Most Americans tend to idolize life in small towns. Sure there are plenty of people who would like to live in midtown Manhattan but most of us idealize the quiet world of a smaller community with neighborhood schools, no traffic, faithful neighborhoods and, overall, a life of peace and quiet. That is not always the case.
A terrible tragedy struck the little town of West, Texas on April 17th. This little town called West has always confused people. West, Texas, is surprisingly not in western Texas, but in Central Texas, and this town is served by the northern most parish in the Diocese of Austin, St. Mary, the Church of the Assumption
. West is a heavily Catholic town with most of its citizens being Czech and Catholic. On Thursday of last week, there was a tremendous explosion in the West Fertilizer Co. which manufactured fertilizer. Many of us forget it but from time to time we see terrible explosions related to fertilizer. That is what exploded in Texas City in 1947 and it was used in the terrible Oklahoma City bombing 20 years ago. It is very dangerous. The explosion was so severe that dozens of houses and buildings were either damaged or destroyed. At least twelve people lost their lives. Rightfully the parish made its facilities available to the rescue program and in their sorrow and loss they are joined by the rest of Texas and all across the country.
West is a small town but it is huge in terms of courage and community commitment. The agony and the sense of loss will purdure for a long time but the strong faith of the people will enable them to get through this agonizing catastrophe.
Our wonderful Pope Francis has already reached out to Bishop Joe Vasquez and the community of West. Let’s all pray for the citizens of West, and thoughtfully consider what else we might be able to do to help.
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I was delighted to see that just before the great celebration of Easter, the Austin Area Research Organization (AARO), a business group, had unveiled a plan and program to lift 30,000 low wages workers in the Austin area to the level where they would enjoy higher income and greater flexibility in seeking job opportunities.
Much has been written of late about the declining middle class, declining not in numbers but in income. While we have seen record profits in most areas of industrial life and despite the inflation that has occurred after 1990, most middle income people have suffered a real drop in real income. This has been especially difficult for unskilled minority workers.
AARO is working with the University of Texas Center for the Study of Human Resources and they are about to release a strategy for the Workforce Potential Project. Their goal is to help 30,000 of Austin’s lower wage workers to complete certificate or degree programs and land jobs that pay at least $18 an hour. What a blessing to so many of our citizens who are really struggling just to get by. The study says that, “With the right programs and support services, those workers could quickly earn the credentials needed for a set of 17 high paying target occupations. The study looked across a range of occupations in four primary fields: health and life sciences, information technology, trades and administrative jobs.”
Let’s wish them well. The recipients of this program are in real need and will benefit tremendously from it.
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The great State of Texas has many wonderful advantages. One of the first and most obvious is that of geography. It sits in the middle of North America joining together the Upper Midwest, the Southwest, the Old South and Northern Mexico. These bordering areas influence Texas is two ways; they pour their own unique qualities into the state and they draw Texas out into those areas. South Texas is very much like Mexico. El Paso has more in common with Los Angeles than it does with Beaumont. Dallas is really in the Midwest whether it admits it or not. Finally, East Texas is really the western edge of the Old South (read Confederacy!).
While that geography is all very interesting, it also means there is a word that Texans don’t like to think about – drought. The great state is currently facing the worst drought in its history. Crops are failing. Lakes are drying up. Cities are desperately making plans to provide adequate water to their citizens as the future grows more questionable in terms of the availability of that water.
I am always happy to see our public leaders busily engaged in trying to deal with the water issue and to date they have done a rather good job. There are questions about the future, however, and periodically some serious group starts talking about piping water from the Mississippi River into Texas. I don’t know if the states in-between think that this is a good idea or not but it is certainly being talked about.
As worried as we Texans are about the availability of water for our cities and farms, it is obvious that the whole world is beginning to think about the water issue and what we are going to do as our population surges and weather changes restricts rainfall. I believe that God will provide but I think we ought to be talking to him about the schedule.
Let’s keep thinking, let’s keep working, let’s keep trying…and let’s keep praying as well. Today’s rain is a start.
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I know that I am very prejudiced but I really do enjoy reading the history of the State of Texas. The story has many rough edges but overall the movement has been one of steady development over the centuries. It was inhabited first by what we call Native Americans. The Spaniards began to arrive in the 16th century. They would face competition from Anglo Americans in the 1800’s and the fusion of those three people would open itself up to people from all over the world until you have what is today the great State of Texas, and great it is despite its weaknesses!
