Vatican’s ‘Supreme Court’ Rules Shuttered Sixth Ward Church Must Reopen, But It Hasn’t Yet

Note: This story has been updated to note that the church is located in Sixth Ward, not First.

In April, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura — the highest judicial body in the Catholic Church — issued a ruling direct from Rome to the corner of Silver and Center streets, reports the Chronicle’s Lisa Gray: St. Stephen Church, across from Platypus Brewing, would be required to reopen. (It wasn’t until the fall that members of the church found out, though, seeing as “the Vatican doesn’t just post its rulings on the web. Its documents are in Latin, and are not made public,” Gray writes.) The church’s 1941 brick building had been boarded up since closing in 2016, around which time Lovett Commercial — the owner of the strip housing Platypus and neighboring retail — announced plans to redevelop some of St. Stephen’s parking and expressed interest in buying the church itself, according to congregants.


But its 900 members — most of them low-income Latino immigrants and their relatives — didn’t quite mesh with those of nearby St. Joseph Church that Houston’s archdiocese arranged for them to join. Back in the day, “St. Joseph, with its German congregation, was clearly a white church,” writes Gray, “Latinos weren’t welcome at either its Mass or its school.”

After a few rounds of fundraising, appeals, and — for one die-hard parishioner — 2 trips to Rome helped prompt the Vatican’s verdict, the archdiocese is now mulling “how to untangle the finances, how to staff both churches, how to get St. Stephen’s boarded-up building ready for the public.” But it hasn’t given any timeline for those to-dos yet, reports Gray.

Congregants however, “note that canon law requires a church to be open to the public on the feast day of the saint it’s named for.” Too bad though: St. Stephen’s Day is today, December 26, and the building’s main entrance remains blocked off by fencing.

It’s been decked out recently by those looking to get back inside:

Photos: Avi Schwarzschild

Divine Intervention

8 Comment

  • This is like watching a fight between fans of the original Lord Of The Rings and the Hobbit spinoffs. The stories are just as real.

  • Re: Canon Law
    A small spelling correction for “cannon law”, which sounds like compliance by the barrel of artillery, versus “canon law” which is a bit more genteel.
    Since the church violated its own canon law, what is the punishment? Ten Hail Marys? Closure of the closed church? (just kidding around).

  • this is in 6th ward. according to absolutely everything (old ward boundaries / TIRZ that invests in the area / residents)… Please correct. The first article got it wrong and the bad information is spreading…

  • I am Catholic and it sure sounds to me like the Vatican is promoting racism.

  • One would think with the classical education HISD provides its students most would have been able to read the original Vatican announcement in Latin.

  • Tell the Pope to start paying taxes then he can dictate real estate moves.

  • @6th Ward Guy, everything I read on the Wards indicate that this church, which is north of Washington Ave on Center St, was in the First Ward. The Sixth Ward was bounded on the north by Washington Ave.

    The Wards were first created in 1840 and originally there were only 4. Main and Congress served as the meeting point of the 4 wards. The First Ward was everything North of Congress and West of Main. The Fourth Ward (important since the Sixth Ward was created from the Fourth Ward) was everything South of Congress and West of Main. Congress/Preston/Franklin basically all converge west of the bayou and form Washington Ave. So one can see how Washington Ave is the boundary between the First and Fourth Wards, from 1840 until the Sixth Ward was created in 1876.

    Since the Sixth Ward was created from the Fourth Ward, you have to assume that its Northern Boarder was the same of Fourth Ward’s original northern boarder, Washington Ave.

  • @ Robert Rutherford: you are correct that Congress Street was used as a boundary in the ward system, but that boundary, extended, does not run along Washington Avenue. It instead runs well north of Washington. A look at 1913 and 1920 maps of Houston that designate the wards shows this. Here’s a link to the 1920 map:
    The upshot: that church is 6th Ward, not 1st.