1936 - 2011

With the discovery of oil in East Texas in 1931, there was a great influx of people to the small town in East Texas by the name of Kilgore, Texas. In that migration were a number of Catholics. Some came as workers with the major oil companies, some to try to build their own businesses in the busy town and others desperate to find any kind of work to feed their families.

There were a handful of members from Christ the King who owned their own businesses: Mr. & Mrs. H. L. Ship owned Modern Cleaners; the S. S. Long’s owned Long Plumbing; Mr. & Mrs. Eddie McAlister owned McAlister Printing; Kelly Massad owned Kelly’s, a clothing store for children’s & juniors; Mrs. Vera Laird and Mrs. Harris owned The Suzilee Shop; Mr. & Mrs. William Shore owned Shore Oil Products; A. D. Crutcher owned Crutcher Brothers Grocery and Market; V. O. Henderson owned Henderson Service Station.

There was a small parish church in the neighboring town of Longview, Texas, which was the nearest Catholic Church. To get to Longview, one had to travel ten miles on roads which were tremendously hazardous in bad weather. Consequently, the growing numbers of Catholics in Kilgore and surrounding camps were anxious to have mass at home.

Father S. S. Sampieri, a Diocesan priest of Tyler, took over Kilgore as a mission church when informed that Mrs. J. Malcolm Crim would offer the Strand Theater for services each Sunday. Father G. E. Groenger also a Diocesan priest and assistant pastor at Tyler, held the first mass on record on February 10, 1935. From that date until the church was completed, Mass was held each Sunday, alternating 8 and 10 a.m. with St. Judes Catholic Church, the Henderson mission.

New Zeal Stirred

Encouraged by the privilege of a Sunday Mass and by the promise of help in building a church and securing a resident priest as soon conditions would warrant, all the pioneers were stirred to new zeal.  

Our Ladies of LaSalette Altar Society was formed on February 27, 1935.

In October, 1935, a building committee was appointed by Father Sampieri including Mr. D. B. Kiniry, Chairman; Mr. W. F. Determan, Mr. R. E. Moore, Mr. P. J. Boyle, and Mr. H. L. Floeter. Mr. R. E. Moore, known as Pop Moore, offered two lots at Broadway and Laird for the new church.

Ceremony Held

This site met with the approval of all, and on Sunday, May 17, 1936, Father Sampieri broke the first ground.

The new church of buff brick veneer with a seating capacity of 210 was built by Mr. L. E. Skinner of Kilgore. The first Mass in the new edifice was celebrated on September 13, 1936, and the church was dedicated by the late Bishop Joseph P. Lynch on October 31, 1936, the feast of Christ the King.

Father G. E. Groenger continued to serve Kilgore. Due to a housing shortage, the sacristy was transformed into a bedroom. Father Groenger heard confessions and spent Saturday nights at the church on alternate weekends.

Victor (Doc) and Helen Fette Henderson were the first couple to be married in the new church on January 5, 1937, by Fr. Groenger.

First Resident Pastor

In May of 1938, Father Ambrose, O.P. gave a mission. He stayed the second week to instruct the First Communion Class and the Confirmation Class.

On June 3, 1938, Father Francis X. Cahill, M.S., a member of the Missionaries of La Salette arrived as the first resident pastor. He was transferred June 17, 1940.   Father Cahill was succeeded by Father James McCarthy, M.S., whose tenure of office was less than a year. Due to ill health, he relinquished his charge. On May 9, 1941, Father McCarthy was succeeded by Father Vincent R. Ryan, M.S.

Father Ryan was convinced that the living conditions of the former pastors were unsuitable, so he rented a house at 700 Houston Street. Later he purchased a residence at 501 Laird Avenue.   On August 6, 1943, Father Ryan left to enter the Armed Services as a Chaplain. Father Dennis Monahan, M.S. arrived on the same day.

At one time, there was a building behind the rectory which was used as a hall and was acquired from a nearby Methodist Church.

On May 31, 1944, the Lockridge home beside the church was acquired in trade for the house on Laird Avenue. This house was ideally located but poorly constructed and was sold June 15, 1945.

