MELISSA MACATEE Author & Photojournalist Steeples of Texas
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Linda Faulkner Johnston
August 9, 2018
Melissa Macatee, author of Steeples of Texas.
She would notice them on trips from Dallas to Austin as a little girl – steeples with finials over the treetops. That fascination would only increase for native Dallasite Melissa Macatee, leading to her debut book, Steeples of Texas.

“The finials on top of the steeples are all different – they are works of art!” said Melissa with her quiet energy. “Most are crosses and have been up for 100 years or more. They are part of our Texas history, and many were created by hand.”

Producing the book was a natural for this photojournalist, who has been photographing sports events (Highland Park High School, the Cotton Bowl) and portraits for the last 15 years. Just a year into her work as a professional photographer, she decided to produce the book.

“I grew up at Southwestern and Hillcrest and live not far from there now,” said Melissa. “My husband, George, and I love road trips – it opens up a new world! I’ve always adored little towns, and when we would travel and see a church, I would say, ‘I’ve got to start taking pictures.” 

She researched the project for ten years using a spreadsheet in Dropbox and Google Maps to find the most beautiful churches – a variety of denominations. “I would walk with the little man!” said Melissa about Google. Then in the spring of 2015, she photographed her first church. The process took two-and-a-half years – and her family was “all in” with her.

“My first big trip was with George. He said ‘OK, let’s go!’ We went from Dallas to Austin, and it took eight hours while we went to Tours, Bartlett, and Bastrop. ‘Stop the car!’ I’d say.” Subsequent trips with her husband included San Antonio, Big Bend, and Terlingua.

Her daughter, McBride, found a wonderful church while she was driving toward Camp Mystic. Melissa “bribed” her son, Stuart, to go to Shiner, Texas, by promising a trip to the Shiner Brewery. “But we also went to the south side of San Antonio to Losoya, with roots to the Battle of Medina. A man who was a boy at the Battle of the Alamo is buried at the historic church there.”

Thus, the book captures some of the history of Texas and of buildings that may not be here in future years, she says. “The people were strong! These churches survived hurricanes, tornados, lightening. Some are weathered, some are tilted, like the church at Bastrop.”

Many of the most beautiful were built by Polish and German immigrants, who created places of worship to look like those in their native countries. “These immigrant church homes were central to their lives and housed their schools,” she said, noting St. Peter Lutheran Church in Plum, Texas.

This entire interview is punctuated with names of towns with churches she loves. “The church at Rockdale, abandoned – but so peaceful. Dodson Prairie – you open a cattle gate to drive in – and there is nothing around this simple, Catholic church. Cestohowa – Polish immigrants landed in Galveston and walked 200 miles to settle there!”

Melissa connected with noted Dallas photographer Laura Wilson, after Laura spoke at the Dallas Woman’s Club (where Melissa just recently spoke). Laura asked to see her photos. “When she saw them, she told me I had to publish, and she pointed me to the graphic artist who would lay it out – Darren Weirich.”

At the beginning of the project, she told her husband, “I’m going to do this, even if no one buys it.”

She sold out in five weeks and went into a second printing.

When asked “What is your favorite?”, she shot back, “They are like your children – you can’t have favorites!” Then she waxes eloquent about two more – one being Mission Mary in Balmorhea.

“It’s all about the steeples,” said Melissa, “about the artistry that sits atop the trees.”

To purchase Steeples of Texas, go to www.steeplesoftexas.com, or visit Logos Book Store or St. Michael’s Woman’s Exchange in Dallas.

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