St. Peter's Houston Church, History

As we look at the history of Malankara Catholic Community in Houston many pictures of the past rush through our minds. All of them are vital parts of its history. In fact, we have grown tremendously; twenty years and many accomplishments to be proud of. But, because of the absence of a clear and accurate record of what we did in the past, bits of information laid down in the minutes of the meetings, annual reports and the memories of the founding members are the best tools for a better account.

Until the late seventies and early eighties Houston remained as a frontier town and was not a favorite place for Malayalees to migrate. However, the Gulf oil embargo changed things and Houston became a hot market for high paying jobs. This attracted our people and started a heavy influx of Malayalees into Houston. The Malayalee community in Houston grew rapidly. Christian denominations in all their vigor and intensity started building their own churches. A common forum for Kerala Catholics was also established as the ‘Kerala Catholic Community of Houston’ (KCCH, now India Catholics of Houston or ICH). However until the end of 1985, Malankara Catholics were an unknown community in Houston.

A very important event that took place in the history of the Indian Catholics of Houston was the visit of our Late Metropolitan Archbishop, His Grace Benedict Mar Gregorios in September 1982. He was the first Catholic bishop from India to visit an Indian community in Houston. Hence KCCH took a special interest in arranging an extraordinary reception in his honor. His Grace celebrated the Holy Mass on September 26th at the Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Houston. Kuriakose Kidarathil, George Samuel, John E. Philip and George Mannickarottu from our community assisted in organizing the reception and the Mass.

His Grace’s visit inspired the above members of our community to organize a Malankara Catholic group in Houston. But, hesitation and indecisiveness from fellow members slowed the process. However their plan went on and the ambition never died. In 1985 two more families joined with them and took a bold step in organizing the group. Subsequently they decided to hold a prayer meeting. That prayer meeting was held on December 12, 1985 at the residence of Kuriakose Kidarathil and six families participated. They were the families of Kuriakose Kidarathil, K.I. Philip (Jipson), Philip E. John, Joy Mathew, George Samuel and George Mannickarottu

In that meeting, after the prayers and reflections from our venerable tradition and heritage the participants took a strong decision to continue the Malankara Catholic fellowship as a prayer group, namely the ‘Malankara Catholic prayer group of Houston.’ They decided to have prayer meetings every month and a coordinator to be elected or selected and changed every year to coordinate prayer meetings and other community matters. In the ensuing period, Kuriakose Kidarathil assented to become the first coordinator. All the members present that day were determined to search and find our people scattered in and around the city.

Without the presence or guidance of a priest, they continued their monthly prayer meetings. However, Mr. M. I. George Manpurayidathil of Mylapra Malankara Catholic parish, a retired teacher and a long time trustee of our Mannarakkulanji parish in Pathanamthitta who was in Houston in those days, gave encouragement and guidance and helped to organize the prayer meetings.

Though our monthly prayer meetings continued, in the absence of liturgical services, the community felt incomplete and a priest of our own rite became a dire need. Attempts were made through various sources and channels to fulfill this need. Quite often we had visiting priests and arranged Masses for the community. Fr. John Kalloor (now Most Rev. Yoohanon Mar Chrysostom, Bishop of Pathanamthitta), the then coordinator of the Malanakara Catholic Mission of North America also visited us a few times and celebrated Holy Mass. By the beginning of 1990, our late Metropolitan Archbishop His Grace Benedict Mar Gregorios and Most Rev. Geevarghese Mar Timotheos (then Bishop of Thiruvalla) visited us a few times and made contact with Most Rev. Joseph A. Fiorenza, the bishop (now Archbishop) of the Galveston-Houston diocese (now Archdiocese) and discussed the possibility of appointing a Malankara Catholic priest for the community in Houston.

In July 1993 Fr. Abraham Kadamala arrived in Dallas as the vicar of that Mission and arrangements were made to have Holy Mass for at least once a month in Houston. The Holy Mass was conducted at St. Mark’s Catholic Church, South Post Oak, Houston. Fr. Kaldamala wanted to change the structure of the community from a prayer group to a parish level. On September 2, 1996, he convened an emergency meeting at George Samuel’s residence. The members present on that day decided to name the parish as ‘St. Peter’s Malankara Catholic Church in Houston’ and a new parish committee was also selected. The need for a place of worship of our own and the ways to raise funds were also discussed in detail. John E. Philip and George Samuel were selected to lead the building committee as Chairman and Secretary respectively. Subsequently a separate account for the building fund was established and various projects were initiated to raise money.

At this time we also planned to incorporate the community with the State of Texas mainly for the purpose of tax exemption. George Samuel, Philip E. John and George Mannickarottu signed the necessary documents and sent them on October 4, 1996. Eventually we were able to receive the benefit of tax exemption.

