influx to the Denton County town of Pilot Point in 1891.

Specifically targeting that community, the enterprising brothers distributed pamphlets to German Catholics in Kansas and Iowa. Highlighted in the German language of their motherland — in bold German-Gothic type — they wrote: “Pilot Point the Center of the great German Catholic Settlement in northern Texas.”

As they promised and delivered in Muenster, families could realize great opportunities in this strong Christian community, anchored by a Catholic church and school.

By March 7, 1892, on the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas, Catholics built their first church named after the priest, professor, philosopher, and saint who had a gift for strengthening faith through reasoning. Then, by 1893, a school building opened.

Fortunately for the Flusche brothers, and those interested in having a Catholic parish, the real estate projects had the full backing of Diocese of Dallas Bishop Thomas J. Brennan. At that time, the territory that is now the Diocese of Fort Worth was part of the Diocese of Dallas. The brothers made no secret of their shepherd’s involvement, stating in their pamphlets to their German countrymen that Bishop Brennan “sanctions and favors our undertaking most wholeheartedly. We have the firm promise of his support.”

Today, St. Thomas Aquinas in Pilot Point has grown to become home to 1,200 Catholic parishioners.

Following the establishment of a community and Catholic church in Pilot Point, March 1892 marked the startup of the Cooke County town of Lindsay by the Flusche brothers.

Similar to the town origins in Muenster, Lindsay became official after a Catholic Mass. To this day, history books acknowledge the Church’s critical role in the community’s existence. The Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas describes the town’s origin this way:

“The people of Lindsay celebrate March 25, 1892, as the town’s birthday, because on this date the first Mass was celebrated in the William Flusche home by Father Hugo Bardenhewer.

The apparent success of this new colony caused Judge Lindsay to donate nearly eight acres to the Diocese of Dallas as a building site for a church, a school, and a cemetery. Rev. Joseph Blum of Muenster selected the highest point near the western end of the townsite, and a twenty-by-fifty-foot frame church was built there for $800.”

The Flusche brothers (August, Emil, and Anton), who originally hailed from Westphalia, Germany, were instrumental in helping establish parishes and communities in Muenster, Pilot Point, Lindsay, and Mount Carmel. (NTC archives)The Flusche brothers (August, Emil, and Anton), who originally hailed from Westphalia, Germany, were instrumental in helping establish parishes and communities in Muenster, Pilot Point, Lindsay, and Mount Carmel. (NTC archives)
The Flusche brothers (August, Emil, and Anton), who originally hailed from Westphalia, Germany, were instrumental in helping establish parishes and communities in Muenster, Pilot Point, Lindsay, and Mount Carmel. (NTC archives)


Today, a beautifully restored St. Peter Catholic Church in Lindsay is home to 500 Catholic families.

 The Flusche brothers established a fourth North Texas colony and parish in 1906 with the colonization of Mount Carmel in Wichita County. The next year, they built a church and school there. The church and community would continue through the mid-1960s. Economic conditions at that time led to a dramatic population decline. The church was closed and the community ceased to exist.

The legacy of the German Catholic community did not end with the establishment of churches in Muenster, Pilot Point, Lindsay, and Mount Carmel. The Flusche brothers assisted Father Joseph Reisdorff in land sales to establish a Catholic church in Windthorst in 1892. Taking valuable lessons from the successful Flusche brothers, Fr. Reisdorff also helped the Catholic church and community of Rhineland take root in 1895.

Like the Flusche brothers, Fr. Reisdorff was a native of Germany. After his immigration to the United States, he was ordained a priest in 1872. Following a move from Missouri to the Lone Star State in search of a healthier climate, Fr. Reisdorff set out on a mission to establish German Catholic communities in North Texas. He was successful in doing this not only in Windthorst and Rhineland, but in other parts of Texas as well.

In the town of Windthorst, which straddles the Archer-Clay County line, German Catholics erected a cross and lantern high atop a hill in the summer of 1891 to mark the site of their future church and center of their community. Their prayers were answered when Dallas Bishop Brennan established their parish about six months later, appointing Fr. Reisdorff as its first pastor.

To personally experience the German heritage of the towns and parishes discussed in this article, consider a weekend pilgrimage to these communities, all within the Diocese of Fort Worth.To personally experience the German heritage of the towns and parishes discussed in this article, consider a weekend pilgrimage to these communities, all within the Diocese of Fort Worth.
To personally experience the German heritage of the towns and parishes discussed in this article, consider a weekend pilgrimage to these communities, all within the Diocese of Fort Worth. Mileage Chart (NTC/Rachel Marek)


Fr. Reisdorff celebrated Mass for about 10 locals in the attic of an unfinished home on New Year’s Day 1892.

Today, 128 years after settlers first placed the cross atop the high hill in their new community, nearly 900 parishioners are members of St. Mary Catholic Church in Windthorst. Just as the German Catholics had envisioned, the church stands as a beacon to the faithful for miles around.

The pioneering Fr. Reisdorff pressed westward, envisioning and then establishing Christ’s Church on the rolling Texas plains south of the Brazos River in Knox County. The area reminded the priest of his home in the Rhine Province of Germany along the Rhine River.

On March 19, 1895 — the feast day of St. Joseph, patron saint of builders — Fr. Reisdorff secured 12,000 acres of land in the area and began work on a new colony house for the community. This would be the site for local gatherings and Catholic Mass until a church could be built.

A view of St. Joseph Parish in Rhineland. (NTC archives)
A view of St. Joseph Parish in Rhineland. (NTC archives)

As in other German Catholic communities, land was advertised and sold with the understanding that a Catholic church and school would be integral parts of the new settlement.

Today, St. Joseph in Rhineland stands as a spiritual masterpiece on the rolling Texas plains. Its 400 parishioners appreciate their church’s beauty and its importance to the lives of the faithful through the years.

Inspirational words on St. Joseph’s website best sum up the parish’s identity from past to present:

“With the spires of St. Joseph’s Church standing high above the community, the residents remain under the benevolent watch of their patron, Saint Joseph, now as then.”

To understand how the earliest Catholic churches and communities were formed in today’s Diocese of Fort Worth, it is helpful to take a step back and read the words of the prophet Isaiah in his exhortation to trust in the Lord: “Listen to me, you who pursue justice, who seek the LORD; Look to the rock from which you were hewn, to the quarry from which you were taken...” (51:1)

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