A brief history of the Diocese of Fort Worth

By Jeff Hensley

Editor

St.-Patrick-Cathedral-WEB.jpg
The exterior of St. Patrick Cathedral. (NTC file photo)

In 1890 the Catholic population of the area of the Brazos and Trinity rivers had grown large enough that Pope Leo XIII established the Diocese of Dallas. As early as 1870 Claude Marie Dubuis, the second bishop of Galveston (the diocese that encompassed all of Texas at the time), had begun sending Father Vincent Perrier twice a year to visit Fort Worth. At that time several Catholic families were meeting in the Carrico home. Fort Worth’s first parish church was a frame structure built at 1212 Throckmorton Street and called St. Stanislaus Church. It stood until 1907. The cornerstone of St. Patrick Church, which eventually became St. Patrick Cathedral, was laid in 1888; the church was built just north of St. Stanislaus and dedicated in 1892. When Dallas was made a diocese the region that eventually became the Diocese of Fort Worth had seven parishes: in Fort Worth, Cleburne, Gainesville, Henrietta, Hillsboro, Muenster, and Weatherford.

The decade of the 1870s witnessed the earliest Catholic education in the area. In 1879 Father Thomas Loughrey, pastor of St. Stanislaus, opened a boys’ school that operated in the church until 1907. In 1885 the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur established Saint Ignatius Academy in Fort Worth and Xavier Academy in Denison. In 1910 the same order of nuns founded Fort Worth’s first Catholic college, Our Lady of Victory College. Other Catholic schools opened in Denton (1874) Weatherford (1880), Muenster (1890 and 1895), Gainesville (l892), Pilot Point (l893), and Cleburne (l896). In early 1885 the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of San Antonio took charge of the nursing staff at St. Joseph’s Infirmary, which was later destroyed by a fire and rebuilt it that same year. The hospital became known as St. Joseph Hospital in 1930 and continued to provide Catholic healthcare until 1993.

In 1953 Pope Pius XII changed the name of the Diocese of Dallas to the Diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth, and Saint Patrick Church in Fort Worth was elevated to the status of a co-cathedral. In 1985 St. Patrick Cathedral, St. Ignatius Church, and the St. Ignatius rectory were added to the National Register of Historic Places.

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This 1908 photograph shows the future St. Patrick Cathedral and the parish’s new rectory. (Photo courtesy of Diocese of Dallas Archives)

On Aug. 9, 1969, Pope Paul VI separated 28 counties of North Central Texas from the Diocese of Dallas and established it as the Diocese of Fort Worth. Two months later, on Oct. 21, Bishop John J. Cassata, a native of Galveston, was installed in St. Patrick Cathedral as Fort Worth’s first ordinary. During his 13 years of episcopal ministry, Bishop Cassata brought financial stability to the new diocese, established 12 parishes and encouraged lay and priestly ministry. From 1969, when the Diocese of Fort Worth was established, to 1986, the Catholic population increased from 67,000 to 120,000. Bishop Cassata resigned as bishop on Sept. 16, 1980, but served as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Fort Worth until Bishop Joseph P. Delaney was ordained a bishop and installed the second bishop of Fort Worth on Sept. 13, 1981 in the Tarrant County Convention Center. Bishop Joseph Patrick Delaney, a native of Massachusetts, had previously worked in the Diocese of Brownsville, most recently as co-chancellor.

Under Bishop Delaney the diocese continued to mature. In 1986, it had 14 primary schools, three secondary schools, the Cassata Learning Center (dedicated in 1975 as an institution offering nontraditional, personalized instruction to the underprivileged of Fort Worth), and a new diocesan Catholic Center. The center, a 20,000-square-foot edifice, brought together under one roof all of the pastoral and administrative offices of the diocese. Guided by Bishop Delaney, the diocese continued to underscore the principles of the Second Vatican Council, especially a commitment to the poor, to ecumenism, and to an increased role in the Church for the laity. He continued the work of expanding the availability of the Mass in Spanish throughout the diocese. He also facilitated the building of several large, primarily Hispanic churches, to accommodate the rapidly growing communities of Mexican immigrants to the Fort Worth area. The ethnic diversity of the diocese began to add more and more nationalities to the Irish, German, Czech, Mexican, Polish, Italian, and other groups which had formed its earliest base of ethnic communities, with the establishment of Vietnamese churches, a Korean community, as well as continuing growth in the numbers of Pacific Island Catholics, including communities of Catholics from the Philippines and Tonga.

