"Remember the deeds that our fathers did in their times."
- 1 Maccabees 2:51
Voices from the Past ...
“You have doubtless been informed of the grant of fifteen acres of land offered us by a Syndicate of Dickinson, Texas—on condition of our erecting a building for church and school purposes ...
“If we can succeed in engaging two of our former pupils as teachers, we will open a day school there next January. May the Sacred Heart guide and direct all for His greater glory.”
Letter written by Mother Mary Joseph Dallmer, October 1891
In 1891 the Reverend Mother Mary Joseph Dallmer, O.S.U., was elected the superior of the renown Ursuline convent in Galveston. At the same time that Mother Mary Joseph was leading the effort to build a magnificent new Ursuline Academy in Galveston, she was also earnest in spreading the Word of God to the rural parts of Texas through worship and education. Construction began on an Ursuline day school called St. Angela’s at what is now the corner of Highway 3 and FM 517 in downtown Dickinson, and on January 31, 1892, the first Mass at the school chapel was celebrated by the Rev. Father John S. Murphy, a young missionary from St. Mary’s Cathedral in Galveston.
The school and chapel were destroyed by the terrible Hurricane of 1900. During this storm, Mother Mary Joseph showed great courage in saving many lives, and became known as the “heroine of the 1900 storm.” Overwhelmed by the massive devastation to their own convent and academy in Galveston, the Ursuline nuns did not rebuild on the Dickinson site. The land was instead given to a prominent Galveston banker and Catholic, Joseph Lobit, who preserved the site of the school and chapel. But the legacy of Mother Mary Joseph’s efforts to spread the Word of God in Dickinson continues ever stronger to this day, with the mission of the Shrine of the True Cross and True Cross School.
“In the name of my bishop I wish to thank the Extension Society and the generous reverend benefactor for the gift of $500, which has been designated for the completion of St. Joseph’s church at Dickinson. The Italian colony at this place numbers some one-hundred and twenty-five families, and I am sure their combined prayers of thanksgiving will be a source of continued blessings for the Extension Society and the reverend benefactor who designated the gift for Dickinson.”
Letter to the editor of Extension Magazine
written by Father Jerome A. Rapp, September 1911
Italian immigrants predominantly from Sicily began to settle in and around Dickinson in the mid-1890s. After St. Angela’s school was lost to the great 1900 storm, the rapidly growing Italian colony there needed a place of worship, a church to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries and to come together in fellowship in the Name of Christ. Plans were initiated in 1905 to build a new Catholic church in Dickinson, and in July 1908 Joseph Lobit donated the site of the old Ursuline school to the Diocese of Galveston for the proposed church. Under the direction of the Right Reverend Nicholas A. Gallagher, Bishop of Galveston, and the young missionary to the Italian colony at the time, the Rev. Father Jerome A. Rapp, a small wooden mission church was constructed and named for St. Joseph, the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. St. Joseph is dear to the Sicilian people, and altars erected to God in his honor on his feast day, March 19, are a tradition that is observed to this day. On March 19, 1909, the Catholic community of Dickinson came together to celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph at the new (but unfinished) church, and Father Rapp administered First Holy Communion to a large class of children. The parish that would become the Shrine of the True Cross was born, and fittingly, with the celebration of the Eucharist with the young faithful.
“The Catholics of my missions are mostly truck growers. They have lost heavily in the last storm. If there is no help coming to us from the outside, I do not know where or how the churches will be rebuilt. Well, God will help us!”
Letter written by Father Carmelo Gagliardoni, August 26, 1915
Though they were a community of poor truck farmers, the Italians in Dickinson persevered in raising the funds to finish their new Catholic church by 1912, with the help of the Catholic Extension Society. But their perseverance was tested. A powerful windstorm knocked the new church off its foundations in July 1914. And then, after little more than a year of recovery, the Hurricane of 1915 swept into Galveston in August and completely wrecked the new St. Joseph’s Church.
The Rev. Father Carmelo Gagliardoni, O.M.I., was the missionary to Dickinson and pastor of St. Joseph’s at the time of the 1915 storm. Just as Mother Mary Joseph and the Ursulines over a decade before, Father Gagliardoni felt overwhelmed by the daunting situation. How would the mission church be rebuilt in the face of such great devastation and lack of funds? Father Gagliardoni turned in prayer to the only One who could truly help. In a letter to his provincial, Father Gagliardoni ended in affirmation: “Well, God will help us!” And he was correct. With the continued strength and courage of the Catholic community in Dickinson, the support of the Bishop, the clergy, and the generous donations from people from far and near, and, most importantly, by the favor of God, St. Joseph’s Church was rebuilt. Bishop Gallagher dedicated the new edifice on the First Sunday of Advent in 1916, confirming ninety-four children. For this new generation of the Church in Dickinson, something wonderful was in store.
“I was taken with your purpose, mentioned some time ago to create a place of special reverence for the Cross, the instrument of our redemption.
