History of St. Joseph Catholic Church – Hennessey, OK

The Catholic Church in Hennessey began in 1890 with Reverend Felix de Grasse, O.S.B. traveling from Guthrie twice a month to celebrate Mass in the Rock Island section house (located west of the railroad and south of the present Eckroat Elevator property).

In 1891, Father Beck arrived and became our first resident pastor of St. Joseph. He performed the first recorded baptism on October 11, 1891, of Anna Lola, child of R. Redmund and Mary Hynes and the first recorded marriage in the parish on November 2, 1891, of Frank Petereck and Catharina Mehl.

In 1892, land was purchased for the purpose of building the church and rectory. Funding for construction of the church was obtained by the Most Reverend Theophile Meerschaert, first Bishop of Oklahoma, with a gift from the Propagation of the Faith, in Lyons, France. The materials used in building the 30’x60’ church cost $1,200. The main carpenter for the job was Mr. Nightengale of Loyal, and most of the labor was done by the men of the parish. Frank Noll and Jake Wisebender had charge of the design of the church. On November 13, 1892, Bishop Meerschaert dedicated the new church under the patronage of St. Joseph. The bell in the bell tower was donated and blessed in 1894, and is still used today in our present church but rings electronically. The sacristy was added to the church in 1898 and Joseph Walterscheidt built the vestment case, which is still in use in the present church.

Our church became the mother church of most of the parishes between El Reno and the northern state boundary. Enid, Pond Creek, Okeene, Bison, Marshall, and Kingfisher were the missions served from Hennessey.

The rectory was built in 1898 and shortly thereafter, Reverend Gustave Depreitere, nephew of Bishop Meerschaert, became our second pastor. Other early pastors were Reverends John Van Hulse and John Vanden 1902; reverend Fred Vandera, 1903; reverend Joseph Linkmajer, 1904; and reverend John Hall, 1905.

Fr. Fred Teyssier succeeded in 1919 and began building a Catholic grade school. Upon the death of Fr. Teyssier in 1921, Reverend Emil Ghyssaret became pastor and completed the school. Frank Dinkler and James Walta directed the fund raiser. Frank Noll directed the carpentry work and James Baugh did all the cement and brick work. The school was staffed by the Sisters of Divine Providence from San Antonio, TX. In 1924, Fr. Mahieu became pastor and completed raising funds to pay for the school. Unfortunately, in 1926, the school was closed.

Fr. Joseph Woucters came in 1929 and served as our “Depression Priest”, doing without his own salary to pay the bills. He served Hennessey for 17 years. The first diocesan newspaper, Southwest Courier, was placed in most homes during this period.

In 1945, Fr. Nic Schmidt became pastor and remodeled the unused schoolhouse into a temporary parish hall, and soon after he set out to raise money for a new church. Reverend Martin Reid, Fr. Schmidt’s successor, used these and additional funds to build the current day church. On March 17, 1952, the last Mass was celebrated in the old church.

The construction of the new brick church, with a seating capacity of 400, on the site of the former church, began in 1952 was mainly the product of the men of the parish. The concrete footings, foundation, and roofing the structure with asphalt shingles was all done by parishioners. Laminated arches of yellow pine constructed in Los Angeles, support the roof. The ceiling is dense yellow pine. Window frames are metal and glass in variegated. The floor is of terra cotta tile and the pews of blonde Appallation oak. The altar is constructed of Colorosa marble from Colorado, and treads of Karsota. Frank Ludwig did the interior finishing work, notably the canopy over the high altar. Other carpenters were Ray Burner and sons Hollis and Lee. The architect was Frank M. Olston, of Tulsa. John Roder was cited by Pope Pius XII for directing the volunteer parishioner laborers.

The new church was dedicated on May 26, 1953, by Most Reverend Eugene J. McGuinness, Bishop of Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Kay Elaine, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Gabriel was the first to be baptized in the new (present) church and the first marriage in the sanctuary of the new (present) church was on May 28, 1953, of Valerian Fuksa and Rita Chartier.

In 1961, Fr. Jean Paul Page started planning the building of a new rectory and completed the project, (current rectory). St. Camillas in Marshall, OK became a mission to Hennessey in 1970. Fr. Page also initiated a fund for a new parish hall in 1970, which was completed in 1972 on the land formerly home of the schoolhouse. The hall was dedicated on May 12, 1973, the twentieth anniversary of the new church dedication, by Most Reverend John R. Quinn, Archbishop of Oklahoma City. On May 3, 1973 a fire destroyed most of the rectory, and it was completely renovated and refurnished.