THE PROGRESS OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH IN THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE TO 1988
By W. T. Block
(COPYRIGHTED AS APPENDIX A IN DR. WALTER SUTTON AND DR. SALLY SHEPPARD'S SOUTHEAST TEXAS RELIGIOUS PROSPECTS OF THE 21ST CENTURY)
In this monograph, the writer proposes to trace the growth and stature of the Roman Catholic Church from 1853 to 1988 in the Golden Triangle of Texas, or more explicitly, in Jefferson, Orange, and Hardin Counties. While the geographic confines of these counties embrace only thirty percent of the land area of the Diocese of Beaumont, they do comprise more than 85 percent of the general population, and more than ninety percent of the Catholic population and Catholic churches within that diocese.
Today, the Diocese of Beaumont and its 83,811 Catholics contain one of the most ethnically, racially, and culturally diversified memberships in the nation. The Catholic Church has long been a leader in the racial integration of its schools, especially in Texas and Louisiana, areas where racial attitudes were slow to change and some Ku Klux Klan activity still persists. And although eight diocesan churches are basically black congregations, others have an interracial membership.
Four of the parishes of Beaumont and Port Arthur are "national churches," meaning that services are bilingual in Vietnamese, Spanish and Italian. Many priests still accept confessions in French, Italian, or other languages as well. Even the black parishes reflect much more than racial entities, for the ancestors who founded them around 1900 were Louisiana Blacks, often referred to as "French Negroes." The latter term meant the acculturation in language, religion, music, and other customs equal to French Acadians, rather than Mulatto ancestry (although the latter may also have been correct in some instances).
In May, 1847, all of Texas became one diocese under the first Bishop of Galveston, the Very Rev. J. M. Odin, who initiated the practice of importing young priests from the seminaries of France. Southeast Texas would remain a part of that diocese or the Diocese of Galveston-Houston until 1966, when the Diocese of Beaumont became a reality. In 1854, there were only eleven priests, most of them at Galveston, and 20,000 Catholics in the entire state of Texas, and shortly afterward, six of the priests died during the Galveston yellow fever epidemic of 1854. In 1853, Bishop Odin dispatched Rev. P. F. Parisot as the first itinerant Catholic missionary to Southeast Texas. The latter very quickly discovered that he had been sent into an overwhelmingly Protestant region, populated for the most part with people of old Anglo stock from the Lower South. Rev. Parisot reported finding no Catholics living at Beaumont, although two familes lived in the neighboring countryside, and only one Catholic living at Orange. There were several Catholic families in the Taylor's Bayou vicinity of Jefferson County and the Cow Bayou area of Orange County. However, as late as 1940, there were very few Catholics and almost no churches in the piney-woods counties, north of Lumberton, that region being also a Protestant enclave. A majority of the earliest French Acadians and immigrant Italians in the Golden Triangle clung tenaciously to the three larger towns or grew cattle along the coastal prairies.
Although several saddlebag priests preceded him, Rev. Fr. Vitalus Quinon, a French priest who arrived in Orange in November, 1879, became the father of the Catholic faith in the Golden Triangle. And although his tenure or pastorate totaled less than three years, he managed to build three churches, preach almost daily along the "Alligator Circuit," and anchor the Catholic faith so permanently in bedrock that later priests have built upon most successfully. In 1880, only one in every one hundred residents of the Golden Triangle was Catholic, and a century later, that ratio has increased to one in every four persons.
In 1879, Rev. Quinon was almost run out of Orange at gun point by the town's rowdies, but instead of submitting to their vigilante law, he cornered them in the Casino Saloon with a Winchestor and told them he would build a church there whether they liked it or not (which he did in 1880). In 1881, he built the last two of his three churches in the Golden Triangle at Beaumont and Liberty.
