Text Box: History of St. Matthew the Evangelist Parish of 
El Paso, Texas
Original text and notes of Reverend Tom Rowland Circa 1985
Holy Apostles Mission was started in a rather roundabout sort of way. One day, Monsignor Caffery, pastor of the Cathedral, called me into his office and showed me a letter from the Bishop about the need for a Confraternity of Christian Doctrine to be formed, and to be active, in every parish.

The problem was that we had no CCD at the Cathedral. The Missionary Catechists ran the Catechism program without benefit of an organized lay group in the parish. Monsignor wanted to obey the letter from the Bishop and proposed that we investigate the possibility of finding enough families in the Crossroads area among whom we could start a bona fide CCD program. The Crossroads area was the point where the city route of US 80 (Mesa) met with the through-route at Doniphan. The area was known as White Spur because of the railroad spur of that name. The school in the area was White School located on Doniphan between Sunset and Mesa.
It is necessary to remember that at this time the city stopped around Mesita and the highway was a four-lane road winding up and down the edge of the mesa. In the area of the present Coronado shopping center there were a roadside park, a steak house, the present Bella Napoli, and two motels; The Thunderbird and another which have been converted to small shops. About the area of the Interstate, there was another motel, the Westerner -- a resort type of motel, which even boasted an airstrip. It was here that a freak accident happened on July 4, 1954 when an airplane and a car collided.
 White Spur at the corner of Sunset and Doniphan, was much like it is today, with Morris Hardware, Valley Liquor, the cleaners and a service station to the south. Going north towards Mesa, there was the school and at the Crossroads itself there were a number of buildings, including the Standard Service station. On the north side there were a number of small stores and a cafe. North on Mesa was the office of Mr. Ortiz a cotton broker. A little further north was La Riviera, a very popular Mexican restaurant.  On Friday nights you could expect to wait an hour to get a table but then you would see practically everybody who lived in the Upper Valley and many from town. There were other small buildings and stores along the highway. Griggs Restaurant on this highway remains at this location.
 At the Crossroads was a drive-in theater located behind the buildings on the northeast corner but the movies were not the most desirable for family consumption. There was another drive-in theater around the area of Festival and Mesa called the Fiesta.
Most people lived west of Doniphan. There was a gathering of large homes in the country club area and more homes along Love Road and down Emory. This was the extent of the habitation and it was very definitely removed from the city. There was a stretch of 10 miles of open highway on Mesa to arrive at the Crossroads and Mt. Franklin Baptist Church, prominently sitting in solitary splendor at its present location. St. Mark’s was already the church built on Love. Up toward Canutillo there was a small Franciscan mission.
Geographically, the area belonged to the Cathedral but there had been no mission activity in that area, unless you wanted to consider Fr. John McGovern’s home. He was an assistant at the Cathedral and had a little hide-away house up in the valley. At this time we had no idea of how many Catholic families might live in the area but we suspected that there could be enough to get some sort of CCD activity started.
 It was decided to make an announcement at Sunday Mass asking families living in the area and interested in CCD classes to call the rectory. I don't remember whether we announced it at Immaculate Conception or not, but I do know that we received an immediate response. Some did not wait to phone but came to the rectory right after Mass. One of these families volunteered their home for a meeting. Thus we were able to announce the following Sunday that there would be a meeting at the home of Mr. & Mrs. Charles Smith, Winnie was her name I think, and they lived on Country Club Road on the left hand side just before Love Road.
A number of families attended this first meeting including Fifi Wasaff which was enough to insure the success of the endeavor. It was estimated that there were at least fifteen families in the area who might be interested. I don’t remember the dates for all of this nor do I remember the time of year. It could have been in the spring of the year as will be mentioned below in regard to Easter but I am not sure. It was either in 1952 or early 1953. I do not remember details of the meeting or those of the classes, if indeed we did commence immediately. I do remember that quickly the suggestion was made that we should have Mass in the Upper Valley. Again I do not recall who made the arrangements with the volunteer Fire Dept. but I do know that permission was given to use the Fire Station for Sunday Mass. The Fire Station used is not the present one but the smaller building next to it which was converted into meeting rooms when the larger station was built by the City after annexation.
 It was perhaps at one of these early meetings, or shortly thereafter that the suggestion was made to have Mass on Sundays in the Upper Valley. It may have been one of the men who served with the Volunteer Fire Dept who obtained permission to use the Fire Station for Sunday Mass.