On July 2, 1945, the foundation for the new rectory of buff veneer to match the church was poured and ready for occupancy on September 19, 1945.

June 6, 1945, with the vision to establish a Parochial School, Father Monahan purchased the Adamson property at the corner of Crim and Broadway. This increased the church property to a full block frontage and a half-block depth.

On June 17, 1945, the Methodist Church-Bethel was bought and moved to the lot back of the church property and renovated into a four room school building. A Kindergarten, which was the forerunner of Christ the King Catholic Parochial School, was opened at that location on October 7, 1946, under the supervision of Mrs. M. E. Zoller, under the prompting of Father Monahan.

Arriving in August of 1947 to officially open the first Parochial School in Kilgore were Sister Mary Agnes, A.A. and Sister Mary Joseph, A. A., Auxiliaries of the Apostolate, of Monongah, West Virginia. The school consisted of Kindergarten, First and Second Grades. In 1948, two more grades were added to the school, now taught by three Sisters. Students who attended Christ the King parochial school and entered public schools were praised for their exceptional behavior and high moral values, and excelled in all academics.

On April 16, 1949, Father Monahan was notified that he was appointed the Very Reverend Father Provincial of the Province of Seven Dolors of the Missionaries of LaSalette. Father George Hoylen, M. S. was named Pastor of Christ the King.

Father Hoylen purchased a small residence adjoining the convent which was to be incorporated into the plans when a new convent could be built. Father Hoylen also built a private chapel in the convent, which was formerly the home of Mr. Joseph Proctor, the church organist, and Mrs. Proctor. On March 27, Father Hoylen was transferred as a teacher to La Salette Seminar in Hartford, Connecticut.

Father Edwin E. Egan, M.S. was appointed the new pastor. During his pastorate, Father Egan built a beautiful four room modern school; built a fence around the Kindergarten yard; and black-topped the playground. He was succeeded on October 15, 1954, by Father Nicholas F. Driscoll, M.S. who came to Kilgore from Berkley, Illinois on October 12, 1954. While he was pastor, the Knights of Columbus Council 3952 was instituted in Kilgore in October of 1955. Father Driscoll left Kilgore in 1956 to assume assistant pastoral duties, returning home to Berkley.

Father Anthony Bruzas, M. S. arrived in Kilgore in August of 1956 to replace Father Driscoll. He was pastor until August 1959. Mike Zoller was quoted saying “Father Bruzas had a great love of music and had a great voice” and was an asset to the choir, lead by Mr. Joseph Proctor, organist.

In August, 1959, Father Joseph McMahon was appointed pastor. Some of the notable events of his pastorate were 1) the building of and the dedication of the new Convent on April 28, 1962; the Celebration of the First English Mass; and the first and only installation of First, Second and Third Degree Knights of Columbus which was held in Kilgore. The new convent was built in memory of Mrs. J. A. McCubbin, Sr., mother of Jack McCubbin and grandmother of Rex, Jackie, and Liz McCubbin and was dedicated at Christmas, 1961.

In 1963, Father McMahon and parishioners rejoiced in the celebration of the Silver Jubilee of Christ the King Catholic Church. For that celebration, Christ the King held an open house. One hundred and fifty guests attended. Sacramentals were explained as were the altar stone and the unleavened hosts. The guests were taken in groups of 10 or 12 on a tour. After the tour, freshments were served. Sister Dominic and Sister Stephen served as guides on the tour of the school.

In February of 1965, Father Gerald Bowen arrived. Father Bowen was given the arduous task of implementing changes as mandated.  It was his responsibility to implement changes in the liturgy, including turning the altar around so that the priest now faced the people. Father Bowen enlisted the help of local artist and parishioner, Gilbert Andries, to aid in the design of the new altar background. Father Bowen left Christ the King in January of 1968.