By 1881, he was holding scheduled monthly Masses in Liberty, Taylor's Bayou (Fannett), Beaumont, and Orange, as well as preaching periodically at Sabine Pass, Terry Station in Orange County, and Sour Lake in Hardin County. On one Friday, Fr. Quinon celebrated Mass at Moise Broussard's home at Sabine Pass, swam two bayous and rode horseback to conduct Mass at Lovan Hamshire's home at Fannett the following day, and was back in Beaumont on Sunday for scheduled services there. His parish extended from the Sabine River on the east to the San Jacinto River near Houston on the west, most of the territory being accessible only on horseback. As late as 1900, many circuit-riding priests and preachers of the "Alligator Circuit" were still swimming their horses across the Neches River at Port Neches while en route between Terry Station and Sabine Pass, and as late as 1903, a Methodist circuit-rider drowned there in that manner in a river where 18-foot alligators were often killed.
Since 1880, St. Mary's Church of Orange, St. Anthony's of Beaumont, Immaculate Conception Church of Liberty, and joined in 1903 by St. Mary's Church of Port Arthur, have served as the Golden Triangle's "mother churches," responsible for the propagation of the Catholic faith to new, adjacent parishes. In July, 1966, all area Catholic churches were transferred from the Diocese of Galveston-Houston to the newly-created Diocese of Beaumont, under the Very Rev. Vincent Harris, the first Bishop of Beaumont, who remained until 1971 when he was succeeded by Very Rev. Warren Boudreaux. In December, 1977, the Very Rev. Bernard Ganter was appointed to succeed Bishop Boudreaux and remains to the present day. St. Anthony's of Beaumont was elevated to cathedral status in 1966. As of 1988, the diocese consists of five sub-divisions or vicariates, as follows: the Northern Vicariate, consisting of Polk, Tyler, Jasper, and Newton Counties, all lying outside the Golden Triangle; Western Vicariate, comprising principally Chambers and Liberty Counties; Central, containing principally all of Beaumont and Hardin County; Eastern Vicariate, consisting of most of Orange County; and the Southern Vicariate, containing Mid-Jefferson and South Jefferson County.
THE CENTRAL VICARIATE
As the center of diocesan worship and administration, St. Anthony's Cathedral had its humble origins under Rev. Fr. Quinon in 1881 as St. Louis' Church. The 1880 census of Beaumont verifies that among its parishioners were several Italian families, only recently removed from Italy, and numbered among Beaumont's 200 Catholics of 1889. By 1922, thanks primarily to the Spindletop oil boom, the city's population had mushroomed to 8,000 Catholics, and by 1988 to more than 23,500 of that faith.
Until August, 1895, Beaumont continued to be served by circuit-riding priests until Rev. M. P. McSorley arrived as the first resident pastor. He soon founded the first permanent Catholic school, and was preparing plans for a Catholic hospital, to be named Hotel Dieu. He was replaced in 1897 by Rev. William Lee, who encouraged the building of Hotel Dieu by the Sisters of Charity in 1897 and laid the cornerstone for St. Anthony's Church in 1903. The new, Romanesque sanctuary was dedicated in January, 1907.
Perhaps the best known of St. Anthony's priests was Rev. Msgr. E. A. Kelly, who served the parish from 1918 until 1955 and in whose honor Kelly High School was named in 1964. Since 1955, a number of priests have pastored St. Anthony's, including Rev. George Black, 1955-1963; Rev. Msgr. E. F. Michalka, 1963; Rev. Msgr. M. Enderle, 1971; as well as the current pastor, Rev. B. J. Patillo. St. Anthony's has mothered most of the churches in Central Vicariate and has often had to share its membership with them as well. The present enrollment numbers about 2,400 persons.
St. Joseph's Church of Beaumont was the first of the parishes split away from St. Anthony's in 1905. It was founded by Rev. Biagio Damiani as the diocese's first "national church" (bilingual), to serve Beaumont's ever-expanding population of Italian families. It still remains a bilingual parish, but many of its 210 families of 1980 were comprised of new Vietnamese immigrants who were replacing the old Italian members of yesteryear. Rev. Joseph Stratman, pastor of the sanctuary at 1115 Orange Street, serves 650 parishioners.
Beaumont's two black congregations, Blessed Sacrement and Our Mother Of Mercy parishes, date back to 1915 and 1925, respectively, inasmuch as segregated or black churches were a recognition of Southern racial patterns and reality factors over Christian idealism. Blessed Sacrement was founded by Rev. Alexis LaPlante at a time when its membership was principally French-speaking natives of Central Louisiana, displaced to Texas by the perennial boll weevil infestations in the cotton fields between 1905-1915. A number of priests have served the parish since 1915. Rev. Flaherty remodeled the church at 780 Porter Street in 1944, and the current pastor is Rev. H. U. Gregory, who ministers to 2,800 members.
