Catholic Diocese of Dallas

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History Articles

About the Author

Steve LandreganSteve Landregan, historian for the Diocese of Dallas and former archivist and editor of The Texas Catholic, is author of this news series in observance of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.

Landregan is the author of numerous books and articles on Catholic history and has served as adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, Our Lady of the Lake University and Southern Methodist University. He holds a  Bachelor of Science degree from SMU and a Master of Arts from the University of Dallas.These stories were originally featured in the paper edition of the Texas Catholic, the official newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas.

Articles on the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council 1962 - 1965

There can be no doubt about the commitment of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council to ecumenism; the subject permeates the council documents and the Decree on Ecumenism states in its first sentence “The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council.” [More]


Major documents of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council originated as grass roots movements that were brought to fruition by the Council. [More]


There had never been anything to compare to the great ingathering of bishops in Rome for the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in October of 1962. More than 2600 bishops came from Asia, Africa, North, Central and South America, from Australia, New Zealand, the Far East and the islands of Oceania. [More]


Unlike the other 15 documents produced by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council which stemmed from suggestions sent to the preparatory commission by bishops and scholars, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) originated in a pastoral letter to Belgian Catholics. [More]


Pope St. John XXIII’s Surprise

By Steve Landregan
Originally published in The Texas Catholic 09/28/2012

On Jan. 25, 1959, less than three months after succeeding Pope Pius XII in the Chair of St. Peter, Pope St. John XXIII surprised the church and the world by calling an Ecumenical Council.

It was close to 100 years since the first Vatican Council adjourned in 1870. The doctrine of papal infallibility confirmed by the bishops at Vatican One had seemingly resolved all of the problems that had plagued the church in the previous century and whatever problems might come up in the future could be readily addressed by the Holy Father who spoke with the full authority of the church.

It is said that when the pope made the announcement to the Curia, the members reacted in stunned silence.  Members of the Curia knew what a council was and many feared that a council could be genuinely disruptive of the status quo. If there was to be a council they wanted to insure it would be a council that expressed the convictions and policies of the Roman Curia, a council with a minimum of dislocation and a minimum of change.

Cardinal Domenic Tardini was appointed head of the Ante-preparatory Commission and was charged with soliciting suggestions for the council’s consideration from the bishops of the world and superiors of all religious orders of men. Letters went out to 2,598 cardinals, archbishops, bishops, abbots and major superiors. Nearly 2,000 (1,998, to be exact), more than three-quarters (77 percent) replied.

In May 1960, 10 Preparatory Commissions were appointed to draft schemas for proposed documents to be considered by the council, all headed by members of the Curia. At the same time, the pope created the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity under the direction of Cardinal Augustin Bea.

Three months before the first session of the council, in July 1962, non-Roman Christian churches, Protestant and Orthodox, were invited to send delegate-observers.

On Oct. 11, 1962 the first session of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, was convened by Pope John XXIII in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Pope John XXIII died before the second session and the council was continued by his successor, Pope Paul VI.

Over the course of the next four years, a total of 2,860 council Fathers and 400 observers, theologians and other experts would meet in four sessions ending on Dec. 8, 1965. For reasons of health or denial of exit visas, 274 bishops were not able to participate.

Only one of the documents originally submitted (Decree on Ecumenism) was accepted without major revisions, all 15 others were returned to the Commissions to be redone before being accepted by the Council Fathers. Debate became heated at times and on occasion the pope had to intervene, but in the end there were 16 documents agreed to by the Fathers and promulgated by Pope Paul VI during the second, third and fourth sessions:

  • Four Constitutions–On the Sacred Liturgy; On Divine Revelation; On the Church, and On the Church in the Modern World.

  • Nine Decrees–On Social Communication; On Ecumenism; On the Catholic Eastern Churches; On the Pastoral Duty of Bishops; On the Renewal of Religious Life; On the Training of Priests; On the Ministry and Life of Priests; On the Apostolate of the Laity, and On the Church’s Missionary Activity.

  • Three Declarations–On Religious Liberty, On Relations with Non-Christian Religions and On Christian Education.

After the council, commissions were appointed to plan the details of implementing all the changes called for in the 16 documents. When the pope felt the commissions were not moving fast enough, he wrote: “The commission’s work should not only correspond to the words, it should also comply with the spirit of the council.”

Over the next half-century, there would be many debates over the meaning of both the words and the spirit of the council.