July 20, 2015
Clarendon—For the oldest Catholic parish in the Diocese of Amarillo, it was a documented first.
Ground was broken July 9 for a new Parish Hall for St. Mary’s Church, the first new structure for the 123-year-old parish since its former school building was built in 1899.
The new Parish Hall will be a 6,750 square foot structure, which will house Faith Formation classrooms, offices, a library, kitchen and seating for up to 208 for meals, according to parish spokesperson Denise Bertrand. Pat Tunnel of ADI Source is the building architect and Claudell Wright Construction is the building contractor. The new building is expected to be completed in (five) months, according to Bertrand. Estimated cost of the new Parish Hall is $450,000.
The history of St. Mary’s Church can be traced back to the establishment of the Diocese of Dallas in 1890, according to the parish history compiled by longtime diocesan historian Sister Nellie Rooney.
Missionaries were sent from Gainesville in Cook County, then from Henrietta in Wise County, when they could be sent. When the Roundhouse located in the town of “new” Clarendon was established in 1891, so many German and Irish families moved there that the first Bishop of Dallas, Bishop Thomas Francis Brennan, decided to build a church in Clarendon and make it headquarters for further missionary efforts.
Father J.J. O’Riordan was put in charge of building a Catholic Church by Bishop Brennan, which was completed in June 1892 at a cost of $1,700.
Bishop Brennan was succeeded by Bishop E.J. Dunne in 1893 and five years later, he purchased land for a cemetery and school. The school, St. Mary’s Academy, was built under the direction of Father John Lenert next to the church grounds and opened for classes on January 1899.
The school, operated by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word from San Antonio, was a day co-ed and a girl’s board school. In 1911, the school was closed due to a typhoid epidemic and in 1913, the Incarnate Word Sisters opened St. Mary’s Academy in Amarillo. Five years later, in 1918, the St. Mary’s Academy building in Clarendon was torn down and sold for lumber.
In 1949, St. Mary’s Church was restored after years of neglect. Father (later Monsignor) Richard Vaughan raised needed funds to restore the church building, with work completed in 1951. Then-Bishop Laurence J. FitzSimon dedicated St. Mary’s Church as
The Shrine of Our Lady of the Panhandle. An historic marker was dedicated on the parish grounds in 1997.