A new era begins
by Msgr. Michael Howell, Contributor
November 1, 2012
Bishop Thomas Joseph Drury of the Diocese of San Angelo was named the new shepherd of Corpus Christi in 1965 as successor to Bishop Garriga.
On the local level, the boundaries of the diocese changed for the first time since the erection of the vicariate in 1874. Separated from the Diocese of Corpus Christi, the southern four counties of Hidalgo, Starr, Cameron and Willacy were designated the new Diocese of Brownsville with the Auxiliary Bishop Adolph Marx of Corpus Christi named as the first bishop.
Bishop Thomas Joseph Drury of the Diocese of San Angelo was named as the new shepherd of Corpus Christi. Bishop Drury was born in County Sligo, Ireland in 1902 and came to America at an early age to make his home with his older sister in St. Louis, Missouri.
He completed his high school studies and first two years of college at St. Benedict’s High School and College in Atchison, Kansas where he responded to the call of Bishop Joseph P. Lynch of Dallas who was seeking seminarians for both Dallas and the newly established Diocese of Amarillo. Choosing to study for Amarillo, Bishop Drury completed his priestly formation at Kenrick Seminary in Missouri and was ordained in 1935.
His life as a young priest in a new diocese included work both on the parish and diocesan levels, with assignments as editor of the diocesan paper and diocesan director of Catholic Action (Catholic Charities), Boy and Girl Scouts and the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (religious education) as well as work in the Marriage Tribunal. After World War II he served as a military chaplain until invited by his former bishop, now Archbishop Robert Lucey of San Antonio, to serve as moderator of the Spanish-speaking programs and Catholic Action in the archdiocese.
At the outbreak of the Korean conflict, he was again called to military service as a chaplain in the Air Force and after his tour of duty returned to parish work in the Diocese of Amarillo. Among other tasks, he directed the building of the parish church of Christ the King in Lubbock and served as its first pastor in 1961. Christ the King was later designated the cathedral when the Diocese of Lubbock was erected in 1983.
His time at Christ the King, however, was cut short by his appointment as bishop of San Angelo. It was there he was serving when he received the call to come to Corpus Christi in 1965 as successor to Bishop Garriga.
Msgr. Robert E. Freeman, when he was Vicar General of the Diocese of Corpus Christi noted that the “climate of the church in south Texas when Bishop Drury was installed in 1965 can be compared to the introduction Charles Dickens gave his ‘Tale of Two Cities’.” It was the “best of times” because of the Vatican Council’s call for renewal and increased involvement of the laity in activities of the Church to serve as leaven in the world. However, it was also “the worst of times” because there were no models or structures to implement this new society.
This led to great challenges as dioceses and parishes sought to develop such structures. The vision promoted by the Council required training and motivation from both clergy and laity to implement. Bishop Drury responded by initiating a diocesan wide census to better ascertain the demographics of the Catholic community. He also introduced a Diocesan Pastoral Council composed of Catholic lay leaders along with clergy and religious to ascertain needs and workable answers to those needs and established a Presbyteral Council to promote collaboration and seek advice from a larger representative body of the clergy than just his Consultors.
During this time, the Church made some radical changes in the liturgy of the Church in the use of the vernacular and renewal of the sacramental rites in light of historical and scriptural studies. The bishop appointed a Director of Liturgy to promote education of both the clergy and the laity as well as oversee any architectural modifications made in the existing churches in light of the reforms.
The Diocesan Liturgical Commission also brought in noted speakers to help the parish priests prepare for new demands. Noting the Council’s focus on the importance of the Word of God in the revised rituals of all the sacraments, conferences featuring speakers like noted scholar Father Raymond Brown were offered. This was true also for the new sacramental rituals. For instance, as the new rite of Anointing of the Sick was promulgated, an associate of Dr. Kubler-Ross was brought in for a conference on dealing with the seriously ill and those near death.
It became the practice to hold similar clergy conferences on a regular basis as tools to help the clergy in their ministry to the people of God. The bishop also sought to enrich the spiritual life of clergy and laity alike with retreats.
The diocese was blessed in 1973 with the presence of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, recently declared “Venerable” by Pope Benedict XVI. In 1940, he had conducted the first religious service ever telecast. In 1951, he began the TV series “Life is Worth Living” and between 1928 and 1967 had published more than 67 books. He inspired clergy and laity alike in a series of talks given in the Corpus Christi Cathedral Jan. 15-17, 1973. One of the guests at this ecumenical gathering, Rev. Don Pevey of the First Methodist Church, commented in the local Catholic paper that the Archbishop’s presentations were “impressive” as he spoke of the call of clergy and laity alike to live the Gospel in the modern world.
Local Catholic schools had always had the reputation of excellence in producing graduates of high academic and moral standing since the early days of the vicariate, but during Bishop Drury’s period a statewide effort was initiated to accredit all of the Catholic schools in Texas. This was done through the concerted effort of all the bishops of Texas who organized the Texas Catholic Conference to coordinate such joint activities. Within the diocese, new parochial schools were opened, and at one time there were efforts to even establish a Catholic junior college—Christopher College. However, financial demands made this goal unattainable, and after only a few years the school had to close.
During the administration of earlier bishops the use of the media to evangelize and inform had begun with the newspaper Southern Messenger that was initiated in the 1890s to serve all of Texas in providing the bishops with a means of reaching all of their flock on a weekly basis. Beginning in 1954, with the approbation of Bishop Garriga, a privately published weekly named the Corpus Christi Parish Post began to serve the Catholics of south Texas with news of local activities.
As a young priest, Bishop Drury had served as editor of the Amarillo Catholic paper; and as a bishop in San Angelo he had established a diocesan paper. Not surprisingly he also chose to establish an official weekly newspaper for the Diocese of Corpus Christi, which first appeared on May 6, 1966 as the Texas Gulf Coast Register and later was renamed the Texas Gulf Coast Catholic and by 1980 the South Texas Catholic. He also began the application process that resulted in two radio stations—KLUX in Corpus Christi and KHOY in Laredo. Finally, he directed construction of the first television production studio while also promoting and underwriting a weekly Catholic program on one of the local public networks in Corpus Christi.
With years of experience in social services from his time as diocesan director of Catholic Action in Amarillo and San Antonio, Bishop Drury established Catholic Charities in September 1965. From a modest beginning the social services of the diocese grew into full-service centers in Corpus Christi and Laredo.
The diocesan office saw to the reception and settling of the early boat people fleeing Vietnam and in those early years addressed such needs as adoptions, counseling, emergency aid, shelter for battered wives and the homeless and immigration. It sponsored social services in housing projects in Laredo, Corpus Christi and Alice, as well as special ministry to migrant workers.
During the first decade of Bishop Drury’s administration the Diocese experienced two major storms, Beulah in September 1967 and Celia in August 1970. Catholic Charities organized volunteers for both to help those affected. Bishop Drury and a team of priests, nuns and lay leaders met nightly by candlelight as they planned the restoration of areas ravaged by Hurricane Celia.