Some stories, like seeds planted in fertile ground, become more real, more memorable, when nurtured. Then, thanks to curiosity and subsequent experience, they flourish with each revisiting, becoming finely woven tapestries steeped in depth and complexity.
Such were my thoughts regarding Our Lady of Consolation in Vattmann, TX since January 11, 2011, when, thanks to the Texas Tropical Trail Region (TTTR) monthly outing, we were treated to the history of this quiet, little church community southeast of Kingsville.
Our hosts came across as a hardy lot: resilient, independent yet mutually supportive of each other, and wholeheartedly invested in their rural hamlet. Their rich family histories were fascinating; but church was their life-giving core, honored above all.
Listening to the presentations, I gleaned that Vattmann’s mission in life (imbued innately, it seemed) was to know its history by heart and support its cherished sacred space— the latter through an annual fundraiser, the Thanksgiving picnic and country store— to keep the tiny unincorporated town alive and well for future generations.
Naturally, I wanted to experience this incredible, almost century-old tradition; but Steven wasn’t too keen on foregoing his very own turkey with all the trimmings at home. So my wish quietly percolated as I patiently waited.
Between 2011 and 2016, I thought about Our Lady of Consolation Church a lot. Since we travel regularly to and from the Rio Grande Valley, I asked Steven if we could stop by King’s Inn for lunch “the next time.”
Thursday morning, March 31, 2016, we discovered that the road to the restaurant went past the church, too. So, after lunch we stopped, took photos, and chatted a while with Maria, who takes Communion to the homebound in the parish.
“I hadn’t planned to come by church today, but I’m glad I did,” she said.
We talked about prayer and God’s wisdom. “He placed us on each other’s paths for a reason.” We agreed and exchanged email addresses to stay in touch.
On our drive back from the valley Saturday afternoon, we stopped for lunch in Kingsville. “Do you think Mother Julia’s chapel is nearby?” I asked. “I’m curious to see how the Sisters’ project turned out.”
Never mind that I took photos through the holes in the chain-link fence because the chapel and the gift shop were closed. The place was totally different from six years earlier when Sister Maxie had shared her dream with the TTTR group, December 21, 2010.
We were so impressed!
Within three days’ time, Steven and I had visited two sacred spaces that I’d previously written about. “I have so much to email Maria about when we get home.”
Only I was even more amazed by her response.
Maria volunteers at Mother Julia’s gift shop, so she works closely with Sister Maxie. And now we have more in common than before, thanks to our impromptu meeting at Our Lady of Consolation.
Bill and Robin invited us to their family’s Thanksgiving gathering, but Steven held out hope that our youngest son would join us for dinner. Still, we knew that we’d do our usual— attend morning Mass; spend a leisurely day at home; watch football; and enjoy a quiet, intimate meal all by ourselves. But that was before viewing Michael Gibson’s “Vattmann Thanksgiving picnic” on the evening news (KIII, November 21, 2016).
“I’ve wanted to attend for the past five years,” I reminded Steven. “It’d be great to go, even if just once.”
Knowing Steven, he had his heart on fixing Thanksgiving dinner at home. No rush, no fuss with traffic or lines, lots of football viewing, and eating to his heart’s content at will. He’d started his pre-planning in October and had been adding to his grocery list day by day. So he was ready to take on the bird and all the trimmings. Never mind that these other delectable options had cropped up.
Still, I really, really wanted to experience Vattmann on Thanksgiving Day. And Michael’s piece three days before had to have worked its magic because Wednesday afternoon Steven suggested that we “stop by St. Paul’s for ten o’clock Mass on our way south.”
During Mass I thought about Father Stembler, pastor at St. Paul’s before his transfer to St. Gertrude’s in Kingsville. I wondered how he was doing, especially since his dad had passed away late September. We’d been out-of-state so hadn’t attended the memorial Mass in October. But I had every intention of writing to him, so I mentally penned a letter to our beloved joyful priest on the drive to Vattmann.
And whom should I see as we approached the path to turn left onto the church parking area? Father Stembler, all smiles, waving us along! Unbelievable!
If this was God’s way of letting me know that we’d chosen wisely in attending the picnic at Our Lady of Consolation, the rest was bound to be unforgettable.
I was able to spend a bit of time with Father Stembler as we all stood waiting in line. He even hammed it up for my Coolpix! And Bishop Carmody was there, too. We love that he married us at the cathedral. How special was that? Two for one.
What an uplifting experience! So many wonderful parishioners heeding the call of service! So many happy faces engaged in outdoor activities, feasting on Thanksgiving dinner, buying all kinds of goodies at the country store, and just-plain conversing with each other in little clusters here and there.
For Steven and me, the ladies at the country store made our day. Gwen told us the story of Jan’s husband, Stan, who made all the wooden crosses on display before he died November 8, 2016. “He wanted to vote more than anything, and he did.”
Then she gave us a very special pass to the workroom where the ladies meet, February through November, to turn cast-offs into treasures. And, while there, we met Jan and Betty, sweet ladies whose smiles and stories delighted us beyond imagining. “Santa’s magical elves in Santa’s workshop,” Steven called them.
