“I Knew What That Meant”
Lydia Luza Mousner has attended St. Joseph Catholic Church her entire life. In fact, generations of Luzas have been members of St. Joseph for nearly the entire history of the church, all 150 years. The journey for the first Luzas to get to the small Central Texas town of Bryan was, as Lydia describes, a circuitous one.
“My great-great grandparents, Baltazar and Francis Luza, left for the U.S. from a port in Germany in 1873,” Lydia says. While Lydia’s great-great grandmother was part German, the Luzas were Czech, but had no ethnic homeland to claim until the nation of Czechoslovakia was created after World War I. The ethnic Czechs lived in the region comprising the historical lands of Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia, and in the last half of the 19th century, those territories were ruled by the German Empire.
It was oppression and ethnic differences with this regime which led Baltazar Luza to pull up his roots as an owner of apricot orchards and lead his family to the prospect of a better life in America. From what Lydia knows, her great-great grandfather did not immigrate a destitute man. Many Czechs, Poles, and Italians did come to the United States as “indentured servants,” eventually settling in Central Texas, with little in the way of means. Although Lydia is hazy on the details, her Luza ancestors had the financial resources to carve out more than a meager existence in their new world.
“They first landed in New Orleans and then transferred for passage to the Port of Galveston,” Lydia says. “Their sights were always set on Brazos County, but neither Baltazar nor Francis spoke English, and they initially wound up in Burleson County, on the wrong side of the Brazos River from their intended destination. They bought land, raised cotton and corn, and then when a bridge over the Brazos River was finally part of which had been owned by Harvey Mitchell.”
That property was near what is today the Blinn College campus near East 29th Street and Villa Maria Road in Bryan. A piece of that same land was much later claimed under eminent domain for the construction of Lamar Junior High School by the Bryan Independent School District.
Today, people know Harvey Mitchell as the roadway which divides north and south College Station. The thoroughfare is named for the man considered to be the “Father of Brazos County.” But, Mitchell also deserves the title, “Father of Texas A&M University” for the key role he played in the decision to locate Texas’s land-grant college near the then-fledgling township of Bryan.
In buying Harvey Mitchell’s old property, a big, beautiful home came as part of the deal..” Lydia says. The Luzas used that home as a place for other Czech families, friends, and acquaintances could temporarily stay while settling in Central Texas.
Baltazar Luza had two sons, Jacob and Vincent. Jacob inherited his father’s entrepreneurial spirit and, according to Lydia, bought part interest in a cotton gin near downtown Bryan. “I’ve heard he also had a saloon there,” Lydia says, “but I haven’t been able to find any documents about that.” Vincent Luza had a son, also named Vincent: Vincent Aloysius Luza, Jr.. to be exact. He is Lydia’s grandfather. “‘VA’ is what everybody called him,” Lydia says.
“VA and his wife Cecilia had nine children, including a daughter named Mary, and a son named Joseph,” Lydia says. “With a ‘Mary’ and a ‘Joseph’ in the family, that tells you what staunch Catholics my grandfather’s family was. In fact, VA’s sister–also named Mary–has a grandson, Thomas Hanus, my third cousin, who attended St. Joseph School. He became a priest in 1960 and served as pastor for a time at St. Mary’s Church near the Texas A&M campus.”
In December of 1935, Cecilia Luza died in childbirth. Her baby, the last of her and VA’s nine children, also died. The loss of his daughter was too much for Cecilia’s father, Joseph Matous, to bear, and a month later he died. With family responsibilities mounting, VA and Cecilia’s oldest son, Charles, the third child, quit St. Joseph School in the seventh grade and began working full time.
“Charles is my father,” Lydia says. “My Dad was so affected by the loss of his mom that he felt a need to step up. Throughout his entire life, my father had a very good work ethic. He spent most of his time working as a carpenter. My parents met–my Mom’s maiden name was Lydia Fojtik–at my aunt’s wedding in 1940 at St. Joseph Church. The groom was my father’s first cousin.”
When plans were announced to celebrate St. Joseph’s sesquicentennial in 2023, Lydia Mousner was eager to be a part of the “history committee” for the occasion.
“I’ve done genealogy of my family for more than 40 years,” she says. “In doing so, I came to appreciate my own history and the journey my family endured to get me to where I am today.
“I hoped I could help the church uncover its ‘roots’ as well.”
Fruits of that labor are contained in Lydia’s treatise on the history of St. Joseph Church.In that work, Lydia writes:
The Czech and Polish immigrants began to arrive in 1873 and became the dominant nationalities of St. Joseph Church. Some of the first Czech parishioners were Baltizar and Frances Giebel Luza (1873), Frank and Frances Wymola (1878), and Frank Horak (1873), Vavra, Nemec, Vincent and Katherine Hanus, soon followed by Frank and Josephine Stasney, Jacob and Victoria Shramek, Joseph and Mary Leskovjan Kopesky, Joseph and Mary Kalinec, and Skopik, Lanicek, and Brandesky families.
