Holy Cross Catholic Church, Corpus Christi, Texas (1914- )

Students in Front of Holy Cross Church, ca. 1926 (Photo Courtesy of the Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate Archives)
Students in Front of Holy Cross Church, ca. 1926 (Photo Courtesy of the Sisters of the Holy Spirit)

Holy Cross Catholic Church, the first church for African American Catholics in Corpus Christi, Texas, was organized before the parish obtained a physical building.  Before African Americans in that area had a church, they attended Saint Patrick’s Church, and some joined the Mexican Church, Our Lady of Guadalupe, provided that they spoke Spanish.  In 1914, however, the Diocese of Corpus Christi finally recognized this disparity and canonically directed specific ministering to African Americans.  The Josephites who administered to black Catholics sent Father Sam Kelly to start a parish, but after he arrived, he had an accident that crushed his hand, and he soon left to start a church in New Orleans, Louisiana.

A Passionist priest, Father Mark Moeslein, replaced him.  Moeslein held mass in individual homes and practiced the sacraments at Saint Patrick’s church. The number of Black Catholics remained small in Corpus Christi; consequently, they had little money to build a church until Mother (Marie) Katharine Drexel (now Saint Katharine Drexel) arrived. Sister Drexel, an heiress and founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, often traveled to various places around the country and started schools and churches for Native Americans and African Americans.  She stopped in Corpus Christi in 1917 and learned of the inability of the parish to build a church.  Drexel found a piece of land after touring the city and purchased it for the purpose of building a church and school; she gave the land to the diocese with the proviso that there should always be an African American church in the city. Construction soon started and a two-story building which housed the church on the first floor and a school on the second floor was built.  The structure was dedicated by Bishop Paul Joseph Nussbaum on September 16, 1917. Another building was moved to the property to house the clergy and a third soon followed to house the sisters who taught at the school.  The Ursuline Sisters ran the school for five years until the Sisters of the Holy Ghost (now Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate) from San Antonio arrived.  (They then operated it for more than 40 years.)

With the opening of the school, the parish grew as parents often converted to Catholicism as well.  The two-story building soon became too small to house both the school and the church, so the Parish was given to the Hispanic Mission Blessed Sacrament Church.  This 20-year-old church was moved to the site of Holy Cross and became the new church for African Americans in Corpus Christi. In 1923, the Black parish had a church, school, convent, and rectory, and had more than 200 students attending the school.  By 1965, however, school attendance declined and the school closed.  The church still thrived, and in 1970 Holy Cross Church established a credit union for their parishioners and operated it for 18 years.

Holy Cross Catholic Church in Corpus Christi is the second-oldest Catholic Church in the city.  Although the church now serves as a community parish, the painting of St. Charles Lwanga and the Martyrs of Uganda still hangs at the entrance of the church and serves as a reminder of its African American Catholic roots.