Our Mother Of Mercy Parish began as a mission of Blessed Sacrement in 1915, in a new black, residential neighborhood in Beaumont then known as the "Pear Orchard." The priests of Blessed Sacrement served the mission until 1937, when Rev. F. Tighe became the first parish priest. The new sanctuary at 3390 Sarah was built in 1962, and Rev. E. D. Eichman is the pastor of 4,026 parishioners.
Cristo Rey Parish is another of the "national churches" (bilingual), organized as a Mexican or Spanish mission in 1951 by Rev. Luis Urriza. The church at 767 Avenue A has been served by a number of Spanish-speaking priests since then, but since 1977, its current pastor has also been its founding pastor, Fr. Urriza, whose congregation numbers 2,232 persons.
Our Lady Of Assumption, a South Park parish, was organized in 1951, with its first Masses celebrated in a vacant Highland Avenue store building by its first priest, Rev. Jack Davis. Subsequent pastors have included Rev. J. T. Quinlan, 1962-1978; Rev. Pat O'Connell, 1978-1981; and the current pastor, Rev. J. S. Wood. The sanctuary is at 4445 Avenue A, serving 2,237 members.
St. Anne's Church was established in November, 1936, and its founding pastor, Rev. Msgr. E. A. Holub built his new sanctuary in 1937 at 11th and Calder, across from St. Elizabeth's Hospital. In 1970, Rev. August Pucar replaced Rev. Holub, and in turn, was succeeded in 1971 by Rev. W. J. Bosworth. St. Anne's current pastor is Rev. J. L. Bertrand, whose parish enrolls 2,210 members.
In 1955, St. Pius X Parish was created on the northwest side of Beaumont at Lucas and Bigner Road. Groundbreaking for a new 600-seat sanctuary began in April under the founding pastor, Rev. N. J. Perusina. In 1970, the latter was replaced by Rev. John DiStefano, who remains as the current pastor. In 1979, the church membership consisted of 1,100 families.
St. Jude Thaddeus Church is Beaumont's most recently-established parish, having been built at 6825 Gladys Street in 1978. Rev. Salvadore Culotta is the pastor of the Diocese of Beaumont's largest congregation, numbering 5,800 persons
Four other parishes comprise the Central Vicariate, namely, three churches at Lumberton, Kountze, and Silsbee in Hardin County, and Our Lady Of Lourdes Parish at Vidor. The latter began as a mission when Rev. G. Berberich of Orange began ministering to about 25 families. The Vidor mission was elevated to parish status in 1948 with Rev. T. Onate as its founding pastor. Since Our Lady Of Guadalupe Parish has often supplied the mission, the priests of Our Lady Of Lourdes have been Spanish-speaking Augustinians. The present, 600-seat sanctuary was dedicated in February, 1978, and the present pastor, Rev. T. R. Blanco, ministers to about 2,200 members.
St. Mark The Evangelist Church at Silsbee was founded in 1917 as a mission of St. Mary's of Orange. It was elevated to parish status in 1940, and its current pastor is Rev. James Courville, who also serves a mission congregation, St. Francis of Assisi, at Buna. The latter bought its first church building in 1968 and built its present sanctuary in 1986. St. Mark's serves 699 members.
In August, 1947, Rev. Herman Vincent, chaplain of St. Theresa Hospital in Beaumont, organized Infant Jesus mission in Lumberton, with 57 families in attendance. Fr. Vincent took his first church census by personally stopping at every mail box that had a French name. The mission was elevated to parish status in 1970. Its new sanctuary was dedicated in 1967, and Rev. Msgr. M. Enderle is its current pastor, ministering to 300 parishioners. The Kountze church, Holy Spirit Mission, is the most recent expansion in Hardin County, having been organized in 1986. The infant congregation is being administered by Sister Bernita Hessling.