Some of the first Polish families were Antoni Krezesinski (1873), Wincenty Kapczynsky (1873), Piotr Chmielewski (1874), Ludwik Staszewski (1874), J. Andrzej Grabowski (1874), Jozef Bulmanski (1874) and Franciszek Bulmanski (1874, Victor Kochanowicz “Kotch” (1880), Jan
Borucki (1882), John Kosh (1885), Frank Kosh (1885) and Florian Stec (1887). By 1909 there were 70 Polish families living in the county.
Most of these first families were farmers. These immigrants came to Texas through the Port of Galveston and settled in Brazos County, Texas. There are several descendants of these first families who are still members of St. Joseph today.
Like three generations of family before her, Lydia grew up in Bryan. She was born in Hearne, Texas, but only because her mother’s doctor was located there. At the age of four, Lydia and her parents moved to a farm near Dime Box, in Lee County. Her father bought the property using funds from the GI Bill after his service in World War II. Four years later, in 1954, the Luzas moved back to Bryan and Lydia was enrolled into the second grade at St. Joseph School.
“It was a little strange at first going to church all the time,” Lydia says, reflecting back on her childhood years attending parochial school. “But quickly, I took a liking to that because it meant we could go and talk to Jesus every day before we started school.
Lydia also remembers when Sister Rita, the school principal, visited her class in the third grade.
“She asked if any of us were nine years old,” Lydia says. “I was the only one to raise my hand. When she saw me, she said, ‘You’re going to be confirmed in two weeks. You need to get ready and pick a saint’s name.’”
Lydia’s mother put together a plan. Lydia’s Aunt Grace would be her sponsor and she would be confirmed under the name, Bernadette.
“I didn’t know who Saint Bernadette was. Couldn’t even spell the name!” Lydia laughs. “I had to read a book about her. My siblings never had to read a book when they were confirmed, but I’m glad I did.”
Confirmation is a much longer process now with Sister Rita long departed from St. Joseph School.
After eighth grade, Lydia moved into the Bryan Public Schools.
“We were like birds out of a cage,” Lydia says of attending Lamar Junior High School. “The students that came from public school seemed to always think that kids from St. Joseph were all very smart. I think a lot of the teachers thought that, too. Some of us were, some were not. But, we had a pretty good reputation in that regard.
“Some of the girls in school at that age kind of went wild,” Lydia continues. “I remember one girl in ninth grade, she didn't go to St. Joseph School, but she did go to St. Joseph Church. She had a boyfriend and once I asked her, ‘Do y'all kiss when you go out?’ She answered, ‘Well, yes, of course.’ To me that was so foreign for somebody who was just 14 years old. I couldn't understand that!”
But, Lydia is reminded: Those were the Sixties, albeit, the very early Sixties. Lydia graduated from junior high school in May of 1961.
In high school, at the old Stephen F. Austin High School, Lydia took a great liking to school dances, and for good reason. Music was a part of her Czech DNA.
“My parents loved dancing. They always loved dancing. My dad was a musician. He played accordion, fiddle, and guitar. He'd been wounded in World War II, shot in the leg. He spent about 18 months in the hospital. They wanted to cut off his leg, but he wouldn’t let them do that. He suffered a lot after that, but even with that injury, he and Mom would go dancing on Saturday nights, and a lot of the time they took us kids. But then when he came home, I'd see him sitting on the side of his bed, the shoe off his foot. He was just sitting there, and I could see the intense pain on his face.”
During high school, another “Charles” entered Lydia’s life.
“Charles Hebron was a friend of one of my brothers,”. Lydia says. “One Saturday morning, he dropped by the house, and for me, it was love at first sight! Even though we attended Stephen F. Austin together, I’d never noticed him in the halls, until after I met him at our house.
“He was a year older than me and, admittedly, it took him a little longer to come around to my way of thinking regarding the prospects of us becoming a couple. He was also a Catholic–he attended St. Joseph with his parents–and eventually we started dating. Over time, it became sort of an on-again, off-again kind of deal, but I always hoped that he would be the one.”
After graduating high school in May 1965, Lydia went to a business college in Austin, while Charles enlisted in the United States Air Force. The year was 1965, and U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War–although it was not yet called a “war”–was escalating. While in Austin, Lydia lived with an aunt and uncle there who encouraged her to “get out and go do things with other people.” Missing Charles, Lydia didn’t. Soon she was homesick, and moved back to Bryan, doing her best to sustain her relationship with Charles while he was serving his country.
In June of 1966, Lydia Luza and Charles Hebron were married at St. Joseph Church.
“We had a beautiful Czech wedding,” Lydia says. “It was a lot of fun. Father Valenta officiated. He had taken us through our pre-marital counseling. He was so gentle and caring. I remember thinking at the time, ‘How does he know all this stuff? He’s a priest. He’s never been married.
