VERDAGUER, PETER (1835–1911). Peter Verdaguer, second bishop of the Vicariate Apostolic of Brownsville, son of Francisco and María (Prat) Verdaguer, was born in San Pedro de Torello, Catalonia, Spain, on December 10, 1835. He studied at the seminaries of Vich and Barcelona in Spain, then traveled to the United States to complete his course at St. Vincent's Seminary, Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He was ordained a priest on December 12, 1862, in San Francisco, by Bishop Thadeus Amat of Monterey. Verdaguer remained in California after his ordination to work as a missionary to the Indians of Amat's diocese. He then held pastorates at San Bernardino of Sienna, in San Bernardino, and at Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, while he continued working in the missions. On July 25, 1890, Verdaguer was appointed vicar apostolic of Brownsville, Texas. He was consecrated on November 9 of the same year in Barcelona, Spain, by Bishop Jaime Calala y Alboro of Barcelona, but did not arrive in his new vicariate until the following spring. Dominic Manucy moved the episcopal residence from Brownsville to Corpus Christi in 1875. However, when Verdaguer assumed control of the vicariate in 1891, he moved the residence to Laredo, to the rectory of St. Augustine's Church, which had better facilities than were available in Corpus Christi. The move was also advantageous because the Laredo area was one of the most populous in the vicariate, and because Verdaguer was attracted to the Catholic families along the Rio Grande who shared his Spanish heritage.
The new bishop set about to make as many improvements in the religious life of the communities involved as possible. In granting Mother St. Claude Nicout's request of 1892, that she and a small group of Ursuline Sisters be allowed to establish a motherhouse in Puebla, Mexico, Verdaguer secured future assistance for the house already in existence in Laredo. In 1894 he invited the Sisters of Mercy to establish a hospital in Laredo. With the help of the vicar apostolic, they not only accomplished that goal but built their motherhouse in the city as well. Then, seeking help for his Spanish-speaking Catholics, Verdaguer requested Claretian priests from Mexico City for his vicariate. Rev. Mariano Lusilla and Rev. Camilo Torrente were sent to him in 1901 to begin their impressive missionary work along the Rio Grande. And in 1905 the citizens of Corpus Christi constructed a hospital building, on property donated by Dr. Arthur E. Spohn of that city. Spohn, subsequently empowered to select the proper administration of the new institution, gave the reigns to Verdaguer, who in turn, called for the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word to come to Corpus Christi from San Antonio to open the hospital. Only two conditions were imposed on the nuns: that the hospital be named for Spohn, who had taken care of so many of the sick; and that the building always remain a hospital. Verdaguer also established parochial schools and an orphanage in his vicariate.
In addition to bringing in new religious orders, he built many new churches. In Laredo he constructed St. Peter's Church in 1896 for English-speaking Catholics and Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1899 for Spanish speakers. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate built Our Lady of Mercy in 1909, the first Catholic Church in Mercedes. On February 2, 1908, St. Anthony of Padua Church was dedicated in Raymondville, and on October 16, 1910, Sacred Heart of Mary Immaculate was dedicated in Harlingen. Verdaguer traveled, often by horseback, to preach at various ranch settlements in the area. He made pastoral journeys throughout the whole of the vicariate in 1892, 1896, and 1907, hoping to attract new people to the church and to keep members faithful. Through his efforts he managed to increase the number of Catholics in the vicariate by 40,000 by the time of his death. He also raised the number of priests in the area from ten to thirty-two, despite the fact that he had to inform anyone he asked to work with him that the pay would be ten dollars a month or less. Verdaguer died on October 26, 1911, en route from Corpus Christi to Mercedes for confirmation ceremonies. His body was brought back to Corpus Christi, and a requiem high Mass was offered for him at St. Patrick's Church on Sunday, November 1. He was buried at Laredo Catholic Cemetery. A year later the Vicariate of Brownsville was elevated to the Catholic Diocese of Corpus Christi.
Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Catholic Archives of Texas, Files, Austin.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Mary H. Ogilvie, "VERDAGUER, PETER," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fve07), accessed April 24, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.