The Painted Churches of Texas

Behind the Scenes

THE PAINTED CHURCHES OF TEXAS, ECHOES OF THE HOMELAND is a moving examination of Texas churches painstakingly decorated with murals and designs reflecting the culture of Czech and German immigrants. The documentary was filmed in many of these American marvels and the details of the painting style and history are closely examined.
Caretaker Ben Polpelka and Father Alan Oakes review history of Praha church.
The documentary was directed by award-winning filmmaker Tom Spencer. Spencer and Executive Producer Father Alan Oakes coordinated the filmmaking and research that went into telling the story of these remarkable churches.

The documentary presents the history of these unique structures through lush, colorful images of the churches themselves and through the word of the people who built them. By incorporating the texts of letters, diaries, and even photos of original settlers, as well as narrative from their living descendants and historians, THE PAINTED CHURCHES OF TEXAS draws viewers into these unique houses of worship.

For a more intimate view of the filmmaking check On the Road with Father Alan.
This hour-long documentary will present the history of these unique structures through lush, colorful images of the churches themselves and through the words of the people who built them. THE PAINTED CHURCHES OF TEXAS will draw its viewers into the stories of these unique houses of worship.

Czech wagonThe documentary takes a look at how the political and economic climate of Central Europe in the mid-19th century prompted tens of thousands of Germans, Moravians, and Bohemians to leave their native land, and how the promise of abundant, cheap, and fertile land drew many to Central Texas. The new communities that formed were fiercely independent and passionate about preserving their cultural heritage. Churches were among the first structures the communities built and they served as centers of social and cultural as well as religious activity. With their fine craftsmanship and ornate decoration these buildings were bold proclamations of the young communities' faith and cultural pride.

Use this Web site to unlocks the mystery of the symbols that abound in these churches. For example, what does the resting lamb represent in St. Mary's in High Hill? Why is the image of an ornate church painted on the back wall of the Assumption of St. Mary's in Praha sanctuary? Who is the little girl depicted in the stained glass window in the sanctuary of St. Mary's in Fredericksburg?

Father Alan Oakes, C.S.P., associate pastor of Saint Austin Catholic Church in Austin, is the executive producer of the documentary. Father Oakes has worked on more than 200 television commercials as well at feature films and television programs before he entered the Novitiate for the Paulist Fathers. Filming Painted Churches this summer in Fredericksburg.

"I felt a unique call to serve Christ as a priest working in communications," he said. "Being a Paulist Father, I am able to use media to evangelize in a powerful way."

Tom Spencer, filmmaker and director of the documentary, has spent most of his career producing quality television programs for KLRU, public television in Austin. He also hosts CENTAL TEXAS GARDENER and AUSTIN AT ISSUE, KLRU's weekly public affairs program. Tom was also part of a team who developed a series of programs about Austin's history called AUSTIN REMEMBER WHEN.

The crew  sets up for filming. Father Oakes is particularly enthusiastic about this documentary, "I first heard about the painted churches of Texas from Bishop John McCarthy. Once I had visited the churches in High Hill, Praha, Dubina and Ammansville, I was hooked. My mom’s side of the family is Czech so I felt immediately at home in these churches."

"Yet they were so much more beautiful and colorful than the churches of the upper Midwest, where my family is from. I had to learn more about the churches and the people who built them.

I teamed up with Susan Kaderka, a member of Saint Austin Parish, who is a wonderful writer and researcher. As we learned more, we thought the churches and the heritage they represent would make for a fascinating and beautiful documentary. KLRU agreed and linked us up with Tom Spencer, an on-camera personality and director/producer at PBS’s Austin affiliate, KLRU. It turns out Tom also had a love for the churches and had a whole photo album of pictures he had taken while visiting them. I felt the Holy Spirit was putting us together to create this program."

Susan Kaderka, Father Alan Oakes, Tom Spencer and Buie Harwood complete work on Painted Churches.    Tom Spencer prepares a shot for the documentaty.
Susan Kaderka, Fr. Alan Oakes, Tom Spencer and Buie Harwood
discuss the project.
Tom Spencer prepares a shot for the documentary.

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