The laborer and the cathedral

by Jerry Circelli

North Texas Catholic

St. Patrick CathedralSt. Patrick Cathedral
St. Patrick Cathedral (NTC/Ben Torres)

People daring enough to venture into Hell’s Half Acre in Fort Worth in the latter part of the 1880s witnessed a peculiar sight along the 1200 block of Throckmorton Street. Rising up, day by day, on the fringe of the seedy sector’s west side — amidst the neighboring brothels, gambling dens, and despot hideouts — was a stone edifice of relatively massive proportions. The ambitious building project occupied nearly an entire city block.

There, just north of the wood-framed St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Church, construction was underway to provide a new church for local Catholics. The faithful were rapidly outgrowing St. Stanislaus.

Meanwhile, an insightful writer for the Dallas Daily Herald might not have known it at the time, but his comments about just who would be cleaning up Hell’s Half Acre, also known as “The Acre,” were right on target.

On Jan. 28, 1885, he wrote:

It would be a happy consummation if some one could expel gamblers and law-breakers from Fort Worth as St. Patrick expelled the “varmints” from the Emerald Isle.

Prophetically, the new church would be named St. Patrick by the time workmen placed its cornerstone on Oct. 14, 1888. It would one day become the mother church and cathedral for the Diocese of Fort Worth, one of the fastest growing dioceses in the nation, with 1.1 million Catholics. The Acre, on the other hand, would be relegated to the dark annals of Fort Worth history.

Among the many stone masons and general construction workers on the project was an unassuming man of medium stature and reddish, wavy hair. The laborer was distinguished not by his features, but by the way he went about his work. He could be found regularly tending to the details of the new church construction. This was a man who could lay a stone with the best of them and was known to meticulously inspect each native limestone block before it was placed.

The Fort Worth Telegram reported that passersby would often ask the diligent laborer, clad in dusty work clothes, where they might find the local priest. He would then ask them to please wait for a moment while he went to fetch the father. Minutes later, the same man would reappear, this time dressed in his priestly vestments.

The workman and St. Patrick Parish priest, Father Jean Marie Guyot, was the catalyst for construction of the new St. Patrick Catholic Church, completed in 1892.

Stained glass window of Fr. Guyot
A stained-glass window in the side entry of St. Patrick Cathedral depicts its builder, Fr. Jean Marie Guyot, cradling the church in his hands. (NTC/Ben Torres)

Fr. Guyot would also be a major force in planting the seeds that gave rise to today’s burgeoning hospital district in Fort Worth, to excellence in Catholic education in the area, and further Catholic church construction in Fort Worth and beyond.
Born in France around 1845, the missionary priest came to Fort Worth in 1884 to succeed Father Thomas Loughrey as local pastor. Fr. Guyot not only built an unprecedented house of God in Fort Worth, where he served for 23 years, but also helped form an important infrastructure that enriched the lives of all its residents for generations to come.

Man on a mission
French-born Fr. Guyot heard God’s call to serve Christ’s Church in Texas around 1870 after visits to France from Diocese of Galveston Bishop Claude M. Dubuis. At the time, the Diocese of Galveston covered all of Texas. Bishop Dubuis was an adventurous and fearless man of God who had survived floods, famine, disease, and abductions by Native Americans. He rode thousands of miles on horseback to bring Christ to settlers in Texas. On visits to his native France, he was looking for men who were willing to do the same.

Between 1862 and 1881, Bishop Dubuis ordained 77 men to the priesthood to serve in Texas, according to Father Barnabas Diekemper in his article titled, “French Clergy on the Texas Frontier,” published by the East Texas Historical Journal in 1983.

Among the French priests was Fr. Guyot, ordained by Bishop Dubuis in 1870 at St. Mary Cathedral in Galveston. After various assignments in Texas, Fr. Guyot was assigned in 1884 to St. Stanislaus Kostka, Fort Worth’s first Catholic parish. 
Built in 1876, the wooden St. Stanislaus needed to be expanded. About 20 families were members of the parish when Fr. Guyot arrived, and the priest knew the rapidly growing city would soon be home to thousands of Catholics. While parishioners were thinking of expanding St. Stanislaus, the new pastor had bigger plans.

Fr. Guyot reflected on the marvelous cathedrals of his native France and wanted to build a house of God of that magnitude. In her book, A Little Good, Sister St. John Begnaud, of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, said the priest dreamed of building “a little Chartres.” She was referring to Chartres Cathedral in France, built in the 12th century and considered to be a Gothic architectural masterpiece.

Fr. Guyot wanted that same thing, albeit on a smaller scale, for God and the Catholics of Fort Worth.

A letter of correspondence preserved in the Catholic Archives of Texas in Austin offers insight about Fr. Guyot’s vision for the church. It was written in 1950 by Monsignor O’Donohoe, pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church at the time. In the letter to Diocese of Amarillo Bishop Laurence J. FitzSimon, Msgr. O’Donohoe wrote:

Father Guyot was born at Chandon, near Lyons [France]. Monsignor Chatington, who hails from that section, when looking at St. Patrick’s Church, one day said to me, “O’Donohoe, who built St. Patrick’s Church?” I said, “A French priest from Lyons.” He answered, “I understand it, in my section of France every little village has a church just like this one.”

To build the French cathedral-style church, Fr. Guyot donated his own funds toward the project and worked for no pay alongside construction workers. In a nearly full-page tribute to Fr. Guyot after his passing in 1907, the Fort Worth Telegram reported:

… it was Father Guyot who oversaw each feature of the work and it has often been remarked by many of the members of the congregation that not one stone went into the foundation or building unless personally inspected by Father Guyot.

