The town takes its name from Nuestra Señora del Refugio, the last Catholic mission established by Spanish Franciscan missionaries in 1793 to take Christ to the Karankawa Indians and bring the Karankawa to Christ.
During its first half-century of existence the mission and the town underwent constant upheaval. During this time, it went from being Spanish to Mexican to Texan and finally to American.
Through it all it remained Catholic.
After the original mission fell into disrepair and was abandoned, Irish Catholic settlers came into the area and, together with remaining Mexican Catholic families, revived the church as Our Lady of Refuge.
Later, in 1886, a second Catholic church was established in the small community and named St. James the Apostle. Today, although other Christian denominations have established churches in Refugio and an ecumenical spirit thrives, its Catholic identity remains strong.
But, Refugio’s modern identity is equally tied to its school’s exploits on the football field. Mention Refugio to any sports fan in Texas and immediately the comeback is “great football teams.” Indeed, the Refugio Bobcats have earned accolades far and wide for their success through the years, climaxing with their second state championship last year.
Bridging the town’s native and modern histories are five altar servers at Our Lady of Refuge, who also are members of the 2011 Bobcat state championship team. They are equally proud of their Catholic Christian faith and the faith they place on their fellow Bobcat team members.
“Almost all my teammates are Christians. We may not be of the same religion, but God plays a positive part in our lives and in the game,” 17-year-old senior defensive back Cameron Sternadel said. “I think without our faith in God we would not be the individuals and team we are today. We try to give our best in practice, in our games and in our everyday life.”
Sternadel, along with seniors John Wesley Shipp, Jack Gumm, Brett Davis and Colton Carroll, all proudly wear their state championship rings while they serve on the altar at Our Lady of Refuge on Sunday. Their pastor, Father Philip Panackal, is equally proud of them.
“These boys are loved by all and their presence at the altar makes a difference,” Father Panackal said. “They help the parish in all its activities and their leadership qualities are a great reward for our parish and the community. They are role models.”
Shipp, an all-state defensive lineman and altar server since the sixth grade, said he’s got “Father Phillip’s back no matter what.” He goes to Father Panackal for advise on Sunday, just as he does to his football coach during practice. When all is said and done, however, Shipp points to God for his and his team’s success.
“I wake up in the morning and I pray for giving me another day; I go to bed and I pray for giving me another safe day,” Shipp said. “He is really the main coach. Thanking Him and praying for Him for allowing you to do to the best of your ability. He is the main one in all of this.”
Gumm, who has been an altar server since he was six-years-old, credits his Catholic faith with helping him and his team’s success.
“As Catholics we learn not to judge, to see stuff from other people’s perspective. It keeps teammates together, dedicated to the team,” the strong outside linebacker said.
“We put a lot of time into altar serving,” said senior receiver Brett Davis who has been an altar server since he was in the fifth grade. “It is really important in our lives. It really has shaped us in a good, positive way. It has brought us closer in relationship to God as a team and as family.”