Holy Trinity, sitting today in the heart of a bustling, cosmopolitan city, was originally founded as a mission church. One hundred years ago, the areas we know today as Oak Lawn and Highland Park were largely unpopulated and our congested thoroughfares of Oak Lawn and Blackburn were little more than mud trails. To the north of Mockingbird lay the vast acreage of the Caruth and William O'Connor ranches. Dallas had a population of only 200,000; and considering the propensity of Dallas civic leaders of the time to place promotional value over veracity, that figure was probably exaggerated.
It was Bishop Edward J. Dunne, the energetic 'Building Bishop' of Dallas, who convinced the Congregation of the Mission, the Vincentian Fathers, to come here to establish a small college in 'Far North' Dallas near Turtle Creek. According to the memoirs of Father Stack, the location was chosen for its natural beauty and the "great number and variety of trees which covered its grounds." Another likely factor was its price: $12,800 for 24 acres.
Ground was broken for Holy Trinity College (later renamed the University of Dallas) in 1905 and the first building was completed in 1907. Along with the college, the Vincentians Fathers also built a small frame church next to the school on the west side. On November 3, 1907, when the church was formally dedicated, about fifteen families lived in the parish- or, at least close enough to the church to be counted, since the 'parish' apparently extended throughout the entire northern portion of the diocese.
The organizer of the college and the parish was the Very Reverend Patrick A. Finney, who became president of the college and Holy Trinity's first pastor. Father Finney came to Dallas from Los Angeles with a distinguished reputation as a scholar of Greek and classical studies, both of which ranked high in the young college's curriculum. Father Finney was especially noted for "an improved elucidation of the Greek verb."
But teaching was only a part of the Vincentian Father's ministries. A great part of their time and effort was spent on the road to small mission churches scattered around North Texas in what could only be defined as a wilderness area. Father Stack recalls during the 1920s traveling to Sacred Heart Church in Rowlett, a distance of 22 miles, on even Sundays and to St. Luke's Church in Irving, a distance of 14 miles, on odd Sundays. Other priests would travel to mission churches in such places as Wylie and Handley, and frequently as far away as Tyler, about 100 miles east of Dallas. Considering the conditions of the roads and mode of travel in those days, the Vincentian missionary effort to the small missions and settlements of North Texas was truly Herculean.
The college closed in 1926 and its building was converted for a time into a girls' home before becoming Jesuit Preparatory School in 1942. By that time, the area around the church had grown considerably, and Highland Park was almost completely developed. In 1939, the parish recorded 800 families, most of who lived within a short distance of the church. But even with their expanded parish duties, the Vincentians of Holy Trinity took to the road on a regular basis, helping to build churches, establish new parishes, and preaching at the missions.
This missionary outreach, the founding purpose of Holy Trinity, started to come to an end when the diocese built Christ the King in 1941. By then the Vincentians were such an integral part of the history and the 'soul' of Holy Trinity. They had given so much to nurture and build the parish and to comfort and serve its people, that it was impossible to conceive of Holy Trinity without them.
So the Vincentians turned their missionary activities inward and began practicing on their own home ground. In the late 1950's and early 1960's, interest in the Catholic Church ran at an all-time high. Dallas had never been a bastion of the Catholic Church, so this interest may have been aroused by the simple exposure of non-Catholics to the faith as more and more formation classes were held in the church basement. Within a few months, these classes were running five times a week with 50-100 Catholics and non-Catholics attending every session. Over a five year period, conversions averaged 50-60 a year.
Holy Trinity continues its missionary tradition to this day with lay ministries involved in service and outreach to the larger community. Perhaps it is this aspect that makes Holy Trinity seem 'different' as a parish community, explaining why so many of its families come from outside the parish boundaries. Holy Trinity is, in many ways, still a mission church.