| By Alfredo E. Cárdenas

St. Mary Cathedral Sits in the Heart of the Diocese of Austin

St. Mary Cathedral is at the center of one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities and just a block away from the State Capitol. This prime location makes it accessible to pilgrims wishing to earn a plenary indulgence during the Diocese of Austin’s 75th anniversary.

“We are open to all visitors and pilgrims who would like to visit us,” said Father Daniel Liu, the rector of St. Mary Cathedral.

The Cathedral staff has coordinated with area parishes that have brought groups of pilgrims seeking to earn a plenary indulgence for themselves or for their loved ones who have died. 

“Pilgrims can come inside the church to offer their prayers to fulfill the conditions for the indulgence,” Father Liu said.

The parish offers daily Masses at 6:30 a.m. and 12:05 p.m., and it offers the sacrament of reconciliation Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon. In addition to three Sunday Masses in English, St. Mary offers two Extraordinary Form Latin Masses and a Mass in Spanish. 

The Latin Mass has continued to grow in popularity over the last several years. In addition to the two Sunday Masses, the parish often celebrates Mass in Latin on the holy days of obligation.

St. Mary has a modest-sized Spanish-speaking community. The parish hosts monthly community meals and hosts celebrations for Our Lady of Guadalupe, Posadas, and processions on certain feast days. Moreover, the Austin Rosary Crusade, a Spanish-language Ecclesial Movement founded in South Austin, regularly meets at St. Mary and hosts retreats. The parish also provides religious education classes in Spanish.

Sitting as it does amid the busy downtown, St. Mary does not serve a neighborhood in the same way that most other parishes do. However, the downtown workforce and many out-of-town visitors attend Mass at the Cathedral on weekends and feast days like Christmas and Easter. Because people do not live nearby, the parish does not have as many ministries as other parishes, “but the ones we do have seem quite active,” Father Liu said. 

The Cathedral Young Adults group has become the most active group in the parish over the last several years. In addition, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program assists people showing interest in becoming Catholic. The parish had nine catechumens preparing for baptism this past Easter. Each year about 100 are baptized, 70 make their First Holy Communion, 60 receive the sacrament of confirmation, 55 couples get married, and about 13 funerals are celebrated.

The Cathedral School of Saint Mary, which has been in continuous operation for more than 156 years, is the largest ministry at St. Mary Cathedral. Families from 35 ZIP codes have children who attend the school. The Cathedral school serves families from several surrounding parishes, most notably Sacred Heart Parish in east Austin. The Our Kids at Heart Foundation plays a crucial role in maintaining the school’s vitality.

Whether it’s through the school or the parish religious education program, the parish does its best “to work with parents and families to assist them in educating their children in the faith,” Father Liu said. The parish helps parents, including those who are homeschooling their children, grow in the faith and help their children do the same. As with most parishes, sacramental preparation is their highest demand.

St. Mary Cathedral was initially known as St. Patrick when it was established in 1852. The name changed to St. Mary in 1866.

With such a notable history, it is hard for Father Liu to forecast what will come for St. Mary. However, the parish continues to focus on fulfilling its current responsibilities while providing for the future. An essential part of what is to come is providing vocations to serve the diocese. The parish has two seminarians in formation for the Diocese of Austin, Ladd Spears and Jack Graves, as well as several men and women in formation for religious orders.

“I would love to continue maintaining what we have here and develop a greater sense of community, especially with our youth,” said Father Liu. He is assisted in his parish responsibilities by Fathers Jakob Hurlimann and Doug Jeffers and Deacon Hector Ortiz.

For more information about the five parishes that have been designated as pilgrimage sites for the diocese’s 75th anniversary, visit www.austindiocese75.org.

75th anniversary pilgrimage sites

To obtain a plenary indulgence, travel to one of the pilgrimage sites designated for the 75th anniversary before Nov. 18: St. Thomas Aquinas in College Station, St. Mary Cathedral in Austin, St. John the Evangelist in Marble Falls, St. Mary of the Assumption in Taylor, and Sacred Heart in Waco. To receive the plenary indulgence, pilgrims must complete the following:

  • be baptized and in the state of grace
  • pray the Our Father and the Creed while at the pilgrimage site
  • confess within a few days of the visit to the pilgrimage site
  • receive the Eucharist within a few days of the visit to the pilgrimage site
  • pray for Pope Francis and his intentions by saying, “For the intentions of the Holy Father,” followed by the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be.

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.