Holy Redeemer Church in El Dorado achieved a major milestone Nov. 26 as parishioners and former members celebrated the church building’s 100th anniversary.
Holy Redeemer has been a Catholic community before a church building was even constructed.
The first Catholic settler arrived in Union County in 1858, and by 1908, the Catholic population had grown so steadily that Mass was regularly celebrated in the homes of Patrick Egan and C.A. McCarthy. In 1909, a permanent chapel was constructed in the local Armory.
Pastor Father Eddie D'Almeida has studied the parish’s early history since he arrived nearly 10 years ago.
“In 1895, there was a priest who moved from Canada that would come regularly, and over the years they would have Mass around the courthouse at first, and then at peoples’ homes,” Father D'Almeida said. “Then they had a chapel set up at the armory for almost 10 years. That is when the cornerstone of the current parish building was laid, in June of 1923.”
As the 1921 oil boom put El Dorado on the map, entrepreneurs and businessmen from all over the world flocked to the southwest Arkansas town. The population boom meant that a much larger venue was needed to celebrate Mass, so a new chapel was built on property owned by W.P. Goodwin. Even though El Dorado did not yet have a parish or pastor, a flock was already growing.
The dedication of the new parish building on West Main Street was held Nov. 26, 1923, by Bishop John B. Morris. A rectory was later added behind the church, and then a convent for the Sisters of Mercy, who opened Holy Redeemer School.
Over the years, numerous construction phases and renovations have been done at Holy Redeemer Church in 2001, 2002 and 2016. Holy Redeemer School closed in 2004.
Father D'Almeida said Bishop Anthony B. Taylor presided over the 100th anniversary Mass, followed by a luncheon.
“We had one Mass that we live streamed into our parish hall for overflow, because we usually have two Masses on Sunday morning, one in English and one in Spanish,” Father D'Almeida said. “We have the traditional Mass in Latin on Saturday, but we just had one Mass on Sunday with the livestream. Afterwards, we had a catered lunch, and people gathered together and celebrated the parish with the bishop and guests. There were several former parishioners in attendance who were at the parish for a number of years before moving off, so we sent invitations to them as well.”
Father D'Almeida said the diversity of those who attend Holy Redeemer Church is a result of the oil boom in the town.
“Because of the oil boom that happened here and all of the businesses that are byproducts of oil, we have a lot of parishioners from all over the world that currently live in El Dorado,” Father D'Almeida said. “We have people from the Philippines, from Syria, from Africa and Central America, Portugal, parishioners who are Brazilian, German, Hispanic. It’s a cultural melting pot here.”
Parishioners at Holy Redeemer often showcase their ethnicities and nationalities through the annual Universal Food Festival.
Father D’Almeida said the parish also repainted their interior and added new trim details, reprinted the parish directory and gave out commemorative Christmas ornaments in celebration of the 100th anniversary.
In a heavily populated area with Protestant denominations, Father D’Almeida thinks this religious environment has brought Holy Redeemer’s parishioners even closer together.
“You’re either going to go two hours north to Little Rock or two hours south to Monroe, so we’re kind of isolated,” Father D’Almeida said. “And I think that brings people together. I think there’s a lot of resilience there because of that.”
Richard Trinca, 89, a lifelong member of Holy Redeemer, is the son of Italian immigrants. Trinca was one of the first altar boys to serve at the parish.
“Holy Redeemer has been my only church from day one,” Trinca said.
Trinca recalled the architectural changes and cultural changes over the years through the lens of the Church.
“When we had First Holy Communion, we were so small then that we had a large staircase going up to the (statue of the) Virgin Mary,” Trinca said. “We were all dressed up and would stand on the stairs. That in particular always struck me as being unique.”
Mary Anreder, a former parishioner who now lives in Joplin, Mo., attended the centennial celebration. Anreder was a parishioner from 2000 to 2018, and her children attended Holy Redeemer School until its closure.
“Seeing the church transform from a small … mission-style church … into the new church built several years ago … is very special to me and my family,” Anreder said. “It was delightful to see everybody again. … It was a delight to see people that have seen my children grow up from when they last saw them.”
Anreder and her friends from Holy Redeemer are still together in a prayer group chat where they keep in touch with one another.
“We call ourselves the Lenten Ladies, because we would get together during Lent to pray the rosary,” Anreder said. “I still text them regularly and ask for prayers when I need it. We talk about our children, because they all grew up together, even though we’re all different ages and have kids across the board. Holy Redeemer has been a center point of that group as well.”
Trinca said he looks back fondly on his faith life. When reflecting on the 100th anniversary, he said, “You just can’t put it into words. I was there when it was just a church, before we had our school there, back when we had nuns for teachers. … I was in the service overseas in Korea and when I came back, the church was still growing. … We have a community here. Some people helped by donating, some helped build the rest of the church. It’s perfect.”
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