WESTPHALIA — Community members mourned the loss of their 124-year-old historic wooden church that was engulfed by fire Monday.
Many local activities centered around the Church of the Visitation in Westphalia, including a homecoming celebration, picnics and a special community meal used as the main way to support the church.
Hannah Marie Williams went to the Church of the Visitation her entire life, she said in a Facebook post.
“The Church of Visitation may be gone but all the beautiful lessons I learned here and all the beautiful memories I made here are still with me. That’s what’s important,” Williams said.
The church preached about loving neighbors as God loves them, she said. It preached about how people should always be helped. “It didn’t have to be in money, helping an elder cross the street or helping a child find its parents was enough,” she said. “This one preached about not turning a blind eye to things that are wrong. This one helped you walk with God.”
Williams’ memories went back to going up the stairs to sing with her “Amma” in the choir as a little girl. It was one of her favorite reasons to go to church, she said. It made her feel part of something special.
The pipe organ used in the church was built in St. Louis in 1914, and installed in March 1921. The organ was refurbished in 1979 and was played every Sunday and on special occasions, according to the church history.
Williams often admired the organ and the sound that came from it. She looked up at the pipes and wondered what sound came out of which pipe, she said.
Tanya Hoelscher played the organ and listened to the pipes “sing,” she said on Facebook.
“Some will say this is just a building but it is so much more than that to me,” Hoelscher wrote. “It stands for everything that is beautiful.”
Hoelscher recalled the ancestors who built the church with hard work and determination, the babies in their baptismal gowns and “the blushing brides who made the long walk to meet their grooms.”
She also remembered bidding goodbye to loved ones lost and the long weekend Masses they attended — “giving thanks to God for all that is good,” Hoelscher said.
As a child, Williams said, she wondered how the ceiling was painted and wanted to buy the chandelier for her home
More than 20 stained glass windows decorated the church, and they were all shipped from Germany.
The largest one was just behind the main altar and showed the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin. The two windows on the side showed images of St. Monica and the Archangel Michael, according to the church’s history.
Robyn Skrhak said her nephew was married there Saturday.
“So heartbreaking. My nephew was just married here on Saturday,” said Skrhak, who lives in Rogers. “Praying for the Church and the Community of Westphalia, TX.”
Skrhak said both of her sister-in-laws were married there, as were her nephew, Jared Walden, and his wife, Winter. She described the church fire as “heartbreaking.”
The grandparents and great-grandparents of Tammy Avant Ramsey were all married in the church, Ramsey said.
Her mother and brother had their first communions in the church, she added.
Sue Ann Alexander’s father and mother-in-law retired to Zabcikville in 1983, and Alexander and her family made many trips from southern Denton County — where they lived — to the “big Z” to visit their children’s Mamaw and Papaw (grandparents), Alexander said.
“One of the travel-type games we played was to see who would spot the ‘twin steeples’ first,” she said. “The sight of those distance steeples always brought much joy and we knew we were getting close to Mamaw and Papaw’s house.”