NEW YORK — This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the diocese of Fort Worth. The Catholic faith traces its roots in the region to more than 500 years ago.

A new volume by veteran Texas journalist, Gerald Circelli, chronicles that history in a richly illustrated book, Beyond the Frontiers of Faith. Both Circelli and Bishop Michael Olson spoke with Crux about the storied past of missionaries and saints that have contributed to the path and laid the foundation for the future.

Crux: Most people aren’t aware that the history of the diocese stretches back 500 years — given that it’s older than the founding of the United States. Tell me a bit about that history and how the diocese is seeking to keep it alive.

Circelli: The more research I conducted for the book commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Diocese of Fort Worth, the deeper I delved into the lives of people who lived through milestone events in our history. Their commitment to Christ became so fascinating to me that I kept reaching further and further back in time. So, to deliver a more comprehensive history of our Catholic heritage, I took the story back to Cabeza de Vaca — the first Christian to set foot in Texas. The book begins with this shipwrecked soul who first brought the Word of God onto today’s Texas soil in 1528 and continues, step by step, to the events that led to the establishment of the Church in North Texas and the eventual creation of the Diocese of Fort Worth.

What’s the history of mysticism in the region?

Monsignor Joseph G. O’Donohoe, pastor of Fort Worth’s St. Patrick Catholic Church, and later St. Patrick Co-Cathedral, from 1940-1956, was a student of Catholic history. In remodeling and beautifying St. Patrick, the priest commissioned a moving painting of “The Lady in Blue,” which graces one of the arches over a vestibule entry to the cathedral. It reminds today’s faithful of the mysticism that was part of local Church history and illustrates the story of Mother Mary of Jesus of Agreda.

The Native Americans in Texas reported to missionaries and explorers in the early 1600s that the “Lady in Blue” had appeared to them, and they were eager to learn more about Christ and His teachings. Although the nun had never left Spain, the Native Americans described their encounters with her and she, in turn, had related her dealings with them. Eventually, the reported bilocation events led to the establishment of Mission San Clemente around present-day San Angelo. It was the first mission in Texas, bringing the Church ever closer to our present diocese.

Mother Mary of Jesus of Agreda was declared venerable by the Catholic Church in 1665. In 2002, Marian groups renewed efforts to advance her cause for beatification.

Texas was originally mission territory. How did its official institutional structure take shape over the years? 

As Texas was transformed from a Spanish colony to a part of Mexico in 1821 to independent republic in 1836, to the 28th state of the United States after annexation in 1845, the administration of the local Church changed with it.

The area that eventually became the Diocese of Fort Worth was part of the Mexican Diocese of Linares-Monterrey in the early 1800s. It evolved to become the Diocese of New Orleans in 1838, Prefecture Apostolic of Texas in 1839, Vicariate Apostolic of Texas in 1842, the Diocese of Galveston in 1847, the Diocese of Dallas in 1890, the Diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth in 1953, and finally the Diocese of Fort Worth in 1969.

What did you learn about the religious brothers, priests, and sisters of the diocese that inspired you on a personal level? 

In writing this book, I was inspired by Catholics who let nothing stand in their way to establish Christ’s Church in North Texas. They include:

Father Peter Anthony Levy — This missionary priest was a former sharpshooter in the French army who rode a 1,000-mile circuit across North Texas from 1879-1886. He established several churches in the present Diocese of Fort Worth and had a reputation for standing up to outlaws and overcoming countless adversities. Father Levy was known for his roving confessional, which consisted of a chair tied to the back of his horse-and-wagon rig. The priest died in service to the Lord in a runaway horse and buggy accident.

August, Emil and Anton Flusche — These enterprising brothers, all from Germany, established towns throughout the present Diocese of Fort Worth in the 1880s and 1890s. In all of their endeavors, it was important to the brothers that Catholic churches and schools be central to a town’s start-up. The official establishment of those municipalities was not marked by a formal ground-breaking ceremony, but the celebration of a Catholic Mass. Thriving cities and strong Catholic communities still exist in the regions these devout brothers settled.

Bishop Claude M. Dubuis — The second bishop of Texas, Bishop Dubuis appointed the first priest to what is now the Diocese of Fort Worth when he named Father Thomas Loughrey as pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka. Bishop Dubuis, a French-born missionary priest, was a courageous and devout man of God. He possessed true grit and determination. The bishop survived shipwrecks and storms, overcame typhoid fever and cholera, batted tuberculosis, and lived to tell about four abductions by Native Americans. Bishop Dubuis brought law and order, hospitals, schools, churches and countless priests and sisters to Texas. If ever Hollywood were to portray the bold, fearless and rugged bishop, it would have to be a John Wayne-type actor to play his part.

What led to Fort Worth being separated out into its own diocese — and are folks still divided over Pope Paul VI’s decision to do so?

The creation of the Diocese of Fort Worth in 1969 took root 17 years earlier when forward-looking Bishop Thomas K. Gorman arrived in North Texas.

