| By Selena Aleman | Guest Columnist

Historical commission focuses on Carlos Castañeda

The Texas Catholic Historical Society and the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas at Austin recently co-hosted a symposium, “Carlos E. Castañeda’s ‘Catholic’ Texas?” The symposium celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Texas Knights of Columbus Historical Commission through discussions on its historiographer, Dr. Carlos E. Castañeda.

In 1923, the Texas State Council of the Knights of Columbus founded the commission to publish a history of Catholic contributions toward Texas statehood for the Texas State Centennial in 1936. At the time, the Texas Spanish Missions were in ruins, and broader Texas histories mostly ignored the presence of Catholicism. Concurrently, during the 1920s, the Texas State Council actively aided persecuted Catholics in Mexico and refugees moving to Texas during the Mexican Revolution.

Between 1924-1932, the commission collected copies of records from archives throughout the U.S., Mexico and Spain. The records were stored initially at St. Edward’s University and overseen by Holy Cross Father Paul J. Foik; today they are housed at the Catholic Archives of Texas in Austin. The commission’s collected archives were used as source material by Dr. Carlos E. Castañeda to publish the seven-volume work, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas, 1519-1936. 

Castañeda, a long-time parishioner at St. Austin Parish in Austin and member of their Newman Club, may be familiar to UT alumni as half of the namesake for the Perry-Castañeda Library. More history on Castañeda, the commission, and the Texas State Centennial can be explored in an exhibit of digitized items found at the Catholic Archives of Texas and Diocese(s) of Austin and Dallas archives: https://bit.ly/3ECVwsW

During the symposium, historians from universities across the country discussed the legacy created by Castañeda, today remembered as one of the first to document the history of Texas from a Catholic perspective. The groundwork created by Castañeda eventually evolved into the Chicano and borderlands disciplines of the 1970s and today examined through Mexican American or Latino/a Studies. Furthermore, discussions explored who Castañeda was beyond his scholarly works by reviewing his role as a civil rights and educational activist for Mexican Americans in South Texas. Honored guests included the daughter and grandsons of Castañeda and civil rights activist Alonso Perales. 

On March 1, the Texas Catholic Historical Society (TCHS) will sponsor a panel during the Texas State Historical Association’s annual meeting to continue discussing Castañeda. Panelists Dr. Ricardo Álvarez-Pimentel (Baylor University), Dr. Maggie Elmore (Sam Houston State University), and Dr. Matthew Butler (UT Austin) will present their edited papers from the Castañeda symposium. The TCHS journal, the Catholic Southwest, which is included with an annual TCHS membership, will feature the panelists’ papers. Information on TCHS events and membership can be found on Facebook, search “Texas Catholic Historical Society or email tchs@txcatholic.org.

Selena Aleman is the archivist for the Catholic Archives of Texas, a ministry of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops. Donations of Catholic items to the archive, including items from Knights of Columbus councils, can be arranged by emailing selena@txcatholic.org. When she is not in the archive stacks, she enjoys reading, eating barbecue and playing with her dog.