Diocese of Beaumont – the first 10
The Mass that marked the beginning of the Diocese of Beaumont in September 1966 was just the first step of many through the past almost 50 years. Ministries had to be established and programs started.
Many of the diocesan ministries already had a blueprint. Since the Beaumont Diocese was part of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, those who began working in the Beaumont ministry offices had a basis for the ministry – and someone not too far away to call.
One of Bishop Vincent Harris’ first appointments was Father William Manger as director of Family Life – also known as the Christian Life Center. Its mission was to affirm, educate and support families, family members and church leaders in what it means to be a Christian family. He continued some of the programs but also started new ones. Father Manger began neighborhood marriage enrichment programs and the annual celebration honoring couples marking their silver and gold wedding anniversaries.
Catholic schools was an area of major changes in the first decade. Father James Vanderholt was director of the Diocesan School Office and was assisted by Sister Charles Ann Solomon, OP. During this time, the Catholic schools in the diocese were fully accredited by the Texas Education Agency. It was also during this decade that half the Catholic elementary schools and one of the three high schools closed. With declining enrollment and fewer religious sisters teaching, it was difficult for them to remain open.
Religious education, known at the time as Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, was directed by Father Louis Cotrone. He was joined in 1967 by Sister Anastasia Thibodeaux, CVI, when she was named associate director. In 1970 Sister Thibodeaux was named director of the office – the first woman to hold this diocesan position in the state of Texas.
Ministering to the youth of the diocese was also carried out through the Catholic Youth Organization for high school students. Father Ronald Gougenheim was the director for the first year then Father Albert Geoffroy took over as director. For the first four years, the CYO office was in the home of the secretary, Margaret Guenere. Mike McGown, member of St. Anthony Cathedral Parish, Beaumont, was appointed CYO president in 1966. He was also elected national CYO president and chosen to attend the Seventh World Assembly of Youth in Liege, Belgium, in August 1970. In 1967, elections were held for CYO president with the youth electing Michael Linden of Sacred Heart, Port Arthur. He is believed to be the first African American to be a diocesan president in the Deep South.
Bishop Harris took the lead in social justice matters. In February 1967 he received national attention with he ordered that all church employees receive the federal minimum wage immediately despite a four-year implementation period. In his letter to pastors, Bishop Harris wrote, “Anyone who has doubts in this matter should stand in a line in a supermarket and see a basket of groceries come to a total of $30 or more.”
One of the highlights of his years was the dedication of the Toledo Bend Dam and the forming of Toledo Bend Lake. The Augustinian priests serving in the Beaumont Diocese arranged for a container of water from Toledo Lake in Spain to be brought over. Bishop Harris was joined by Bishop Charles Greco of the Diocese of Lake Charles at the dedication where they gave the dedication prayer and together poured the water from the Toledo Lake in Spain.
In spring 1971 Bishop Harris was named coadjutor bishop of Austin. Auxiliary Bishop Warren Boudreaux of the Diocese of Lafayette was named second bishop of Beaumont and was installed Aug. 25, 1971.
A first for the Beaumont Diocese, Bishop Boudreaux issued a financial report for the year ending Dec. 31, 1971, which showed a total income of $170,500. Expenses for that year was $189,171. The deficit was covered by funds from previous years that had been invested.
Bishop Boudreaux also established the Diocesan Pastoral Council made up of diocesan priests, one religious priest, one religious sister and five lay people. These were Father James Quinlan, Father Albert Geoffroy, Father Ralph Ransom, SSJ, Sister Anastasia Thibodeaux, R.P. LeBlanc, James Barry, Wayne Murrell, Carolina Ramirez and Joyce Bell.
Though the Beaumont Diocese had a Tribunal, the office was a co-op and operated out of Houston. In 1972, the diocese formed a Tribunal independent of Houston with Father Sidney Marceaux as director.
To mark the third anniversary of his arrival in Beaumont, Bishop Boudreaux wrote a letter to the people, setting some goals. They were:
- More meaningful liturgies and spiritual growth.
- Improved religious instruction for all – those in the Catholic schools, CCD program and adult education.
- The support of Catholic communications media.
- To work for racial and social justice.
Under Bishop Boudreaux, ministry in all these areas increased. A couple of the observable ones were the establishment of a weekly television program and, due to improved education, more youth and laity taking on leadership roles.