Of course, the ladies behind the pay-out counter were very nice, too. One in particular smiled so blissfully— like a kid in a candy shop— that I wished I could’ve gotten to know her better.
Above all, however, I was grateful for my not-so-alone time spent in church.
As I took photos of the beautiful sacred space for the third time, I was taken by the perfectly lit stained-glass windows; the cheerful ambiance graced by impeccably painted walls and icons; and the thoughtful visitors who came and went, paying their respects lovingly as they sat, knelt, or walked about lightly in total reverence.
What a gift to be in the presence of God with these joyful hearts!
I melted within as I gave thanks and praise for my gifts and talents shared with others.
Seeing the posted photos from our Thanksgiving in Vattmann, Steven typed a comment for the blog.
“Ooh! Nice! May I include your thoughts in the post itself?”
So, you may say, you had Thanksgiving dinner with a few thousand total strangers is a crowded parish hall and you call that a good time?
The answer is a resounding yes.
The long line moved fast; and everyone was friendly, chatting with each other, interested in how far each had come. The priest who facilitated our marriage and the now-retired bishop who performed the ceremony at the Corpus Christi Cathedral were there, too.
The picnic was incredibly well-organized, and the family style serving worked better than anyone could expect as helpers in high-visibility orange vests waved new arrivals to empty seats. And the food kept coming! If you left hungry, it was your fault.
There was the rattle of constant gunfire at a skeet range set up behind the hall. We saw several sharpshooters carrying away prize turkeys. The Knights of Columbus were there with a raffle, and the kids had another one going as well.
Lots was going on; but the real deal for us was the country store, which displayed ornaments of all kinds, pot holders, statues, wall crosses, and other delightful items in an irresistible Christmas setting.
Since we were friendly and Deli was taking photos, we earned a very special pass to Santa’s workshop where the ladies shared some of their stories. To prepare for the annual fundraiser, they work their Christmas elf magic ten months every year.
So, next Thanksgiving, why not do something different? Head on into Texas brush country for a fun, friendly, bountiful dinner. Help the fine folks in Vattmann, TX raise money for Our Lady of Consolation Church.
You’ll be glad you did!
Almighty Father, you are lavish in bestowing all your gifts and we give you thanks for the favors you have given us. In your goodness you have favored us and kept us safe…. We ask that you continue to protect us and shelter us in the shadow of your wings. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Father all-powerful, your gifts of love are countless and your goodness infinite. As we come before you on Thanksgiving Day with gratitude for your kindness, open our hearts to have concern for every man, woman, and child so that we may share your gifts in loving service. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
December 7, 2016
Whatever mission God gives us, no matter how common it may appear, carries within it our potential sainthood. What God asks of us during our lifetime is the most appropriate and suitable means to our growth in holiness— whether our lives remain ordinary or take an extraordinary turn (Julie Onderko, Discover Your Next Mission From God).
December 9, 2016
“The work of life is to tend the divine fire of holiness that has been kindled within against every breath that may endanger it; and every holy deed and thought helps to feed and fan the flame” (Basil W. Maturin, Christian Self-Mastery).
December 14, 2016
“In the evening of life we will be judged on love alone” (St. John of the Cross).
December 21, 2016
“We plant seeds that will flower as results in our lives; so best to remove the weeds of anger, avarice, envy and doubt, that peace and abundance may manifest for all” (Dorothy Day).
December 22, 2016
“If you wish to take up your abode in the tabernacle of the heavenly kingdom, you must reach there through your good works without which you cannot hope to enter”
December 27, 2016
Know that God speaks to you and that, when God does, your assigned task, whatever it is, regardless of how modest it appears in the eyes of the world, takes on eternal importance (Franciscan Media, Perfect Joy).
January 6, 2017
“Be a soul of love in order to become an apostle and you will discover a very beautiful thing: that at the bank of love, the more you give, the richer you become” (Fr. Jean C. J. d’Elbée, I Believe in Love).
January 28, 2017
“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship” (St. Thomas Aquinas).
Links of interest… Annual Thanksgiving fundraiser: 100th dinner / 2014 / giving thanks / holiday tradition / King country / picnic (about) / special report (KIII; more)… Call to communion & service… Father Edward J. Vattmann: about / chaplain (more) / more / photos: 1 / 2… Gift of work… How to exercise “the discipline of gratitude”… King’s Inn Restaurant: food / fried & true / website (contact / events)… Manual for spiritual warfare… Kleberg County (roots web)… Our Lady: feast / icon (more) / litany / novena / prayers / shrine (about)… Our Lady of Consolation Church: diocesan map / facebook / one-room school house / photo / website (contact – events – history)… TX Tropical Trail Region… US Genealogy Web Project… Vattmann: about / cemetery (find a grave – location – photos) / history / photos: wedding (c. 1910) & “where I grew up”… The visitation & Mary, the walking tabernacle… What does God want? A practical guide to making decisions…