In the same article, Diocese of Dallas Bishop Edward J. Dunne remarked about Fr. Guyot:

He saw the first stone laid and presided at putting the ridge on the roof. He saw to the plastering, the stained glass windows, the pews, the sanctuary with its marble altar, and all of its beautiful decorations.

Historic photo of altar of St. Patrick Cathedral
A view of the cathedral during the pastorate of Msgr. Robert Nolan, which lasted from 1907 - 1939. (St. Patrick Cathedral Archives)

Constructed in Gothic Revival style from native limestone, St. Patrick Catholic Church was a magnificent structure standing boldly in Fort Worth for all to see that Christ’s Church had arrived in a big way in North Texas.

When the church was completed in 1892, its nave was supported by 18 granite columns, polished to perfection on horse-drawn lathes. Stained-glass windows from Germany, placed throughout the church, gave a rich, beautiful warmth to the interior, as classic arches seemed to reach to the heavens. All in all, St. Patrick was a towering tribute to Christ on the Texas frontier.

The Catholic population of 20 families at the Fort Worth parish when Fr. Guyot arrived in 1884 grew to more than 2,000 people by his death in 1907. The priest had planned wisely for their house of worship.

The long reach of Fr. Guyot
While St. Patrick Cathedral stands as Fr. Guyot’s lasting building legacy, his positive influence on developments for the city of Fort Worth is far-reaching. The sprawling hospital district on Fort Worth’s southeast side got its start thanks to Fr. Guyot working with the Diocese of Galveston and the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio. 

In 1885, Fr. Guyot enlisted the help of the sisters to take over nursing duties at the Missouri Pacific Railroad infirmary, located at the corner of South Main and Morphy streets — now the heart of JPS Health Network, Tarrant County Hospital District. By 1889, the sisters purchased the infirmary for $15,000 and renamed it St. Joseph Infirmary. For those who could afford to pay, the rate was 90 cents per day. By 1898, the sisters constructed a three-story brick infirmary. In 1906, they started a state-chartered nursing school. Renamed St. Joseph Hospital in 1930, the facility had electric elevators, sun porches, surgical suites, and hundreds more beds to accommodate a growing number of patients. 

Constantly modernizing and expanding through the decades, the St. Joseph Hospital complex eventually included 10 buildings, covering 570,000 square feet, with hundreds of doctors and about 1,000 general staffers. By 1995, the aging facility was purchased and closed, but it has given rise to an enormous network of hospitals and care centers in the area.
Coincidentally in 1889 — the same year the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word purchased the railroad infirmary and charted a course to advance the hospital care in Fort Worth — the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur financed and built St. Ignatius Academy, a four-story limestone Victorian-style school that included a chapel. Again, this was an example of Fr. Guyot working with the Diocese of Galveston to enlist the help of a religious order of sisters with God-given talents to better the greater community.

The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, with a motherhouse in Lockport, New York, had already established a reputation for academic excellence in the Lone Star State after establishing Sacred Heart Academy in Waco in 1873, Academy of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Corsicana in 1874, Saint Xavier Academy in Denison in 1876, and Saint Joseph Academy in Sherman in 1877.

In 1885, at the invitation of Fr. Guyot, the sisters arrived in Fort Worth and originally set up St. Ignatius in a small house near the church. An adjacent home was purchased for their residence. By 1889, the sisters had built the beautiful Victorian St. Ignatius school building, which stands today adjacent to St. Patrick Cathedral.

After building St. Ignatius Academy in Fort Worth, they established Our Lady of Good Counsel Academy in Dallas in 1902, Academy of Our Lady of the Rosary in Ennis in 1904, Academy of Mary Immaculate in Wichita Falls in 1904, Our Lady of Victory Academy in Fort Worth in 1910, and St. Edward Academy in Dallas in 1912.

Father Jean Marie Guyot
Father Jean Marie Guyot (St. Patrick Cathedral Archives)

The sisters also co-founded the University of Dallas in Irving, Nolan Catholic High School in Fort Worth, Bishop Dunne Catholic School in Dallas, Notre Dame Catholic School in Wichita Falls, and Cassata Catholic High School in Fort Worth.

Certainly, excellence in education has been a hallmark of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, and Fr. Guyot’s initiative to get them involved early in school development in Fort Worth has had lasting, positive ramifications.

At the turn of the century, it was clear to the Diocese of Dallas, in which St. Patrick was then included, that another church was needed in Fort Worth. Fr. Guyot assigned his assistant to minister to the faithful on the city’s north side, where All Saints Catholic Parish was formed in 1902. Eventually, St. Patrick would be mother church to several churches in Fort Worth and a cathedra, or bishop’s chair, serving 91 parishes in the Diocese of Fort Worth. 

Intuitively, when he arrived in Fort Worth 135 years ago, Fr. Guyot had designed St. Patrick in the architectural style of a grand cathedral. 

Fr. Guyot still with us today at St. Patrick’s
Fr. Guyot died in 1907 at St. Joseph Hospital in Fort Worth under the care of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. These were the same sisters who had responded to Fr. Guyot’s call to staff the local infirmary, which they later purchased and transformed into one of the finest hospitals in Texas.

The French-born missionary priest was buried in the Catholic Calvary section of Oakwood Cemetery in Fort Worth. After excavating an area in the basement of St. Patrick Catholic Church, Msgr. O’Donohoe built a small crypt chapel and had Fr. Guyot’s body reinterred there in 1948. 

Fitting for a man whose life was in constant communion with Christ, Fr. Guyot’s remains now lie between the stone foundations that support St. Patrick Cathedral’s high altar.

Stained glass window of Fr. Guyot

People daring enough to venture into Hell’s Half Acre in Fort Worth in the latter part of the 1880s witnessed a peculiar sight along the 1200 block of Throckmorton Street.