W. T. Block
EARLY CATHOLIC CHURCH BUILDER OF SOUTHEAST TEXAS - Part II
II: Rev. Fr. Quinon As Church Builder
were other accounts of Rev. Father Vitalus Quinon's first visit to Orange,
but C. A. Burton's version is considered the most authentic because it was written
much earlier in time and by the man who would have known all of the details intimately.
In January, 1924, Monsignor E. A. Kelly published a similar account in the Beaumont
ENTERPRISE, but he credited the experience to Father P. A. Levy, a saddlebag priest
who circuited the area in 1874-1875. In October, 1935, the Dallas MORNING NEWS
published a variation of Burton's story, differing considerably in detail, as
|"Father Quinon was
a famous character of those days. He was a great missionary and built churches
in various parts of the state. There are a great many stories told about him (which
received a great deal of newspaper publicity at the time), in particular, being
as follows: In 1880, when trying to build a church at Orange, he went to a public
hall to collect funds for the new church. A couple of rough customers . . . drew
their guns on the father and forced him, at the point of their pistols, to his
knees and demanded that he pray out loud . . ."|
|Rev. Fr. Quinon, soon
returning to Orange with
the deed of a city lot donated by the railroad, celebrated his earliest Masses
there in the court house to a congregation of about twenty Catholics. He soon
built a residence and conducted a church fair from which he realized about $1,000.
Fortunately, lumber at Orange was both plentiful and cheap, and as plans for his
church materialized, the priest called in his subscriptions from the local contributors.|
Acquainted with the beautiful church architecture of France, he wanted only the
best that circumstances and his finances would permit. For instance, with funds
never quite adequate for the occasion at hand, the industrious father stained
the glass windows of St. Louis' Church himself (a trade he had learned as a youth
in Lyons), and the writer presumes that he did the same for St. Vital's Church
19, 1880, the cornerstone of St. Vital's Church was laid "in the presence of a
large congregation," with Fr. Andre Badelon, the Catholic pastor of Waco,
delivering an eloquent address. Fathers Badelon and Antoine Truchard, president
of St. Mary's University, were former seminary acquaintances of Quinon in France,
and each of them was destined to share many of his special religious functions
From extant diaries and the Galveston DAILY NEWS, it
is apparent that those special Catholic celebrations at Orange
were attended by significant numbers of the Protestant faith as well, and that
whatever antagonisms or dogmatic differences existed between denominations, they
were easily overcome by sheer curiosity and the harshness and loneliness of frontier
Building progressed all summer, and in August, St. Vital's Church,
far too small to accommodate the outpouring of visitors and about half of Orange's
population was formally dedicated, as reported in the Galveston DAILY NEWS of
Aug. 24, 1880:
|"Last Sunday, Aug.
22, there was a grand dedication of St. Vital's Church, Rev. V. Quinon, pastor;
Benediction by the Rev. Lichaland; High Mass by Vy. Rev. J. Querat, both of Galveston.
Fine music. Sermon by Vy. Rev. A. Badelon of Waco; at night, by Vy. Rev. A. Truchard,
president of Galveston University. Over a thousand people were present. The two
discourses were eloquent. Great praise is due to Father Quinon for having succeeded
in so short a time. The Texas and New Orleans Railroad had given special rates
for the occasion."|
|Also, on August 22,
1880, Catherine McFarlund Russell, a prominent Methodist of Orange, recorded in
her diary ("Journal of Thomas McFarlund"-San Antonio, 1942) that "my family and
I were at the dedication of St. Vital's Catholic Church today . . . The church
will be a fine building when finished."|
In 1884, the Catholics of Colmesneil,
Texas, considered St. Vital's Church so attractive that they built their own church
as an "exact counterpart" of it. Unfortunately, St. Vital's towering steeple became
a hazard whenever hurricane winds approached, and on October 12, 1886, the church
was the only building in Orange which was totally destroyed by the great storm
of that date. The succeeding structure, built by Fr. Granger at 6th and Pine Streets,
was equally ill-fated and succumbed to flames in 1911.
Even as the walls
of St. Vital's were going up, Father Quinon envisioned other new churches at Beaumont
and Liberty. The extent
of his parish was from the Sabine River westward to beyond the Trinity River,
a large area now encompassing several Southeast Texas counties. One of the amazing
facts of his brief career here is that he could devote so much time to building
churches, and yet spend so much time in the saddle, caring for his scattered flocks.
