TYLER, CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF
TYLER, CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF. The fourteenth diocese of Texas was founded in 1986–87 with Charles E. Herzig as first bishop. It includes twenty-seven parishes, fifteen missions, five schools, two day-care centers, and twelve cemeteries served by forty-three priests, twenty-six permanent deacons, one brother, and seventy-one women religious. The diocese comprises thirty-two counties of northeast Texas formerly in the Catholic dioceses of Beaumont, Dallas, and Galveston-Houstonqv, with a Catholic population of 29,153 out of a total population of 1.2 million. Of these, 2,267 are Hispanics and 123 are black. Franciscan Father Damián Massanet and three other priests accompanied Spanish soldiers in 1690 and founded San Francisco de los Tejas Mission, considered by many to be the cradle of Catholicism in Texas. Three years later the Spanish abandoned the area, but after more than two decades the Franciscans returned to East Texas and reestablished the mission in a new location near the present town of Alto, naming it Nuestro Padre San Francisco de los Tejas and celebrating Mass there in 1716.
Texas received its first bishop, Jean Marie Odin, when the entire state was incorporated into the new Diocese of Galveston in 1847. Odin and fellow Vincentian John Timon had traveled through the northeast Texas area six years earlier, visiting Crockett and Nacogdoches and meeting the eager, the poor, and the curious. Catholicism grew during the nineteenth century in the north of the diocese, especially with the influx of the Irish, who were building the railroads. By the 1840s, missionaries on horseback were visiting Clarksville, and Father Louis Claude Marie Chambodut, one of many French missionaries in Texas, was preaching in Marshall in 1853, more than twenty years before St. Joseph Parish was established. Immaculate Conception Church in Jefferson was established in 1867. During the next decade, the success of the missionaries in the area was most evident in the founding of new parishes in such places as Texarkana, Clarksville, Palestine, Moral, Marshall, and Tyler. Toward the end of the last century, growth continued. The year 1880 saw the founding of St. Anthony in Longview, St. James in Sulphur Springs, and Our Lady of Victory in Paris.
Lufkin Catholics built the church of St. Patrick in 1902 in a parish that was to become an important spiritual center in later years, home of a Dominican monastery and LaSalette novitiate and a parent church to several missions. After its founding in 1906, the Catholic Church Extension Society became a national force in assisting missions by building churches, rectories, and schools. Its support was enjoyed in northeast Texas, especially in the 1940s and 1950s, when it contributed to the building of churches in such places as Moral, Carthage, San Augustine, Clarksville, and Athens. A generation earlier, in the case of Jacksonville, its gift had helped Catholics buy a former Presbyterian church and move it to a new location, where it was consecrated and renamed Our Lady of Sorrows. As the twentieth century progressed, European missionaries decreased in number, and diocesan clergy with American missionary orders took over. The Josephite Fathers came to serve the black Catholics in Tyler, Marshall, and Texarkana. The Missionary Helpers of the Sacred Heart worked among the English and Spanish-speaking people in at least ten churches. The Missionaries of Our Lady of LaSallette came to Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Gladewater, Henderson, and Kilgore, establishing various missions from the first three of these towns.
With the East Texas oil boom of the 1930s came many new people, making their mark on the church as well as on the region. The Catholic community at Henderson grew large enough to call upon Father Sebastian A. Samperi of Tyler to say Mass for them. By 1935, his own parishioners had outgrown their church and built a new one which would one day become the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Diocese of Tyler. The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth took over the administration of Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler in 1937 and opened its doors earlier than planned to take in the many children hurt in the New London School explosion, which killed hundreds and shocked the country. During the war years and after other communities continued to grow. Daingerfield Catholics outgrew their church and built a new Our Lady of Fatima in the 1950s. At Lufkin, the cloistered Dominican Sisters opened the Monastery of the Infant Jesus in 1949. Glenmary Home Missioners, priests and sisters, came to communities in the northern counties in the 1960s. They served at Atlanta, Jefferson, Daingerfield, and later at New Boston and Mount Vernon. In the last two decades, new missions sprang up at Diboll, Buffalo, and Teague, and new parishes were established, including those at Athens and Gun Barrel City. Parishes with separate black and white churches combined them and sometimes adapted the older, smaller buildings to new uses. The diocese continues to grow as it expands its many ministries involving clergy, religious, and laity.
Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Barnabas Diekemper, "French Clergy on the Texas Frontier, 1837–1907," East Texas Historical Journal 21 (1983). Patricia A. Gajda, "Mother Frances Hospital: The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth and Fifty Years of Service," Chronicles of Smith County, Winter 1987. Texas Catholic Herald, July 30, 1966. James F. Vanderholt, Biographies of French Diocesan Priests in Nineteenth Century Texas (1978).