Texas Catholic Historical Society

By: Mary H. Ogilvie

Type: General Entry

Published: January 1, 1996

Updated: May 14, 2019

The Texas Catholic Historical Society traces its history to the early 1920s, when members of the Knights of Columbus became concerned about the destruction of the Spanish missions and appointed a committee to save them. At the state convention of Knights in 1923, Judge William Blakeslee of Austin proposed that they establish a commission to sponsor the writing of a history of the Catholic Church in Texas. The resolution was passed enthusiastically, and the commission was officially constituted in 1924. By 1926 the commission needed reorganization. In 1925 the Knights had enlisted the help of Peter Guilday, of the Catholic University of America, who gave them advice on the reorganization of the commission and the structure of the history itself. The headquarters were moved to St. Edward's University in Austin, and Rev. Paul J. Foik was appointed editor in chief of the history project. Corresponding memberships were established with Carlos E. Castañeda and Rev. Francis Borgia Steck, who later contributed greatly to the commission. In addition to the new structure of the historical commission, the Knights decided to form a historical society open to any interested individual. They hoped to defray the cost of the history project by charging a ten-dollar membership fee for belonging to the new society and to inspire amateur historians to spread their knowledge of Catholic history in Texas. The commission also published brief historical pamphlets later known as Preliminary Studies, the first of which was Martyrs of the Southwest by Father Foik. This appeared in 1929 and was published and distributed by the commission and the Texas Catholic Historical Society. Later contributors to the series included Castañeda, Steck, and Rev. Walter J. O'Donnell.

Though the commission prospered with its various projects, the historical society languished until 1947. In that year Castañeda, then professor at the University of Texas, was close to the completion of his massive Our Catholic Heritage in Texas, the history toward which the commission had worked, and Bishop Laurence J. FitzSimon of Amarillo became concerned that the archives accumulated for the project would be neglected when the book was finished. For this reason, FitzSimon proposed a reorganization of the old historical society to continue the work of the Knights of Columbus. The six bishops of Texas legally incorporated themselves into the Texas Catholic Historical Society on April 25, 1947, for the purposes of advancing the study of the Catholic history of Texas and preserving relevant archival material. At the time, FitzSimon also proposed the establishment of another society that would have the same name and be linked to the bishops by an "episcopal moderator." Membership in the adjunct society would be open to anyone. The latter failed to materialize, however, and the former eventually again went by the wayside.

Much later, in the mid-1970s, in spite of the failure of the previous historical societies, Father John E. McCarthy of the Diocese of Galveston, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference, sought to stimulate interest in a new, more extensive historical society similar to the one that FitzSimon had proposed in 1947. With the help of archivists Sister Dolores Kasner of Austin and Sister Gertrude Cook of San Antonio, as well as professors L. Tuffly Ellis and William P. Glade of the University of Texas at Austin, McCarthy was able to set up the first meetings of the new Texas Catholic Historical Society. The organizational meeting was held in Galveston on March 5, 1976, in conjunction with the convention of the Texas State Historical Association. The purpose of the meeting was to reactivate the Texas Catholic Historical Society with the objectives of discovering, collecting, preserving, and publishing historical material, especially that relating to the Catholic Church in Texas. When the meeting ended, the TCHS had emerged, complete with a constitution and slate of officers. Though the officers are now elected, the secretary-treasurer was originally the archivist of the Catholic Archives of Texas. The executive council sets dues and fixes the date and place of the annual meeting. In 1995 the president of the society was Hubert J. Miller.

In 1990 the society published the first annual issue of the Journal of Texas Catholic History and Culture. By 1995 the Journal, edited by Patrick Foley, had won four national awards and was slated to be renamed Catholic Southwest, a name that reflected the society's broadening interests. The society also publishes a quarterly Newsletter, edited in 1995 by Robert Wright, O.M.I. The Newsletter, founded and edited by Sister Dolores Kasner, former archivist of the Catholic Archives of Texas, reports on annual meetings, publishes lists of new members, and describes current research projects. At the annual meeting, which is still held in conjunction with the meeting of the Texas State Historical Association, the Carlos E. Castañeda Award is presented to the person who has made the most important contribution to southwestern Catholic historiography during the preceding year, and the Paul J. Foik Award is presented to the person who has most significantly advanced the interests of the society. When the society was reborn in 1976, fifty people were paid members. In 1994 there were 140 members, most of whom lived in the San Antonio or Austin areas.

Catholic Archives of Texas, Files, Austin. William H. Oberste, Knights of Columbus in Texas, 1902–1952 (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1952). Karl M. Schmitt, "The History of the Texas Catholic Historical Society," U.S. Catholic Historian 3 (1983). Texas Catholic Herald, March 26, 1976.

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

Mary H. Ogilvie, “Texas Catholic Historical Society,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-catholic-historical-society.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1996
May 14, 2019