The earliest known Catholic activity in the Austin area dates to the 18th century Spanish era with the founding of a mission near modern-day Zilker Park. Although that mission no longer exists, the Church has had continuing interests in the area.
In 1841, the bishop of Texas, Bishop Jean Marie Odin, traveled to Austin and successfully argued with government officials for the reclamation of Church property, which had been confiscated by the Republic of Texas.
The Diocese of Galveston was formed in 1847 and served the entire state of Texas until 1874, when the second diocese was established in San Antonio. Growth and development of the area necessitated the establishment in November 1947 of the Diocese of Austin as the seventh diocese in the state. The original boundaries consisted of some 30 Central Texas counties encompassing 25,477 square miles. The population at that time was 762,383, of whom 75,495 (fewer than 10 percent) were Catholic.
Bishop Louis J. Reicher was named first bishop of the Diocese of Austin. From offices at Newman Hall on the edge of the University of Texas campus, Bishop Reicher guided 55 parishes and 43 missions, as well as 87 priests, 196 sisters, and 24 brothers.
With the founding of the new diocese, St. Mary Parish, the oldest Catholic church in Austin, was elevated to the status of cathedral. This magnificent building was dedicated in 1884. Other churches in the diocese were established as immigrants, bringing their religion with them, began settling the area in the 1800’s. While many Catholics in the Diocese of Austin trace their religious heritage to Mexico and Spain, there are also large numbers whose ancestry is Irish, German, Italian, French, Czech, or Polish.
By 1957, the Chancery had outgrown its quarters in Newman Hall and Bishop Reicher began construction of a new building. Completed in 1958, the Chancery is located on Congress Avenue, two blocks north of the State Capitol.
Despite the loss in 1961 of four of its northwest counties when the Diocese of San Angelo was formed, the Austin Diocese continued to grow. Bishop Reicher was actively involved in the building of many new parishes.
The 1970’s represented a period of change for the diocese. Bishop Reicher retired in 1971, and was succeeded by Bishop Vincent M. Harris. Continuing in the same vein as his predecessor, Bishop Harris was responsible for the building of several new parishes. He also spoke out on numerous social issues, including abortion and capital punishment.
On February 26, 1986, Bishop John E. McCarthy, a native of Houston, was installed as the third bishop of Austin. During the 15 years that he led the diocese, there was tremendous growth, not only in the Catholic population, but also in expansion of diocesan services, outreach to the general community, and the development of several institutions, including new schools, expanded campus ministries and health care, and the diocesan retreat center, Cedarbrake.
On June 2, 2000, Bishop Gregory Aymond was appointed coadjutor bishop of Austin. He became the fourth bishop of Austin on January 2, 2001, when Bishop McCarthy's request for retirement was granted by the Holy See. Bishop Aymond's tenure saw unprecedented growth in population and educational ministries offered by the diocese, including the development of an Institute for Spiritual Direction; the opening of San Juan Diego Catholic High School, which specifically targets financially disadvantaged students; the opening of St. Dominic Savio Catholic High School; and a joint program with St. Mary's University in San Antonio that allows lay people in the Austin Diocese to obtain a master's degree in theology using distance learning technology; as well as a three-fold increase in the number of seminarians.
On August 24, 2009, the College of Consultors elected Msgr. W. Michael Mulvey diocesan administrator after Bishop Aymond was installed Archbishop of New Orleans. On January 26, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI named Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston auxiliary bishop Joe S. Vásquez, the fifth bishop of Austin. He was installed on March 8, 2010.
The geographic territory of the diocese is approximately 19,000 square miles in 25 counties in Central Texas.
There are 125 parishes in the diocese; 22 of these communities have no resident priest. There are approximately 175 active priests ministering in the diocese in a variety of ministries, with an approximate ratio of one priest to every 2,643 Catholics.
The diocese encompasses the largest military installation in the United States, Fort Hood.
There are more than 20 Catholic schools in the diocese. Along with campus ministries, these institutions provide important formation, which complements the catechetical formation that happens in parish life.
There are more than 150,000 college students studying in colleges and universities within the boundaries of the Diocese of Austin. Two of the largest universities in the United States are served by our diocese: the University of Texas at Austin, and Texas A&M University in College Station. There are also active campus ministry centers at Texas State University in San Marcos, Baylor University in Waco, and St. Edward’s University in Austin.
There are more than 25,000 men and women incarcerated in prisons and jails in the territory of the Diocese of Austin. The priests of the diocese are often called to serve their pastoral needs.
The Catholic population of the diocese today stands at roughly 500,000, a growth reflected by the increasing number of Catholics who have migrated to Central Texas from other states and nations. They offer their stewardship in countless generous ways in service to the Church and their communities, as catechists, teachers, liturgical ministers, parish social ministers, youth ministers, and more.
Historical information provided by the Catholic Archives of Texas