The first recorded presence of the Roman Catholic faith in Fannin County and the Bonham area was the arrival of Dr. J. S. Dorset who had been born in Culpepper, Va. In 1869 he married Bertha Birdmoore of Charlottesville, Va. and soon after came to Bonham. Dr. Dorset was a graduate of Long Island University in New York and had served in the Confederate cavalry.
The first record of Catholic services in Bonham was in 1892. These services were conducted by Father V. Quinlon. He arrived on horseback, one of the old circuit riders. This priest came from Clarksville. This makes the Catholic community of Bonham one of the oldest Catholic churches in the Diocese of Dallas. It was then and still is the only Catholic church in Fannin County.
From 1892 - 1893 the church was served by a priest whose name is not recorded. He came on horseback from St. Joseph parish in Clarksville. In 1894 the Rev. P. M. Donohoe came from St Mary's, Sherman, to celebrate Mass for the Catholics of the area. In 1895 the church was again served by the St. Joseph's in Clarksville. Again in 1896-97 St. Mary’s in Sherman provided a priest.
Legend has it that a young Bonham man, who was not Catholic, donated the land on West Tenth Street where the church is situated so his beloved, who was Catholic, would have a place to attend Mass. In view of the newspaper accounts of the time it is more likely that Dr. Dorset donated the land in honor of his beloved son Shepp Dorset. Dr. Dorset paid $350 for the tract of land where the Church was to stand. The land was purchased from George L. Anthony of Cook county, and the deed is dated September 16, 1897.
The first church was dedicated on March 20, 1898, and a plaque on the present church building reads, "In commemoration of the dedication of this church of St. Elizabeth to Our Lady Della Strada".
In 1898 The Bonham News reported that the Rev. Thomas Selvin of Galveston conducted services, and a quartet from the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Dallas provided the music, assisted by Miss Kittibel Peeler, organist.
In 1899 Our Lady of Victory, in Paris provided a mission priest by the name of the Rev. Daniel R. Harrington. In the same year The Bonham News reported that Dr. J. S. Dorset began the construction of his residence on a lot near the Catholic church.
The church building burned sometime around 1900. The only thing that survived the fire was the commemorative plaque. 1900 is also the first year that a baptism was recorded, that of Neomi Hyacinth Burns.
A newspaper report in The Bonham News reported that Mass was celebrated at the Catholic church at 10 o'clock on December 27. There is no record of where this mass was actually held as the church building had not been rebuilt at this time.
In 1902 the second church was finally finished 2 years after the fire. The commemorative plaque from the first church was placed on the present building.
The Rev. Bernard H. Diamond of Our Lady of Victory, Paris served as a mission priest. This priest also performed the first recorded marriage in the parish. W. S. Smith married Julia Parker at the residence of Dr. J. S. Dorset
In 1905, Bonham was assigned to St. Joseph, Commerce as a mission. The Rev. Francis B. Serafinas served the parish. Also, in this year the Bonham News reported that the Rev. Jas M. Hayer, of the Scared Heart Cathedral in Dallas presented a week-long series of lectures on the teachings of the Catholic church.
There is a record of a Rev. Robert J. Hutchinson serving as a priest at St. Elizabeth's, but no record of where he was from. At this time Bonham was still a mission church. In 1907 the Rev. M. G. French served the parish, and again there wad no record of where he was from. In 1900 the Rev. Philibert Haas, O.F.M. served as the mission priest.
In 1909 the Rev. W.P. Rootes, C.M. from Holy Trinity, Dallas served as the mission priest. In 1911 the parish was served by a priest from St. Joseph, Commerce, whose name was not recorded. Again in 1913, Bonham became a mission of Holy Trinity church, Dallas with the Rev. Richard P. Delany serving the parish.
On December 19, 1913, Dr. J. S. Dorset, who was described as one of Bonham's most prominent citizens, died.
From 1916 - 1946 the church was pretty much abandoned, there was no mass celebrated in the Church during that time. The Catholic community began to attend Mass at the residence of Jose (now deceased) and Felipe Guerra of Savoy. Felipe Guerra is still, in 1992, a member of St. Elizabeth parish. From time to time a priest served the parish for a few months.
In 1925 the church was reopened and cleaned up only to be closed again. During this time the church fell into disrepair. Windows were broken and the church boarded up. The parishioners worked together to repair the church and requested that they again be served by a priest.
In 1926 the Rev. Emil J. Gerlick, Our Lady of Victory, Paris, served as mission priest. In 1928 it was the Rev. Peter Molloy, Our Lady of Victory, Paris who served as mission priest. In 1935 it was the Rev. Ferdinand J. Schiessl, Our Lady of Victory, Paris, who did the honors.
During World War II, beginning in the fall of 1941 while Jones Field in Bonham was open, a military chaplain from Perrin Field, Sherman served the Bonham Catholic community by celebrating Mass in an aircraft hanger at Jones Field. In 1944 the Diocese of Dallas engaged Morelock Carpenters of Bonham to restore St. Elizabeth to operational condition. During the time that services had not been held in the church, the building had fallen into disrepair: windows had been broken and the church had been boarded up. The windows were all replaced and dedicated to various people. One to the Rev. J.P. Lynch D.D., Bishop of Dallas, who rededicated the church in 1945. To the Sisters of St. Mary's, who at one time came from Sherman to help teach the CCD classes. There is one for Hugh and Maggie McCullough, one for their daughter Mary McCullough, and one for their son, Monsignor McCullough who served the parish from Sherman in 1948. There is one for Dr. J. S. Dorset, the man who donated the land that church sits on. There is one for the Sisters of Charity, who at one time came to work at the old Allen hospital One window is dedicated to Mr. & Mrs. Paul McLinsky and one is dedicated to Mr. & Mrs. James Tobin. One window was replaced and dedicated to Max Untersee, a local realtor, who was a mainstay of the Catholic community in Bonham. The parishioners also worked together to refurbish the church and to request that a priest again be assigned to the parish.
