Massive Catholic Center Planned for East Texas
‘Veritatis Splendor’ will enliven the faith of Catholics in the Lone Star State and around the world.
“This is the choice of our moment: whether to be Catholic in the fullest sense or to let that option fade, for the foreseeable future, into darkness.” — from the foreword to Light and Leaven: The Challenge of the Laity in the Twenty-First Century, by Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas
A grand oratory, seven Catholic institutes, a retreat center, residences, multilevel educational programs: These are among the ambitious projects about to launch in the bucolic east Texas countryside of Winona, outside of Tyler. Called Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth), after the encyclical by Pope St. John Paul II on the Church's moral teaching, the center will bring together a community of believers whose goal is to safeguard the deposit of faith through uncompromising fidelity to sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition. Now in the planning stages, Veritatis Splendor will be a spiritual home where Christians can develop, nurture and preserve all of the chief truths and teachings of Christendom.
The seven institutes of Veritatis Splendor will encompass a range of issues that concern Catholics in the modern world, including life, education, liberty, human rights, law, media and culture. The founders' vision is that directors of the institutes will live and work in the community and will, by virtue of the offices they hold, become missionaries in the world to transmit Catholic values in a way that promotes truth, goodness and beauty and, in so doing, restore Christ in society.
On nearly 600 acres of land, dotted with forests and pastures and lakes, Veritatis Splendor, a $22-million capital campaign, will build its headquarters, opening its doors to the faithful and planting seeds for other Veritatis Splendor locations regionally and globally. Plans for the headquarters include offices for the institutes, housing (individual residential lots; there are 71 lots in Phase 1. There are plans for Phase 2 and 3 development for residences if there is a strong demand), educational facilities for grades K-12 as well as plans for a university, recreational activities for residents and guests, such as swimming, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, outdoor sports, hiking, prayer gardens/Stations of the Cross, and food cooperative services supported by a large greenhouse and organic farming.
In addition, there will be a retreat center, as well as clergy and guest housing.
At the center of Veritatis Splendor will be the grand oratory, led by a community of Catholic priests who will live under a particular charism of apostolic life. These priests will reside in the community as permanent members of Veritatis Splendor in east Texas and will not be subject to transfers or reassignments.
Overall, with Veritatis Splendor, the idea is to “protect, preserve and proclaim the truth of the faith given to us by Jesus.”
The Birth of a Catholic Dream
Kari Beckman, founder of the hybrid home-school organization Regina Caeli Academy, first envisioned the center as she struggled with the effects of social isolation during the pandemic. “The COVID crisis was a time of great illumination for Catholics,” Beckman told the Register. During that time, Beckman explained, Catholics had the opportunity to take inventory, reflecting on what the faith means, the importance of the sacraments, and the stark loneliness when mandatory lockdowns separated the faithful from that source of sacramental grace and strength.
“It became very clear to me,” Beckman said of the pandemic and recent cultural pressures, “... that we must preserve the faith right now. This is just round No. 1 of the crisis, and what the future holds could be much worse. If we as laypeople don't preserve what we have and truly guard it as the precious gift that it is, with every ounce of our being, then we’re going to lose it.”
Beckman’s home Archdiocese of Atlanta, like many dioceses around the country, had taken a cautious approach to safeguarding against COVID-19. The Archdiocese of Atlanta followed legal restrictions imposed by the government and shuttered its churches, permitting only online or televised Masses. Now, there is gradual reopening. Similarly, many home-school families around the country from Regina Caeli faced the prospect of months with no opportunity to attend Mass, or to receive the Eucharist or other sacraments.
But Beckman was aware that Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, had permitted the churches in his diocese to remain open for liturgy and worship. Would he, she wondered, offer Regina Caeli's member families the sacraments if they came to the Tyler Diocese?
So Beckman emailed Bishop Strickland and asked if she and her husband, Rich, could meet with him. Bishop Strickland agreed, and the Beckmans drove to Tyler to meet face-to-face with the bishop for the first time.
Kari’s first question was whether Regina Caeli families could come to Tyler to receive the sacraments. But that was just the beginning, as she envisioned a large and beautiful oratory. Beyond that, she had begun to envision the institutes as a means of restoring right thinking and right philosophy in an increasingly confused society.
“Right now we have a lot of people who want to ‘fix’ politics,” she said, “and that’s noble. But, unfortunately, that’s way down the river. Before that, these institutes will help people to embrace right thinking, and from that, right philosophy.” She thinks the beginning is key, changing the way people think so that there will follow a change in the way they act.
When the Beckmans had dinner with Bishop Strickland, he confirmed that he had never closed the churches in his diocese. Following safety protocols, he had made Eucharistic adoration available for the faithful despite the surge of COVID-19 cases. Then Kari began to describe her vision for the oratory and how its lights would illuminate the Texas sky. Bishop Strickland asked: What would this effort be called?