“Then when you showed me how you could transform the little church at Dickinson into a beautiful and worthy place to promote the devotion brought by St. Helen to Rome, and still continued there I was delighted. In this year when we are celebrating the Centennial of Texas’ freedom and hope, you may be able to inaugurate your plan of honoring the True Cross, symbol of that freedom wherewith God has made us free.”
Letter written by the Most Rev. Christopher Byrne, Bishop of Galveston,
to Father Thomas Carney, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Dickinson, March 7, 1936
In December 1934, the Rev. Father Thomas A. Carney became the pastor of the Galveston County Mainland missions, now centered at St. Joseph’s Church in Dickinson. Father Carney had previously served as the president of the University of Dallas and as the rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Galveston. He had a gifted speaking ability, which even led him to host The Catholic Hour
program nationally on NBC Radio. Father Carney was also a visionary. In a time when communism and fascism were spreading viciously throughout the world, when people were falling away from religion to secularism even in the United States, Father Carney felt that a center of devotion to the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ was needed in America. And that place of devotion, that Shrine of the Holy Cross, would be in Texas.
With the approval and support of the Most Reverend Christopher E. Byrne, Bishop of Galveston, Father Carney set about the establishment of the Shrine of the True Cross. The best location, he thought, would be a point midway between Houston and Galveston, in the center of the Diocese, in the town of Dickinson.
“The saying ‘In Hoc Signo Vinces’, is true now as it was in former times. It therefore seems most opportune that His Excellency Bishop Byrne has decided to raise the Standard of the Cross aloft in the center of the diocese by erecting a Shrine of the Most Holy Cross there.”
Letter written by His Eminence Pietro Cardinal Fumasoni-Biondi,
Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith,
and the Cardinal-Priest of the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme at Rome,
to Father Thomas Carney, August 12, 1936
The Shrine was blessed by the Holy See, and His Eminence Cardinal Fumasoni-Biondi granted affiliation of the Shrine to the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (Holy Cross in Jerusalem), his titular church in Rome.
St. Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine and Empress in her own right, had founded the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme after she had made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land ca A.D. 326. To better understand the Christian Faith, to which she and her son had converted to from paganism, St. Helena wanted to walk in the same places Our Lord had walked, to pray in the same places He had prayed, and to touch the Holy Relics our Lord had touched and left behind on Earth. The most sacred of these Relics was the Holy Cross upon which Our Lord had died, which had been lost on Calvary in Jerusalem and covered by a pagan temple for some 200 years by the Romans. With the support of her son, St. Helena led an intensive search for the Holy Cross on the hill of Calvary. Three wooden crosses were found buried, along with nails of crucifixion and the Titulus Crucis, the inscription mentioned in the Gospels conveying the charge of Jesus as the King of the Jews. But which cross was the Cross of Christ? For two of the crosses belonged to the criminals crucified with Our Lord during His Passion. St. Helena prayed to God to reveal which of the crosses had held Our Crucified Savior in His Death. The three crosses were brought to a woman on the verge of death with a crippling illness. With the touch of the third Cross, the woman was miraculously healed. The Cross of Our Lord, the True Cross, was found!
The Relics of the Passion of Our Lord were divided by St. Helena for veneration throughout the Roman Empire. Relics were left in Jerusalem for the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre constructed on the site of Calvary. Other Relics were sent to Emperor Constantine in Constantinople. And St. Helena cared for the remaining Relics and enshrined them in the chapel of her palace in Rome. This chapel became the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, which exists to this day.
On September 13, 1936, on the eve of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Bishop Byrne renamed and dedicated St. Joseph’s Church as the Shrine of the True Cross. He carried in procession a Precious Relic of the True Cross, splinters of the Wood of the Cross found by St. Helena centuries ago. The Relic was enshrined in the church, for perpetual public veneration, a reminder to the faithful of Dickinson, of the Diocese, and hopefully to the nation of the Cross of Christ, the instrument of our faith and our salvation.
Two days later, on September 15, Father Carney penned a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In that letter he wrote,
“Our endeavor [at the Shrine] shall be solely to distract the minds of our listeners and followers away from godlessness and godless practices, and attract them to the foot of the Cross of the Crucified Savior.”
The Shrine of the True Cross stands today because of the work, prayers, dedication, and strength of remarkable people like Mother Mary Joseph, Father Rapp, Father Gagliardoni, Bishop Byrne, and Father Carney, as well as many others whose words were not recorded, but whose voices are still heard as we gather together to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries in great joy and celebration this day.
“May those who come later say, whatever the trouble was in 2009, 2010, 2011, and beyond, whatever the anxiety, whatever the difficulty, it is these people who have matured in faith our Catholic heritage, who bring us through. I pray you have a wonderful Centennial, and you never lose sight of the Cross of Jesus Christ.”
His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo,
Archbishop of Galveston-Houston,
Mass of Thanksgiving of the Centennial of the Shrine of the True Cross
March 15, 2009