St. Joseph's Cathedral in the Cotton Patch near Munday, Texas
In 2000, when I still lived by the beach in Southern California my mom called me as she often did, waking me at 4 or 5 AM because living out in North West Texas she never remembered the two-hour time difference.
“I’ve always wanted to see the church in the cotton patch,” she began.
“What hell are you talking about?”
“Don’t curse. It’s so unladylike. Yes, there is this Catholic Church out in a cotton patch near Munday [Texas]. I’ve always wanted to see it and your father would never take me there. Can you come home and take me there?”
My mom was always dreaming up some excuse to get me to drive 1,100 miles to see her. On average, I made 5 trips back home every year--often only for a few days.
At the time I worked as a free-lance technical writer and was between projects. My next project was not due to start for 10 days so I agreed to come take her to St. Joseph’s in the cotton patch. Even to this day mass is still held there 7 days a week. It is known as “The Cathedral in the Cotton Patch”. I had never heard of it until my mom mentioned it.
Although the church is literally in the middle of a cotton patch, technically the church is located in Rhineland, Texas but Rhineland, like most of the small towns in rural North West Texas is almost a ghost town. As of the 2000 census, less than 100 people live in Rhineland, so few that it is no longer considered a town and is now incorporated into nearby Munday, Texas.
The church was built by hand, including all the bricks being made by the locals starting in 1927. It was built to replace the previous church which was built in the late 1800’s as more and more German-Catholics moved into the area.
After getting directions from a woman in Munday at Allsups Convenience Store, we drove out to the cotton patch where the church is located. Indeed, it is quite lovely and unexpected as its spire rises up out of a cotton patch.
The windows in the nave of St. Joseph's Church depict central events in the life of Christ, such as His birth, His transfiguration, and His crucifixion. The windows in the sanctuary represent bread and wine themes found both in the Old and the New Testaments. Windows in the sacristy are, in the choir loft, and in the facade of the church represent important saints in the life of the church and in the life of the Rhineland community, such as St. Isidore, Patron of farmers, and St. Benedict, founder of the Benedictines.
My mom and I were walking around, reading the tombstones in the small cemetery connected to the church when the sky darkened with literally millions of Monarch butterflies. They descended on the church and the graveyard. They were in our hair, on our clothes--everywhere.
It felt like some supernatural event, but of course it wasn’t. Apparently, St. Joseph’s church is located in the migratory path of the Monarch butterfly on its way to Mexico for the winter.
It was fun at first, but then it got creepy as I realized we literally had insects crawling all over us so we got back in the car and watched them from there for a while. Then we headed back home.
After that, I read up on Monarch butterflies and have had a special affinity with them ever since. Over the years I’ve rescued somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 caterpillars. The most memorable was one that I rescued from our Garland Community Garden in late November of 2015. The poor thing was clinging to a dried-up milkweed leaf. Lucky for it. I had some milkweed growing on the south side of my house that was still green. We kept her alive and she completed her metamorphism into a butterfly on Christmas Eve.
But we kept having cold snaps and Monarch Butterflies get very lethargic and have difficulty flying when it is below 50 degrees F. Finally, after two weeks of waiting for the weather to get warmer, Charlie and I drove all the way to a preserve that is just west of Brownsville where we released her in early January of 2016. Yes, she was a female and yes, that’s how far I will go for a Monarch Butterfly. To me they are symbols of the fragility of nature that we must respect and protect. And they have a deep connection to a fond memory of me and my mother.