A Vision Reborn: Devotion and Pilgrimage at the Shrine of the True Cross
Written July 2011. By the Grace of God, the Shrine's renewal has continued. This article will be updated soon.
For decades many parishioners and visitors wondered why the word “shrine” is in the title of the Catholic parish in Dickinson. What is the meaning of this special word, and why is the Shrine of the True Cross the only parish in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to have this word in its title?
During the centennial celebration of the 1909 founding of the Dickinson parish under the title of St. Joseph’s Church, the answers to these questions became clear. Father Paul Felix, current pastor of the Shrine, recalls Daniel Cardinal DiNardo asking him just before the March 2009 Centennial Mass how the church was renamed from St. Joseph’s to the Shrine of the True Cross. Parishioners began pouring through old newspaper articles and working with area archivists, including Lisa May, director of the Archdiocesan Archives. This historical research revealed a beautiful vision that was born in the midst of the Great Depression.
The Most Rev. Christopher Byrne, Bishop of Galveston and Cardinal DiNardo’s predecessor, assigned Father Thomas Carney the pastorate of St. Joseph’s Church in 1934. Father Carney was a former president of the University of Dallas and rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Galveston. He was also a dynamic homilist, having written a book on the subject, speaking for several years on Houston radio, and even appearing as a guest host on NBC Radio’s The Catholic Hour. Bishop Byrne and Father Carney conceived a bold and moving vision, to establish in the Diocese of Galveston a sacred place of devotion to the Wood of the True Cross upon which Jesus died, to attract pilgrims and religious visitors from within the diocese and beyond. At this special place, this shrine, people could immerse themselves in the mystery of the Cross of Christ.
In 1936 Bishop Byrne and Father Carney took the first steps on the path towards making this vision a reality. St. Joseph’s Church was renamed and dedicated as the Shrine of the True Cross, located at the halfway point between Galveston and Houston. A Relic of the Wood of the True Cross upon which Christ died was received from Rome and enshrined in the church. Bishop Byrne secured a special blessing from the Holy See and obtained for the Shrine a spiritual affiliation with the ancient Roman Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, where Relics of Christ’s Passion, including the Wood of the True Cross, have been venerated by countless pilgrims from the fourth century to today. In 1937 Bishop Byrne designated the Shrine as the diocesan chapel of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. However, the historical events of the late 1930s and 1940s led to an eventual disconnect with that founding vision of the Shrine … until now.
As if history was repeating itself, in the midst of the recession of recent years, the Shrine of the True Cross parish embarked on a path to realize this beautiful vision established seventy-years ago by the authority of Bishop Byrne and the blessing of the Holy See. Under the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the Shrine of the True Cross remains the only diocesan shrine in the Archdiocese. It is also one of only three shrines that are dedicated to the Holy Cross currently listed in The Official Catholic Directory of the United States. With the word “shrine” in the title comes a special ministry and a special gift: to draw pilgrims and religious visitors closer to the Cross of Christ.