On one occasion noted in the ENTERPRISE, he celebrated Mass one weekday in Sabine
Pass, the following day at Lovan Hamshire's residence at Taylor's Bayou, and
the following day in Beaumont.
According to one newspaper account of 1880,
he spent the third Sunday of each month at Taylor's Bayou, the first Sunday at
Liberty, leaving the second and fourth Sundays for Masses at Orange and Beaumont.
In addition, there are numerous accounts of his services at the Terry Mission
at Cow Bayou, Orange County, at the residence of Moise Broussard at Sabine Pass,
and at the old Sour Lake Hotel in 1881. And in between preaching and building,
he planned and carried out the many church fairs, musicales, and festivals that
were a part of his means for fund-raising.
The Cow Bayou mission may have
been the earliest church in the area devoted solely to Catholic services. On Aug.
13, 1877, the Galveston WEEKLY NEWS reported that: "There are a sufficient number
of Catholic citizens in the neighborhood of Cow Bayou to sustain a church." Two
months later, the editor added: "The new Catholic Church, 3 miles east of Terry
(midway between Beaumont and Orange), is finished with the exception of a coat
of paint." In 1881, the ENTERPRISE observed that : "Last Tuesday (Oct. 11), at
the neat little chapel at Cow Bayou, Father Quinon baptized fifteen persons."
New Year's Day of 1881, Quinon baptized three children at the Blanchette Hall
in Beaumont, and by the end of January, over $600 had been subscribed toward the
building of a church in that city. By March, the site of St. Louis' Church had
been purchased and foundation work was commenced. Father Quinon noted that of
all the Beaumont citizens and business houses solicited for funds, only one had
refused to contribute.
In April, 1881, Bishop Dubuis arrived and confirmed
sixteen young confirmants. On the date of his visit, the cornerstone of the new
church was laid. During the same month, the plans for the new church, designed
by a celebrated architect, N. J. Clayton of Galveston, arrived. It was slated
to be twenty-eight by fifty-four feet in size, with a sixty-five foot spire. Later
in April, a successful fair was conducted which netted over $300.
on the new church advanced steadily during that summer, and although the interior
was slightly unfinished, Father Quinon celebrated his first Mass in it on August
28, 1881, without a formal dedication. Instead, during the first two weeks of
September, a grand festival was conducted to raise funds; also a grand musicale
of sacred songs, with special talent imported from New Orleans; and the first
church school, under Angela Y. Burke, was started. Miss Burke also served as organist
and housekeeper for the priest. This first school lasted only until the end of
Quinon's pastorate in 1882, and about twelve years elapsed before another school
During the same year, the first Catholic Church at Liberty,
with Father Quinon's name inscribed on the cornerstone, was also completed by
the French priest.
In August, 1882, the priest left abruptly for another
visit to France, but he returned in 1883. In that year, Bishop Gallagher organized
a second parish in Dallas, St. Patrick's, to which Quinon was assigned, and the
young cleric soon completed St. Patrick's Church there, to become his fifth church
built in five years, allowing for his lengthy sojourns in Europe.
Quinon returned to France after which he was assigned to a different parish in
Dallas. Of his long pastorate there, "Our Catholic Heritage in Texas," Volume
V, a definitive history, describes Quinon as being a priest "whose veins were
as full of red blood as his heart was of charity."
In 1894, the French
priest made his fourth and final visit to his native land. While on a holiday
in Marseilles, he was caught up in a cholera epidemic, and being soon infected
with the deadly "white plague," he died as he had lived, on July 30, while administering
the last rites of the Church to the dying. In 1896, his mortal remains were exhumed
and returned to the churchyard of his birth and baptism, at Thizy, France.
The missionary activities of Orange and Beaumont's earliest saddlebag priest,
Fr. P. F. Parisot, are skillfully preserved in his autobiography, published in
1899. His and Father Quinon's eventful life narratives only mirror the biographical
stories of hundreds of saddlebag priests who traversed the confines of Texas for
four centuries, some of them perhaps remembered today, most ot them long forgotten.
And as far back as the first Urseline Convent in Galveston, a number of Catholic
sisterhoods have added a feminine touch to the propagation of their religious
faiths. And throughout Texas, one views every day the results of their labors
and handiwork, the thousands of churches, schools, hospitals, convents, monasteries,
and universities, which owe their origins and very existence to these courageous,
but humble, men and women of God.
W. T. Block, Jr.
August 28, 2006 column
Sources: Principally from "A Plucky Texas Priest,"
Galveston WEEKLY NEWS, February 4, 1892; Beaumont ENTERPRISE, 1880-1881, and other