June 24, 2022, was an exciting day for the faith community at Sacred Heart of Jesus in Rusk, as the former mission was elevated to parish on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The community celebrated with Mass where Father Jorge Dinguis was installed as the first pastor of the new parish. The Mass was followed by a community potluck to celebrate the occasion.

Humble beginnings

Sacred Heart of Jesus Mission in Rusk was originally founded in 1906, but it was closed in 1945. 

In September 1995, the Catholic community in Rusk was invited to a meeting with Bishop Edmond Carmody, the second bishop of the Diocese of Tyler, to discuss the re-establishment of the mission. Bishop Carmody was influential in establishing missions throughout the diocese. At the time, Catholics in the Rusk area traveled to Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Jacksonville to attend Mass.

After discerning the need for a church in Rusk, the first Mass was scheduled for Oct. 22, 1995. Because the mission did not have a church building yet, the First Christian Church in Rusk allowed the Sacred Heart community to use their building for Sunday Masses and faith formation.

Luti Ortega, remembers driving out to Jacksonville before the mission was re-established in Rusk and being excited about the new mission. “Rusk was smaller and more homey,” she said, as she reminisced on the early days of getting the mission up and running. 

For two years, the Catholic community in Rusk shared the building with First Christian Church under the leadership of Father Sebastian Kallarackal, a Carmelite priest who served as the first priest-in-charge of the re-established mission.  

Bishop Carmody and Fr. Sebastian in 1996.

Beth Long, a parishioner of Sacred Heart who has been with the parish from that first meeting with Bishop Carmody in 1995, expressed a deep gratitude the community had for First Christian Church. 

They soon purchased land, built a new building, and in 1997, the Sacred Heart Community moved into their current church building.

A united community

If you were to use one word to describe Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, it would be “community.” With both English and Spanish speakers, the community has come together to support the mission, making it possible to stand on its own as a parish.

Father Dinguis was made the first pastor of the new parish after serving the community for the past five years. Father Dinguis explained that everything at the parish is supported by volunteers in the community. The parish does not hire anyone to fulfill needs. 

Fr. Jorge Dinguis after being installed as the first pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Rusk.

“We know our people. The people unite together and take care of the parish,” Father Dinguis said.

When things need to get done in the parish, the community comes together. From faith formation and sacramental preparation to building maintenance, cleaning, painting, and more. 

The community has also hosted many fundraisers to support the parish. Food sales are quite popular at the parish, including tamales made by Mrs. Martha Panuco, the wife of Deacon Ignacio Panuco.

Not only does the community work together to provide for the church, they also party together.

“People sometimes call me a party animal,” Father Dinguis said. “It’s good to have bilingual Masses, but you have to have community. I see it as an extension of the Eucharist. Let’s get together for a meal.” At Sacred Heart, both the Spanish- and English-speaking communities come together for these meals.

“It’s all about encountering the other,” Father Dinguis said.

Proud to finally be a parish

After 27 years as a mission growing and supporting itself, Sacred Heart of Jesus is finally a parish.

Father Dinguis is glad. “There needs to be a stable Catholic presence. There will always be prisoners and those in the mental hospital, they are our parishioners, too,” he said, referring to the local prison and Rusk State Hospital.

“We’re so proud we’re finally getting elevated to a parish,” Beth Long explained. “We’ve worked so hard!”

For more pictures from the installation Mass, visit the Diocese of Tyler Flickr.