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ST. MARY'S UNIVERSITY, GALVESTON

ST. MARY'S UNIVERSITY, GALVESTON. St. Mary's University, the first Catholic seminary and college in Texas, was officially opened by Jean Marie Odin, bishop of Galveston, in 1855. Informal operations, however, had started as early as 1852. The institution was originally conceived as a seminary for the formation of native clergymen-an obvious need of a young diocese mostly staffed by foreign-born priests. In order to provide a source of financial support to the seminary and at the same time contribute to the education of the youth in the area, Odin decided to include in the project a college for boys, an idea warmly received by the people of Galveston, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The institution was placed under the direction of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Construction of the school building began in 1853 on a lot donated by the city; the three-story structure was completed by November 1854. Initial enrollment was sixty lay students and a handful of seminarians. The school formally opened on January 1, 1855. Half a year later, the number of lay students (including day and boarding) had increased to eighty-three, but the number of seminarians had remained stationary.

In 1856 St. Mary's was granted a charter as a university by the Texas legislature. While the college seemed to flourish, the seminary continued to fail. In 1857 the Oblates withdrew and handed over the university to the secular clergy. In 1858 the Franciscan Conventuals (see FRANCISCANS) took over, but they left Texas a year later. By 1860 the number of ecclesiastical students was still negligible. Odin's dream of a seminary virtually ended, and the college passed into the hands of lay teachers. For the next twenty-four years, St. Mary's was successively administered by Christian Brothers, diocesan priests, the Congregation of the Holy Cross, lay personnel, and Sisters of Divine Providence. Generally speaking, this was a period of gradual decline for the university. In January 1863 Union forces shelled the college building, damaging the walls and tearing up the adjacent grounds. The school had to close down in 1867 for several months because of a yellow fever epidemic. The original idea of maintaining a seminary was finally abandoned about 1870. A deepening financial crisis threatened the survival of the St. Mary's during the late 1870s and early 1880s.

In 1884 Bishop N. A. Gallagher assigned the east end of Galveston to the spiritual care of the Jesuits, who were also placed in charge of St. Mary's University. The Jesuits established Sacred Heart Parish, used the college chapel as a temporary church, and set out to build a large church designed by Nicholas J. Clayton. The new church was dedicated in 1892 but was completely destroyed by the Galveston hurricane of 1900, which also damaged the school building. Although the Jesuits brought stability and academic strength to St. Mary's, the order left Galveston in 1922 and the college closed down as a result. In 1926 its charter was transferred to St. Mary's Seminary in La Porte, founded by Bishop Gallagher in 1901.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Bernard Doyon, The Cavalry of Christ on the Rio Grande, 1849–1883 (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1956). Southern Messenger, July 6, 1922. Galveston News-Tribune, May 29, 1965. Catholic Archives of Texas, Files, Austin.

Aníbal A. González

Citation

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

Aníbal A. González, "ST. MARY'S UNIVERSITY, GALVESTON," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/kbs62), accessed September 02, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.