The Catholic Church, of course, shares deeply in that story. Most of my readers know the name of the diocese in which they are currently residing, but I wonder how many of us ever stopped to think about whether or not that geographical spot where you are standing has ever been under another ecclesiastical jurisdictions. Today, if you live in San Antonio, Texas or Brownsville or even Austin, you were once under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Havana, Cuba. Of course, Cuba itself was not on the scene as yet. As the Church kept growing in Mexico, the jurisdiction for this area was turned over to Mexico City and subsequently to the Diocese of Guadalajara. In 1879, there was enough development in Northern Mexico and the Spanish missions in Texas to bring this area under the spiritual administration of the Diocese of Linares, a prosperous town somewhat south of what is today Monterrey.
Soon after Texas split from Mexico in 1836, requests went up for a diocese in Texas but the Vatican delayed for many years because Mexico did not recognize the independence of Texas. It was only after the Mexican-American War that the Vatican would establish the Diocese of Galveston in 1847. Then we began the impressive growth of the Church in Texas and today the Lone Star State is served by no fewer than 15 diocesan bishops. Until Galveston-Houston was made an Archdiocese in 2004, the Province of San Antonio was the largest province in the world. Archbishop Patrick Flores presided over 14 Suffragan Sees.
It is a great source of sadness for me that despite these extraordinary historic years very little really good history of the Catholic Church has been written. There was a marvelous summary written by Sister Loyola Hegarty, CCVI but it has not been updated for many years. More recently, a priest in Houston, Father James Moore, has written a considerable amount but in two volumes. The first, Through Fire and Blood, covered the Church in Texas from 1836 to 1900. The second volume he called Acts of Faith covering 1900 to 1950. While diocesan histories are quite numerous, these are the only ones we have that attempt to cover the state as a whole. These books are woefully inadequate in terms of the material to be covered but at least we are blessed to have them.
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All of my adult life I have been concerned about vulnerable, unskilled workers. They are agonizingly vulnerable because they have no strength, no resource other than the sale of their own muscle if somebody wants to “rent” their biceps for a few days. There have been some unions working in this area, but the potential members move and change jobs so often that they are very difficult to organize.
It is in the light of this reality that I have been so thrilled to see the development of a new cause for hope – the Workers Defense Project. The Workers Defense Project (WDP) has two offices in Texas; one in Dallas and one in Austin. The Austin address is 5604 Manor Road, Austin, TX 78723. The Project is not a union but an extraordinarily effective effort to bring low wage workers, churches, unions and community groups together to build a stronger and united voice for our low wage workers in Texas. Despite the blindness of the legislature on most social issues, WDP was able to see the passage of a groundbreaking Wage Theft law. The law now makes is easier to arrest employers who refuse to pay their workers and ensures workers families the ability to defend their rights anywhere in our state.
The Project does wonderful things, especially in the area of securing back wages where shameless employers have engaged in wage theft.
Construction work is innately dangerous. In addition to that 141 deaths in Texas last year, hundreds and hundreds more were injured. The Workers Defense Project is now providing in-house ten-hour OSHA safety classes that keep construction workers safe on the job and improve their earning potential.
I could go on and on but I want to just point out one more wonderful achievement. WDP has helped workers development leadership and grassroots organizing skills. Men and women who work ten hours a day attend organizing meetings with the goal of ensuring better working conditions for all workers. The goal is magnificent. Change can only be achieved by lifting up the voice of those most impacted by inequality to create a better world.
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We used to be the largest state, we were the only state that was once a republic, in many ways, we are the richest state, etc., etc., etc. Yes, Texans are famous for bragging but sometimes we are out in front of something about which we ought not to be too proud.
Demographers Steve Murdoch and Michael Cline at the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University in Houston issued a report last week estimating that if Texas implemented federal healthcare reform, which our pious governor has eschewed, more than half of the uninsured, about 3 million people, in this state would be covered by 2014. Yes, we can certainly be proud of that, can’t we?
At the present time, Texas still has the highest rate of uninsured in the nation. One in four Texans did not have health insurance in 2011 according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey found that 5.8 million Texans, 23% of the population, did not have health insurance. That includes 13% of the children, 22% of the women, 24% of the men and 26% of the employed workforce in Texas.
There are many sad results of this situation, not the least of which is the fact that Texas hospitals had to absorb $5 billion for uncompensated care to uninsured patients in 2010. This is according to the Texas Hospital Association. In addition, with millions uninsured, our emergency rooms are jammed and the cost of such services are astronomically higher than if it was handled through the proper process. This avoidable mess is hurting all of us.