THE WESTERN VICARIATE
Although the Western Vicariate is comprised principally of Liberty and Chambers Counties, four of its parishes or missions lie on the western edge of Beaumont. One of them, St. Mary's Church of Fannett, can be said to have as old a membership as any church in the diocese, for in 1881 Taylor's Bayou (Fannett) was one of four places in the Golden Triangle that had a regularly-scheduled monthly service. The first services there were in held in the homes of Lovan Hamshire and Ursan Fannett. St. Mary's became a mission in 1899, and its first small church, built in 1912, was served variously out of Liberty, Galveston, and Beaumont. In 1946, the parish was divided into St. Mary's and St. Louis' Church of Winnie-Stowell. In 1960 the sanctuary burned, and the new church was completed in 1964. Rev. Clement Iglesias is the current pastor, ministering to 1,648 members.
St. Martin De Porres Mission at Cheek, Texas, midway between Fannett and Beaumont, serves a black, rural population of about 80 families. At first, it was a mission of Blessed Sacrement, but in 1972, it was transferred to St. Mary's at Fannett, pastored by Fr. Iglesias.
In 1913, the first mission at China, Texas, was built and called St. Francis De Sales before the parish was renamed Our Lady Of Sorrows. In 1920, the first pastor, Rev. M. F. Collins, served China, Sour Lake, Hamshire, and Hull-Daisetta. The present pastor is Rev. William Brooks. There was also a small black congregation nearby, some 12 miles west of Beaumont. St. Alphonsus Church was built in 1952 as a mission of Our Lady Of Mercy. Its 1,120 parishioners have since been merged with Our Lady Of Sorrows Church.
The first Catholic church at Sour Lake was built during the oil boom around 1903, as a mission of St. Mary's of Orange, and was called St. Peter's. Beginning in 1911, it was served by the Jesuits. The first sanctuary, which had been renamed Blessed Lady of Victory, was destroyed by a storm, and the rebuilt church was dedicated in February, 1926. The years 1920 to 1925 were a period of considerable Ku Klux Klan hate, violence, and intimidation at Sour Lake, as elsewhere within the Golden Triangle, and for a while, the church was closed. In 1954, the parish reverted to mission status under Our Lady Of Sorrows. At present, its eighty families are under Infant Jesus Church of Lumberton, administrered by Rev. Msgr. S. J. Marceaux.
THE EASTERN VICARIATE
St. Mary's Church of Orange, formerly St. Vital's, is the oldest parish in the Golden Triangle. Its first sanctuary, built in 1881 by Rev. Fr. Quinon, was destroyed in the destructive hurricane of October 12, 1886, which totally destroyed Sabine Pass, and the second church burned in 1911. The initial membership were principally German and Austrian immigrants. St. Mary's witnessed its greatest progress during the forty year pastorates of two German immigrant brothers, the Reverends George Berberich (1929-1947) and Joseph Berberich (1947-1969), whom the older members recall with great affection. These priests were the founders of several missions, principally at Bridge City, Vidor, and Orangefield. Under the present pastor, Rev. William Manger, St. Mary's Church celebrated its centennial anniversary in August, 1980, and erected its Texas state historical marker about a year later. St. Mary's enrollment enumerates 3,720 members.
Orange's most recent parish is St. Francis of Assisi Church, organized in 1978 at Wildwood and Meeks Drive. The current pastor is Rev. Msgr. F. H. Burlton, who serves a congregation of 1,950 persons. Orange's black parish, St. Therese's Clhurch was organized in 1924 and is currently pastored by Rev. L. C. Delarue. It has 1,000 members.
St. Henry's Parish at Bridge City was founded as a mission in 1937 by Rev. Joe Berberich of St. Mary's. The parish's age is about equal to that of the town, for in 1930 there was absolutely nothing in Bridge City except a narrow shell road connecting the river ferry with Orange and perhaps a half dozen farms and dairies. The sanctuary was dedicated in November, 1946, by its first pastor, Rev. T. T. Cronin. Rev Patrick Hickey served there as pastor from 1978 until his death in 1988. St. Henry's has 2,200 members.
There are also two missions in the Eastern Vicariate. St. Maurice's mission at Mauriceville was founded in 1966 to serve a largely rural population in northern Orange County. Its 275 members are administered by Rev. L. C. Delarue of St. Therese's.
