History and tradition have defined the Catholic Church over her 2,000 year existence, and Holy Family parish in Copperas Cove is no exception. Beginning in a house belonging to a local Catholic family when it was a small mission, Holy Family has become the spiritual home to many Catholic families who have fond memories of parish-sponsored dances and Oktoberfest celebrations with the Knights of Columbus. Living up to the name, the parish has always had a familial feel to it, and it's not uncommon to hear the reason people move back to Copperas Cove is because of Holy Family. The little community "out on the mission" as founding pastor Fr. James Donnelly referred to it, has grown up and turned 50 years old! Happy birthday Holy Family - let's look forward to many more years and memories!
At the turn of the century, Copperas Cove was a little more than open country with only a handful of residents. There were only three Catholics--and these attended St. Mary's Church in Lampasas which was established in 1885. In 1934, Rudolph and Elizabeth Troe, who became long-time members of Holy Family, moved here and attended St. Mary's in Lampasas. The population of Copperas Cove numbered about 200 at that time.
In 1954, Father Francis Weber of the Holy Cross Fathers founded St. Joseph's Parish in Killeen, and that was the closest church for Catholics in the Copperas Cove area to worship. Seeing the need for outreach, Fr. Weber began a local mission and on Sunday, September 2, 1956, he came from Killeen and offered the first Mass here in the home of Joseph and Jane LaFountain with about 35 people present.
This was not officially known as Holy Family parish, but rather the "Copperas Cove Mission" - an extension of St. Joseph parish in Killeen. On October 14, 1956, this small congregation moved to the Hy-Way Hardware and Supply building which was owned by the LaFountains. This building was at the site which is now Town Square Shopping Center. Shortly afterwards, Father Weber purchased a surplus barracks and a mess hall from Fort Hood , and moved it from there to the LaFountain property on Highway Avenue near Highway 190.
The back section of this building was partitioned off to serve as living quarters for a resident priest. Father Weber, C.S.C. said the first mass in this building on November 25, 1956. Father James A. Donnelly, C.S.C. arrived as the first resident priest on September 8, 1962, and was appointed pastor on March 10, 1963 with the establishment of Holy Family Parish. The population of Copperas Cove in 1960 was 4,567. The arrival of Father Donnelly marked the beginning of a new era of parish development. Father Donnelly had been ordained a Holy Cross priest in 1946 and had served in various missions conducted by the Holy Cross Priests in central Texas, many of which, such as St. Helen's in Georgetown and San Jose in Austin, have since become large modern parishes.
Within five years from his arrival, Father Donnelly had raised approximately $300,000 for the construction of the church and rectory--mostly from sources outside the parish. On the feast of the Holy Family in 1967, Bernard Meuth broke ground for the church which was dedicated on May 12, 1968 by Bishop Louis J. Reicher, the founding bishop of the Diocese of Austin. Within another five years, Father Donnelly had planned and raised the money to build the parish social hall which was completed in 1973.
The census numbers for Copperas Cove reveal amazing growth for the city. From 1950 to 1980, the population doubled every ten years. Between 1960 and 1970, when the parish buildings were planned, the population grew from 4,576 to 10,818. It is now estimated that the current population is around 38,000. The buildings on the Holy Family campus completed in an earlier era have served us well through a major population growth.
Some of those earlier buildings - the buildings currently in use for religious education - have an interesting history. When the government established Fort Hood at the time of the second World War, those people who had homes on the land that was now part of Ft. Hood had to be displaced. One of these, a Mr. Urbantke, moved his house to the spot now occupied by the sign "Holy Family Catholic Education Center". This was the original structure on the property. It remained vacant for a long time until parishioner Frank Seffrood, the parish maintenance man for many years, repaired it and added additional rooms. The Seffroods moved into the house in the time of Father Donnelly, and lived there until 1991.
Around 1965, the first building to be erected by the parish was what we now term the "D-Building". Mass was celebrated in this building for a short time, but its main function was as a social hall. With a view to possible future use, Father Donnelly had it constructed so that it could be adapted as four apartments. The "C-Building" was originally a barracks moved from Fort Hood and which later burned down. The present building was constructed using the original foundation. For some years, it was referred to as the "Judo Hall" since it was used for Judo training under the direction of parishioner Earl Hussey.
The "B-Building" is a ready made unit that was purchased and moved onto the property by Father Donnelly, who also had the "A-Building" constructed of cinder block by local labor. Except for the house, all of the buildings had been adapted as classrooms for our religious education program. These buildings of diverse origin, color and design, with a dwelling in the center of the group, served the needs of the parish, but aesthetically, they presented an appearance that lacked unity. This would eventually be addressed.
On January 1, 1977, Father Lawrence Bauer, C.S.C. joined Father Donnelly as an associate pastor. Father Bauer had been a missionary in Bangladesh for forty years. He was to continue at Holy Family during the tenure of a series of pastors, and brought to the parish a very special model of spirituality and holiness. For a short period of time, Father Joseph Rick, who also had been a missionary in Bangladesh, served as an associate to Father Donnelly.