History Note: The Second Vatican Council (also known colloquially as Vatican II) convened in 1962 and closed on December 8, 1965. As a result of the Second Vatican Council, there were changes in the Liturgy, that is the Mass, which affected the people most. The Mass was to be celebrated in English, and the priest would face the congregation. Holy Communion would be distributed to the congregation in both bread and wine. The congregation would participate more fully in the celebration through common prayers and singing. Ref: Catholic Texans by Steve Landregan    

Father Paul Owens, who was appointed pastor in January, 1968, received the sad news that the Sisters, due to declining numbers and aging nuns in their order, would no longer be able to staff Christ the King School. The school could only remain open if it were possible to obtain the services of another order of Sisters. This was not possible, and, as a result, the school was closed at the end of the 1968 school year.

After the closing of the school, the first Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) program was formed. Marjorie Durbin was the first coordinator. She was later succeeded by Laura Maddox.

In the summer of 1971, Father Paul Owens was assigned to Gladewater, and on August 17, 1971, Father Eugene Lynch became pastor of Christ the King. While he was pastor, Father Lynch renovated and redecorated the rectory. He installed Mr. James (Jimmy) Dalrymple on September 1, 1977, as the first Eucharistic Minister for Christ the King. Mary Grush was CCD Coordinator under Father Lynch for nine years.

In 1975, at the direction of Bishop Tschoepe, Deacon Ralph Gordon and his wife, Virginia, were assigned to East Texas as a branch of the Diocesan Office of Religious Education. Their assignment was to aid in the training of CCD teachers in Kilgore and surrounding parishes. Later, duties included Adult Education and the training of Permanent Deacons. In 1977 the office was renamed the East Texas Pastoral Center. The Gordons remained at Christ the King until June 1984.

In the summer of 1979, Father Eugene Lynch, M. S. became ill and was unable to continue as an active pastor. He retired and was replaced by Father Louis Perpete, M. S. as temporary administrator. Due to a lack of sufficient personnel, April of 1980 saw the end of an era and the beginning of a new period in the history of Christ the King Catholic Church. At Father Perpete’s advice, the parish formed its first Parish Council with N. E. ”Pat” Herrington becoming the first President in the Spring of 1980. In April of 1980, the La Salette Fathers relinquished the parish to the Diocese for staffing. This ended 42 years of work by the LaSalette Fathers. The parish is now staffed by Diocesan priests for the first time since 1938.

On May 29, 1980, Father William Doran came to Kilgore with four years of experience in the Diocese of Dallas. He was raised and educated in Ireland, was ordained from All Hallows College Seminary, Dublin, for service in Australia, where he served for 17 years, prior to transferring to the United States and the Diocese of Dallas.

On June 20, 1981, Father Karl Laird, S.J. (Jesuit), former Christ the King parishioner, who was born and raised in Kilgore and in Christ the King Catholic Church, returned to his hometown to celebrate his first Mass. Father Laird was the son of Mrs. Vera Laird.   This Mass was held in the First Presbyterian Church of Kilgore because more parishioners could be seated as opposed to seating capacity at Christ the King.

During Father Doran’s pastorate, the renovating and remodeling of the church and the construction of a new parish hall was formulated. By the fall of 1982, everything was completed, and Mass was celebrated in the renovated church.

A very talented 18 year old, Michael Fasang, a parishioner, and son of Mr. and Mrs. Mel Fasang, designed and built the sanctuary furnishings as it is seen today, through the generous donations from many parishioners.

In June of 1983, Christ the King Day Care Center was opened under the direction of Gerry Valentine who was also CCD Coordinator for 5 years, following Mary Grush. The Day Care Center was, at that time, the only church affiliated day care center in Kilgore.

Also plans were being made to pave the parking lot behind the Parish Hall, and the Christ the King Cookbook was being planned. Under the supervision of Shirley Fasang, the cookbook was dedicated to CHRIST THE KING, who has displayed His splender above the heavens……the idea being to hand it down from generation to generation.

On November 6, 1982, Dennis Gilchrist, Bill Holda, and James Newton, all Christ the King parishioners, were ordained Deacons at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Longview, Texas.

Father Gerry C. Haby, a Marionist Priest, was ordained in San Antonio in 1969. Father Gerry was a teaching priest. He is a native Texas hailing from Rio Medina. During his tenure at Christ the King, Father Gerry instituted a Spanish Mass on Sunday at 6:00 p.m.