St. Helen's Church at Orangefield was first built with a church extension grant in 1938 and was remodeled in 1967. Although St. Helen's began as a mission of St. Mary's, it has since been served by St. Henry's in Bridge City, and its 800 parishioners are currently under the parochial administration of Rev. Timothy Deeter.
Orangefield, Texas, is the successor to two earlier central Orange County communities, Oilla and Terry Station on Cow Bayou, both of which were located a short distance to the north and east. Terry actually possessed the first Catholic Church building in Southeast Texas, if Spanish missions of the 1700s are omitted. In October, 1877, the Galveston WEEKLY NEWS reported that: "The new Catholic church, 3 miles east of Terry, is finished with the exception of a coat of paint." On October 11, 1881, Fr. Quinon baptized fifteen persons there -- "at the neat little chapel on Cow Bayou." About 1922, Orangefield became an early oil boom town in typical Texas fashion, but within a few years, its population had dwindled off to the present level.
THE SOUTHERN VICARIATE
The Southern Vicariate, consisting of Mid-Jefferson and South Jefferson County may have the largest Catholic population within the diocese. Port Arthur now has about 23,000 Catholics, a natural result of the huge influx of French Acadians who arrived after 1900 to man the new oil refineries. However, since 11,000 or more of the current Catholic population are of Mexican, Negro, or Vietnamese ethnicity, the figure reflects the great number of Acadians who have moved to parishes in the Mid-county cities of Port Neches, Groves, and Nederland
The "mother" church of Port Arthur is St. Mary's, begun when Rev. J. J. Gallagher of Galveston began ministering to the few Catholics in the infant city in 1899, but he resigned following the Galveston hurricane of September 8, 1900. In 1903, Rev. Msgr. E. A. Kelly became the first resident priest there when he began holding services in a store. Rev. Msgr. A. G. Grattan served St. Mary's for 28 years, 1912-1940. The brick sanctuary was completed in 1922. Due to tremendous change in black residential patterns in Port Arthur, St. Mary's has seen its former all white membertship replaced by a black congregation. Since 1964, Rev. Don Golasinski has been pastor of the church whose membership once more was greatly affected by the 1982-1983 layoffs at Chevron and Texaco refineries. Church membership is 1,950 persons.
St. James Parish at 3503 Gulfway was founded in 1929 on what was then the northeast edge of Port Arthur, to serve the then isolated towns of Pear Ridge and Griffing Park. Its founding priest was Rev. Msgr. J. M. Kirwin, and the present sanctuary was built in 1938 at a cost of $96,000. Again, urban residential movements have witnessed significant black populations moving into the parish vicinity, greatly changing the nature of that church's membership. Rev. Dan Malain is the current pastor to the 4,000 members.
St. Catherine of Siena Parish was organized at 3706 Woodrow Drive in 1954. Msgr. Kenneth Grieg is the current pastor of a congregation of 4,500 members.
Little Flower of Jesus Church at Port Acres was one of the four missions established by Rev. Fred Hardy between 1923 and 1928, in addition to St. Elizabeth's Parish at Port Neches in 1922. The sanctuary was dedicated in 1929 and became a parish in 1930 under Rev. Emil Landry. In 1950 Rev. M. Bordages became the first resident priest to its 1,000 members. The current pastor is Rev. Roger Thibodeaux who serves a congregation of 2,025 parishioners.
Our Lady Of Guadalupe Parish was organized as a bilingual or "national church" for Port Arthur's Mexican population in 1927. It was founded by Rev. M. Ruiz, and the first sanctuary was built at Houston Avenue and 15th Street in 1936. In 1976 the new church at 9th Avenue and 61st Street was finished. Rev. Porfirio Fernandez pastored Our Lady Of Guadalupe for 39 years and lived there another two years in retirement. Rev. Jose Giganto of the Augustinians has served since 1980 a congregation of 2,200 persons.
St. Joseph's Church at 4600 Proctor was established in 1951 to serve the residents of Lakeview, which was then a city separate from Port Arthur. Rev. J. M. Cody built the first sanctuary there in 1952, and the present church weas built in 1971. Rev. James Vanderholt is the current pastor of a congregation totaling about 2,700 people.
