By Seth Gonzales
Forty-five years after the dedication of St. Jude Chapel Catholic Church, the downtown Dallas sanctuary continues to serve as an oasis of prayer for workers and visitors alike, regardless of faith.
“This chapel really belongs to everyone,” said Father Jonathan Austin, as he busily prepared for the chapel’s 45th anniversary gala, set to take place on Oct. 25th at Union Station in downtown Dallas. “Its purpose is to serve everyone in the Diocese of Dallas, primarily to the business community here downtown, but also to the people who live here, and visitors from all over the world that come here for conventions, business, and pleasure.”
While the chapel continues to offer Mass 12 times and confession 11 times every week, Father Austin said it has attracted a wide spectrum of visitors from different countries and even different faiths, all of whom, he says, are only looking for a quiet place of prayer.
“This is such a fast-paced, secular society; the fact that this chapel is here means everything to people,” Father Austin said.
Since 1902, the Catholic presence in downtown Dallas was mainly concentrated around Sacred Heart Cathedral, later renamed the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Despite the growth of the suburbs and a dwindling population of downtown residents in the 1960s, the downtown business community not only remained strong but continued to grow well into the 1980s.
One member of that business community was Arthur Hughes, senior vice president of S.H. Lynch Co. and the driving force behind the building of St. Jude Chapel. Hughes would later be ordained a priest at the age of 76 and spend the rest of his life providing for the spiritual needs of St. Jude Chapel’s visitors.
“He was very enthusiastic about the project,” said Father Joseph Schumacher, the chapel’s first priest. “He was a tremendous man. He was so serving of the people. He was a very holy man, and a very prayerful man who cared for the people, especially the poor.”
A convert to Catholicism, Hughes was a successful executive and philanthropist who often paid for the secondary, and sometimes university, education of children who could not afford it.
While a downtown chapel had been talked about since the 1940s, the need for it had become evident by the 1960s.
With the blessing of then-Dallas Bishop Thomas Gorman, Hughes negotiated the purchase of a building at 1521 Main Street. One year and more than half a million dollars later, St. Jude Chapel was dedicated on Sept. 15, 1968.
“We were less Catholic in number back in those days than we are today, but even then people of all faiths would stop and come in,” Father Schumacher said.
Even though she no longer works downtown, Mary Lou Weiss said she continues to attend Mass at St. Jude Chapel, and has been doing so since her parents took her during in the 1980s.
“It’s a beautiful little jewel,” Weiss said. “I know it’s been a chapel for people downtown, but I’m just drawn to it. In large part because of the chapel’s small size, you feel a sense of community with people who are there even if you don’t know them.”
For Rick Tulli, a parishioner at Christ the King parish in Dallas, a visit to St. Jude Chapel has been a welcome part of his workday for 20 years.
“It’s a very good opportunity for folks to spend just a little time during the day to give thanks and make petitions,” said Tulli, who works at the downtown law firm Gardere, Wynne, and Sewell. “For a number of us who work downtown, it’s relatively convenient.”
As regular visitors reflect on the chapel’s past, Father Austin is anxiously looking toward the future.
“We want to make it a place where people feel welcome, regardless of their background and where they are in their lives,” Father Austin said.