“He told us we should keep God at the center of our lives and always put each other first.”
The newly-married couple soon took up residence in a small apartment in Sherman, Texas. Charles was stationed nearby at Perrin Air Force Base. Lydia did her best to make their accommodations a home, and she took a job at a local shoe store. Then, in September the news came that Lydia had feared and they both knew was inevitable: Charles would be deployed for duty in Vietnam the following March.
“I was crushed,” Lydia says, “but I couldn't say anything. In those next five or six months, we went to church a lot, both in Sherman and at the base. After he left, I moved back home and went to work in the administrative office at Parker-Astin, the department store in Downtown Bryan.
As part of military police operations, Charles was mostly responsible for maintaining internal base security. He was stationed at Tan Son Nhut, a major Vietnamese air facility used by all branches of the American military during the war. Located near Saigon, the base was frequently targeted by the Viet Cong, and multiple attacks before Charles’s arrival there resulted in the loss of American lives.
After nine months in country, Charles earned a furlough from duties. He arranged for Lydia to join him in Hawaii for his week of “rest and relaxation.” That was December of 1967.
“He was glad to get away from the stress,” Lydia says. “The week went by way too fast. We didn’t talk much about the war, but Charles told me he believed in the U.S. mission there, and thought it was always better to fight on foreign land instead of at home.”
Throughout his time at Tan Son Nhut, Charles called Lydia whenever he could. “He’d call collect,” Lydia says, “but that’s just the way it was. We always had nice conversations and those chats kind of kept me going.”
A month or so after Charles returned to duty from his Hawaiian furlough, a telephone conversation he had with Lydia alarmed her.
“He called on a Sunday and fortunately I was home from church,” Lydia says. “I taught religious education every Sunday morning. I had been hearing news on television of the possibility of an impending cease fire because of the upcoming holiday celebrating the Vietnamese New Year. He told me that Americans monitoring the enemy’s radio communications had heard chatter about a planned offensive at about that time. ‘We don’t know if it’s true or not,’ he told me, ‘but we’re on alert and I’m going to have to work until this all blows over.’
“Otherwise, it was just another one of our really nice conversations.”
When Lydia’s moved back to Bryan, she moved in with Charles’s parents. One day, as she was sorting through her husband’s clothes, Lydia’s mother-in-law, Louise Hebron, came into her bedroom. Out of the blue, she told Lydia, “You might as well put those in the attic. He’s not coming home.”
Lydia was infuriated at those words. “I was so angry that she could even think something like that,” Lydia says. “His tour of duty was set to end in March of ’68, and along with our calls, that prospect kept me going.”
Sergeant Charles Hebron was killed in action at Tan Son Nhut Air Base on January 31, 1968, during the Viet Cong’s Tet Offensive assault, named for the Vietnamese New Year, “Tết Nguyên Đá,”which translates to “festival of the first day.” Hebron was one of 22 Americans killed during the attack.
“I had moved from my in-laws into an apartment with my younger brother,” Lydia says today. “He was having some problems with our parents, and I moved in to try to help him out.
“The night after Charles was killed, I got a phone call from Colonel Vernon Head, who was with the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets. He told me, simply, my mother-in-law wanted me to come to her house right away.
“I knew what that meant.
“My brother begged me to let him come, but I went over alone. As soon as I walked in the door and saw the looks of grief and utter despair on my in-laws faces, I fainted, even before hearing the news. When I came to and Colonel Head said what he had to say, I walked over to the phone and called my parents.”
Charles’s funeral Mass was held at St. Joseph Church on February 8, 1968. His body was laid to rest in the church’s Mount Calvary Cemetery in Bryan.
Lydia eventually returned to Austin and continued her business school education. There, she met another airman, Edward McCartney. They married, and in March of 1969, in an ironic twist of fate, Edward was deployed to Tan Son Nhut. A flight-line mechanic, Edward served out his full tour of duty without harm. In December of 1971, Edward was transferred to Bitburg, West Germany, and he and Lydia lived there, on the free side of the “Iron Curtain” near the Luxembourg border, for more than three and a half years. Their first son, Chad, was born at Bitburg Air Base in February of ’74. Edward left the Air Force the next year after returning from West Germany, and in 1975, went to work at Texas A&M. Two more sons were born in the Bryan/College Station area, Brandon in 1977 and Dusty in 1983. Both were baptized at St. Joseph Church.
Lydia and Edward divorced in 1986. She remarried in 1991, and her third husband, Robert Mousner, died in 2013.
Through it all, Lydia today remains upbeat, positive, and a vibrant force on the St. Joseph 150th Anniversary history committee.
“The church has meant a lot to me in my lifetime and given me a lot to be thankful for,” she says. “Helping to tell its history is a fitting way for me to honor my lifetime church home.”