St. Raphael - EST. 1967
2301 Zanzibar, El Paso, Texas 79925
St. Raphael Parish
El Paso – 1967
St. Raphael Church was established in 1966 as a mission of St. Pius X after a census revealed 800 Catholic families living in east El Paso. The first church, now the parish hall, was constructed that year. Fathers Ed Erzen and Bill Steffen served as pastors until the mission was decreed a parish on August 15, 1967 by Bishop Metzger. Rev. Richard J. Arlt was appointed the first resident priest beginning on December 1, 1967.
Bishop Peña dedicated St. Raphael Catholic Church on December 23, 1979. The St. Raphael Women’s Guild, formed in March 1969, donated the hand-carved wooden statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary that is in the church. From the community’s beginning, the religious formation program has worked to move children to know, love, and honor their Catholic heritage. The Adult Choir was formed in 1971 under the direction of Mary Maly Burdett. Since then, the Music Ministry at St. Raphael Church has grown to include various groups providing music at Sunday Masses. Other parish groups include the Knight of Columbus, Catholic Daughters of the Americas, and St. Vincent de Paul. The parish has been served by several priests including Monsignor A. Dixon Hartford, Father Robert Getz, and Father Stephen Peters. In 1986, Monsignor Francis J. Smith became the pastor and was appointed Vicar General for the Diocese by Bishop Peña. Over the years, the congregation has grown from 400 families to more than 3,000 today. The parish, which includes a shrine for the unborn, is a strong advocate for the sanctity of life.
The beginnings of St. Raphael School date to 1967 when a preschool was opened at the parish for four-year olds. Mrs. Lilia Crow was the first teacher and remained at the preschool until May 1976. In September 1977, Mrs. Elizabeth Wiehe accepted the position of teacher. She built the school into one of the premier Catholic schools in El Paso first as teacher and then as principal beginning in 1990 until her death in 2011. In 1980, St. Raphael School was transformed from a preschool to an accredited kindergarten and in 1981 the school offered a first grade with authorization to expand through the third grade. Ron Cromwell became the lead teacher and the staff consisted of Elizabeth Wiehe, Cathy Pynes and Marty Samaniego. Additional grades were added in subsequent years until all eight grades were offered by the end of the 1980s. At first classes were held in rooms adjacent to the parish hall and portable classrooms. In September 1986, the new school building was dedicated. Today, the parochial school has an enrollment of 520 students.
The words of the first history committee for St. Raphael Parish in 1979 still apply today: “In writing the annals of a parish history, whether it covers many or few years, the complete story can never really be told. Our monuments could never speak it and an abundance of words, even the most descriptive would fail. The real history will be one of souls, souls living forever with God in happiness.”