| By Alfredo E. Cárdenas | Correspondent

Catholic Spirit connects parishioners across our diocese

In the fall of 2022, the Catholic Spirit transitioned to a sleek color magazine format, but it was not a novel format for the Diocese of Austin’s primary information source. When founded in January 1983, the Spirit’s first six issues were “in a color magazine format” before the cost became prohibitive and it switched to newsprint.

“No matter the format, the content of this diocesan publication aims to inform and connect Catholics across the diocese,” said Shelley Metcalf, the current editor of the Catholic Spirit.

Bishop Gregory Aymond (2000-2008) did not believe “it was prudent for the people to hear from their bishop only once a year, when he was asking for money,” recalls Helen Osman, who served as editor of the Catholic Spirit for 16 years. The bishop increased circulation so that every registered Catholic household in the diocese could regularly receive news of the diocese. Bishop Joe Vásquez remains committed to reaching all registered households as well.

In the beginning

A publication was not a top priority for the diocese when it was first established 75 years ago. Existing Catholic publications, such as The Hilltopper at St. Edward’s University, reported the news for the young diocese. On May 14, 1948, Bishop Louis J. Reicher (1947-1971) wrote in The Southern Messenger that “a vast amount of good can be accomplished in a diocese by having an outstanding diocesan newspaper,” and designated The Southern Messenger as the diocese’s official newspaper.

In 1957, The Southern Messenger ceased publication, and on Nov. 17, 1957, The Lone Star Catholic became the diocese’s official newspaper. The Lone Star Catholic was published at St. Edward’s University and was a section within Our Sunday Visitor. Each issue included eight pages of international and national news, an editor’s column, pieces from St. Edward’s and local advertising.

The second issue included a compelling column by Father Frank Brigantine, pastor at Cristo Rey Parish in Austin, on meeting the needs of Spanish-speaking Catholics in the diocese.

In 1961 the diocese renamed the newspaper Lone Star Register, which was published out-of-state. Jim Kelly briefly served as editor but was replaced by Father Maurice Deason in 1962. In 1964, he delved into a controversial issue, explaining Bishop Reicher’s position on the Civil Rights movement, which had met with disagreement from professors at St. Edward’s.

Father Deason maintained strong relationships with the secular press in the area, subscribing to some 50-weeklies. Not surprisingly, these newspapers often used material from the Lone Star Register, resulting in broader publicity for the diocese.

In 1968 the diocese moved the paper back to Texas and made it part of the Texas Catholic Herald, the newspaper of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston. The Austin edition included stories about diocesan events and parish activities and featured letters to and from the editor, but staff in Houston generated the national and international sections. Subscriptions, advertising and funds from the diocese paid for the local edition.

Msgr. Martin Molloy served as the first editor of the Austin Texas Catholic Herald (1968-1972), and Father Victor Goertz held the position from 1972-1980. In January 1980, the Austin Texas Catholic Herald ceased publication.

40 years ago

In 1982, the diocese created a communications program that published two short-lived publications, Our Voice for six months and the Catholic Journal for four months. The following year the diocese established the Catholic Spirit, which is still in operation 40 years later. Editors include William H. Hallman (1983-1986), Marilyn Kuehler (1986-1987), Evelyn Rodrigue (1987-1989), Father James Vanderholt (1989-1990), Helen Osman (1990-2006) and Shelley Metcalf (2007-Present).

Each issue of the Catholic Spirit includes an interview with the bishop and stories of interest from parishes and ministries in the diocese. Freelance reporters and columnists contribute stories and photos for each issue.

Osman recalls being “honored and humbled,” interviewing people about their stories of faith. “Ordinary people doing the most extraordinary work of the Gospel,” she said.

Metcalf said her goal with every story is to show how people are living out their faith in simple yet profound ways.

Throughout the diocese, 127 parishes “are leading people closer to Christ, and I especially enjoy highlighting the ministries in our parishes,” she said.

“I hope the Catholic Spirit serves as a bridge to connect with other parishioners [who] are a few miles or 100 miles down the road. Our diocese covers a lot of territory, and I hope the Catholic Spirit is a way to stay connected,” Metcalf said.

Each issue of the Catholic Spirit includes an interview with the bishop and stories of interest from parishes and ministries in the diocese. Freelance reporters and columnists contribute stories and photos for each issue.

Alfredo E. Cárdenas began as a freelance writer for the Catholic Spirit in 2000, writing histories of parishes. In 2010, Bishop Michael Mulvey of the Diocese of Corpus Christi named him editor of the South Texas Catholic, a publication of the Corpus Christi Diocese. Upon his retirement in 2017, he returned to Austin, where he resumed writing for the Catholic Spirit.