Deep faith of SE Texans leads to diocese
It was the summer of 1966 when Bishop John Morkovsky received the news that the eastern part of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston was to be separated out into a new diocese with the see city of Beaumont (town where the cathedral is located).
With this decision by Pope Paul VI the State of Texas would have 10 dioceses – five less than the current 15. This was the second diocese in the U.S. that the pope established after the closing of the Second Vatican Council.
Many considerations go into forming a new diocese.
“They look at the growth of the area, the culture, whether it can be self-sustaining and the deep faith of the people,” Bishop Curtis Guillory, SVD, said.
“A diocese should be able to minister to people on a more personal level,” he continued.
Many of these were in place in the 1960s.
Southeast Texas, along with the rest of the state, boomed after the discovery of oil at the beginning of the 20th century. And, this area of Southeast Texas east of Houston was culturally different than the Galveston/Houston area. The heaviest concentration of Catholic population was in Jefferson and Orange Counties. Much of that was from the influx of Cajuns from Southern Louisiana who crossed the Sabine River to look for work in the refineries.
With the growth in population and looking at the other items, the Diocese of Beaumont was established with Vincent M. Harris as the first bishop.
For Bishop Harris, being the first bishop of Beaumont wasn’t his only first – he was also the first native priest in the 119-year history of the Galveston-Houston Diocese to be named a bishop.
Since Beaumont was a new diocese, there was no cathedral yet. Bishop Harris was consecrated as founding bishop of Beaumont at St. Vincent de Paul Church, Houston on Sept. 28. The next day he was installed in St. Anthony Cathedral. The installation was attended by more than 500 including 38 archbishops and bishops and members of Bishop Harris’ family – his mother and brothers. The installation was carried on local television.
When the diocese began, 45 diocesan priests and 31 religious priests ministered to a Catholic population of 83,605. This ministry was spread over 13 complete counties and parts of Polk and Liberty Counties east of the Trinity River.
With the start of a new diocese, diocesan offices needed to be organized and a place to house those in ministry.
The former convent at St. Anthony School was chosen as the location and work started to remodel the former residence for religious sisters to make it into a pastoral center. Until it was completed, the bishop and ministries were located in the office building of George Brown, a Beaumont attorney.
As for the diocesan ministries, out of the 22 directors of ministries listed in the Official Catholic Directory for 1967 (which was the compilation of statistics for 1966), only one was a lay person – Douglas Williams, director of Diocesan Press. The others were priests.
These ministries included several that are still going strong after 50 years, such as Family Life (Father William Manger, director), Schools (Father James Vanderholt, superintendent) and Vocations (Father Marvin Enderle, director). Others have been incorporated into other offices or discontinued, for example, the Office for Motion
Pictures and the Catholic Nurses Guild with Father Francis Burlton director of both.
But whatever their ministry was, these men, led by Bishop Harris, set the foundation of the Beaumont Diocese and its ministry that is now nearing it’s 50 year birthday.