As far back as she can remember, Dorothy Schoellmann Hyek has been regularly attending St. Mary’s Church Festival & Homecoming. Growing up in Nada, she has lived there all of her life, with the exception of a couple of years when she and her husband Victor (Vic) were first married and lived in El Campo. Hyek was confirmed and married in the church. She has owned and operated the Nada Grocery for the past 43 years.
Favorite childhood memories revolve around homemade strudels and kolaches at the picnic.
“The desserts were so good and everything was homemade,” Hyek said.
Now as an adult, she takes pleasure in preparing homemade egg noodles for the church’s auction, which she said can bring in hundreds of dollars.
Donna Cranek of Nada, who grew up in El Campo, has fond memories of visiting the festival with her Nada grandparents, J.W. and Frances Bures.
“I’ve been coming since I was a little kid. We would go to my grandparents. There were 26 of us grandkids and they (Grandpa and Grandma) would have a stack of quarters for each of us to play games (at the festival),” Cranek recalls.
Many who’ve moved away return year-after-year just for the annual picnic, to enjoy the delicious barbecue brisket and sausage with all the homemade sides, Bingo and other games, and the big auction that still brings in thousands of dollars to support the church.
“It was always a homecoming for those who have moved away,” Hyek said.
Hyek’s great-grandfather, John William Schoellmann, was the first settler in Vox Populi, which was later named Nada. According to the Handbook of Texas, Vox Populi means “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” The word Nada is the American version of the Czechoslovakian word najda, meaning hope.
According to Hyek, her great-grandfather was an immigrant from Westphalia, Germany. He moved his family from Frelsburg to Nada where he bought land to farm in February 1881. Joseph Labay, who was a native of Mahren-Austria, quickly followed from Frelsburg in March 1881. Schoellmann was of German descent and Labay was Czech.
Hyek never knew her great-grandfather, but she was aware that he and Labay had each donated 25 acres for the Nativity of Blessed Virgin Mary, later known as St. Mary’s Catholic Church located on Old Nada Road, a few blocks east of Hwy. 71.
The picnic was something the whole community looked forward to, Hyek said.
“You had to have a new dress for the picnic and a new hat,” she said. “The women would work and can (goods) ... everyone made cakes and brought them. Farmers would donate bales of cotton and cattle for the auction. This would all bring in money.”
The festival was the main get-together and considered the social event of the year. 130 years later, it still is.
“It was always a good family gathering,” Hyek said. “It was just once a year. Heck, when we got a wedding invitation, we got so excited. It was a social outing.”
Preparations would begin weeks beforehand. On the day of the festival, the women and men prepared the meal, a tradition which continues today, serving roughly 1,500 plates.
“The men would go outside and barbecue,” Hyek said. “The women would be in the kitchen making potato salad and other sides.”
In the early days, “farmers would donate calves and they would get together and butcher them, then barbecue them there,” she said.
That tradition no longer exists today, the meat is purchased now.
“They still make the barbecue,” Hyek said. “They all get together and cook.”
Each person has their specialty and volunteers in the kitchen.
“Certain ones make the beans, slaw and jalapeno rice,” she said. “The men help in the kitchen too, they cook the rice.”
The first church in Nada dates back to 1894, when 80 Catholic families living in the area decided to build a church. Jon and Anna Labay donated the church bell which today is the second largest bell in St. Mary’s belfry.
Hardships were encountered from the beginning. Preparations for the first church were under way by March 1897, but a tornado destroyed what was built in May of that year.
According to the church’s historical documents, “Joseph Leopold of Hallettsville, brother of Christian Leopold of Nada, was entrusted to build the church. On May 17, 1897, when about two-thirds was completed, a tornado demolished the building. Even heavy timber was broken and strong bolts twisted off. When the contractor saw this he wept.”
Leopold was persuaded to rebuild the church on a smaller scale and it was dedicated that October.
Mother Nature struck three more times. The Galveston Storm of 1900 damaged the church on Sept. 13, 1900. It was rebuilt again. Hurricanes caused extensive damages in 1909 and again in 1915.
Construction of the present day church began in late 1929, costing $60,000 and by 1930 was dedicated on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, patron of the parish.
Many vocations have evolved from the membership of St. Mary’s, including two bishops, several priests and nuns.
“We are well known for all our religious vocations,” Hyek said.
Hyek recalls two of her aunts being nuns.
St. Mary’s Festival is set for Sunday, Sept. 5 with a barbecue beef and sausage dinner from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. As in years past, it will be a coming home event. There will also be music, games for the kids, a country store to purchase all those homemade goodies, bingo and a live auction.
Be sure to come on an empty stomach to enjoy all those homemade sweets and the barbecue meal.
“The picnic offers good fellowship and good food,” Cranek said.