So Kari repeated the name that God had put on her heart, as she and her husband made the long drive to Tyler from Atlanta. Recalling Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, Kari had decided that, since fostering truth was their goal, Veritatis Splendor should be the name of the center. As she repeated the name, Bishop Strickland and Deacon Keith Fournier, general counsel and director of deacon formation for the Diocese of Tyler, who had joined them in the meeting, stared in surprise. Just a week and a half before, she learned, the two men had discussed the encyclical Veritatis Splendor — how important its message is to the culture right now and how they needed someone to carry its profound message to the world. The seven institutes which will form the structure for Beckman's proposed project are designed to do just that: to carry the splendor of truth to the world.
That God had put the message on their hearts in two different cities was obvious to all gathered at that dinner. In addition, Kari suggested that the oratory, which is planned as the heart of the community, should be named after St. Joseph, as guardian of humanity. Bishop Strickland, too, has a deep devotion to St. Joseph, and his personal chapel in the Tyler Diocese is named after the beloved saint.
Bringing the Vision to Life
Plans are moving forward. The Beckmans, confident that their plans will bear fruit, have already sold their Georgia home; and when the school year ends for their daughter, they plan to officially move to Winona and take up residence at Veritatis Splendor.
The site is about 20 minutes from the cathedral in downtown Tyler. The site was previously owned by a local businessman who is Catholic and who has helped the planners through the process.
Lisa Wheeler, founder and director of the Roswell, Georgia-based Carmel Communications and a friend of Kari’s, had also been considering how her family might benefit from an intentional Catholic community. Lisa and her husband, Tim, are parents to five children adopted through the foster-care system, and they were seeking a community of people to help instill strong Catholic values.
On a summer road trip with the children, the Wheeler family had prayed the Consecration to St. Joseph. Lisa and Tim at first believed that God was calling them to build a community for foster care; but then Kari Beckman invited them to dinner to discuss her conversation with Bishop Strickland. After prayer and careful reflection, the Wheelers understood that their vision melded easily with Beckman’s, and they have joined the effort as co-founders. They will be moving to Texas later this year.
Bishop Strickland will serve as spiritual adviser to the community and enthusiastically welcomes them to the diocese. While Veritatis Splendor is located within the Diocese of Tyler, it is not an official diocesan project; rather, it is an independent, lay-inspired Catholic organization. But in today’s world, Bishop Strickland noted, this is both a blessing and an opportunity. He strongly encourages this effort designed to strengthen the domestic church.
“I’m the benevolent bishop who is happy to welcome this lay-run effort to build a community of faith,” he told the Register.
Once the oratory is constructed, Veritatis Splendor will celebrate traditional Catholic feasts with processions and celebrations.
For example, Kari Beckman reported that, on June 24, for the feast commemorating the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, the community at Veritatis Splendor will celebrate like the people of Italy, with bonfires on the hillsides. John the Baptist, Beckman explained, was the first proclaimer of Christ; similarly, they plan a fiery proclamation of the Gospel with bonfires and fireworks. The goal is for time-honored Catholic traditions to take hold in eastern Texas.
Kari Beckman is confident that the Veritatis Splendor project is of God and that it will move forward.
Some may view the plans for this community as “circling the wagons.”
But the opposite is the goal.
Bishop Strickland sees Veritatis Splendor supporting families in seeking to live their faith in a meaningful way; fathers and mothers will flourish in their roles as Godly men and women, in turn supporting their children.
“I see it not as a ‘circling the wagons,’” Bishop Strickland said, “but as a community of support — almost the opposite of the ‘Benedict Option,’” as described in Rod Dreher’s book, in which Christians separate themselves from a post-Christian society in order to preserve the faith.
Residents of the Veritatis Splendor community, the bishop believes, will offer families the support they need to live their faith in a meaningful way. “It’s the responsibility of parents,” Bishop Strickland emphasized, “... to shield their children from the craziness that’s out there and also to prepare them to face that craziness with the light of Christ. ... There are a lot of crazy ideas. But Christ says, ‘Be not afraid.’ So we act not out of fear, but strongly, joyfully, believing what the message of Christ is about.”
As plans are developed for the new community, the first construction project will be the oratory. There will be a capital campaign to help with the massive cost of erecting a magnificent worship space, creating efficient and effective offices for the seven institutes, and protecting and preserving the diverse acreage. There will be a crowdfunding opportunity, for those who want to make a onetime gift or to offer continuing support for the project. Supporters can learn more about how to help by visiting the website. There will be informational sessions in cities across the country for individuals and families who might like to consider residing in the Veritatis Splendor community; and there is a form at the website where readers can sign up to attend a session or to receive further information.
This story was updated after posting.
- catholic community
- bishop joseph strickland
- kathy schiffer
- veritatis splendor
- diocese of tyler, texas