Happy Birthday, Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

May 8, 2012

HOUSTON — May 4 is an important date for Catholics in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to remember: It’s our birthday. 
On that date in 1847, Blessed Pope Pius IX created the Diocese of Galveston, the first Catholic diocese in the State of Texas, and the 27th in the United States. 

Our diocese originally encompassed all of Texas — then one of the newest states in the Union. This year, the “mother diocese” of the Catholic Church in Texas celebrates the 165th anniversary of her creation. As we look back over those many years of mission and ministry, here are some other important milestones in our history:

1847 - Establishment of the Catholic school system
The year 1847 also saw the establishment of the Catholic school system in Texas, with the opening of Ursuline Academy in Galveston in February. Catholic parents settling in Texas joined together to provide schools for their children in the years before the Diocese of Galveston was created. Bishop Jean Marie Odin, C.M., the first Bishop of Galveston, formalized the process when he invited religious men and women, starting with the Ursuline Sisters, to open schools across his diocese. Today, our 59 Catholic elementary and high schools trace their roots back to Galveston and Ursuline Academy.

1848 – Dedication of St. Mary Cathedral in Galveston
When construction began on a new church in Galveston in 1847, it was to replace the original St. Mary Church, the first built on the island, in 1842. By the time the church was completed, though, the Diocese of Galveston had been created, and Galveston had become the see, or capital, of the new diocese. The new St. Mary would therefore be dedicated as the cathedral of the new diocese on Nov. 26, 1848. Though St. Mary Cathedral Basilica is not the oldest church in Texas, it is the first cathedral of the first diocese in the state, and it holds a very special place in the history of the Catholic Church in Texas. As Galveston-Houston is the “mother diocese,” St. Mary Cathedral is the “mother church.”

1874 – First division of the Diocese of Galveston
The Diocese of Galveston originally encompassed all of Texas — more than 250,000 square miles. It was difficult for the Bishop of Galveston to administer such a huge area, especially in the days when travel was by foot or horse, before railroads, cars or airplanes. It was soon obvious that Texas was too big for just one diocese. In 1874, the Vatican divided the original Diocese of Galveston into thirds, with the creation of the Diocese of San Antonio and the Apostolic Vicariate of Brownsville. Where there was once one diocese in Texas, today there are 15, showing the wonderful advance of the Catholic Church over these 165 years.

1900 – The 1900 Storm
The infamous 1900 Storm, which struck Galveston on September 8, is still considered one of the worst natural disasters in American history. It left thousands dead and millions of dollars in damages, not just in Galveston but across the track of the storm, which reached up to the Great Lakes. On the Island, four of the five Catholic churches were damaged almost beyond repair. St. Mary’s Orphanage, with its 93 orphans and 10 sisters, was washed away; only three children survived. The work of cleaning up and rebuilding began immediately, but Galveston would take years to recover.

1901 – St. Mary’s Seminary opens in La Porte
The destruction of the 1900 Storm gave Bishop Nicholas Gallagher, the third Bishop of Galveston, the opportunity to fulfill a long-held vision for his diocese: to open a diocesan seminary. A year after the storm, he purchased the Sylvan Beach Hotel in La Porte, which suffered extensive damage. Though repairs were not complete, the Seminary held its first classes in October 1901. The La Porte campus closed in 1954, when the Seminary moved to its present site on Memorial Drive in Houston. 

1959 – The Diocese becomes Galveston-Houston
Bishop Wendelin Nold, who became the fifth Bishop of Galveston in 1950, never lived in Galveston. A resident of Houston, he watched the city’s growth as the oil and gas industry, the Medical Center and the early days of NASA brought jobs and people to fill them. Houston’s population reached 1 million in 1954. In recognition of Houston’s rise, Bishop Nold asked the Vatican to re-designate the original Diocese of Galveston as “Galveston-Houston.” Houston thus became the co-see city, or co-capital, of the renamed diocese. Bishop Nold chose Houston’s Sacred Heart Church, established as a parish in 1896, to be the Co-Cathedral.

2004 – The Diocese becomes an Archdiocese
Until well into the 20th century, the Church in Texas belonged to the Province of New Orleans, under the Archbishop there. In 1926, though there were then only four dioceses in Texas, the Vatican gave the state its own archdiocese, elevating the Diocese of San Antonio. By 2004, 15 dioceses had been created in Texas. Recognizing the tremendous growth of the Church here, the Vatican created a second archdiocese of Texas on Dec. 29, 2004, by elevating the historic Diocese of Galveston-Houston. Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, the seventh Bishop of Galveston-Houston, thus became its first Archbishop, and Texas became one of only two states with two archdioceses (the other is California).

2007 – Elevation of Cardinal DiNardo
Then-Coadjutor Archbishop Daniel DiNardo became the eighth ordinary of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in February 2006, following the retirement of Archbishop Fiorenza. On Oct. 17, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI named him to the College of Cardinals. His elevation made him the first Cardinal not just for our archdiocese or for Texas, but for the American southwest as well, and it highlighted the increase of the Catholic population and the progress that the Church has made in that region.

2008 – Dedication of the new Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart
Houston’s Sacred Heart, chosen as the Co-Cathedral in 1959, had been built as a parish church in 1911. It was never designed for diocesan-wide celebrations like ordinations. A capital campaign begun in 2000, which included funding for a new Co-Cathedral, drew contributions from across the diocese. The groundbreaking was held in January 2005. Three years later, on April 2, 2008, with the building filled to capacity, Cardinal DiNardo dedicated the new Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. 

Lisa May is the Director of the Office of Archives for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.