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D'ASTI, BARTHOLOMEW [REV. AUGUSTINE]

D'ASTI, BARTHOLOMEW (1827–1866). Bartholomew (Rev. Augustine) D'Asti, Franciscan missionary to the poor of Houston, was born at San Damiano D'Asti, Piedmont, in 1827. According to annals of the Franciscans he came from a noble and wealthy family. At sixteen he entered the reformed order of St. Francis to study for the priesthood, bringing with him a substantial sum of money. He spent the next thirteen years doing missionary work in Italy, as well as studying for doctorates in theology and philosophy at the University of Turin. He held the chair in philosophy at Turin when he decided to move to the United States in 1856. D'Asti and four Franciscan companions traveled to New York, where they established a house for their order. In addition they built a seminary, a convent for women of the minor order of St. Francis, and a college now known as St. Bonaventure University. When, in 1860, Bishop Jean M. Odin of Galveston, Texas, wrote to the friars in New York asking if some of them would be willing to move to his diocese to help reopen the missions left empty after the Texas Revolution, D'Asti responded to the call. He took two other Franciscan priests with him and arrived in Houston in May of the same year. Odin assigned D'Asti a pastorate at St. Vincent's Church in Houston, then located on Franklin Avenue between Caroline and San Jacinto streets. The Italian priest thus became the first Franciscan to work in Texas since the Spanish friars were forced to leave the area in 1832.

D'Asti's arrival in Texas coincided with the beginning of the Civil War, and the city of Houston already suffered from the poverty that spread throughout the South as a result of the war. D'Asti responded to the situation by selling all that he had and giving the proceeds to the poor. He then began a practice for which he became beloved among the citizens of Houston-that of walking the streets to beg funds from merchants and other wealthy people and giving the money to John Kennedy, owner of a local trading post, who distributed the donations to the needy while D'Asti tried to remain anonymous. In addition to endearing himself to his people by his works of charity, the pastor of St. Vincent's became a vibrant part of his community because of his loyalty to its cause. It is said that he blessed the Confederate flag that Lt. Richard W. Dowling and his Jefferson Davis Guards took into the battle of Sabine Pass.

D'Asti died on March 12, 1866, at the age of thirty-nine. He was in poor health when he became pastor of St. Vincent's and seems to have been poisoned by water from a lead pipe. Most businesses in Houston closed for his funeral. His remains were to have been sent back to Allegheny, New York, for burial in the Franciscan cemetery there, but the people of Houston objected, and he was buried on the grounds beside St. Vincent's Church. His body was moved to St. Vincent's Cemetery on Navigation Boulevard in 1878 and again in 1915 to Holy Cross Cemetery, where the grave remained unmarked until a headstone was donated in 1953. D'Asti is now buried with eighteen other priests in Holy Cross mausoleum. Houston's St. Nicholas, as D'Asti has been called, has had a lasting impact on the Houston community, most notably through the D'Asti House, which bears his name. There, through the efforts of the Third Order of St. Francis, donated clothes are washed and mended by volunteers and distributed to the poor.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Catholic Archives of Texas, Files, Austin. Robert C. Giles, Changing Times: The Story of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston in Commemoration of Its Founding (Houston, 1972).

Mary H. Ogilvie

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Mary H. Ogilvie, "D'ASTI, BARTHOLOMEW [REV. AUGUSTINE]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fdaar), accessed September 02, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.