By Steve Landregan
Special to The Texas Catholic
In November 1963, the Catholic community in Dallas was very different from what it is today. We were bigger, but we were also smaller; bigger in the size of the diocese, which was then known as the Diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth, but smaller in the number of Catholics. In 1963 there were 60 counties in the diocese with a Catholic population of 140,906. Today the Diocese of Dallas consists of nine counties with a Catholic population of 1,165,582.
Where are all those additional Catholics? Many are members of the nearly 40 new parishes that have been established during the past half-century. On Sundays in 1963 we would take a family ride in the country, sometimes visiting Plano, a town with a population of 4,000. There was no Baja Oklahoma. The LBJ freeway did not exist, but if it had there would have been only two parishes north of it, St. Paul the Apostle in Richardson and Mary Immaculate in Farmers Branch. Both were established in 1956. St. Rita, the northernmost Dallas parish, was still the “Chapel in the Weeds.”
Beginning in 1952 with St. Thomas Aquinas, 11 new parishes had been established prior to St. Patrick in Dallas in 1963. The Catholic Church in Dallas was growing rapidly with newcomers from the Midwest, the East and the old South. The flow of immigrants from the South had yet to reach its peak.
The waves of change had not washed over the church. In Rome, the Second Session of Vatican II had just gotten underway. No changes had been announced. Masses were all in Latin (except the Lord’s Prayer), every church had a Communion rail, and the priest faced the altar except for an occasional “Dominus Vobiscum” and the “Ite Missa Est” Catholics didn’t sing in church, that was a Protestant thing.
We still all had Holy Name Sundays and First Communion processions. We were still fasting from midnight from solid foods, certain liquids could be taken up to one hour before, no alcohol. All Sisters still wore habits, most priests (except monsignors) still wore black cassocks and birettas. There were no permanent deacons, only those on the way to the priesthood. Big Catholic events were the Christ the King Procession, Forty-Hour Devotion, novenas and parish missions. Catholics were still not too sure about what to eat on Fridays even though Bishop Thomas K. Gorman had abrogated Friday abstinence for Catholics in the diocese.
After a successful $4.5 million campaign, the largest in Dallas history, a new St. Paul Medical Center was nearing completion at Inwood and Harry Hines and was scheduled to open by year’s end. Of course, when it opened the nurses would all be wearing starched caps and white uniforms and stockings.
Cistercian Preparatory School was one year old, Bishop Lynch High School had just opened its doors that fall, and Jesuit College Prep finally moved into the new campus on Inwood Road. Our Lady of Good Counsel Academy, which had moved to a new campus two years earlier, was renamed Bishop Dunne High School in 1963.
Those attending Catholic elementary or high schools probably had a priest, brother or sister teaching their classes. In sports, Jesuit was the only game in town and had to go to Houston to find a comparable Catholic Secondary School.
Masses were celebrated in Latin until late 1963 when Pope Paul VI would promulgate the Council’s first document, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy which would initiate the reshaping of the Catholic Church. But that was all to come.
The church, the nation and the world were on the cusp of a new era that would not only shift the old paradigms but destroy many of them.
Steve Landregan, archivist and historian for the Diocese of Dallas and former editor of The Texas Catholic, served as an administrator at Parkland Hospital in 1963.