All this time our quest and struggle for a permanent priest in Houston continued. In January 1997, Very Rev. Geevarghese Mannickarottu, the then coordinator of the Malankara Catholic Mission of North America, set up a meeting with Most Rev. Joseph A. Fiorenza and met him in Houston on February 6, 1997. In that meeting, Bishop Fiorenza finally agreed to accept a Malankara Catholic priest for the Malankara Catholics in Houston who would be under the Galveston-Houston diocese. This he agreed to do in six months.

The long cherished ambition of the Malankara Catholic Faithful in Houston came true when Bishop Fiorenza announced his readiness to accept our priest and found St. Helen Catholic church in Pearland to house him. That was in July 1997. This time Fr. Koshy Chirayath appointed by our heirachy for New York was directed to Houston to take temporary charge of this mission. He remained here only for two and a half months and was replaced by Fr. Thomas Ponmelil in October 1997.

During this time the community did not have a needed set of by-laws. As a result, George Mannickarottu was unanimously elected to write it. After thorough study, detailed discussions and deliberations, the community ratified the by-laws on January 18, 1998. These by-laws were in effect until the central statutes were promulgated in July 2003.

Fr. Joseph Varghese Kannamkulam replaced Fr. Ponmelil in May 2001. In fact Fr. Joseph was the first priest directly appointed by our hierarchy for Houston. He organized catechetical classes regularly and in an orderly fashion. Under the leadership of Fr. Joseph our search for a church building and fund raising continued with great vigor.

The building committee was reorganized during the first pastoral visit of Most Rev. Dr. Isaac Mar Cleemis, administrator and apostolic visitor of America, in Houston in December 2000. Capt. George Kakkanatt and George Thomas were elected to be the Secretary and Treasurer respectively, along with several other committee members. They worked aggressively to achieve the goal of purchasing the church building. Several new fundraising events were introduced and implemented. Finally, the dream came true. On September 28, 2004, we were able to purchase our present church building at 1323 Phyllis, Rosharon (Houston), Texas 77583. Most Rev. Dr. Mar Cleemis officially dedicated the church on October 30, 2004. Most Rev. Daniel D. DiNardo D.D. Coadjutor of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston was the co-celebrant for the ceremony.

From 1998 until we purchased our own church building, we were conducting our services in St. Laurence Catholic Church at Sugar Land. Our Major Archbishop Moran Mor Cyril Baselios Catholicos (then Archbishop) visited us in December 1999. By 2000, Most Rev. Geevarghese Mar Divannasios (Bishop of Batheriy), Most Rev. Thomas Mar Koorilos (Bishop of Muvattupuzha) and Most Rev. Joshua Mar Ignathios also visited us.

Fr. Thomas Mukaluvila replaced Fr. Joseph Varghese Kannamkulam on April 29, 2005. With the arrival of Fr. Thomas the community continued to grow. All of the days of obligation are observed regularly. Church activities have expanded in various areas. Cultural and social activities have been added. In short, now St. Peter’s Malankara Catholic Church in Houston is striving for its best.

The growth of our community was unrelenting and the ambition for advancement sustained. Ever since the property at Rosharon, Houston, was bought, which was the best choice to the purse at that time, we did feel that the facility was inconvenient for the members in so many ways. Therefore ambition to acquire a suitable and considerable place was on the grow. Finally, it did not take too long to actualize the very much needed ambition. In less than four years after the Rosharon property was bought, by the grace of God we found a very convenient and suitable piece of land (3.25 acres) with a small building enough to accommodate the community. It was in April 2008 that we bought this property, situated in the heart of Stafford, expedient to all members of the church and we moved in there by the end of May (2008). We also were blessed to sell the Rosharon property without any financial lose.

Fr. Job Kalluvilayil of Mavelikara Diocese replaced Fr. Thomas Mukaluvila on December 7, 2008. Devotional and liturgical services are stepped-up to a new level in our church. Celebration of the Holy Mass is increased to three days a week, namely, on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Novena to the Blessed Virgin Mary is offered every Wednesday and adoration of the Holy Eucharist every first Friday. Catechesis classes are in full swing.

Now our membership has increased to 60 families and we are still growing. Now the biggest and hardest challenge that lies ahead of us is to have a bigger and more convenient Church building and related facilities for the increasing Malankara Catholic population in Houston. With the magnificent leadership of our vicar Fr. Job Kalluvilayil and the hard work of our members along with the blessings of God Almighty we remain hopeful.

Now the community has started to feel the result of the hard work and the vision of those six families who took the bold step to build this community twenty years ago. Today we can be proud of the fact that St. Peter’s Malankara Catholic Church in Houston has grown to be one of the leading churches in the Malankara Catholic Mission of North America.

We could not have accomplished any of our goals without the abundant blessings of God the Father in Heaven. With His continued blessings, we believe our progress will continue.