By the time Bishop Kevin William Vann had been ordained a bishop and installed as the third Bishop of Fort Worth on July 13, 2005, in Texas Christian University’s Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, the Diocese of Fort Worth had become one the fastest growing dioceses in the United States. In 2005, the diocese’s Catholic population had grown to an estimated 400,000 Catholics and continued to grow to an estimated 710,000 Catholics when Bishop Vann was appointed as the Bishop of Orange in 2012. The Catholic population of the diocese became even more diverse during these years, continuing to add large numbers of Hispanic Catholics, adding to the already large populations of Vietnamese Catholics, and seeing the development of a Burmese Catholic community, and large growth in the numbers of Catholics from the continent of Africa, as well as from throughout Latin America and the Northeastern United States. Under Bishop Vann’s leadership the diocese’s growth was accomplished primarily by expansion of the physical plants of existing parishes and the creation of one new parish — Bl. John Paul II Parish that serves the Denton university communities, becoming the diocese’s first parish created to serve college communities. An estimated $135 million in capital improvements occurred at diocesan parishes and ministries during the seven years Bishop Vann served as bishop of Fort Worth. Pope Benedict XVI named Bishop Vann as the fourth bishop of Orange on Sept. 21, 2012. Bishop Vann was installed as bishop of Orange on Dec. 10, 2012.

On Nov. 19, 2013, Pope Francis named Bishop Michael Fors Olson as the fourth bishop of Fort Worth. Bishop Olson is being consecrated bishop at the Fort Worth Convention Center Jan. 29, 2014.

See Also

Bp-Cassata-in-Choir-Cassock-BUTTON.jpgDiocese of Fort Worth Past Bishops: John Joseph Cassata (1969-1980)

John Joseph Cassata, the first bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth, was born in Galveston, on Nov. 8, 1908, the son of Vincent and Anna (Pizzitola) Cassata, both natives of Sicily, Italy. When he died in Houston on Sept. 8, 1989, from complications of  heart surgery at the age of 80, he was eulogized as a “wonderful” priest and bishop, as a loyal, generous friend, and as a devoted brother to his six siblings.

Bp-Delaney-in-Choir-Cassock-BUTTON.jpgDiocese of Fort Worth Past Bishops: Joseph Patrick Delaney (1981-2005)

The second bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth, Bishop Joseph Patrick Delaney, was born in Fall River, Massachusetts on Aug. 29, 1934. The eldest of five children born to Joseph and Jane Delaney, he was part of a devout, close-knit, and loving Irish family.

Diocese of Fort Worth Past Bishops: Kevin William Vann (2005-2012)

Bp-Vann-in-Choir-Cassock-BUTTON.jpgBishop Kevin William Vann was born May 10, 1951 in Springfield, Illinois, the oldest of six children born to William M. Vann, Jr., and Theresa Jones Vann. A graduate of Springfield’s St. Agnes Catholic School and of Griffin Catholic High School, he attended Springfield College and earned a Bachelor of Science in Medical Technology from Millikan University in Decatur, Illinois.

St.-Patrick-Cathedral-BUTTON.jpgIn 1890 the Catholic population of the area of the Brazos and Trinity rivers had grown large enough that Pope Leo XIII established the Diocese of Dallas. As early as 1870 Claude Marie Dubuis, the second bishop of Galveston (the diocese that encompassed all of Texas at the time), had begun sending Father Vincent Perrier twice a year to visit Fort Worth. At that time several Catholic families were meeting in the Carrico home. Fort Worth’s first parish church was a frame structure built at 1212 Throckmorton Street and called St. Stanislaus Church. It stood until 1907. The cornerstone of St. Patrick Church, which eventually became St. Patrick Cathedral, was laid in 1888; the church was built just north of St. Stanislaus and dedicated in 1892. When Dallas was made a diocese the region that eventually became the Diocese of Fort Worth had seven parishes: in Fort Worth, Cleburne, Gainesville, Henrietta, Hillsboro, Muenster, and Weatherford.

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