The governor is a man of deep spirituality and prayer. He feels confident that our lakes were dramatically replenished last month after those heavy rains and he credits his “Christian soldiers” for accomplishing that. He may very well be right. I wish he would start praying for the poor in this state who receive inadequate health care.
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Today, I present the last of my brief descriptions of the six Catholic colleges and universities functioning within the State of Texas. It is my own alma mater, the University of St. Thomas in Houston.
The University of St. Thomas was a dream of the much-beloved bishop of the Diocese of Galveston, Christopher Edward Byrne. He had been in office since 1918 but after World War II, with the explosive growth of Houston, the bishop began to see the necessity of establishing an excellent school of higher learning centered on Roman Catholic faith and values. He called on the Basilian Fathers who had been running St. Thomas High School since the year 1900 to build on the work of a half century of productive educational efforts and launch a university. The Basilians complied and today 63 years later you can see the results of their faith, vision and labors.
The University of St. Thomas is really an excellent school with a reputation in all of the areas where it offers undergraduate or graduate courses. On a personal note, I am very proud to be a Basilian product. I was never considered a fast learner. I was five years in high school because I was caught by the move in Texas to go to 12 years. When I went to the seminary for eight years, I spent seven summers at the university to secure a major in economics, receiving a B.A. at the same time that I was ordained in 1956. Finally, I would be awarded a Ph.D. in history after about 25 years. There you have it – a new record for being in school – five years in high school, seven years for a B.A. and a quarter of a century for a Ph.D.
Forgive me. There is so much to say about the University of St. Thomas and I have used it improperly talking about myself. I will do better next time.
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Today, I want to touch on yet another Catholic university in Texas, Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. “The Lake,” as it is popularly referred to across the city, has been doing wonderful work since 1895 when it was established by French Catholic sisters, members of the Congregation of Divine Providence. The school, while still young by northeastern standards, has been functioning in three different centuries. Our Lady of the Lake has nearly 3,000 students and about 40% of them are in graduate school. The university currently offers bachelors degrees in 33 areas of study, masters degrees in 14 areas and two doctoral programs. In a desire to reach beyond San Antonio, The Lake offers weekend classes on campuses in Houston and Harlingen.
In maintaining this school for nearly 120 years, the Sisters of Divine Providence have striven to ensure quality in undergraduate and graduate learning experiences. The school strives to foster spiritual and professional growth while preparing students for success in continuing service in the larger society.
I have followed The Lakes development for the last fifty years and I know that once there was a time or two when the school was experiencing real difficulties. I am very proud to see that it is so firmly established and moving forward with wonderful confidence and productivity.
May God bless Our Lady of the Lake University.
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A wonderful and agonizingly necessary accomplishment was achieved by thousands of people in Central Texas last year when by working together through Meals on Wheels and More they accomplished the following:
• Nearly one million meals prepared and delivered
• Five thousand trips to the grocery store for elderly shut-ins
• Ten thousand calls to respond to sick people’s needs
• Five thousand bags of hope for family needs
• Twelve thousand meals for kids
• Five thousand people in need directly affected by this
That is what was accomplished when you gave to Meals on Wheels and More. Were you part of that?
I know I keep coming back to Meals on Wheels but my friends there are people across town and maybe just a few blocks down who are in real trouble. Please take seriously our responsibility to help with the agonizing reality of hunger in Central Texas.
The above-mentioned facts and programs are a wonderful reflection of the generosity and helpfulness of people in the area. If we are going to objectively evaluate our accomplishments, it must be done in terms of the needs that are before us.
Let’s keep working!
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Last week, the Texas Republicans had a runoff election between David Dewhurst, the Lieutenant Governor, and Ted Cruz, the former Texas Solicitor. David Dewhurst was the odds on favorite, with plenty of money, name recognition and measurable experience, but there was an upset and Mr. Cruz defeated him in an election which drew a very low turnout of the citizenry.
How did the underdog surge to the top to win this surprising victory? The answer is easy. He smothered the Lieutenant Governor with a frightening accusation that was repeated time and time again and it had a measurable affect on that small group of the electorate that chose to vote that day. What did Cruz say about Dewhurst? He repeatedly called him a “MODERATE!”
It wasn’t too long ago when being called a moderate was a modest compliment, but this election was a good example of why this country is locked in a blistering, unproductive political stalemate. There is no place for the moderates in the electoral process. We are truly in trouble – deep trouble.
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