Mission: Catholic church in Elk is the ‘heart of the community’
By Father Tom Frank
Elk is a small farming and ranching community (cotton, maize, cattle) 15 miles east of Waco on Highway 84. One of the earliest Czech settlers to the area, Frederick Pechacek Jr., arrived in 1885. He had 17 children and 54 grandchildren. Other Czech and German families arrived to the area and attended Mass in Waco, Tours or West. In 1922, a priest came once per month from Waco and the Eucharist was celebrated in homes. Thoughts of their own church began among the residents.
In February 1925, the first church was dedicated and placed under the protection of St. Joseph. Sisters from St. Francis Parish in Waco came every Wednesday to instruct the children in religion classes. The mission was served by St. Mary Parish in Waco until 1942, when it was transferred to St. Martin Parish in Tours.
In 1948, the mission purchased a former chapel building from Camp Swift in Bastrop. Piece by piece, it was dismantled and reassembled on the Elk property –– the second church building.
On Dec.17, 1972, as the community was growing, the current church building was dedicated with a capacity of 264 seated persons –– the entire cost, complete with new furnishings and fees was less than $85,000. At that time there were 55 registered households of the mission.
A parish hall for religious education and gatherings was built in 1981, and doubled in size in 1988. In 1984, a cemetery, which serves the entire Elk community, was established on land donated next to the church. A Pictorial Directory of the Parish was done in 1990. Harry (Fuzzy) Pechacek was a deacon from the parish and served the area until his death in 1993.
Religion classes are on Wednesday evenings. Volunteers also care for the cemetery, hall and grounds. The St. Anne Altar Society sees to the liturgical needs and care of the inside of the church. There is an annual picnic fund-raiser on the fourth Sunday of June; this year on June 25 barbecued brisket will be served beginning at 11 a.m. for $10 a plate. An auction will begin at 1 p.m. A Lenten Fish Fry and Bake Sale were added last year to parish activities.
Future hopes and agenda items include improvements to the buildings, scholarships to graduating seniors, more youth activities and more young people attending and helping the church.
The Official Texas Historical Marker for the Elk community states that “St. Joseph Catholic Church remains in the heart of the community, which is surrounded by farmland and houses in the predominately Czech and German Elk Community.” That marker was placed in the front yard of the church. The mission now boasts 98 households. Mass on Sundays is at 8:30 a.m. Visit at other times by calling (254) 863-5129.