| By Alfredo E. Cárdenas

St. Thomas Aquinas in College Station welcomes pilgrims

As the Diocese of Austin celebrates its 75th anniversary, Bishop Joe Vásquez has designated five parishes as pilgrimage sites, including St. Thomas Aquinas in College Station. By visiting the parish and fulfilling a few other tasks, the faithful may obtain a plenary indulgence.

Adam Brill, the director of Liturgy at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, explained an indulgence: “Confession forgives our sins as well as the punishment for going to hell. The act of confession, however, does not do full justice, which is why we have purgatory. Temporal punishment remains. An indulgence covers all of that, directing us back to God.”

An indulgence is achieved only through genuine repentance, and the penitent must be in a state of grace to receive it. “Sin separates us from God, and every sin also entails an unhealthy attachment to something on earth,” Bishop Joe Vásquez said in the March issue of the Catholic Spirit. “This is why it is important to make a proper confession and to be free of all venial and mortal sins to receive the indulgence.”

To obtain the indulgence, the faithful must travel between now and Nov. 18 to one of the pilgrimage sites designated for the 75th anniversary: 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. And the pilgrim 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

Those who are ill and unable to make a pilgrimage may receive the indulgence if they go to confession, receive the Eucharist and pray for the intentions of the Holy Father. Bishop Vásquez encourages homebound individuals to speak to their pastor if they wish to earn an indulgence.

Indulgences can be applied either to oneself or the souls of the deceased but not to other persons living on earth. “If you know anyone who you feel is in purgatory, you can apply the indulgence to them to help their purification process from purgatory,” Brill said.

St. Thomas Aquinas began welcoming pilgrims to its St. Julienne of Liege Chapel after the dedication of its holy doors on Nov. 20, 2022, the feast of Christ the King. The chapel, located on the east side of Texas Highway 6 on St. Thomas Road, is open day and night through Nov. 18. The pilgrimage chapel has experienced a slight uptick of visitors, primarily local parishioners from the surrounding parishes. Father Albert Laforet, the pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas, is looking toward coordinating with area pastors to encourage group pilgrimages.

In the last 15 years, the congregation of St. Thomas Aquinas has doubled to include 2,300 families and more than 6,700 parishioners. Last year the parish celebrated 54 infant baptisms, 81 confirmations and 79 first Holy Communions along with several weddings and funerals. More than 750 students attend religious education classes, and the parish welcomed 32 new members via the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA).

Five men from the parish are currently studying for the priesthood. Isaiah Minke, Chris Haberberger and Louis Jensen are studying for the Diocese of Austin. Thomas Swierc is preparing for the Diocese of Corpus Christi and Ben Seago for the Diocese of Amarillo. 

St. Thomas Aquinas has a vocations program for young men in high school called Manus Dei (God’s Hands). Members serve at all of the parish’s high liturgies. In addition, along with their fathers, they spend time with Father Laforet, learning about the priesthood. Currently, Manus Dei has 14 members and a waiting list of boys who want to join. The parish also recently started a discernment group for young women, a choir called Cantus Angelorum (Song of the Angels). The group has 10 members and meets every other week.

While Father Laforet is the only priest serving the growing parish, five deacons — Frank Ashley, Ron Fernandes, Dave Mayes, Pat Moran and Mark Olivieri — celebrate baptisms, help with funerals and assist at every Mass.

Visit austindiocese75.org for more information about the five pilgrimage sites.

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.