Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Tribute to Catholic Dallas on the 50th Anniversary of John F. Kennedy's Assassination

photo credit: Art Rickerby
Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images


"If you haven't anything nice to say about anybody," Alice Roosevelt Longworth once remarked,
"come sit next to me."

The New York Times may have a similar philosophy. It seems to have a penchant for publishing negative articles about the South

Thus, I was not surprised to see James McAuley's op ed essay on Dallas, entitled "The City With a Death Wish in Its Eye."  McAuley doesn't say outright that Dallas is a bigoted city. But he comes close.

McAuley strings stray facts together to intimate that the people of Dallas are hate-filled extremists, not only in the past, but in the present. "The far right of 1963 and the radicalism of my grandparents' generation may have faded in recent years,[but] they remain very much alive in Dallas," McAuley writes. "Look no further than the troop of gun-rights activists who appeared just days ago, armed and silent, outside a meeting of local mothers concerned about gun violence."

It is true of course that Dallas has a reputation as a cold, commerce-obsessed city. Jimmy Dale Gilmore, whom McAuley  invokes, famously sang that "Dallas is a woman who will walk on you when you're down." Texans themselves agree that Dallas comes across as a bit stuffy, especially compared to the friendly informality of Houston.

But Dallas has changed dramatically in recent years, a fact that McAuley apparently missed. For one thing, the city has voted Democratic in recent years. In 2012, Barack Obama carried Dallas County with 57 percent of the vote.  But that tidbit of information doesn't fit with McAuley's dark interpretation of Dallas political culture.

Perhaps more importantly, Dallas has attracted an enormous immigrant population in recent years. Most of these immigrants are from Latin America, but many are from Asia and Africa.  This influx of the hopeful has reshaped the face of Dallas.

Many of the immigrants are Catholic, and these Catholic newcomers have completely changed the religious landscape of the Dallas area. In 1963, the year President Kennedy was assassinated, only about 2 percent of Dallas residents were Catholic. Today the figure is 25 percent.

Catholicism's growing presence is dramatically illustrated every Sunday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral in downtown Dallas.  The cathedral celebrates six masses on Sunday, one in English and five in Spanish. And the cathedral is packed for every Mass--standing room only week after week. It is said more Catholics worship in Our Lady of Guadalupe on a given Sunday than any other Catholic Church in America with the exception of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.

It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that the Catholics of Dallas are mostly Hispanic. In recent years, many corporations have moved their corporate headquarters from northern cities to the Dallas area, bringing their employees with them.  A large number of these new Dallas residents are Catholic. 

You can see the boom in non-Hispanic Catholics if you visit St. Ann's Church in the Dallas suburb of Coppell or St. Thomas Aquinas near Southern Methodist University--again standing room only at the Masses. And speaking of Southern Methodist University, guess which denomination claims the largest religious affiliation among SMU students?  The Catholic Church.

So, Mr. McAuley, the next time you visit Dallas, I urge you to attend Mass at one of the city's crowded Catholic churches.  And I especially urge you to drop by tiny St. Jude's Chapel, located just a half block from Neiman Marcus and the Adolphus Hotel.  Come early for noon Mass and browse through the gift shop, presided over by a not-quite life-size statue of Pope John Paul II.  Purchase a St. Jude car deodorizer or flick a switch to light an electric candle for a loved one.

Dallas, that once cold and formal city, is becoming lovelier and kinder and more welcoming toward strangers with each passing day.  And its growing Catholic presence is surely a great blessing. John and Jacqueline Kennedy would be pleased.


James McAuley. The City With A Death Wish in Its Eye. New York Times, November 17, 2013, Sunday Review Section, p. 5.

2012 Texas Presidential Results. November 19, 2012. Accessible at:

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