Sacred Heart Church was founded as Port Arthur's first black parish in 1915. Rev. Joseph Lally was the first resident priest there in 1924. The first sanctuary was built in 1926, and the present church in 1949. Rev. D. J. Butler is the present pastor, serving a congregation numbering 1,700 persons.
Queen Of Vietnam Church was organized in 1977, and its sanctuary is located on 9th Avenue in Port Arthur's Vietnamese quarter. Rev. Hilary Ly is presently pastor of a membership of 3,000 Vietnamese immigrants.
St. John's Church is Port Arthur's newest black parish, founded in 1951. It is located on 53rd Street in the El Vista locality, near Port Acres. Rev. Joseph Murphy is the current priest of a membership totaling 700 persons.
Port Arthur's only mission is St. Paul's of Sabine Pass, built in 1955. The first Catholic services in present-day Port Arthur were conducted in that community, and as early as 1881, Rev. Quinon celebrated Mass there in the 3-story mansion of Moise Broussard, a prominent cattleman, followed by Rev. Gallagher in 1899. St. Paul's has always been a mission of St. Mary's and has a membership of 80 persons.
Although space precludes special recognition to many who deserve it, the long spans of service to the community of Port Arthur by three particular priests, the Revs. Msgrs. J. M. Kirwin, A. G. Grattan, and H. A. Drouilhet, are simply too much and too long to overlook. Each of them served pastorates extending from 28 to 38 years, principally at St. James and St. Mary's Churches, and Msgr. Drouilhet, prior to his recent death, resided in semi-retirement for many years at St. Pius X Church in Beaumont.
Immaculate Conception Church of Groves was founded in 1928, one of the four missions established by Rev. Hardy. It became a parish in 1937, and in 1955, the sanctuary was remodeled to seat 500 persons. In 1972, the church lost much of its membership to the new St. Peter's Parish. Rev. Msgr. M. Enderle is the current spiritual leader of 2,850 members.
In 1972 St. Peter's Parish at Groves was carved out of parts of Groves, Lakeview, and Griffing Park townships. Rev. R. DeStefano was the first pastor of a new sanctuary dedicated in 1975. Rev. J. Romero is the current pastor, serving 5,700 parishioners, the second largest congregation in the Diocese of Beaumont.
St. Elizabeth's Parish of Port Neches was founded in 1922 by Rev. Fred Hardy among a population of 500 French Acadians, many of whom had been waiting up to ten years for a priest to arrive. The first sanctuary there was built at 300 Avenue B, and the present church was built in 1957 on Nall Street. Rev. Dennis Placette is the current pastor to about 3,300 members.
The third largest membership in the diocese, 5,000 members, belong to St. Charles Borromeo Church in Nederland. The parish was founded in 1923 as a mission by Rev. Fred Hardy, and a wooden building was soon constructed in the same year at 9th Street and Chicago. St. Charles became a parish in 1939 with Rev. Hardy as its first pastor, and during the next fifteen years, two brick churches built at the intersection of 27th Street and Nederland Avenue were destroyed by fire. Rev. Joseph Daleo is the current pastor at the present sanctury located at 211 Hardy Avenue.
One of the tragedies everywhere in the United States is the sad situation, mostly of economics, which has seen many fine high schools closed because of insurmountable operating costs and dwindling enrollments. Within the Diocese of Beaumont, it has often left almost new, brick structures, such as Bishop Byrne High School (now a part of St. Mary's Hospital), unused and virtually abandoned.
Catholic education in Beaumont began with Rev. M. P. McSorley in 1895, and very quickly the Dominican Sisters arrived to teach at St. Louis' School. By the time of World War II, most parishes had their own elementary school, and some parishes operated senior high schools.
Perhaps the decade of the 1950s witnessed the apex of Catholic education in the Golden Triangle. Many new brick schools were built, and Bishop Byrne of Port Arthur and Kelly High School in Beaumont offered the best in parochial education anywhere in the nation. During the early 1960's, there were 7,000 students enrolled in the diocesan Catholic schools.