In 1945 the church was reopened during services celebrated by Bishop Wendelin Nold who was born in Bonham and had been a previous member of the parish. At this time there were about 4,000 people in Fannin County, less than 1% were Catholic.
On September 8,1946 The Bonham Daily Favorite reported the re-dedication services at St. Elizabeth. The Most Reverend Joseph Lynch D.D., Bishop of Dallas, was the dedicatory speaker. Monsignor Edward V. McCullough, pastor of St. Mary's in Sherman was named as a mission pastor until a pastor was appointed. The newly appointed pastor was Father Thomas Tschoepe, who later became the Bishop of the Dallas Diocese. Father Tschoepe remembers a New Year's Day in particular that the water froze in the cruet during Mass, because there was no heating in the church.
St. Elizabeth's has been served by priests from Clarksville, Sherman, Denison, Paris, plus priests from Dallas and Commerce. In 1952 Father Michael Lloyd came from Denison to say Mass. Also, in this year a catechism class, in the unheated church, was begun for nine children, ages 8 to 15. There was linoleum around the altar and down the aisle.
In 1953 another catechism teacher was added so that so that there were three catechism classes. Also, at that time approximately 40 people were attending Mass. For the first time First Communion was given in 1954 to nine children from ages 6 to 16.
In 1960 for a short period of time there was a resident priest, the Rev. Edward J. Devers. Janet Railvak played the organ for a choir with 6 members.
In 1964 students of the eighth grade class and a few young adults met at St. Mary’s for Confirmation, Father Thomas Tschoepe, now a bishop of the Dallas Diocese, administered the sacrament.
All the redecorating in 1965 was accolades for Father Ed Devers who brought people over from St. Mary's in Sherman. They paneled, painted, papered and carpeted our church. Many priests have helped modernize the building and still kept the quaintness of this ancient church. Over the years we have had several organists. Eleanor Uselton has played since 1965.
In 1982 the Rev. Carl Vogel, Our Lady of Victory, Paris began to serve as a mission priest. When Father Vogel was transferred to McKinney, he continued to serve as mission priest for St. Elizabeth.
July 1994 saw the creation of a Youth Ministry under the leadership of Sharon Beasley, Lu Sudderth and Joan Zoppi. August brought the formation of a formal Parish Council under the direction of Father Fowler.
But it wasn't until Oct. 30, 1994 that the mission was made a parish and assigned its first pastor, Father Stephan Bierschenk. A house was purchased in the middle of the next block north and was made into the rectory. Father Bierschenk began a series of improvements in the church, such as refurbishing the confessional which previously had been only a curtained enclosure, installing ceiling fans and purchasing a new organ which was installed in the choir loft.
The mission to the Spanish speaking people in Fannin and Grayson counties was started by Father Bierschenk.
In June 29, 1986 a ground breaking ceremony and blessing by Father Bierschenk for the new pariah hall was held.
In September of 1986 the Rev. Bruce Bradley was assigned as pastor after Father Bierschenk was transferred to a Dallas parish. Father Bradley arranged for Mrs. Lillian Tyler, of Paris, to refurbish the statues of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph. The statue of the Blessed Virgin is dedicated to the Rev. F. J. Schiessl who served as a mission priest around 1935. The statute of St. Joseph is dedicated to Wendelin Joseph Nold. He was a native of Bonham, who became Bishop of Galveston. Father Bradley also purchased the stations of the cross in the form of oil paintings from Holy Trinity, Dallas.
There were two buildings behind and beside the church that were previously used to hold parish functions. The building directly behind the church was at one time used as the rectory. The house next door was used for religious instruction. Since the building of the parish hall these buildings have been torn down.
On Dec. 12, 1986 Bishop Thomas Tschoepe of Dallas, dedicated the new parish ball. This building has a hall which seats 200, a large kitchen, a parish office, a large storage room and seven class/meeting rooms. The building is used for many purposes: for religious instruction on Sundays, for social events and for Camp Fire and Boy Scout meetings during the week. The building is also the meeting place for the Parish Council, the Youth Group, the Knights of Columbus and the Altar Society. Each year the building is used for the Altar Society bake, rummage and craft sale on the weekend before Thanksgiving. Each Sunday coffee and donuts are served in the parish hall between the two Masses.
On August 9, 1988 the Rev. Jerome Jayasuriya, a native of Sri Lanka, was named pastor of St. Elizabeth after the transfer of Father Bradley in June 1988.
In 1990, Father Jerome initiated the process of purchasing the house for a rectory. It was bought in October 1990, and after completing the much-needed repairs, became the rectory on Feb. 23, 1991.
In 1991 the Diocese of Dallas created a Spanish mission in Grayson and Fannin counties. A Spanish-speaking priest, Rev. Rodrigo Lira, was appointed to serve the Spanish speaking people of St. Mary's, Sherman, St. Patrick's, Denison and St. Elizabeth.
January 1992 brought a Mission of Healing, presented by Rev. Gail White. Father Jerome was also instrumental in forming a Knights of Columbus Council for the first time in Bonham. George Baumbach also worked hard to achieve this goal. March 6, 1992 was the first degree meeting of the Knights of Columbus. A Legion of Mary was started in May 1991.
In early September of 1997, when Pope John Paul II visited the United States, a busload of
parishioners from St. Elizabeth went to San Antonio for the outdoor Mass celebrated by the Pope.
The parishioners of St. Elisabeth's are active in the county and city.
Source: Fannin County Historical Commission