St. Barbara's Catholic Church
By Frank Chamberlain
Most of the miners who worked in Thurber were Catholics from Eastern Europe. Therefore, St. Barbara’s Catholic Church was among the most important buildings in town. It originally stood on the northwest end of town, at the foot of Graveyard Hill. The church was moved to nearby Mingus after the mines shut down in the 1930s. It was located on a Mingus lot until 1993 when it was moved back to Thurber. St. Barbara’s Church remains one of the few surviving structures still standing in Thurber..
The church building was constructed in 1892, and was originally named “St. Thuribus.” This name was probably selected because it resembled the name of the town. The name was soon renamed in honor of St. Barbara, a 2nd century martyr who became known as the patron saint of miners.
Like the other buildings in Thurber, this church was owned by the T&P Company. However, company officials did not charge rental fees for usage of the church. The company also paid the salaries of the priests. This wages also included the rent for the parsonage, room and board, and a livery stable. Although the company appeared to be in a position of authority, there is no indication that there was any interference in church affairs [Rhinehart 60-61].
The Sisters of the Incarnate Ward of San Antonio established Hunter Academy in 1894. This building was located in the immediate proximity to the church house. The nuns taught regular and night classes at this school. They also offered English classes for the foreign born students. This school closed in 1923.
In the 1930s, the coal mines closed and many Thurber citizens left town. With this decline in membership, St. Barbara’s was moved to nearby Mingus in 1937. The building was cut into two halves for transportation purposes, and then reattached upon arrival. Church services continued to be held here until 1970. In 1993, the church was restored and moved back to Thurber. It does not sit in its original location. Instead, it now sits on at the base of New York Hill and hosts periodic services.
Unless otherwise noted, all information in this article is from Leo S. Bielinski, “St. Barbara’s Church At Thurber,” unpublished paper, May 1994.