Bishop Gorman was appointed coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Dallas in 1952 to take over administrative duties for an aging Bishop Joseph P. Lynch. It was the right place and the right time for a shepherd like Bishop Gorman, who had been raised in the dual Diocese of Monterrey-Los Angeles and later served in the dual Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego. The idea to combine the rapidly growing populations of Dallas and Fort Worth “came quite naturally” to the bishop, according to a 1980 interview with him by The Texas Catholic newspaper.

Bishop Gorman recommended, and the Vatican agreed, that a name change was due for the Diocese of Dallas, and that it should include mention of its growing Catholic base to the west. In 1953, the Diocese of Dallas was renamed the Diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth.

Prior to his retirement in 1969, Bishop Gorman recognized that the time had come for the local church in North Texas to be divided into two distinct dioceses — Dallas and Fort Worth. On Aug. 9, 1969, Pope Paul VI established the Diocese of Fort Worth.

“I am very happy that the Holy See has accepted this view and created the Diocese of Fort Worth, and I am sure that it has a rich future,” Bishop Gorman said after the official creation of the diocese.

In my research for “The Diocese of Fort Worth; Beyond the Frontiers of Faith,” I found no regrets, second thoughts, or reservations expressed over the separation of the Diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth into two distinct dioceses. Culturally, Fort Worth has long considered itself independent of Dallas, and Catholics are certainly among those sharing those sentiments.

Before this death in 2011, Monsignor Charles King — who had been among 41 priests assigned to the new Diocese of Fort Worth — told the North Texas Catholic that the clergy had the option to serve, instead, for the Diocese of Dallas. “I don’t recall anyone deciding to do that,” Monsignor King said.

The diocese recently had an opportunity to showcase its diversity by hosting the V Encuentro, a major celebration of Hispanic Catholics in this country. What are some of the best practices for integrating the diocese so that it’s truly “one, holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”?

Olson: As then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, “The Church does not begin, therefore, as a club; rather she begins catholic. She speaks on her first day in all languages, in the languages of the planet. She is first universal before she brought forth local churches. The universal Church is not a federation of local churches but rather their mother. The universal Church gave birth to particular churches, and these can remain church only by continuously losing their particularity and passing into the whole.” The Encuentro V celebrated and experienced the Church’s diversity in the manner articulated by Cardinal Ratzinger in this quote.

The diversity of the local church of Fort Worth is a diversity born of catholicity and not the other way around. Diversity is experienced as a gift of catholicity, catholicity is not forged by diversity because the Church is established by Christ not by human initiative and political convention. Encuentro V, in our preparation for hosting the gathering and in our hospitality as offered to our brothers and sisters, called us to recognize again this truth of the nature of the Church and not to settle for the dominant culture’s approach of unity as a political balance of competing and federated self-interests of different language groups held in an uneasy tolerance.

Diversity is not a secular good that the Church lacks and only gains when secular influences graft it on the Church. Rather, the most inclusive and diverse community is also the most comprehensive community, which is the truly catholic and authentically Catholic Church. It is a work of the Church to teach the world — especially the secular world — what is true welcome and authentic communion established in charity and truth.

Today, much is said of “intentional discipleship” as part of the New Evangelization. The “intentionality” of “intentional discipleship” is one of response and not of initiative. Intentionality in discipleship is always responsive to the truth that it is Christ who has chosen each of us and not each of us who have chosen Him. We must be conscious of not developing communities of Catholics who are formed intentionally in language groups or cultural comfort zones in our parish life. The wisdom of the structure of the Church’s governance is that the normal course of administration involves the establishment of parish communities based on geographical boundaries and not on the culture of the marketplace of consumer choice.

Our challenge as a growing diocese is to eschew intentionally, as much as possible, the formation of parishes along the lines of consumer preferences of ministries or liturgies and instead intentionally serve and pray with the community into which we are given by proximity to our neighbor. In Spanish, “mi vecino es mi prójimo.”

Liturgical practices should first remain faithful to the proper texts and rites in whatever language is given us by the Church. We should not use the multi-lingual experience of a diocese or parish as a presumption to form our own particular liturgy through a cobbled together or synthetic use of languages, in other words to write our own text. We also don’t have to repeat each part of the Mass in different languages; people can pray along quietly with the celebrant praying the collect of Mass if it’s in a second vernacular language than their primary language; this can be helped with a worship aid with the printed text of the other language not being spoken by the celebrant. I think that this is a reminder for each of us that both God and the Church are far objectively greater than the particular subjective experience of my own language or culture.

Cultures are dynamic given time and place. The celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas (or one America: north and south) might look and sound differently in Mexico than it might in the United States of America given the experience of a Spanish-speaking but multi-lingual and multi-generational community in the United States. Certain points of emphases might fade, and others develop in light of the immigrant experience of a Hispanic community in the United States but the Catholic integrity of the Liturgy is the starting point and end, not a synthesis.

Follow Christopher White on Twitter: @cwwhite212 

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