During the 1960s, the Catholic schools began to close one by one, unable to cope with the small enrollments and the skyrocketing operating costs. In addition to the usual church school and confirmation classes, it appears that diocesan education of the future will consist principally of day care and pre-school facilities, and in some instances, elementary education to about a sixth grade level. Enrollments in the diocesan schools appears to have leveled off, allthough it may be too early to predict. Also, in 1987 Kelly High School of Beaumont received a presidential citation.
THE CATHOLIC HOSPITALS
The first Catholic hospital in the Golden Triangle of Texas was Sacred Heart, built in March, 1891, in Orange and administered by the Sisters of Charity. It deactivated in February, 1892, having served only seventy patients during its 11-months existence. Obviously, religious prejudices contributed greatly to its demise, and thirty years would expire before another hospital was built at Orange.
Hotel Dieu Hospital was built at Beaumont in 1897 during the pastorate of Rev. William Lee. The initial frame building could accommodate 55 patients and had cared for 750 patients by 1900. It too was built and administered by the Sisters of Charity. In time, a new four-story, brick building became the new Hotel Dieu, in addition to the St. Martin De Porres Colored Hospital in the rear. The facility was closed about 1955 when the new St. Elizabeth Hospital was built.
In 1930, two public hospitals in Jefferson County were taken over by the Catholic Church after they became bankrupt during the Great Depression. The old Beaumont General Hospital became the new St. Theresa at Beaumont, and the old defunct Mary Gates Hospital of Port Arthur became the new St. Mary's Hospital. For about forty years, both St. Mary's and Hotel Dieu operated a School of Nursing, the only facilities for training nurses in the Golden Triangle during those years after 1910.
As the successors to the afore-mentioned hospitals, St. Mary's of Port Arthur and St. Elizabeth's of Beaumont have been enlarged many times and have constantly stayed abreast of the latest medical techniques, often necessitating the added expense of millions of dollars for new equipment. Today, heart surgery of a type once reserved only for Houston is performed at both hospitals on a routine basis. Hence although Catholic education is experiencing descending patterns of progress, the two Catholic hospitals in our midst are very much on the ascendancy.
Space and a need for brevity will not permit greater elaboration about the church's role in many auxiliary fields. These include Catholic charities, continuing education, family life ministry, counseling, youth ministry, renewal, communications which staffs the "East Texas Catholic," the permanent diaconate, diocesan schools, and the Holy Family Retreat Center. Certainly, they is no way that the writer can over-emphasize the roles performed by the various Catholic sisterhoods in operating the schools and hospitals, the Sisters of Charity, Dominican Sisters, and others. And the roles they perform are expanding constantly. Other growing ministries of the church include campus ministry, the Newman Center at Lamar University, hospital chaplaincy, homebound and nursing home ministries, and various foundations, boards, and committees. And not least is the expanding laity, the permanent deacons, directors of religious education, and other volunteers who enable the Catholic Church to reach out to every facet of family life.
In retrospect, the history of the Catholic Church in the Golden Triangle is very much a history of a precious few converts in 1880 who mushroomed to major church status after 1900. As recently as 1922, Catholics in such cities as Beaumont, Sour Lake, Vidor, Port Arthur, Port Neches, and Orange were still being subjected to much vitriolic hate and harangue at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, whose national leader for a time was a Beaumont Protestant clergyman, noted for his anti-Catholic sermons from the pulpit. According to a thesis on the history of the Jefferson County Klan at Lamar University, even the sheriff's office of Jefferson County was captured by them for a few years. And certainly, the years 1920-1925 witnessed Ku Klux Klan parades in full regalia and covered faces on Pearl and Proctor Streets on a regular basis.
Such prejudices notwithstanding, Catholics in the Golden Triangle have indeed grown from one person in one hundred in 1880 to one person in four a century later. Without a doubt, the growth has mushroomed through the migration of thousands of French Acadians from Louisiana after 1900, in addition to the immigration of large numbers of Irish, Italians, and Germans from Europe over the decades and Vietnamese from Asia during the 1970s. And the children born to these families are the primary source of new converts.
