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VINCENTIAN FATHERS

VINCENTIAN FATHERS. The Congregation of the Mission, popularly known initially as Lazarists and later as Vincentians in the United States, is a worldwide community of priests and brothers founded in France by St. Vincent de Paul on January 25, 1625. In 1818 a small group of Vincentians established their first house in the United States at Perryville, Missouri. Within twenty years Vincentians had been sent to St. Louis and New Orleans. It was from New Orleans that Father John Timon, C.M., the Vincentian superior, left by steamer for Galveston, Texas, where he arrived with his confreres around Christmas 1838 and assumed his duties as prefect apostolic of the vicariate of Texas. In 1840 Timon secured most of the lands that had belonged to the Catholic Church under the Mexican government for the Catholic Church in Texas from the Texas Legislature. After this historic achievement he made a 600-mile horseback ride through much of Texas. In that same year Father Jean M. Odin, C.M., was sent as Timon's vice-prefect apostolic to San Antonio and West Texas, where he served with such distinction that the next year he was consecrated a bishop and appointed vicar apostolic of Texas. Maintaining his interest in the Texas mission, Father Timon solicited and received funds from missionary societies in Europe and the Vincentian community headquartered in Paris for Bishop Odin as well as recruiting four Vincentian priests. In 1847, with fifteen priests, six of them Vincentians, ten parishes, eighteen chapels strategically located throughout Texas, and three schools, Galveston was established as a diocese with Bishop Odin as its first bishop. A year later Odin built St. Mary's Church in Galveston and consecrated it as his cathedral. In 1852, due to lack of personnel, the Vincentians withdrew from Texas. They did not return until 1905. Bishop Odin, who continued his service as bishop until 1862, was the last Vincentian to serve as a bishop in Texas.

The Vincentians returned to Texas at the invitation of Bishop Edward J. Dunne of the Diocese of Dallas. Dunne wanted them to establish a center of higher learning for his diocese as they had done in Chicago and Los Angeles. The Vincentians accepted the bishop's invitation, provided they were given a parish as a base of operations. Therefore, in 1905 Holy Trinity parish was opened and staffed by the Vincentians. In 1907 they opened Holy Trinity College and signed a twenty-year contract with the diocese to provide staff and some financial assistance. In 1913 the state legislature granted the college a state charter as the University of Dallas. This charter was subsequently used by the diocese in opening the present university under the same name. The initial contribution of the Vincentians increased from $100,000 to $250,000 when, at the urging of civic and business leaders, boarding and other facilities were doubled to accommodate 400 rather than 200 as originally planned. Although the university flourished academically, the financial assistance promised by the business community and the diocese did not materialize, and this, combined with economic reverses and poor financial administration, led gradually to withdrawal of the Vincentians. They informed Bishop Joseph Patrick Lynch of their intention at the end of their twenty-year contract in 1927, and the university closed in 1928. In all, the Vincentian community had poured $500,000, virtually the entire patrimony of the Western Province, painfully accumulated over the previous 100 years, into the effort to provide Catholic higher education in Texas. During the twenty years they served at the university the Vincentians spread out to serve at missions in Bonham, Grand Prairie, Handley, Irving, Longview, McKinney, Mineola, Rowlett, Tyler, Wylie, Weatherford, Terrell, Mineral Wells, Sherman, and Fort Worth. In Fort Worth they established St. Mary's parish and were invited to begin a college there, an invitation they wisely refused.

After vocations to the community increased during the Great Depression, in 1939, 1940, and 1941, some of the largest classes in the history of the Western Province were ordained. This increased personnel allowed the community to begin accepting new missions. In 1940 it responded to the invitation of Bishop Robert E. Lucey of Amarillo to staff Holy Souls (later St. Vincent de Paul) parish in Pampa and its mission in Canadian. In 1941 the newly appointed Archbishop Lucey invited the Vincentians to accept the administration of St. John's Seminary as well as a poor mission parish in Cotulla. When Assumption Seminary was opened in 1952 the Vincentians moved to that campus. Later, in 1956, they accepted St. Leo's, the largest parish in San Antonio, and El Carmen, a small parish in Losoya. In 1951 Wendelin J. Nold, bishop of Galveston, invited the community to accept the administration of his diocesan seminary, St. Mary's, located in La Porte, Texas. This invitation was accepted, and William P. Barr, C.M., was appointed as first rector. Subsequently, in 1954 the Vincentians moved to the new campus of the seminary on Memorial Drive in Houston. Together, these seminary apostolates provided a significant opportunity for priestly formation of the clergy of Texas since virtually all of the dioceses of the state sent their priestly candidates to one or the other of these seminaries. Vincentian efforts over the years at consolidating the seminaries of Texas were not successful. In July 1958 a Southern Vice Province of the community was established. An unsuccessful effort was made shortly thereafter to staff a Catholic high school in Beaumont. More successful was the establishment in Beaumont of a high school seminary to prepare candidates for the new vice province. In 1965 the Vincentians accepted St. Philip Neri parish in Houston with the hope that some vocations for the community might come from it.

In the mid-to-late 1960s the church began to feel the impact of changes put in motion by the Second Vatican Council. The impact of these changes was felt in the seminaries of the United States, and in Texas they affected the Vincentians. In San Antonio, as a result of internal archdiocesan tensions resulting from changes wrought by the council, the archbishop asked the Vincentians to leave Assumption in 1967 and St. John's in 1968. The council had also called all religious communities to return to their roots, and for Vincentians those roots were clearly missionary. As a result the Southern Province, which had been established on July 1, 1975, with its provincial headquarters in Houston, began the process of gradually withdrawing from foundations, whether in seminaries or parishes, in established areas of the church and accepting more definite missionary commitments. The adoption of new constitutions for the worldwide community in 1980 gave considerable impetus to this process. In 1979 the Vincentians withdrew from St. Philip Neri Parish in Houston and in the same year closed their high school seminary in Beaumont. In 1982 they withdrew from St. Mary's Seminary in Houston and the following year from the administration of St. Leo's Parish in San Antonio. In 1985 they withdrew from St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Pampa. With the personnel realized from these moves the community gradually established missions in Guatemala, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas. In Texas they accepted mission parishes in Sweetwater and Merkel in 1979 and Shamrock in 1984. In 1985 the Southern Province opened a new house to serve in Brownsville and Houston and opened a college-level formation program at Timon House, named in honor of the first Vincentian missionary to Texas.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Ralph Francis Bayard, Lone-Star Vanguard: The Catholic Re-Occupation of Texas, 1838–1848 (St. Louis: Vincentian Press, 1945). Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Sister Mary Loyola Hegarty, C.C.V.I, Serving with Gladness: The Origin and History of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Houston, Texas (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1967).

Louis J. Franz, C.M.

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Louis J. Franz, C.M., "VINCENTIAN FATHERS," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ixv01), accessed October 01, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.