Galveston’s diverse cultural heritage is what makes it a unique and interesting place to live. Early immigrants from various countries arriving here were processed at the Quarantine Station that was located at what is now Seawolf Park.

Similar to Ellis Island, it was a cacophony of languages and hustle as our new citizens were eager to get settled in their new country. The first Greeks are reported to have arrived on Galveston Island with Jean Lafitte and his crew, and it is written that a few came for a visit and stayed forever.

According to state archives, the 1860 census reported two Greek immigrants living in Texas. Twenty years later, the figure had risen to 37, and was concentrated in Galveston. In 1895, members of the island’s Greek community joined with the city’s Serbian, Russian and Syrian citizens to found Saints Constantine and Helen Orthodox Church, the first Eastern Orthodox church in Texas.

Years later, the Greek community decided to form its own congregation, Assumption of the Virgin Mary, and in April 1933, a parish board was organized to purchase the former Lutheran church on the corner of 19th Street. The old Lutheran community hall served for many years as a meeting place for the parishioners, as well as for church services. Over time, the parishioners improved the appearance of their church with beautiful icons, crystal chandeliers, altar, and other religious items, which remain intact today. The old frame community hall served for many years as a meeting place for parishioners, their social and fraternal organizations, the teaching of Greek, Sunday school classes, and for entertainment.

In 1951, a small fire scorched a portion of the floor and walls of the church, and as a result, the congregation decided to construct a new community center and later build a new church. In order to finance and maintain the new structure, the parish began hosting Greek festivals. On June 12, 1955, the cornerstone of the community center was laid, and the festivals continued to serve as the primary fundraiser for the church, as well as a way to introduce the community at large to Orthodox Christianity and Hellenism. To this day, services are held in both Greek and English and a Greek festival is presented in the fall of each year.

The families of Greek-American descent who make up this parish live in Galveston and on the mainland of Galveston County and continue to serve the community. The 34th annual Greek Festival will be from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Oct. 14 and noon to 6 p.m. Oct. 15 at 714 19th St. in Galveston. Please join us to enjoy authentic food and pastries, prepared in our kitchen, imported Greek wines and beer, take the opportunity to tour the sanctuary with Father Stelios Sitaras, parish priest, and by all means, try Greek dancing. It’s fun and burns calories. There is no party like a Greek party and we hope to see you at ours. Ya’Sou. There is no admission fee and proceeds from the event benefit Assumption church. For information, visit www.galvestongreekfestival.com.

Mary Jo Naschke is co-chair of the Galveston Greek Festival.

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