The first Sundays were a wonderful experience in building our faith community. A. Lee Anderson the owner of a tile company loaned me his truck. Each Sunday morning I would go by Cathedral High and load up some folding chairs from their auditorium. I built a folding plywood altar and we gathered, from the Cathedral, all the things necessary for Mass. By 7:30 I would arrive at the Fire House. The men were there by this time and pushed out the Fire Truck. I never did understand why we couldn’t have a key so as to drive the truck out but we always had to push it out. We would hang up a drape on the wall, put up a crucifix, set up the altar, arrange the chairs and converted the Fire Station to our church.
After Mass the ladies would serve coffee and doughnuts while we were packing things to return to town. I heard that the refreshments were delicious but I always had another Mass back at the Cathedral and so didn't get to remain for the post mass delicacies. However, it was a wonderful way for everyone to get acquainted and to sustain the men who loaded the truck. The collection was sent back to the Cathedral and deposited as gifted from the mission.
The second stage arrived rather quickly as we were able to collect folding chairs on our own eliminating the need for the big truck and transporting chairs out from town each week. We stored the altar, furnishings and the chairs in the garage of the Wasaff’s. They lived near the entrance to the Country Club on Country Club Road. Parishioners with pickups were now able to retrieve our seating and other necessities for mass.
Easter was a great celebration that year. Msgr. Hugh Quinn, the Chancellor of the Diocese, celebrated Easter Mass with us. This seemed to confer Diocesan approval to our small congregation. Msgr. Caffery, our pastor and Vicar General was in poor health and he always said the last Mass at the Cathedral each Sunday.
 Immediately after Easter or maybe during Easter itself, a giant step forward was accomplished when Mr. and Mrs. Arturo Ortiz, Sr. joined us for Mass. I don’t remember how they heard about the Mass or why they had not joined us earlier but they arrived for the first time and then they offered the use of their sample room at their cotton brokerage office for Mass. It was a large air-cooled room that would not be needed until September and so we could leave the room as prepared for mass till then. Thus we had our first semi-permanent home, thanks to this most gracious family.