As a result, there are in Jefferson County about 66,000 Catholics in 1988, another 13,375 in Orange County, and 1,231 in Hardin County, for a grand total of about 80,000 in the three Golden Triangle counties. That number is about equal to 96 percent of the 83,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Beaumont, and that figure will guarantee a powerful and commanding voice with regard to the religious and politcal affairs of the future
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF BOOKS AND PUBLISHED BOOKLETS
Diocesan Scrapbook, containing published histories of each parish from "East Texas Catholic," Rev. James Vanderholt, St. Joseph's Church, Port Arthur; Rev. John Cody, HISTORY AND SYMBOLISM OF ST. ANTHONY'S CHURCH (Beaumont: 1943); Alexine Adams, CATHOLIC CHURCH OF ORANGE, TEXAS: THE FIRST ONE HUNDRED YEARS (N. P., 1980); directory, 1986 DIRECTORY OF OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE CHURCH; directory, 1981 DIRECTORY OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI OF ORANGE; Edythe Capreol, "History of Saint Anthony's Cathedral and Parish," TEXAS GULF HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL RECORD, XV (Nov., 1979), 53-66; G. Wingate, A HISTORY OF SAINT MARY'S CHURCH OF FANNETT (N. P., 1965): C. Castenada, OUR CATHOLIC HERITAGE IN TEXAS (7 vols.; Austin, 1936-1957); Rev. P. F. Parisot, REMINISCENCES OF A TEXAS MISSIONARY (San Antonio: 1899); "Rev. Vitalus Quinon: Early Catholic Church Builder of Southeast Texas," in W. T. Block, FRONTIER TALES OF THE TEXAS-LOUISIANA BORDERLANDS (Nederland: 1988), 341-348; DIRECTORY, 1987-1988, DIOCESE OF BEAUMONT (N. P., 1987), 1-55; program, FIRST SACRED HEART SCHOOL REUNION, 1985; DEDICATION OF OUR LADY OF ASSUMPTION CHURCH, 1983; directory, OUR LADY OF VICTORY CATHOLIC CHURCH OF SOUR LAKE, 1986; SEVENTY-FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF SAINT JOSEPH'S CHURCH OF BEAUMONT, 1980; dedication, OUR LADY OF LOURDES CHURCH OF VIDOR, 1978; 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF ST. JAMES COMMUNITY, 1979; IMMACULATE CONCEPTION, GROVES 1929-1979; GOLDRN JUBILEE OF HOTEL DIEU, BEAUMONT, 1947; Fr. John Lane, DIOCESE OF GALVESTON CENTENNIAL, 1947 (Galveston: 1947); Sr. Sheila Hackett, DOMINICAN WOMEN IN TEXAS (Houston: 1986); Sr. M. L. Hegarty, SERVING WITH GLADNESS (Milwaukee: 1967).
Beaumont ENTERPRISE, Jan. 1, 8, 15, 1881; "St. Anthony's Church," ENTERPRISE, Jan. 6, 1924, p. 6; "Catholic Church of Earliest Influence in Texas, ENTERPRISE, Centennial Edition, May 31, 1936; also Beaumont ENTERPRISE, April 23; May 21; June 4; July 30; Aug. 20; Sept. 3, 10, 17; and Oct. 15, 1881, as reprinted in W. T. Block, EMERALD OF THE NECHES: THE CHRONICLES OF BEAUMONT, TEXAS (Nederland: 1980), pp. 198, 202. 204, 213, 218-222, 227; Galveston DAILY NEWS, Mar. 19, 1891; "A Plucky Texas Priest," Galveston WEEKLY NEWS, Feb. 4, 1892; TEXAS CATHOLIC HERALD, all issues but particularly that of Dec. 23, 1977; also, EAST TEXAS CATHOLIC, all issues; also, for excellent articles on Hotel Dieu, the Dominican Sisters, St. Louis Church, and Father William Lee, see Sabine Pass NEWS, May 5, 1900, as reprinted in Block, EMERALD OF THE NECHES, pp. 548-550; "St. Mary's Hospital," Port Arthur NEWS, April 27, 1955; also, see "Catholics Fight Ku Klux in Beaumont," Beaumont ENTERPRISE, Dec. 11, 1922.
This article could not have been written without the gracious and skillful assistance of Rev. James Vanderholt, historian of the Diocese of Beaumont, for which help the writer is truly grateful.