Excerpted from 'Seeds sown... Ripe for the Harvest
Celebrating 50 Years 1948-1998
Diocese of Austin'
The history of the Catholic Church of Central Texas began long before Pope Pius XII announced the formation of the Austin Diocese on Nov. 15, 1947. Spanish missionaries must have had great hopes of helping further the Kingdom of God when they established missions along the San Gabriel River in present-day Milam County in the 1740's. The missions were abandoned, though, soon after Padre Jose Ganzabal was shot in 1752 by a soldier seeking revenge. A strong Catholic presence was not apparent in the area again until after Vincentian Father John Timon came to the new country of Texas in 1838 to discuss re-establishing the church with Texas' new president, Samuel Houston.
Torn between its need to establish a presence in the frontier and its alliances with both Mexico and Spain, the Vatican wisely waited to make any decision until Texas joined the Union in 1845. Two years later, the Diocese of Galveston, which covered the entire state, was announced, with Bishop John Odin as its first bishop.
With a stable government, the state found itself attractive to European immigrants, many of whom came from pre-dominantly Catholic countries. Czechs, Germans and Poles especially flocked to Central Texas. All were eager to build a church in their new community. Many were also able to build schools to educate their children in the new language and in their faith. Some of these schools, such as St. Mary's Cathedral, St. Mary's in Taylor, St. Mary's in Temple, and Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Granger, are still in existence today.
The number of Catholics coming into the new state warranted the Vatican's decision to split the state along a diagonal line into two dioceses in 1875. In Central Texas, the new San Antonio Diocese included the area south and west of the Colorado River.
Missionary efforts by a number of religious orders, especially the Daughters of Charity, Franciscans and the Holy Cross Congregation, impacted the area considerably. In addition to traveling to farm houses and migrant camps in the rural areas, the religious communities founded several hospitals, including the predecessors of Providence in Waco, St. Joseph's in Bryan and Seton in Austin, and the diocese's only Catholic university, St. Edward's in Austin.
When the Austin Diocese was formed in 1947, its first prelate, Bishop Louis Reicher, had 55 parishes and 43 missions to oversee. He began to encourage the building of new churches, while watching his flock move through the 1950's and into the turbulent 1960's. In 1971 he retired, to be succeeded by Bishop Vincent Harris. Bishop Harris' administrative skills allowed him to strengthen the diocese's struture. When he retired in 1985, Bishop John McCarthy of Houston was appointed the third bishop of Austin. Bishop McCarthy retired in 2001, and Bishop Gregory Aymond became the Bishop of Austin. Following Bishop Aymond's appointment as Archbishop of the New Orleans Diocese in 2010, Bishop Joe Vasquez became the Bishop of Austin Diocese.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin currently includes 127 parishes, or faith communities, in 25 counties in Central Texas. The diocese stretches from West, Texas, (just north of Waco) in the north to San Marcos in the south to the Bryan/College Station area in the east to Mason in the west. Its largest metropolitan areas are Austin, Bryan/College Station, the Killeen/Temple/Belton area and Waco. Nearly 108,000 Catholic families live in the diocese, approximately 450,000 Catholics. There are 220 priests, 168 deacons, approximately 46 brothers and 102 sisters serving in the diocese.