It was here that we celebrated another milestone event. Msgr. Lawrence Gaynor, Diocesan Director of the C.C.P., arrived and celebrated the First Holy Communion of children prepared entirely by lay members of the Cathedral C.C.D. Enthusiasm increased with this Mass and First Holy Communion. More and more families were hearing about the activities and the attendance grew.
 A spirit of community was shared among those who attended although time was of the essence as September and the Cotton Harvest was just over the horizon and we would lose our new found home for another which we found on Emory. Our search was conducted quietly yet word leaked out that the Catholics were seeking land on which to build a church. Not everyone in the community was pleased with the possibility of residing adjacent to a church and the very person who owned the parcel was not enthusiastic in this regard.
Robert Blake in the conveyance through is innocent eyes told the seller that he was Baptist and was able to purchase the land. He was telling the truth and was not required to disclose that his wife was Catholic or that the down payment was proffered from the Diocese of El Paso for our new location at 4647 Emory a large vacant field acquired with a small adobe home including kitchen, two bedrooms, bath and garage.  I don’t remember the costs or the amount of the down payment and several years ago I sent the pink slip of the Cashier’s Check to Mr. Blake of St. Matthew. The home remains on the property.
A grey stone house was built up the road and used as a nursery. It is now difficult to see the adobe home though a drive on the north side of the lot end there, although the original driveway located on the south side led directly to the home. September had all but arrived and in a flurry of upgrades we built a porch onto the home followed by later additions and improvements.
Charlie Fitzpatrick led the way. Al Becker who was retired entered the picture with his presence and cared for the chapel from that moment forward. J. Spencer Ward owner of a local chain of grocery stores didn’t know anything about carpentry until he learned how to hammer nails into wood siding. Later Spencer told the Bishop that he always volunteered to pass the collection plate because he wasn’t Catholic and it allowed the Catholics free time to pray. Another Protestant Lee Anderson installed the floor providing a guide to perfect spacing when the chairs were aligned on top of the green rows of tile. Work Parties were organized during construction and afterwards too or whenever improvements were requested. The men would work and at supper time the ladies would arrive with all kinds of great food. It was truly a community of love.
Often on Sundays a large number of families would arrive at one home for breakfast. The Riviera was usually the gathering place for the flock of parishioners. Tony and Connie treated us like royalty. Dr. Al Perry an Obstetrician opened his Office at Crossroads primarily so he could be our physician. My Dad Colonel Chester A. Rowland
when visiting El Paso built all of the furniture for the sanctuary including a life sized crucifix, a free standing altar, tabernacle, candle holders, communion tables and a credence table all of which was constructed with solid oak. Most of this furniture was transferred to Balmorhea, where it remains, after the present church was built. Our chapel was blessed by a friend of the Rowland Family a Columbian Missionary from Korea Bishop Harold Henry. Eileen Blake the wife of Robert our Baptist agent donated the church vestments woven in the latest liturgical style. Although I won’t disclose where they were sewn several female member of the youth club and students from El Paso High School mentioned that they had sewn vestments in the Home Economics class of Mrs. Blake.
One day I was talking with Msgr. Caffery and he commented that almost none of the churches in the Diocese were named after the Apostles. As a diplomatic courtesy I suggested the name of Holy Apostles. He agreed and so it happened as in those days the democratically based naming of parishes was not yet in vogue.
In 1954 a new school service was offered and Father Rowland drove a school bus across the valley picking up children who attended Catholic schools in El Paso.  After Father Rowland was injured in an airplane accident a new driver was hired to continue the bus service. At one time the students traveled first class on the Bus used to transport the El Paso Texans, the local baseball team, courtesy of Tom Love the owner of the team.  Mr. Love also assisted in the building of the chapel and forming a choir at about the same time when day built the altar furniture. Father Rowland then bought a used Kaiser station wagon to transport the children to from White school to the Parish house to attend Catechism classes. Several of the ladies also drove the Kaiser.
In 1954 the Diocese of El Paso promoted its first Diocesan wide fund drive. Holy Apostles was the first church in the entire diocese to reach its goal. We were also the first parish to incorporate Dialog Mass, in which the congregation answered the prayers of the presiding Priest, and the first parish to retain a decision making Parish Council including Finance Committee. The Finance Committee proved effective when responding to questions regarding the viability of establishing a new parish. The Bishop replied that the request would be considered when the parish was able to demonstrate financial viability and until then would remain as a mission of the Cathedral with the Diocese absorbing the costs of the clergy.
The Bishop established a floor for funding and the Finance Committee quickly organized visits to each and every home that included describing the plan and soliciting pledges and compiling a numeric list of respondents. Random numbers were assigned to the envelopes so that the committee did not know the identities of the donors. The first Sunday collection grew to over one hundred but remained short of the amount required.
The following Sunday we exceeded the goal of one hundred by ten and never dropped below that mark. One time a member donor was in arrears on his pledge. The committee asked me to identify this person. He was a garbage collector on strike and could not honor his pledge. The committee visited several other families and explained the situation and these donors increased their pledge amount enough to cover the shortage until the strike ended. The Finance Committee as well trusted servants counted the collection. We had a good laugh when on three consecutive Sundays prior to Holy Apostle becoming a parish the chairman arrived in a new car, then next week another committee member arrived driving a new pick up and on the third Sunday I drove up in a new station wagon. We received much good natured kidding about that sequence of events.
 At the moment the congregation demonstrated their ability to support a pastor the Bishop was true to his word and dedicated Holy Apostle as a Parish in the Diocese of El Paso, Texas in November of 1955. Father John Linnane as assigned as our first pastor. Book one of our Parish Records indicates January 1, 1956 as the first entry for the Church of the Holy Apostles.
Between 1956 and 1961 the land on Emory was sold and the seven acres on Sunset was purchased. The name was changed to St. Matthew Catholic Church and Father James Payne was installed as our first official pastor. Under his leadership the original church and parish hall were constructed at a cost of one hundred and eleven thousand dollars. He agreed that a wing of classrooms or possibly a school would be built sometime in the near future.  Our first mass at St. Matthew was celebrated by Father Payne on Easter Sunday 1960. The church was dedicated and blessed on December 4, 1960
On Easter Sunday of the Year 1952 a handful of Catholics gathered at a nearby fire station on Shortly Lane to celebrate their first mass and receive religious instruction. Later nearly twenty families utilized a small house on Emory way for mass and religious instruction On December 1, 1955 the mission was elevated to the status of a parish.
The first Pastor was Reverend John P. Linane. The parish was named Holy Apostles but was later changed to St. Matthew the Evangelist Parish. Bishop Sidney M. Metzger named the Reverend James E. Payne as the second Pastor on July 24, 1958 and granted permission for a new structure to be built at the present day site of St. Matthew at 400 Sunset Road. A religious formation center was built in 2004. Bishop Armando X. Ochoa blessed the center on February 22, 2004. This thriving parish now serves over one thousand families.
About the Author: Reverend Tom Rowland provided this History sometime in the mid 1980’s. He was assigned to the Cathedral and his dedication was crucial for the establishment of the mission church in the upper valley, which eventually was named St. Matthew. 
Editor’s Note: This story provides a history of the founding of St. Matthew Parish in El Paso, Texas and conveys the deep spiritual commitment of the Catholic faithful who have come before us in the recent past. Editing historical documents is most difficult however we have acted in good faith to preserve the exact thought pattern of the original author. We recommend the reader spend a moment reflecting on the original writing and allow the time, situation and circumstances to flow forth into the reality of the early 1950’s. I have been for a moment transported back in time before my own birth when this community was fledging and seeking a home of worship. 
CJC Publishing 2011.06.14

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Michael W. Smith Worship 2001.7

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