At this period of its history, the Southern Province of the Holy Cross Priests determined that its pastors should have a limited tenure in a particular parish. This policy resulted in the transfer of Father Donnelly in 1978 from the parish and the area that had drawn his total dedication for 16 years. Father Harry Stegman, C.S.C. was appointed to replace Father Donnelly. After being pastor for less than three years, Father Stegman died on April 9, 1981.
Father William Kelley, C.S.C., of the Eastern Province of Holy Cross became pastor in September of 1981 and remained until June 1989. Along with his strong Boston accent, he brought with him considerable skill in preaching--which had been developed during the number of years on the "Mission Band", a group of priests who moved from parish to parish conducting missions. Father Kelley was active in the Copperas Cove civic community, which by the 1980 census was 19,469--almost double what it was in 1970. Edward King, Ph.D. was the first permanent deacon assigned to Holy Family Parish. His wife Janet served as parish secretary and director of religious education. Deacon King and his family moved from the area in 1989.
Father William Donahue, C.S.C., like Father Kelley, a member of the Eastern Province of Holy Cross, became pastor in June of 1989 when Father Kelley was assigned to Holy Cross Parish in South Easton, MA. Fr. Donahue had been rector of St. Mary's Cathedral in Austin for the previous fifteen years. During his tenure, Monsignor John Frizelle, C.S.C, assisted in serving the parish along with Fr. Charles van Winkle, C.S.C.
In 1993, the parish council, with direction by Father Donahue, finally addressed the lack of a unified aesthetic for the education complex across the street. The original house belonging to Mr. Urbantke was moved, and the current planter and sign identifying the buildings as the "Holy Family Catholic Education Center" (designed by parishioner Bernard Meuth) was constructed, with the colors of the buildings made to match those of the church and the social hall across the street.
In the Fall of 1995, Fr. Donahue saw the need to expand the existing church/rectory structure to accommodate the growth of the parish, and work on the current office, including Andre Hall, began in 1996 and was completed in 1998.
In addition, land and a small house adjacent to parish property was purchased and converted into a social ministries building including a food pantry for the needy. Father Donahue retired to Holy Cross facility in Florida in 2002 and is now living at the Holy Cross retirement facility at Notre Dame University in South Bend, IN. Father Bauer continued as associate pastor until January 1994 when, at the age of 87, he retired to the facility at Notre Dame.
Vatican II brought about the restoration of the permanent diaconate and many Catholic men felt called to serve the Church in this capacity. In 2001, parishioners John Consentino and David Cardona were ordained as permanent deacons.
Father Barry Cabell, C.S.C. assumed the duties of pastor following Father Donahue. During Father Barry's tenure as pastor, extensive renovation of the church's nave and sanctuary areas was accomplished. In addition to the aesthetic changes, Father Barry updated all the technology used at Holy Family and was instrumental in enriching the parish liturgies with guest musicians and commissioned various musical compositions for our use. Barry was reassigned in 2005 and was briefly replaced by Fr. Ray Clancy, C.S.C, but due to declining health, Fr. Clancy retired only three months later.
Up until 2005, the parish was staffed entirely by Holy Cross priests, but being a religious order whose charism is community life, all the Holy Cross priests in the local area were asked to live together in Austin. This brought about a transition where Holy Family would now be staffed by Diocesan priests. In early 2006, Fr. Jim Robertson, was asked by Bishop Gregory Aymond to lead the parish. Father Jim jokingly commented to the parishioners of Holy Family that he appreciated the city naming a street after him. Under his guidance as pastor the social hall received a much needed facelift, and in addition, the religious education facilities were upgraded. Father Jim was very civic minded, and the church received many awards from the church's participation in community affairs. He welcomed Deacon Timothy Dorsey, who had been a deacon since 1987, and newly ordained parishioner Tim Hayden as permanent deacon in 2010 to participate in the ministries of the church. Father Jim mentored and supervised five seminarians who served their pastoral year at Holy Family. For a period of time during Fr. Jim’s tenure as pastor, Fr. Anselm Anukam, now deceased, lived in residence and taught at Holy Trinity High School. In the summer of 2011, Bishop Joe Vasquez asked Father Jim to take a position on the faculty at St. Mary's Seminary.
Father Chris Downey, also a Diocesan priest, assumed the duties of pastor in July 2011. Under his guidance, and especially during this Year of Faith, he has introduced a number of programs to enhance liturgical celebrations with an emphasis on renewed catechetical instruction of both youth and adults. He has also focused on renewing the social dimension of our parish. Along with this, he is developing long range plans to support the needs of the Catholic community of Copperas Cove.
We could probably write a short novel of the many stories and events parishioners have experienced over the years at Holy Family, but hopefully this concise history will present a snapshot of the rich tradition that defines this faith community.