Continuing growth for the second decade
By Karen Gilman
The second decade of the Diocese of Beaumont dawned with continued growth in parishes and in ministries.
One of the more visible signs of the growth in ministries was the establishment of the Permanent Diaconate.
In making the announcement in 1976, Bishop Warren Boudreaux said, “the restoration of the permanent diaconate seems especially opportune for our time and for the needs of the modern world. I’m happy to encourage the growth of the program in our diocese. The permanent diaconate is a vocation in itself, a call from God and the Church.”
The first class traveled one weekend a month to Longview where they trained in a three-year program set up by the Diocese of Dallas. Father Pat Turner was the first director of the program.
The first ordination for permanent deacons for the Beaumont Diocese was May 26, 1979, at St. Anthony Cathedral. Though the permanent diaconate was started by Bishop Boudreaux, he left Southeast Texas in May 1977 to become the founding bishop of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux in Louisiana. Bishop Bernard Ganter, who was installed as the third bishop of Beaumont Dec. 13, 1977, ordained them.
Members of this class were Ernest Cole, Vernon Drummond, Neil Lewis, George Reynolds and Dow Wynn. They and their wives were all active members of their parishes and the deacons went on to serve for many years in Southeast Texas.
Dominican Father Dan Shanahan guided the second permanent deacon class which saw 18 men ordained June 18 and 19, 1983. This group had its classes locally with courses taught by Father Shanahan and other priests as needed. Members of this class were Robert Brock, Oscar Chapman, Woodle Cone, Roy Cormier, Jack Dinkins, Edwin Falleur, Roy Garcia, James Gard, W.B. Goudeau, William Holtman, Hazen Kenney, Nolen Landry, Bob Martin, Stronnie McBride, Tom McKinney, Joseph Mitchell, Paul Rachal and Jesus Reyes.
When Bishop Ganter took over in Southeast Texas, he not only saw that the Permanent Diaconate was strengthened, he strengthened several other ministries in the diocese. A parish renewal program began in 1978. Bishop Ganter also formed a diocesan finance board. This pre-dated the revised Code of Canon Law that mandated that each parish have a finance committee.
Father Bill Manger, who was pastor of St. Mary, Orange, was instrumental in getting the Southeast Texas Hospice organized in Orange. He was also elected to the board of directors of the National Hospice Organization in 1978 and later received the 1989 Founder’s Award.
In 1980 much of the economy of Southeast Texas was supported by the oil industry. The economic future of the area looked good until a worldwide downturn in the industry caused a rippling decline throughout the area. In less than two years, Jefferson, Hardin and Orange Counties lost more than 10,000 permanent jobs. Refineries modernized and laid off thousands and ship yards closed.
The parishioners in Southeast Texas, however, continued to be generous and faithful. One of the biggest projects in the diocese’s first 20 years was the construction of Holy Family Retreat Center. HFRC was to be a second spiritual home for the Catholic of Southeast Texas. Ground was broken in 1983 and the retreat center was dedicated April 14, 1985, by Archbishop Patrick Flores with several bishops of Texas participating. In its first year it was host to more than 36,000.
Catholic health care increased in the 1980s with a major addition to St. Mary Hospital in Port Arthur, a $23 million south wing, and a $27.5 million expansion project at St. Elizabeth Hospital, Beaumont. The $3.6 million Mamie McFadden Ward Cancer Treatment Center in Beaumont also opened to serve Southeast Texas.
Education and formation is a vital part of continuing the faith. The Office of Continuing Education was started in 1984. Clergy and religious were invited to workshops and retreats to further their education. In September 1985 the diocese began its Catholic Biblical School, a comprehensive study of Bible for adults. To get it started Roger and Marianne Staubach of Dallas were invited to the opening liturgy to give witness to the meaning of the Bible in their lives. About 600 participated in the first year of classes that were held throughout the diocese. The second year participation grew to 2,000.
A first for the diocese happened in 1986 – which was actually a couple firsts. Holy Spirit Mission was established in Kountze, the first Catholic building in town. It was also the first Catholic community in the diocese to be administered by a woman religious. Dominican Sister Bernita Hessling was named administrator of the mission. The pastor of Infant Jesus, Lumberton, was named sacramental minister.
Later that year Our Lady Queen of Peace Park and Shrine was completed at Queen of Vietnam Parish in Port Arthur.